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Archive for the ‘Safety in Mexico’ Category

Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 5, 2012

Tulum MexicoAs the last year came to a close and the new one has begun, many people considering a trip to Playa del Carmen still have the same question…is it safe?

We know this because the top phrases by which people are finding our blog include safety and crime in Mexico. We also know it from comments on internet forums, by the questions people ask in e-mails and by talking with our guests who invariably say they were warned by friends and family not to go to “dangerous” Mexico.

So even though we have blogged about this issue several times before, we thought it would be good to start the new year with a clear statement: Playa del Carmen and Mexico’s Caribbean coast are safe to visit.

Mexico is America’s Favorite Vacation Destination

One way to judge the safety of Mexico is to look at how many people come here without incident. In 2011 Mexico continued to be the first choice for travel among Americans visiting foreign countries for vacation.

“Put the numbers in statistical perspective. Mexico is the United States’ #1 foreign tourist destination, and more people will visit Mexico before noon today than visit London in a year. With more than 50,000 people a day visiting Mexico your chance of being involved in a violent act in Mexico are less than half that of being struck by lightning and more unlikely than winning Powerball!”
BajaInsider.com, Looking at the Facts, Dec. 31, 2011 Update.

There is every reason to believe this will continue, as several travel publications and websites have listed Mexico as one of the most desirable vacation destinations for the coming year. For example, tourist industry giant Frommer’s has listed Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (which includes Playa del Carmen) as one of the Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2012:

“It [the Yucatan Peninsula] remains the safest region in Mexico, with far less crime than travelers are likely to encounter at home. Even so, the Yucatán offers all that is best about Mexico — sublime beaches, a unique cuisine, joyous fiestas and exotic wildlife.”
Frommer’s, Top Destinations 2012

A Geography Lesson

Yes, there is crime in Mexico. And yes, there are areas of Mexico where drug wars have created a real danger to the people who live there. But as we have previously pointed out on this blog, the geographical area where that problem exists is far from the beaches of Playa del Carmen.

“Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t.”
Washington Post, Mexico: A Guide to Which Parts are Safe

The distance in driving miles between Ciudad Juarez (heart of the cartel violence) and Playa del Carmen (heart of Mexico’s Caribbean coast) is approximately equal to the driving distance between Chicago and San Francisco. Would you skip visiting America’s Pacific coast because of crime thousands of miles away in the country’s midwest? The same comparison can be made about Mexico.

Crime Exists in Everyone’s Hometown

Yes we have crime in Playa del Carmen. And there is crime in the city you live in. No matter where you live, there is crime in your own hometown. But in truth, Playa del Carmen probably has a crime rate lower than most North American cities.

NBC’s cable affiliate msnbc.com recently indicated that visiting the Riviera Maya may be safer than going to Disney World:

“Most tourist-popular areas, such as Mexico City and the resorts of the Riviera Maya, are considered safe for travelers. (In fact, statistics show that these regions saw even less crime in 2010, per capita, than Orlando and Washington, D.C.)”
msnbc.com, To Go or Not to Go

Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya (Cancun to Tulum) are actually safer than a lot of American cities. In 2010 (the latest available statistics) the entire State of Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen and the all of the Riviera Maya is located) had fewer murders per 100,000 people than many US cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, Miami, Newark, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa and Washington DC.(based on FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics for the US and the statistics of the National System for Public Security of Mexico.)

Last Year in Playa del Carmen

BUT…some folks will say…there is violent crime in Playa del Carmen. Just last year wasn’t a tourist killed? Didn’t drug cartels murder the chief of the city’s police to stop his anti-drug campaign? Wasn’t the mayor assassinated? The answer to all three questions is “no.”

Last year there were two shootings in Playa which caused many people concern. We have discussed these previously. In short, a man from central Mexico who was involved in money laundering for the cartels stole money from them and then fled here to the coast, not as a tourist but to hide from his employers. His employers found him and killed him.

In a second unrelated incident the chief officer for the Tourist Police unit (not the chief of the city police) was killed. His killers escaped, and no motive for his murder has been discovered. The police officer was not part of any drug investigating unit, nor has any drug cartel claimed responsibility. These crimes targeted specific individuals for specific reasons. They were not random acts that threatened the general population–local or tourist.

