Mexico's real estate market and tourism industry have been hard hit by the global recession, concerns of drug violence and the swine flu. Are the safety concerns legitimate, or a myth reinforced by the media? Glynna Prentice from International Living seeks to debunk some of the misconceptions on safety in Mexico.
Part of my daily routine here in Campeche, where I live in the Yucatán Peninsula, is to stroll to the historic center and chat with friends who own shops on the main street. I usually go in the late afternoon when the air is cooler and long shadows stretch across the cobbled streets and colonial buildings. It’s a nice walk, and very peaceful.
I used to pass lots of tourists along the way, but I don’t anymore. These days my friends mostly talk about how tourism is down, and with it their sales.
Tourism all over Mexico has slowed to a trickle this year. Part of this is due to the global recession, which has left people with less money to spend on travel. But mostly it’s due to bad press, to fears of swine flu and of drug violence. And it’s a shame, because it’s both inaccurate and undeserved.
It’s doubly a shame because those fears are making folks miss out on some exceptional bargains. Right now, you can get big savings on Mexico travel deals—discounts on hotel stays, air fares, restaurants and the like—to entice tourists back. The tourists who come all have a great time.
They find Mexico as beautiful and exciting as ever, and they marvel at the huge gap between what the media has told them and the reality they find.
So, for all of you who haven’t been lucky enough to see the truth first-hand, I’d like to do a little myth-busting.
Myth #1: You’ll Catch the Swine Flu in Mexico
Actually, you can catch the swine flu anyplace, because it’s spread all over the world. In June, the World Health Organization declared the swine flu—virus H1N1—a pandemic. In other words, it’s pretty much everyplace. In fact, these days you probably have a better chance of catching it in the U.S. than in Mexico, because there have been more confirmed cases in the U.S.
H1N1 may not even have begun in Mexico. But Mexican health officials first identified it. And Mexico, being a good global citizen, blew the whistle. Sadly, that decision has cost Mexico billions in tourist dollars.
Here’s the situation now: As noted, the WHO declared H1N1 a pandemic in June. Note that this doesn’t mean the disease has gotten more dangerous. The term pandemic just refers to how widely it’s spread.
Countries that had warned against travel to Mexico have largely lifted those bans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, have removed their travel warning for Mexico and replaced it with a general global warning. Airlines that had canceled flights to Mexico when the flu first appeared have begun resuming their schedules.
The fall flu season has begun and, as expected, new cases of H1N1 are showing up in both the U.S. and Mexico. Vaccines are available in the U.S. already, and will be in Mexico by December (huge demand for the vaccine has slowed down delivery). In the meantime, Mexico’s public health department—which takes its job seriously—has been educating the public on how to cut down the spread of infection, like washing your hands often or staying home if you’re sick. (These simple measures are very effective, actually.) In addition, businesses like restaurants often hand out antiseptic hand gel to customers to make sure folks follow proper hygiene procedures. Mexico’s health officials also note that, from what they’ve seen so far, H1N1 is proving no more dangerous than the normal flu.
So chances are slim that you’ll catch the flu if you come to Mexico. But if you do, don’t worry. Mexico’s hospitals and doctors are first-rate, and they’ve all been prepped on this strain of flu.
Myth #2: Mexico is Violent
Many people already see through the media hype and take what they read and hear with a grain of salt. They realize that violence in border towns and drug areas doesn’t affect safety in places that are hundreds of miles away. To do so, as the media does, is like condemning Ohio for violence in Detroit.
But because the media keeps harping on it, we’ll say it again….
Only parts of Mexico are violent. These are the border areas, Mexico City, and a few other drug-related areas that have always been dicey. In other words, the usual suspects. We don’t recommend these areas.
Most of Mexico is still safe. The places we recommend—such as San Miguel de Allende, Ajijic, Puerto Vallarta and others—are probably safer than where you live now. Certainly Campeche is safer than anyplace I’ve ever lived before.
I’ve walked around cities all over Mexico by day and by night, and I’ve always felt safe. I take normal, sensible precautions, but otherwise I don’t worry. Other expats I’ve spoken with tell me the same thing. Random violence of the kind we know from the U.S.—muggings, for instance—is extremely rare here. It’s just not something you worry about. And the drug war? Unless you’re dealing or buying, you’re likely safe.
Reality: Mexico is Still as Great a Destination as it Always Was
Fundamentally, Mexico hasn’t changed. It’s still beautiful, exotic, and welcoming…and offering a high quality of life at a fraction of what you pay north of the border.
And traveling to Mexico now is a better bargain than ever, thanks to all the special offers. So do yourself a favor and take advantage of them. Because—like the media frenzy over the swine flu—they won’t last forever.
This article has been republished from International Living. You can also view this article at InternationalLiving.com.