Latin America

Know the area or stay away

Many Latin American countries have a Level 2 or 3 travel advisory due to increased crime, but unique to this area of the world is its increased gang activity and along with it increased narcotics and human trafficking activity.  Violent crimes can be common in some regional areas as they struggle with a limited or corrupt police force, making it difficult for the police to respond to even serious criminal incidents.

Many tourist areas are still safe, particularly in South America, but crime can still be highly concentrated in some areas so be sure to thoroughly research your destination…the U.S. Department of State is clear to point out that if you get into trouble in certain areas “neither the tour companies nor the police can guarantee your safety.”  Yeesh.

Large portions of Central America are on the struggle bus right now.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard about the controversy involving immigrant families and families seeking asylum being separated at the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico.  I’m not about to get political here but I was surprised to learn that the majority of these families are actually not migrating from Mexico, but instead are merely passing through Mexico as they migrate from countries in Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  Families are fleeing these countries in droves as their homelands struggle with violence, gang activity, a collapsing healthcare system and economy, and poverty rates sometimes upwards of 50%.  For this reason the U.S. is urging tourists to reconsider travel to these countries for now, issuing a Level 3 advisory for all four. If you do travel to this region:

  • Do not wear jewelry or display signs of wealth or even anything that could be misconstrued as wealth.
  • Absolutely stick to your resort and/or tourist areas.  If you do venture out, keep a low profile and if you see or come near any group demonstrations or rallies, run far far away.  Quickly. Oftentimes these escalate into violence and you could end up in jail just for being there even if you weren’t participating on either side.  WTF right?
  • It’s best to venture out with a reliable guide or resident familiar with the area.  They can help you create at least two contingency plans for all routes of travel in case you run into any roadblocks along the way.  Criminals are in charge of some of these roadblocks and may try to cut off your supply of food and fuel. Fun, huh?
  • Don’t expect stellar medical care as some area hospitals are overwhelmed and filled to capacity with victims of violent crime.  
  • Have an emergency evacuation plan in your back pocket that doesn’t involve help from U.S. officials – they tried to warn you!

In regards to violent crime, tourist safety in Mexico is definitely safer than it used to be in previous years, but it’s still a good idea to stick with the main tourist or resort areas unless you are familiar with the outside area.  

Recently there have been several reports of tainted alcohol at luxury resorts in Mexico, including some well-known destinations.  Reports have surfaced of tourists drinking alcohol and becoming victims of violent crime after losing consciousness. Currently it’s hard to find verified information because investigations are ongoing, but what can be confirmed is there is a black market alcohol operation in Mexico and the market is especially deceptive with its tequila, which is frequently purchased in large quantities by luxury resorts.  Law enforcement in Mexico is working to find out if tainted alcohol from the black market is somehow making its way into resorts, and if so, where it’s coming from and what it’s tainted with.

Don’t let the possibility of tainted alcohol keep you from traveling to Mexico.  If you are alarmed at the possibility, there are certain measures you can take to stay safe.  If you are flying solo, it may be a good idea to hold off on the alcohol and treat yourself when you get home.  If you’re traveling with another adult companion, just make sure only one of you drinks at a time, which is probably a good idea anyways when you’re corralling little ones. 

For other helpful tips on how to travel safely in Latin America, see my Safety Tips (LINK) page.

Unless you are familiar with the area or visiting family and friends who are, take a pass on Central America…for now.