A third incident which occurred last year was almost laughable in how the media and the internet reacted. It concerned an alleged shooting involving the mayor’s security team. It seems that after a trip by Playa’s mayor to Cancun, bullet holes were discovered in the SUV driven by the security team which accompanied the mayor. A local newspaper speculated about an armed attack on the mayor and the internet quickly was full of stories of an assassination attempt. Some even reported a successful assassination of the mayor. However, subsequent inspection revealed the shots came from inside the vehicle! It appears that a security team member’s gun accidentally discharged. No attack. No assassination. No crime.

But despite the fact that no tourists have been involved or injured in any of the incidents we mentioned, and despite the fact the predicted introduction of the drug war to Playa never happened, many people reading exaggerated comments on the internet have been left with the impression that Playa is now a war zone. That is simply untrue.

Playa del Carmen is Not a Small Village

No one likes violent crime in their city. People in Playa were shocked and saddened by the crimes that took place. But keep in mind that Playa is not a small town. The most recent population number listed by the Municipio of Solidaridad lists the population of the Municipio at 173,266, with an annual growth rate of 6.8%. This doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit here each year.

Playa del Carmen and the surrounding municipality is larger than both Green Bay, Wisconsin and Topeka, Kansas. Playa is also larger than either Tempe, Arizona or Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is about the same size as Providence, Rhode Island and as Knoxville, Tennessee. Playa is not a small village; it is a good sized city. And in any city of this size, regardless of the country, one would expect to find some incidents of violent crime. Yet overall Playa del Carmen continues to be free of the crime seen in central Mexico or even in some places north of the border.

Don’t Listen to Rumors

While we were writing this blog, we saw an individual on an internet forum state that she worried Playa was too dangerous to visit because there had been an assassination attempt on the mayor! And in that post we realize the real reason for Mexico’s reputation as being too dangerous to visit: Public comments by those ignorant of the facts, always founded in speculation and often based in prejudice, have created a popular but false perception that all of Mexico is dangerous.

We will say it now as we have repeatedly said it in the past. Do NOT listen to the opinions of your neighbors who have never been to Playa telling you to stay home, or the speculation of people who post on the internet with no expertise or experience who advise you to stay hidden behind resort walls. If you have questions, turn to the experts…those news agencies and governmental offices whose job it is to keep us informed with facts; and blogs written by people who live and work in the area. A list of articles, blogs and sources that we believe are reliable can be found in our previous blog on this topic: Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico 2011: The Truth. And you can always find up to date information about Playa del Carmen and the surrounding area on the Facebook page of the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar.

Mexico is More than Sensational Headlines

Finally people also need to remember that Mexico, like the US and like any other country in the world, is a complex place, and no one part of it should be seen as representing the whole. We would not condemn the entire US as dangerous because of a crime wave in one section of the country. Yet that is what happens repeatedly with regard to Mexico. Last year when 14 people were killed in 14 days in Dallas, Texas not one person suggested America was too dangerous to visit. Can you imagine the outcry in the media if a similar crime wave happened in Playa?

Most of us view other places with a different perspective than we do our own country or home. And while that may be understandable it isn’t always fair or factual. Mexico is not black and white, good or bad. It is a tapestry of different lives, cultures and experiences. It would be a shame if people continue to paint all of Mexico with one brush and deny themselves the opportunity to experience the greatness that this country has to offer.

We have lived and worked in Mexico for almost seven years, and we can say with absolute conviction that this little bit of paradise known as the Mayan Riviera is beautiful, relaxing, welcoming and above all…safe.

And on that note we will leave you with this video made by the Tourist Board of Mexico about the Riviera Maya. We think that without saying a single word it explains perfectly why we and so many others think of Mexico as someplace very special.

This is where we live…come visit us at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar.

Read our other blog entries about safety by choosing the “Safety in Mexico” category in the right column of this page, or simply click:
Safety in Mexico Blog Entries ~ Luna Blue’s Playazone

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Posted in Safety in Mexico | Tagged: , , , , | 17 Comments »

Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico 2011: The Truth

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 14, 2011

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

We think it is time to again talk truthfully about safety and crime in Playa del Carmen.

The two acts of violence which took place over the last month in Playa del Carmen raised questions in many people’s minds about safety in this area. Unfortunately many of the people answering those questions have no real information and simply offer their own negative opinions about Playa. So it is time to do several things: talk about the sad events of the last month, discuss the use of the internet by ignorant people to fan anti-Mexico fears, and offer sources where truthful and factual information can be found.

