U.S. Issues Travel Warnings for Mexico; What’s Going On?

There’s been a lot of travel warnings being issued for travel to Mexico and the scary part is that these warnings aren’t limited to regions of the country typically plagued with violence — they’re being issued for tourist hot-spots like Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

The most recent warning issued by the U.S. Department of State applies to several different Mexican states, including Baja California Sur (home to Los Cabos) and Quintana Roo (home to Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum).

What’s happening in all of these places?

There’s been a rapid increase in criminal activity, violence, and an unprecedented surge in homicide rates throughout the country. NPR’s Carrie Kahn reported that, “[m]ore than 11,000 murders were registered in the first five months of this year, putting 2017 on track to be the most violent since the Mexican Revolution.”

It doesn’t sound like tourists or tourist areas are being specifically targeted for the violence and homicides, though. The U.S. Department of State remarks:

“There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes… While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours.

The risk for violence is more of an issue for those traveling outside of these heavily patrolled touristy areas. For example, driving at night through the country is a risk you don’t want to take as “U.S. citizens have been murdered in carjackings and highway robberies, most frequently at night and on isolated roads,” according the U.S. Department of State.

U.S. government personnel are not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico and are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. So now is probably not the time to set out to freely explore Mexico via automobile and it’s definitely a time to raise your guard if venturing between states in Mexico.

Normally, I’d remark that you’d be safe just sticking to the resorts but even in these traditionally safe areas you still need to be aware due to recent issues with alcohol.

Are Mexican resorts safe?

There’s been a flurry of horror stories of tourists being served “tainted” or perhaps even drugged alcohol at Mexican hotels and resorts, especially at Iberostar resorts in Mexico. Nobody knows exactly what has caused these issues but it’s pretty clear that is has something to do the alcohol.

Many have reported that they’ve gotten sick or blacked out after drinking (sometimes just one drink) from resorts and some of the stories are very scary. One woman was sexually assaulted and her husband woke up with a type of fractured hand usually found from taking a swing a someone but both had no recollection of the events that took place.

Two teenage brothers from Minnesota got separated from their parents and woke up covered in mud, with no shirts or shoes and their wallets and cellphones missing and one had a severe rash. Both brothers could not remember what happened.

After a few tequila shots, Abbey Conner, only 20-years old, became brain dead and later died after becoming unconscious within two hours of starting her vacation with her family and her brother nearly drowned as well. Abbey’s brother, Austin, had no recollection of the events whatsoever.

There are also multiple stories of tourists being gouged by hospitals for thousands of dollars when seeking treatment for their ailments. Some of these hospitals like those part of the Hospiten chain, and in contract with Iberostar resorts, raising questions about possible collusion.

Sandos Resort in Cancun, Mexico.

What’s in the alcohol?

The cause of these conditions could be tainted alcohol. Mexico has a bad track record of tainted alcohol. JS Online found that, “A 2015 report from Mexico’s Tax Administration Service found that 43% of all the alcohol consumed in the nation is illegal, produced under unregulated circumstances resulting in potentially dangerous concoctions.

The national health authority in Mexico has seized more than 1.4 million gallons of adulterated alcohol since 2010 — not just from small local establishments, but from hotels and other entertainment areas, according to a 2017 report by the country’s Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks.”

It’s definitely a possibility that tourists have been subjected to tainted alcohol that’s caused their blackouts. For one, there’s been many reports of people passing out after only a drink or two and feeling like they were on drugs (versus buzzed from the effects of alcohol). Secondly, tainted alcohol would explain why some have experienced these symptoms when there’s no apparent motive for a crime like theft.

But some of those reports appear targeted, as if someone slipped a drug in their drink and waited for them to become vulnerable to steal from them or worse. And there are numerous theories as to which drugs might be being used.

Nobody knows exactly what’s occurred and it could very well be a combination of a lot of factors. A few drugged drinks, some tainted alcohol, and tourists drinking in excess exacerbating the effects of these. Local health officials in Mexico have claimed that this could be due to mixing alcohol with energy drinks but the reports from victims don’t support that they had such drinks, so I don’t think caffeine is the culprit.

What should you do?

I honestly would avoid booking a trip right now to these Mexican destinations, such as Cancun. There’s so many other beautiful places you can go to that aren’t having issues right now that I would just opt for them, while the Mexican government works to implement safeguards.

With that said, if you already have plans or a trip booked to Cancun or Playa del Carmen, I would probably not cancel the trip. Personally, I think the odds of something happening to you on your trip to Cancun (or other major Mexican tourist hot-spots) are still very slim, but I’d still remain vigilant.

I’d be weary about stepping away from crowds and going out for drinks and would avoid hole-in-the-wall bars. If you can’t see someone make your drink, there’s a chance something could be slipped in. I’d also probably avoid Iberostar resorts for the time being — there’s just been too many instances with that hotel chain involving alcohol and shady cover-ups. Plus, there’s so many other resorts to choose from. If your budget allows, you could also purchase your own alcohol from the duty free shops.

Above all else, try to keep others informed about your drinking/sober status and make extra efforts to be responsible for yourself and others. If you start feeling ill after a drink, especially after only one or two, quickly alarm someone and put it down. Hopefully, we learn more about exactly what’s going on in Mexico since right now there’s a lot of unknown and conflicting data.