We just returned to the U.S. after five months traveling through Mexico in our RV and had ZERO problems. We didn’t experience the horrors most people stateside seemed to expect. Cartels. Corrupt police expecting bribes. Scary military checkpoints. Theft. Beheadings. Kidnappings. Trump’s “Bad Hombres.” All we experienced was the good. Warm, generous people. Beautiful places. People filled with pride for their country.
Note: This is our own experience and anecdotal, but I talked with many travelers inside Mexico, both in person and electronically, who heartily agree that Mexico is safe for travel. In fact, most travelers we met heading north from Argentina, list Mexico as one of their favorite countries, even more so than any in both South and Central America.
So, Is Mexico Safe For Travel?
With some situational awareness, common sense and planning, YES! Mexico can be safe and quite enjoyable.
That said, horrible problems do exist, right now, in Mexico. Fighting between cartel factions, between the cartels and the government, and general corruption among police and officials. Extreme poverty pushes some honest, ordinary people to commit crimes out of desperation. Innocent folks, foreigners and citizens alike, become a target or get caught in the crossfire.
To restate the obvious, you can’t trust everything you see and read from the media. You have to dig deeper to get to the truth. Crime statistics are inflated by gang-on-gang violence between cartels fighting for turf and control. News headlines focus on the atrocities to drive traffic.
Most of the fear of Mexico I hear from friends, family and even casual acquaintances is oriented around cartel activity, since that’s where the media is focused. Here’s what I heard on the streets talking to locals in the state of Sinaloa, home of El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel: The cartels are not targeting tourists. Tourism is an enormous, important part of the Mexican economy. And, tragically, foreigners, mostly U.S. and Canadian citizens, are the primary customers for the Cartel’s products. It’s not good for business…
Beautiful places. Diverse biomes. Warm, generous people. Rich culture. Family focus. Long history. A relaxed vibe. A prevailing “can do” attitude. Just writing this creates a yearning in me to return.
About the “can do” attitude, in Mexico, there’s always a way. Even when there clearly isn’t. Someone there will make it happen.
Bending rules is another part of the cultural landscape in Mexico I love. Stop signs, lines on the road and speed limits are advisory. I’m not a lawless hellion but I do enjoy the more relaxed vibe vis-a-vis rules.
A recipe for a good experience driving through in Mexico
- Learn some Spanish, even if just a little. The times we forced our bad attempts at Spanish on locals almost always brought a smile to faces, and created a richer, warmer experience for all.
- Plan. Research where you want to go and how to get there. Review the Canadian and U.S. travel advisories. Know how many miles you can comfortably cover and always have a destination. In fact, have at least one or two backup destinations in case of fatigue or problems on the road.
- Travel only at day. This is my rule everywhere as I don’t like driving our big rig at night. Night time travel in Mexico can be dangerous not only because criminals are out but also to avoid animals on the road, unmarked curves, unseen giant potholes, unmarked topes, etc.
- Use common sense and follow your intuition. Avoid high crime areas, especially where the cartels operate. If a local recommends you don’t go somewhere, don’t go there. If your gut tells you not to turn down a road, or park somewhere for the night, move on.
- Lock everything up, all the time. I do this everywhere, not just in Mexico. Determined thieves won’t be deterred by locks and chains but it will deter opportunistic theft.
- Be careful walking at night. This applies anywhere in the world, IMO.
- Act like a guest (don’t be an a**hole) – No matter where we travel, we’re guests in your city, state, or country. I’m appalled by the people who come to a place like Mexico and start sentences with “Well, in AMERICA …” My response is, go back to where you’re comfortable and things are done exactly how you like it. I go to a place like Mexico to experience the differences in people, culture, architecture and food.
Our Mexico Trip By The Numbers
- Beheadings: 0
- Kidnappings: 0
- Bribes: 0
- Theft: 0
- Short-changed: 1 – by the doughnut lady on the beach…lost a few dolares
- Stops by corrupt police: 0
- Group photos of us taken by police: 1
- Distance covered: approximately 3000 miles or 4800 km
- Times driving at night: 0
- Places parked that didn’t feel safe: 0
- Road types: everything from two-lane highways through small towns to modern four-lane divided freeways
- Topes crossed: hundreds!
- Topes crossed that I didn’t see coming: 1 (I only had time to shout “hold on!”)
- Overhead wires snagged: 0 (some close calls though)
- Tree limbs “trimmed” (by the truck): about as many as in U.S.
- Truck problems: 1, with cab AC – minor repair of sensor and bad connector
- Bliss Mobil habitat problems: 1, power issue caused by me
- Mexican water loaded through Bliss reverse osmosis filter system: thousands of liters
- Times sick from drinking water from Bliss tank: 0
- Times sick from eating outside food: 1 – one of us had a couple of days of stomach problems after some chicken salad
- New friends (Mexican and non-Mexican travelers): muchos!
- Overlanders met: many, hopefully lifelong, like-minded new friends
- Smiles: uncountable!
Just Go Already!
Traveling to Mexico isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested and have questions, feel free to reach out.
Thank you for your article. I hitched and bust Mexico from Guadalajara through to Cozumel more than a couple of times in my earlier years. Not only was it safe travel, but the people were always generous and kind to me. Your suggestions are on point, a little Spanish goes a long way and any missteps are always received in a positive way. The culture and history of Mexico is amazing! The best of Mexico is the people! Thanks again.
Greetings and I totally concur with your comments. I can’t wait to return!
If the trucks in the photo. Are what you traveled in. Then no wonder no issues. You look like you traveled in a fortified wells fargo money van. Odd. So to me. Looks like you prepared yourself for issues in mexico. Expecting problems. Explain that. Its not like you drive down in a van car or rv?
See older blog posts on the rationale for the build (“preparing” for Mexico was not one of them).