Recent Acts of Violence in Playa del Carmen

In the last few weeks we have experienced two very tragic events here in Playa. First was the killing of a man from central Mexico whose business was involved with drug gangs. According to police he fled here to Playa hoping to avoid retaliation for something he did which angered the drug gangs. He was shot to death in his car near a restaurant in the north part of the city. No one else was injured, and the assassins have not been found.

The second and even more tragic incident was the murder of the Chief of the Tourist Police. This branch of the city police is charged with patrolling the tourist/resort zone. The Chief was killed while getting out of his car on Avenida Juarez, a main thoroughfare from the federal highway leading to the ferry dock. This was the second attempt on this officer’s life in the last year. No one has been arrested, and no evidence has been found to explain why this particular officer was twice targeted.

Those of us who live here in Playa have been shocked and saddened by these events. No one likes to hear of such violent acts happening in their home town. It is particularly horrible to see a young officer killed in the line of duty. The government, the local community and the expats who are guests here have all strongly condemned these crimes.

However these events touch more than the local community. The thousands of tourists who visit here each year want to know what this means for them. In truth, it has very little effect on visitors.

These were not random acts of violence involving innocent tourists. No attempt was made to target tourists or the resort area. There is no evidence that these crimes are related to or represent some sort of burgeoning crime wave. These victims were specifically chosen for reasons which we do not fully know. What we do know is that these crimes did not target, involve or touch tourists, and we know that there has been no subsequent outbreak of violence around the city. In short, these are isolated incidents that do not represent a continued threat.

Put it in Perspective

Still, despite the fact that these two acts didn’t involve tourists, some folks wonder if they are safe when visiting here. Many people have publicly spoken of their fear of coming to this part of the world and question if they shouldn’t change their vacation plans. We say: keep some perspective.

Crime–even violent crime–is a fact of life in just about every city in the world. So why do we consider one safer than the next? If it is the number of crimes, then Playa is most certainly safer than most as its crime rates are lower than many US cities.

If safety is predicated on the type of crime, again Playa still ranks as among the safest. There are no riots here. There are no mass shootings and no crimes involving groups of innocent people.

Recent crimes in the USAThe fact is that people worry about safety in Mexico because they react differently, even unfairly, to hearing about a crime in Mexico than they do about crime elsewhere. For example, when this last summer began with the Memorial Day weekend, gang violence resulted in six deaths in Chicago and eight deaths in New York City. During the same weekend three police officers and four innocent bystanders were shot in Miami Beach.

Then summer ended with the horrifying act of a man with a high powered automatic weapon slaughtering five people in an IHOP restaurant in Carson City Nevada, while over the Labor Day weekend in New York City 13 were murdered, 2 police officers were wounded and 67 were injured by gunfire in 52 separate shootings.

Despite these horrendous acts leaving dozens of people dead and scores more injured, no one on TV or the internet told people to avoid going to New York or Chicago or Nevada. No newspaper article suggested people avoid the upcoming Broadway shows in Manhattan or skip going to the Bears games because of violence. And yet two isolated acts of crime in Playa are treated by many as the collapse of all law and order in that area. People worry that a trip to the Riviera Maya will turn them into victims, when in fact they may be safer here than in their own home town.

How did we end up with such a skewed perception of Mexico? Why do we have such an unbalanced view of crime in Mexico as opposed to crime in the US?

Not long ago it may have been because Mexico was the favorite whipping boy of a news media that feeds on sensationalism. But over the last year even they have come to acknowledge that the dangers of violence seen in Central Mexico do not extend to the peaceful shores of the Caribbean. However where the media left off, the World Wide Web has taken over. We think much of this anti-Mexico hysteria is generated by the ignorant and sometimes prejudiced people one encounters on the internet.

Opinions are Not Facts: Internet Forum Misinformation

In this time of instant gratification and access, most people turn to the internet for information. The travel industry is no different. Printed guidebooks have given way to web sites, chat rooms and forums where people can exchange ideas and opinions. And that isn’t a bad thing…except when opinion is taken for fact and speculation becomes a substitution for proof.

It has been our observation over the last few weeks that on certain internet forums dedicated to discussing Playa del Carmen, the intensity has been exceeded only by a lack of factual information.

