The U.S. Department of State Mexico Travel Warning issued November 20, 2012, shows no change in the security situation in Mazatlan since February.
The warning states (italics mine), "You should defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the city of Mazatlan where you should exercise caution particularly late at night and in the early morning.
"One of Mexico's most powerful TCOs is based in the state of Sinaloa. With the exception of Ciudad Juarez, since 2006 more homicides have occurred in the state's capital city of Culiacan than in any other city in Mexico.
"Travel off the toll roads in remote areas of Sinaloa is especially dangerous and should be avoided. We recommend that any other travel in Mazatlan be limited to Zona Dorada and the historic town center, as well as direct routes to/from these locations and the airport.
Fortunately, 1) the Zona Dorada (the beachfront hotel area, where nearly all Americans and Canadians stay), 2) the historic town center (including Plaza Machado), and 3) the main routes to and from the airport are the sole places most travelers traditionally visit.
The State Department continues (italics mine), "Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) have targeted U.S. visitors and residents based on their nationality. [Author's note: U.S. citizens are targeted if believed to be working on behalf of rival cartels, as are U.S. government employees believed to be in Mexico to help fight the cartels.}
"Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes."
In its November 16, 2012 advisory, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada excludes Mazatlan from areas to avoid in Mexico. It does advise against non-essential travel to other areas in surrounding Sinaloa state. Both the Canadian and U.S. governments recommend flying to resort areas in Mexico, not driving between the U.S. border and these.
I had not planned to write about safety issues while in Mazatlan during 2011. As with so many Mazatlan visitors, I mainly planned to relax.
However, sometimes events interfere.
After arriving in Mazatlan just as a Canadian and a local woman wounded by stray bullets and several less serious incidents triggered cruise ship cancelations, I spent hours talking to Americans and Canadians who live in Mazatlan about security and other concerns there. Their help is hugely appreciated.
I observed the behavior of the many elderly foreign residents.
Some 7,000 Americans live in Mazatlan at least during winter plus Canadians whose estimates range from 2,500 to “way more” than the Americans. With sports bars featuring Canadian satellite TV and those “north end of North America” accents everywhere, the latter may be correct.
In Mazatlan, elderly foreigners wandered about the often not well-lit historic Plaza Machado area during the evening. They were out and about in all the tourist areas after dark.
Mexican nationals and others jammed the downtown “Old Town” shopping area well into the evening, unlike the situation in some American cities.
Foreign residents I met are not living in fear. No one I met, young or old, has any intention of leaving Mazatlan.
All but one foreign resident dismissed what one called “media hysteria” about crime in Mazatlan. One person alleged cruise companies were using the “Canadian incident” as a negotiation ploy to lower “remarkably high” Mazatlan port charges. (He did not reply when I mentioned that news reports said more than half the people on one ship refused to get off after the Canadian was shot.)
Certainly, there is support for the view that crime in Mazatlan has been blown out of proportion.
For example during 2010, 526,000-cruise passengers visited Mazatlan without experiencing crime according to Mazatlan Port Director Alfonso Gil Diaz in Seatrade as quoted by Associated Press.
Mazatlan ship cancelations this year came after three incidents involving passengers. (The wounded Canadian was not from a cruise ship.) According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, one involved “an assault on a tourist as he left the terminal . . .. In another, a crew member had his computer stolen, and the third involved an attempted robbery of cruise ship passengers.” Mazatlan increased security around its ship terminal.
Nevertheless, Mazatlan sits in Sinaloa, a Mexican state very heavily impacted by cartel activity. Cartels seek to increase their power at the expense of other cartels, and that means violence.
While no group of states in the United States has crime problems equal to the Mexican states that border Texas, Ryon makes a valid point.
According to the United States Department of Commerce, Washington, DC, welcomed 16.4 million visitors during 2009. The number of people visiting DC remained high in spite of a poor economy.
It would be difficult to find a more interesting city to enjoy than Washington, and I highly recommend it.
Nevertheless, Washington, DC, experiences an extremely high murder rate, as do Chicago and New Orleans.
When I first moved to DC, I lived in a neighborhood that remains some 99% American of African descent. According to Washington Post, this area had a violent crime rate as low as any mostly-white DC suburb. In fact, its crime rate ranked lower than a great many suburban neighborhoods.
There were reasons for this. Most residents had lived there for years. They knew and looked out for each other. Because homes were built no more than two stories high, residents could easily see what was happening on their sidewalks and streets.
Local residents were not afraid to walk the streets. That in turn made the streets even safer.
These people lived in an alternative Washington, DC., one in which we felt reasonably safe and secure.
In an embattled city like Ciudad Juarez, I doubt that many people enjoy a stress-free evening walk, but at least in the tourist areas of Mazatlan they still do.
You see there is also “an alternative Mazatlan, an alternative Sinaloa” in the tourist areas, and at least at the moment that is good enough for me. It may not be good enough for you.
My view: Whether you are in Mazatlan or Washington, DC, stay where families and lots of other typical people are walking about.
In Mazatlan, remain where you notice all those elderly American and Canadian residents enjoying an evening without fear.
Of course, I expect you to take the normal precautions of an experienced world traveler by not flaunting valuables, staying sober enough to comprehend your environment, and the like.
And of course with its position in Sinaloa, the Mazatlan security situation could change even more than it already has. In my opinion, Mazatlan seems significantly more vulnerable to a worsening of its crime situation due to cartel activity than resorts like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Nevertheless, the situation has remained stable during 2012.
The cartels do not care about Mexicans whose livelihoods depend on tourism. However, at least they do not target foreigners who are not involved in their types of activities.
At this time, I would feel comfortable returning to Mazatlan, but you may not.
On my last visit, I roamed all over Mazatlan by walking and taking local buses. Next time, I will stick to the tourist hotel areas along the beaches in Mazatlan and to the Plaza Machado/downtown area, and that is probably the best advice for you too.
Neither will I travel on the sometimes lonely highway from Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan, as I did last time. Nor, will I rent a car to explore outside of Mazatlan.
With all these concerns, I know that some will say, "Why not just go to Hawaii?" Well, many of us love Mazatlan. We love Mexico. These days, we just have to be more prudent about it.
Above: Celebrities have come to Mazatlan since the 1940′s.
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