misconceptions of mexico
mexico can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight. if it’s not drug violence, an apocalyptic hurricane, or fear of kidnappings, then it’s zika. the media loves to make mexico into a wild, wild west type of destination beneath the mysterious border. and yet, for americans, when we need a sun & sand destination, mexico always appears to be the most convenient go-to, so long as we stay on the resort grounds and never venture off into the unknown.
yes, while mexico has its share of problems, for the most part its issues have been entirely sensationalized and glazed over with a dramatic filter that sells a sexy story. if you’re into drug tourism or venturing into bad neighborhoods late at night by yourself, you’ll probably find some trouble in mexico. you’ll probably find some trouble in new york city, as well. if you’re a tourist who wants to learn, discover, and travel, you will find everything you are looking for. i reached out to some mexico specialists who helped dispel the misconceptions we have of our neighbor south of the border.
1. you will get zika in mexico
as of april, there have been 239 cases of zika in mexico, the majority existing in the states of chiapas and oaxaca. the population of mexico is 122.3 million (as of 2013). this means that the percentage of people in mexico who have acquired zika is hovering around 0%. likewise, as of 2015, 25.8 million tourists visited mexico. the chances of acquiring zika in mexico are incredibly slim.
2. you will get kidnapped in mexico
again, unless you are poking around in areas known for drug gang violence, this should not be a concern to you as a tourist. traveling smart is just good advice for any destination in the world. if you’re looking for trouble, you will find it. in mexico, the majority of kidnappings that have happened have been in border cities like juarez, tijuana, and tampico. every time a u.s. state department warning comes out issuing a travel alert for mexico, it’s always in the same volatile areas. the majority of the country, including the major resort destinations, are never on that list.
“kidnapping was more common in mexico city 10 years ago, but like the overall security and safety situation in mexico city, there were major advances made during the calderon administration with cleaning up the city and making it safer,” says zachary rabinor, ceo of Journey Mexico.
3. mexico is unsafe
“mexico has had its share of bad press over the last five to eight years,” continues rabinor. “however, it would be inaccurate and unfair to label mexico as unsafe. mexico is a huge country and each state, city, region, and town should be looked at before drawing any conclusions. the u.s. state department has worked with the mexican government to drill down into the specific destinations in order to tell a more detailed and accurate story. most of the misconceptions about mexico’s security have been caused by sensationalist and soften slanted press, which focuses on conflicts between organized crime groups largely around the northern border with the u.s. these incidents, while serious, are not directed at visitors and tourists.”
simply put: if there was gang violence in new york, would you steer clear of miami?
4. you will get food poisoning in mexico
everyone has heard the joke about montezuma’s revenge. tell anyone you’ve eaten street food in mexico and they look at you as if you’re a ticking time bomb. but are these reactions justified?
yes, it’s a good idea to stay away from tap water in mexico. even the locals try to play by that rule. but the majority of hotels and resorts have water purification systems installed at their properties meaning you can shower and brush your teeth worry-free. “you’re as likely to get food poisoning in mexico as you are in any developing country you travel to. while gastrointestinal malaise is often blamed on foreign bacteria or unclean food preparation, equally important is to stay hydrated, moderate food and alcohol intake, and avoid extreme and unprotected exposure to sun,” says rabinor.
another useful tip: when eating street food in mexico, look for the stalls that use disposable plates or wrap their plates in plastic. it’s not the food that will get you sick in mexico - it’s the water. so places that don’t allow their food to touch plates that have been washed in local water are completely fine. if you don’t try the street food in mexico, you’re missing a part of the experience. personally i have traveled to mexico more than 30 times, the majority in the last three years, and not once have i ever been sick.
5. mexico is all about sun and sand
the mexico tourism board has done a wonderful job in recent years of spotlighting destinations in mexico that are not on its coastline. mexico does have the beach scene down. it does sun-and-sand very, very well. but to go to mexico and think that that is all the country offers is glossing over the majority of the country, as 75% of mexico’s altitude is above 7,500 feet. that’s very far from the shore.
mexico has 38 unesco world heritage sites, ranked number 1 in the americas and number 6 worldwide. it’s also steeped in ancient civilizations, including aztecs, maya, zapotec, olmec, and many more. beyond that there is world class culture, nature, and adventure travel experiences.
“while not often recognized for our adventure travel options, we also possess some of the most exciting active travel opportunities in the world,” says rabinor. “most notably snorkeling and sea kayaking in baja, hiking, trekking and mountain biking in the copper canyon, mountaineering and climbing the towering, glaciated, snow capped volcanos of popcatepetl, iztaccihuatl, and mexico’s highest mountain, pico de orizaba at 18,491 feet above sea level. there is also white water rafting and kayaking in chiapas and beracruz, and surfing in the baja peninsula, sinaloa, nayarit, jalisco, colima, michoacan, guerrero, and oaxaca, all recognized worldwide as world-class adventures.”
jewell ramos, a leisure travel consultant with Worldview Travel, says that she has been to mexico more than 200 times without incident, says she loves to introduce clients to what she calls, the “real mexico.” These cultural areas include guadalajara and leon, merida in the yucatan, chiapas, and campeche.