On such forums, unless properly moderated, anyone can literally post anything, offering “facts” that have no basis in reality. The intentions of such posters are unknown. Perhaps they are attempts at making the poster feel important or perhaps they are intentional acts aimed to denigrate other peoples or countries. But even if we don’t know the reason for posting fantasy as fact we do know the effect…it creates false information that misleads people looking for the truth.

How Rumors Become “Facts”

We will give you some examples: Recently on a popular forum about Playa del Carmen hosted by a website called playa.info, a thread was started about a woman’s body found in the sea near the Playa shore with a rope tied around her. There followed several days of speculation by posters (the vast majority of who do not live in Playa) over whether or not she met with foul play. It was even suggested by someone with no facts or personal knowledge that her death might be evidence that the cartel had killed her and was moving into the area! Thousands of people read these baseless speculations until the woman’s son posted that she had drowned while swimming, and local fishermen finding her floating in the sea had tied her body to a buoy so that it did not float out to deeper waters before it could be brought ashore. No murder, no gang retaliation, no cartels moving into Playa. But for the thousands who read such irresponsible comments the damage was done. A simple drowning had quickly become the work of the drug gangs, and Playa was dangerous.

In other postings on playa.info about the recent shootings, it was suggested that the cartel would be coming after tourists next, that the drug war was escalating into Playa, and that everyone–but especially those with children–should avoid Playa to keep from getting hit by stray bullets. ‘The bad guys are moving in and they are not going anywhere’ was typical of the statements. Of course no statistics, articles or even governmental warnings were offered in support of these “facts.”

Sometimes People Just Make Stuff Up

A similar situation can be found all around the internet. On TripAdvisor.com (which bills itself as the largest travel industry website in the world), a forum dedicated to Playa del Carmen dealt with the shooting of the Tourist Police Chief by having many posters assert that most Playa businesses were paying protection money to the drug cartels. It went further. One individual posted that many businesses were closing “each day” because of drug cartel pressure.

We were surprised that while living here we had missed a daily wholesale loss of businesses. When we asked the individual for some facts or statistics or even personal knowledge about this massive loss of businesses in the area, his response was that he had been “told” of two businesses that closed. His story went from daily closings of many businesses to an anecdotal story of two unnamed businesses. Never mind that his original claim had been shown to be without basis, the damage was done. Other people had already picked up on his false claim and repeated it as “fact.”

In the same vein was the suggestion on the same forum that patronizing Playa businesses was just giving money to the drug cartels, since they all paid protection money. When we said we paid no such protection money and knew no one who did, the response was that we had to say that because the cartels would punish us if we admitted our support of them publicly!!! Seriously, that was the response.

The result is that people without knowledge created a new set of “facts,” i.e. the cartel is already in Playa; it controls Playa’s businesses; it puts those it can’t control out of business, and it silences the locals with fear of punishment if they talk about it. That is some scary stuff. Except there is not a single shred of evidence to show it is true. It is a fantasy which arises from a “common knowledge” (i.e. assumption and opinion) fed by too many viewings of the Sopranos rather than actual facts. Once again, irresponsible and ignorant people are painting a false picture of Playa that too many people see and believe.

Widespread Damage

In fairness to the forums we have just mentioned, they both have rules that prohibit inflammatory and false statements. Playa.info has barred further posting on a few of their most inflammatory threads, and TripAdvisor has done the same, actually removing some of the more outrageous posts. However neither forum moved to enforce their own guidelines for several days. The prohibition of these false statements was done hesitantly, at best. Why? Internet websites such as these two make money based upon the number of visitors to those sites. They sell more advertising, more tours and more vacation rentals and use the boosted statistics to seek new advertisers. So a controversial issue like crime, even if spinning out of control on their own website, is beneficial to them. Unfortunately, it’s not beneficial to others.

Not only do such irresponsible comments mislead the public seeking actual information, but they do serious and unwarranted damage to people and businesses here in Playa.
Just a few days ago we spoke with a local business owner who said he had had $5000 US worth of cancellations in a single day, and that the people canceling specifically cited their reason as being the frightening stories about crime in Playa del Carmen they had read on the playa.info forum. And the damage is not limited to just this individual or his business. It in turn will cause damage to his employees, to their families and to the local businesses where they shop. It will also cause damage to other businesses such as restaurants, bars and tours that these visitors would have patronized had they not cancelled their trip. The casual comments and opinions of someone with no knowledge can be magnified on the internet to do real damage. That damage is not to drug dealers and criminals. That damage is to local Mexican families. We would ask everyone who posts on the internet to remember that.

