Until recently Mexico was one of the safest of the Latin American countries, enjoying the fallout prosperity of bordering the richest country in the world. The American War On Drugs, however, continues to benefit the criminal drug cartels who transport cocaine and marijuana to the US and their power in Mexico has grown considerably in recent years. The effects of this are bloody wars between rival gangs and the army, corruption in the Mexican police force and waves of rampant criminality that make many Mexican towns, especially those close to the border, the most dangerous cities in the world.
The effect of this for the traveler is that the border towns are best avoided all together and a great deal of care should be taken in major cities, especially at night. Mexico City has always been dangerous and it’s still a bad idea to take taxis in the street unless you want to invite the millionaire’s ride.
Follow the usual rules about staying safe in dangerous cities by not wearing or carrying anything valuable, take taxis (pre-ordered) at night and don’t walk down empty or dark streets by yourself. Keep an eye out also for the cholos, gang member descended from the playboy pachucos of the old days. They strut around with their baseball caps on backwards and often bear visible tattoos.
Kidnappings are also frequent in Mexico City but are mostly targeted at rich Mexicans so a scruffy backpacker doesn’t make an inviting prospect.
If you head to the beach on the Pacific side make sure you find out about the currents. Too many travelers drown in the Pacific surf in Mexico each year.
Most Mexico guide books chuckle about Montezuma’s revenge as though diarrhea were some kind of insider joke known only to travellers. The truth is that when you live in the tropics almost everyone gets hit with the runs from time to time. Take the guaranteed cure for diarrhea and get over it.
The water from the tap is terrible in Mexico. It’s not just the bacteria but the heavy metals int water from the rape of the countryside by mining companies. So just about everyone who possibly can drinks mineral water. Big trucks drive around town all day with loudspeakers trying to give you a heart attack by sneaking up behind you and blaring:
“Agua mineral! Agua!”
You can eat tacos on the street without many problems. If you get nervous just chew some raw garlic along with them. Maybe it’s a good idea to leave the sweet stuff alone though as you don’t know how long it’s been sitting around with flies tasting it.
For more on staying safe check out the Travel Health Guide