Mexico: Safety, Health and Money
Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 28, 2009
Here at the Luna Blue Hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico we like many in the tourist business are wondering if 2010 will see a return of visitors to the Yucatan, or whether the fears that scared many people away from this part of the Caribbean earlier this year will continue. We know for sure that some people still have questions about crime and illness in Mexico…we see it in the statistics from visits to our blog where entries written months ago about safety issues are still the most read and sought out. And we hear it from people in the US when we travel there…”You live in Mexico? Aren’t you afraid?”
No, we are not afraid to live here. We continue to love our life here and enjoy running one of the area’s most popular small hotels. And we are not afraid to recommend this part of paradise as a travel destination whether with us or at one of the other fine resorts or hotels in Playa. And so we are going to end this year by once again talking about safety in Playa Del Carmen and the Mayan Riviera.
Mexico’s government is in a battle with drug dealers. That battle is sometimes very violent, and some innocent people have been hurt and killed. But the battle being fought (and won) by the Mexican government is NOT taking place anywhere near the tourist areas of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, the Caribbean coast which stretches from Cancun to Tulum. The violence which erupts between drug dealers and the police is primarily centered on the border of Mexico and the southwest United States. It is over this border that guns are smuggled to Mexico and drugs are smuggled to the US. The competition over these smuggling routes between drug dealers and the disruption of those routes by law enforcement has caused much of the violence which is so sensationally reported by the media.
However, the Yucatan resort coast of Mexico has not experienced this type of drug related warfare. We always remind people that Mexico is similar in many ways to the US. It is a huge country with borders on two oceans. It is divided into many separate states with sovereign governments under a single federal structure. Its people are diverse with different racial backgrounds, economic classes and cultural histories. Like the US it is difficult to pick one part of Mexico and claim it is representative of the whole country and people. Yet often the media of the US and Canada do exactly that, portraying Mexico as a solitary existence where drug dealers and banditos rule the country. While this may sell newspapers and cause people to stay tuned to the channel, it is simply not true.
According to the US State Department, the violence brought about by the drug cartels is centered in Ciudad Juarez, which sits on the northern border of Mexico across from El Paso, Texas. The distance from Ciudad Juarez to Playa del Carmen is approximately 2300 miles. This is about three times the distance from Chicago to New York, around twice the distance from New York to Miami and about the same distance as Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. And while there are travel warnings from the State Department regarding travel in the Mexican border areas with parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, there are NO TRAVEL WARNINGS for the Caribbean coast of Mexico.
We ask again as we have before on this blog: would you cancel your trip to Disneyworld in Orlando because of a crime wave in New York? Would you avoid vacationing in Los Angles because of drug problems in Pittsburgh? We think most people would say “no, of course not.” Yet those who use the drug crimes of central Mexico to say the Mayan Riviera is unsafe are doing that exact type of thing. They are painting all of Mexico with a single brush, and that is unfair and untrue.
Of course our little section of paradise has problems with crime just as every city in the world does. But as the US State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council 2009 report found, “The Yucatan Peninsula has not suffered the same level of escalating violence seen in other parts of Mexico.” And if you find safety in numbers, remember that the State Department says that over 3 million Americans (and countless more Canadians, Europeans and South Americans) visit Cancun every year. The vast, vast majority of these tourists will never suffer anything more dangerous than sunburn.
Traveling to a foreign country always involves some risk. Using common sense about how you behave, where you go and how much you drink usually lessens those risks considerably. Travel to Playa del Carmen is no different and no more dangerous than travel to any large city in the US.
The single most devastating blow to Mexico’s tourism in the Yucatan this year was undoubtedly the swine flu/H1N1 scare. We say “scare” because the flu itself was never a problem in this part of the world. The real problem was the hysterical reaction of the media and the internet community.
When the swine flu epidemic hit Mexico City, the Mexican government and health workers responded in the best way possible. They announced it was happening, took immediate steps to isolate it and invited in international health organizations to monitor and investigate. Mexico’s reward for such exemplary behavior was to be publicly chastised as a “Typhoid Mary” among nations.
Bureaucrats and politicians trying to look important joined forces with a sensationalizing media and an internet full of self-appointed guardians of the public health to basically call for a boycott of Mexico. By the time it became apparent that the flu was present everywhere in the world and was milder than the seasonal winter influenza with a much lower fatality rate, the damage to Mexico’s tourist industry had already been done.
However in the end we did learn some important things. We learned that Mexico has a modern health care system which was ready and able to meet a medical crisis. We learned that Mexico has a policy of transparency when sharing information and seeking assistance. And while the swine flu never reached epidemic proportions here in the Yucatan, we saw doctors, hospitals and government offices were on alert and ready to deal with any problem that arose.
However even with this crisis now passed, there are those who are still concerned about medical care in Mexico. To those folks we can say that Playa has a number of excellent medical facilities including the Red Cross hospital, the ultra modern Hospiten hospital, and numerous emergency care facilities. We can also say that we personally have found the health care here to be of the highest order. For example, Dr. Eduardo Rovirosa, who is our family doctor and is on call for guests at our hotel, has seen us through any number of illnesses over the years, and we know him to be the equivalent of any physician in the US n terms of skill, training and dedication. We think he is typical of the medical community in Playa.
Being ill on vacation can be a scary experience, particularly when you are in a foreign country. Rest assured that competent modern care is available in Playa del Carmen should you ever need it.
Along with fears of crime and rumors about exotic illnesses, another reason people think they should avoid Mexico is the economy. The “staycation’ media blitz by the US hospitality industry has pushed the idea that it is cheaper to stay home in the US for vacations this year. We have already spoken about the safety issue…now let’s talk about money. What does your dollar buy you on vacation in Mexico?
The peso/dollar conversion rate reached an all time high this year when it skyrocketed to 15 to 1 against the dollar. The current conversion is still around 13 to 1. With the current conversion rate, a dollar spent at home in the US is worth only a dollar, while in Mexico it is worth a third more! And not only is the dollar worth more, there are deals to be had. With the drop in visitors this year many hotels, restaurants, and tours are offering discounts and deals that will carry over into 2010.
As a result of the tourist friendly economy here, Mexico and the Mayan Riviera are ending up on more and more top ten lists for travelers concerned about cost. Budget Travel magazine and US News and World Report’s Money section are just two of the national publications recommending Mexico as a money saving travel destination in the coming year.
Of course it’s not just the savings that are attracting visitors. Mexico’s Caribbean coast remains one of the most beautiful places on earth. Recognizing this fact, the 2009 Travel Leaders Company’s annual survey of travel agents in the US yielded the surprising results of having four Mexico destinations in the top ten places for Americans to vacation. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, the Mayan Riviera and cruises to Mexico were all on the list.
To top off the year the prestigious Times of London named our own Playa del Carmen the number one destination for a tropical beach vacation in the entire world! It’s hard to see how a “staycation” at home buried in a snow bank is just as good as laying on the white sand of the world’s best beach. We say forget the “staycation” and go for the “playcation”…or better yet a “Playacation!”
The facts seem pretty clear…Mexico is not only safe, it is a world class travel destination with great value for your dollar. We hope we have cleared up some misconceptions about Mexico, and have made you think for just a moment about visiting a true tropical paradise…our home, Playa del Carmen.
Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012
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