For questioning these irresponsible and false statements, we and other members of Playa’s expat community have been branded by many on the internet as “cheerleaders” for Playa. It is said that because we have businesses that rely on tourists we ignore and hide the facts about dangers here. That’s not true.

What we really do is demand that dangers of traveling here or anywhere be discussed responsibly with facts. Innuendo, rumor, speculation and guesswork are not the foundation of responsible discussion. And such opinions should never be the basis of deciding whether you visit Playa or Miami or New York. When deciding where you can go to safely spend your vacation time you need facts. So the question is…where do you go to get real information…real facts…about safety in Playa del Carmen?

Sources for Factual Information

Luckily there are plenty of places where you can get both facts and some responsible opinions about safety in Mexico, starting with the governments of the United States and Canada.

The US State Department assists travelers with information about countries they may be visiting, including issues of crime and safety. When the US government feels an area may be dangerous to visit, it issues a travel warning (as now exists for areas in central Mexico). No such warning has ever been issued for Playa or the state of Quintana Roo. In fact the US government has consistently said that the Riviera Maya is NOT experiencing the drug war violence seen elsewhere. Click here for the US State Department’s web page regarding Mexico.

The International Affairs and Foreign Trade division of the government of Canada has a similar function with a similar result. While a travel warning has been issued to its citizens traveling to the central Mexico/US border area, NO warning exists for traveling to the Riviera Maya or the state of Quintana Roo. Click here for their web page regarding Mexico.

Of course many travelers want more than just bare bones ‘is there a warning or not’ before making a decision. They want an overall picture from an objective source. We suggest checking out major respectable news sources. We googled the following news sources regarding stories on Mexico safety:

The New York Times, CNN, the San Francisco Chronicle, ABC News, the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and USA Today all say the same thing: While there are parts of Mexico that are dangerous and should be avoided, the Riviera Maya is far removed from the drug wars and is a safe vacation destination.

The prospective visitor can also check with major travel writers around the country to see how they feel about safety in Playa and Mexico. An example is the respected travel author and expert Peter Greenburg, formerly of NBC News. (A note of full disclosure…we do not know Mr. Greenburg but he once gave our hotel a rave review based on the experience of one of his reporters.)

Mr. Greenburg recently made a statement about the hysteria over Mexico that goes directly to the heart of so many negative postings on the internet: “I’ll call a spade a spade here. Mexico has been seen in an almost racist way by Americans for so many years. They imagine dusty border towns, guys wearing sombreros and doing shoot ‘em ups. They see it how it was portrayed in the movies. If you couple that perception with the drug cartels or with the swine flu or with select crime reports, suddenly everybody starts running for the border.” Peter Greenburg’s web site has many articles about all aspects of the Riviera Maya, including safety.

Finally if you want to know what is happening here in Playa you may want to ask the people who live here. There are many well-written blogs by expats living in this area. Yes we are sometimes “cheerleaders” about Mexico. We live and work here because we love it here. Yet if anyone thinks we are blind to dangers or problems, they are mistaken. We are here with our children and our families. We walk the streets and go to the beaches. Does anyone think we would do that in the middle of a war zone? More than any visitors, we stay aware of the issues of safety here. If it weren’t safe for us, our families and friends we wouldn’t be here. Here are some of our favorite blogs and websites written by people who live and work here:

And there are dozens more. Of course there is our own PlayaZone, the blog you are reading now. You will also find numerous Playa based pages on Facebook, including our own. On these blogs and pages you will find the voices of people who live here. And we might be worth listening to.

A Final Note

Mexico isn’t for everyone. And those who are interested in coming here often have legitimate reasonable concerns. We neither ignore nor condemn those concerns. We only ask that people seek out responsible factual information when looking for answers to their questions.

We will end on a personal note. We have been living here in Mexico for over six years. Before that we were regular visitors to this area for another seven years. In that time we have never been the victims of a violent crime. We have never witnessed a violent crime. The worst thing that happened to us was the theft of a backpack left unattended on the beach six years ago.

