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Originally published Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 7:07 PM

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Travel Wise | Getting better advice on Mexico safety

The U.S. State Department has gotten more specific, and useful, in its travel warnings on Mexico and other countries.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Hawaii or Mexico? Seattleites love both, but given worries about Mexico’s drug-gang violence, Hawaii has had the edge. Now that could be changing.

“We’ve certainly seen an uptick in people buying travel to Mexico’’ said AAA Washington’s Ron Wigand. “It swings back and forth over the years. People love Hawaii, but as the prices get higher more people start shifting back to Mexico.’’

Hawaii airfares and hotel rates indeed are rising as the islands attract more visitors from Canada and Asia.

But the increase in Mexico travel could also have something to do with the U.S. government being more specific when it comes to advice on international trouble spots.

Its recent, more detailed travel warnings target specific areas to be avoided, while easing concerns for other areas of a country.

Example: In an overall warning on travel in Mexico — the longest and most detailed among travel warnings for about three dozen countries posted at travel.state.gov — the U.S. State Department urges travelers to avoid the state of Sinaloa, home to one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels, except for the resort city of Mazatlan where it recommends sticking to the Zona Dorada (the “Golden Zone” of high-rise hotels and beaches) and the city’s historical center.

And so, after dropping Mazatlan from their itineraries in 2011, some cruise lines are returning. Holland America and Norwegian added it to their Mexican Riviera itineraries for later this year and 2014.

“We could have thrown in the towel when the ships left in 2011,’’ Frank Cordova, Sinaloa’s secretary of tourism told Cruise Industry News, “but instead we stepped up not only to improve our security, but also with a one billion peso investment in new infrastructure,’’ including a new lighted, cobblestoned corridor between the port and downtown.

The right advice

The State Department’s decision to replace a giant red light with some red lights, a few flashing yellows and lots of greens no doubt had its political and economic motivations. But it was the right thing to do. Travelers looking for guidance will find plenty of safe choices.

No advisories, for instance, are in effect, for Mexico’s Guanajuato, an art-filled colonial mountain city known for its art and music. Same goes with the popular American expatriate enclave of San Miguel de Allende.

And there are no advisories for Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Cancún, Cozumel, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Guadalajara or Puerto Vallarta.

The situation is more nuanced in the state of Guerrero, where the government recommends avoiding travel in northwestern and southern areas except for the resorts of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. There, the advice is to exercise caution and stay within tourist areas. In Acapulco, visitors are advised to avoid areas farther than two blocks inland of the Costera Miguel Aleman Boulevard.

Bottom line: For those who care what the U.S. government has to say about travel, the current warning on Mexico is far more useful than it’s been in past years.

Could it improve? Sure. One way would be to keep the advice more current. The last update was in July, and there was no mention of the tropical storms in September that caused mass evacuations of tourists from Acapulco.

Check other sources

It’s always wise to poll a variety of sources when planning a trip. Talk to people who live in Mexico or visit frequently.

Read the blogs and forums on websites such as tripadvisor.com.

And check out what other governments are telling their citizens. Canada offers advice on travel to Mexico at travel.gc.ca (click on “news and warnings”). Australia posts advisories at smartraveller.gov.au.

I’ve traveled somewhere in Mexico annually for the past five or six years, collecting memories of eating freshly caught fish on the beach; listening to band concerts in parks; and talking with locals as they wander through the markets, enjoying a Sunday afternoon with their families.

I’m confident you will experience the same.

Carol Pucci is a Seattle freelance writer. Contact her at travel@carolpucci.com. Web/blog: www.carolpucci.com. Twitter: @carolpucci



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