We realize there is crime here, just as there was in San Francisco when we lived there. Crime is sadly a part of life everywhere. But to us, Playa del Carmen is still a safe wonderful place where the pace of life is slower and the Caribbean beckons with warm blue water. It is our home and we feel safe here. If that ever changes, our readers will be among the first to know.

Happy travels to you all. And if you find yourself in Playa del Carmen, please stop by the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar and say hello.

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Posted in News & Politics, Safety in Mexico | Tagged: , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

Safety in Mexico…Canadian Alleges Rape in Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 19, 2011

We had hoped to be blogging about the new restaurants in town, but the recent story by the Canadian Broadcasting Company about a woman who alleged rape by Playa del Carmen police has once more brought a lot of people to our blog asking questions about safety. So we thought we’d give our views.

First, we want to say that no woman’s allegation of rape should ever be treated lightly. Rape is a serious crime, and any allegation of that crime should be thoroughly investigated. It should never be assumed that a woman alleging rape is lying. But neither should it ever be assumed that she is telling the truth. We have police systems and courts in the US and Canada and yes, here in Mexico, whose purpose it is to investigate allegations of crime.

Therefore, we find it disturbing that so many people are automatically assuming this couple’s story is true and concluding, once again, that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit.

As far as the facts of the case are concerned we, like many people, have serious questions about the allegations. It appears that the couple was drunk on New Years Eve, got into a street fight, struck someone’s car and when the police were called had a confrontation with the police and resisted arrest. That seems to be without dispute. They were taken to the jail and housed separately. The woman says that she was raped by two police officers. In the meantime, her fiancee in another part of the jail admits he tried to hang himself in his cell. He says that other prisoners told him of his girlfriend’s rape and he decided his own suicide would bring attention to her situation somehow. (How other prisoners would know of this activity in another part of the jail, or even if the man spoke Spanish has not been addressed by him.) Police intervened and saved him from his self-inflicted hanging.

The couple was released the next day after paying a fine. They filed complaints both with Canadian and Mexican authorities. A physical examination of the woman showed no evidence of rape. Instead of returning home after this alleged ordeal, they continued their vacation for another 18 days. On the day before they returned to Canada, almost three weeks later, they gave an on-camera interview to the CBC in Playa del Carmen and continued to appear on CBC News once they returned home.

For us, the couple’s bizarre behavior raises questions about their truthfulness. But that is not for us or anyone else to decide. An investigation is ongoing by the authorities in Mexico.

What does concern us is the sensationalized nature of the coverage and the public reaction to it. As a result of these types of sensationalized stories–and in particular this story–some people are immediately willing to condemn Mexico and make a determination that it is dangerous to visit there. We disagree.

Even if the allegations of the woman are true (and no objective observer is able to say that they are or are not at this point), it would not reflect upon the typical tourist’s safety in this country. The sad fact is that assaults, including rapes, occur everywhere, including Canada and the US. The idea that one such allegation concerning one incident among literally millions of tourists who visit this country is proof that everyone who visits here is in danger is a ridiculous proposition founded more in bigotry than in fact, more in prejudice than in reason.

We continue to assert that our adopted home is as safe as any city in North America. We’ve lived here for six years and never been the victim of a serious crime. Is it perfect? Of course not. But then no place is. There is crime everywhere, but there is less of it here than in most places. And here, as in most places, we strongly suggest you not get so drunk that you end up in violent street brawls or resist the police when they tell you you’re under arrest. Don’t act here differently than you would act at home, and you’ll be just fine.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

“Like” the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar on Facebook to keep up with the latest news of Playa del Carmen, life in paradise & our version of “living the dream.”

   

Posted in News & Politics, Safety in Mexico | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Playa del Carmen Right Outside your Door: Small Hotels vs. All Inclusives

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 11, 2011

You are going to Mexico! You have been dreaming of margaritas and white sand beaches in the beautiful seaside village of Playa Del Carmen. You’ve waited all year for this vacation and now you just have to decide where you will stay.

We’re Going to Playa! Now Where Should We Stay?

Playa Del Carmen has a large number of small boutique-style hotels throughout the resort/hotel zone which stretches along the shoreline of the Caribbean Sea. The resort/hotel zone goes from Juarez Avenue in the south to Calle 40 in the north and from Avenida 10 east to the beach. There are also many mega-resorts up and down the coast outside of town which list “Playa del Carmen” as their location. These generally are all-inclusive properties—which means the price you pay includes food, drinks and your room, much like the cruise ship vacation your great aunt Myrtle takes every year.

All inclusive resorts (called “AI’s”) have become quite popular in the travel industry. That popularity has been helped along by a tourist industry which too often places its fees ahead of your interests. Such resorts are often part of an international chain which can afford not only extensive advertising, but also to host and finance press junkets for travel writers and pay travel agents large commissions to steer their clients to them.

This is not to say that such a giant resort might not be right for you. But we think the decision should be based on what kind of vacation you want and not because someone else will make the most money from recommending a property to you.

Of course, we are not objective on the matter. We own one of the most popular small hotels in Playa del Carmen, the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar, and have long encouraged people to think about a visit to Mexico outside of some resort’s gated compound.

Over the years we’ve heard many reasons why people prefer AI vacations—generally by people who’ve never traveled any other way. The following is a list of those reasons, along with our own opinions and views. We hope it helps with your vacation planning.

Safety

The number one reason given by most people for choosing to stay in a gated, all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera is safety.

Some visitors are frightened by the sensationalized media portrayal of all of Mexico being engulfed in a violent drug war. Others are just concerned about possible problems of being on their own in a country where they don’t know the language or the culture. Both fears are understandable, but neither is a realistic view of Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

Playa del Carmen is Safe
Mexico’s drug wars are taking place primarily around Ciudad Juarez, a city near the border with the southwest United States. The violence and crime associated with that problem have not spread to the eastern coast some 3000 miles away. The Caribbean border state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, has a crime rate much lower than many large US cities. Playa Del Carmen is perfectly safe for any visitor, and there is no need for visitors to hide away in a fortress-like compound, avoiding and missing the true spirit and flavor of Mexico.

Likewise, finding yourself on your own without resources or help or unable to speak the language even to ask for assistance is simply not going to happen. Playa is a modern city. Many of the locals working in the hotels, restaurants and bars speak very good English. Well trained English-speaking doctors and health care workers are readily available. There is even a special branch of the police department called the “Tourist Police” that patrols the resort zone to help visitors with problems.

And if you should need assistance, you will find it easier to get help in a small hotel where you are a familiar face to the people working there than a large resort where you are just another room number in a crowd of hundreds or thousands.

Convenience

Many people also think that an all inclusive experience offers the most convenient way to travel. They think that having shops, a beach club, bars and restaurants all in the same compound will make their vacation easier.

Shopping
The truth is that the widest range of services and stores in the area are in downtown Playa within easy walking distance to the small hotels. Laundries, clothing stores, pharmacies, wine and liquor shops and souvenirs of all types are available in hundreds of stores lining Fifth Avenue. Even our Super Walmart is conveniently located just outside the central part of the downtown hotel zone. By staying in a boutique hotel in town you have not only convenience but also more choices. By staying in a mega resort outside of town (and very few of the AI resorts are within walking distance of town), you are limited to the choices available there on the resort grounds, and you must share those resources with the hundreds and possibly thousands of others staying there at the same time.

Dining
The same is true for restaurants, bars and cafes. With a few feet of any small hotel in town, you will discover limitless dining and drinking possibilities. For example, within one block of our own small Luna Blue Hotel, guests can find eight restaurants and three bars. A ten minute walk down 5th Avenue or in any direction will bring dozens more of all types and price ranges. The same can be said for any small hotel in Playa.

We think having access to several dozen restaurants of varying cuisines within a few minutes stroll is certainly more convenient than taking a long hike down to the food complex across the resort grounds to choose from a small group of restaurants, all of which share the same kitchen.

Beach Clubs
Visitors staying in town will find more beach clubs and find them more conveniently located than at a giant resort. For example, some rooms at a large resort like the Mayan Palace may require guests to take a shuttle bus or even two to get to the beach. Once there you may find the infamous “towel game” in full effect, i.e. when people rise early, go to the beach and “save” chairs with towels or personal items to use later in the day. As most large resorts do not have a beach chair for every guest, many beachgoers end up with no comfortable way to enjoy a day on the sand.

On the other hand, since the resort/hotel zone of downtown Playa parallels the beach it is only a short 5 minute walk from almost any small hotel in the area to the beach. And some hotels can even be found right on the beach. Once on the sand you will find Playa’s two main beaches (centro and norte) to be lined with beach clubs, bars and restaurants. Instead of having one beach club where you may not even get a chair, the person staying in town can pick a new beach club every day of their vacation. In short you are nearer to the beach and have more choices when staying in a small hotel in town.

Food

People can get a little fussy about food. They know what they like, and many folks are not too willing to try something foreign or different. That need for some familiarity combined with the myth that “Montezuma Revenge” awaits anyone who eats in Mexico makes some people conclude it is safer and easier to eat at the buffet or American-style restaurants usually provided by the big AI resorts. Once again, this commonly held view turns out to be untrue.

The truth is that most large all-inclusive resorts will have at most three to five dining rooms (featuring steak, seafood, Mexican, or Asian food). In addition there will be a buffet or two and a couple of burger/pizza grills. One or two of the fancier restaurants will require reservations and have a dress code. Now compare this to what you can find in town.

Playa is a Food Lover’s Paradise
The number of restaurants available within a block or two of any small hotel will be in the dozens. The resort zone has literally several hundred choices of where to eat. One will find Thai, Spanish tapas, sushi, steak (Argentinean, American and Mexican style), and Italian (often featuring excellent homemade pasta from expat Italians). There is traditional Mexican food, French, fondue, vegetarian, seafood featuring fish caught that day, or lobsters fresh from the tank. You will find local specialties like lobster macaroni and cheese, coconut shrimp and marinated barbequed pork tacos. Street-side cafes offer fresh coffee and Mexico’s famous chocolate. There are grills with hamburgers and hot dogs, street carts with tacos and empanadas. And don’t forget the Italian bakeries and gelato stores. And of course there are some familiar names like Burger King, MacDonald’s, Johnny Rockets, Haagen Dazs, Starbucks and even Dairy Queen. Or you can even have Domino’s deliver a pizza to your hotel room.

Whether you will only eat the same food you know from back home or want to experiment with something new, you will find many times more restaurants within steps of your hotel than you will in any major resort. And it is perfectly safe to eat at these places.

Yes, it’s Safe
Playa Del Carmen has an efficient system of health inspection. Restaurants in town are held to the same high standard by the same government inspectors as the kitchens and dining rooms of the large all inclusive resorts. There is no more need to worry about your health when eating in town than when eating at a resort. In fact it might even be safer to eat at a restaurant in the resort zone where the meal is prepared when you order it instead of having food which has been sitting out in an AI buffet for hours.

Beverages
And if drinking is a favorite pastime, you will certainly not go thirsty in Playa. You will find bars with swings, bars on the sand, bars with swimming pools, bars with dancing, bars with live entertainment and bars with big screen TVs showing the latest sports. A bar crawl with friends at an AI resort will most likely consist of a drink at the pool bar and one at the disco. In downtown Playa a bar crawl will become a fun filled fiesta stretching from one end of town or the beach to the other. And don’t worry about drinking the water. Purified water is provided in every restaurant in Playa’s resort zone, and ice in your drink is also purified. Most small hotels provide bottled drinking water for their guests.

Language

Another concern which leads people to stay at an AI is their own lack of Spanish language skills and the fear they won’t be able to speak to the people around them. It’s a needless worry.

In Playa Del Carmen and all of the Riviera Maya, the number one source of income is tourism, primarily from English speaking countries. Over the years this has caused a Mexican national workforce to develop which is fluent not only in English but other languages as well. It is not unusual to find a waiter or bartender with limited formal education who can speak not only Spanish but also English and Mayan. He or she will probably have some knowledge of Italian and maybe even a smattering of French or German, as tourists speaking those languages are frequent visitors here. You will also find most restaurants have English language menus available.

Of course Spanish is the primary language of Mexico, so it should not be a surprise to visitors that it is spoken in most places and circumstances. And while many Mexicans will be glad to switch to English for you if they can, it is still nice to remember you are a visitor in a land with a different language from your own. So even if you can’t speak much Spanish, just try a little…such as “hola” (hello) or “por favor” (please) or “gracias” (thank you). After all, part of the adventure of a new land is negotiating a new language. At the very least it will earn you a smile.

And it would seem to go without saying that your chances of meeting, speaking to and interacting with locals is much more likely in town than at a gated resort that most Mexicans will never see the inside of.

Cost

In the end, after the issues of safety, convenience, food, and language have been shown to favor the small boutique hotel, it always boils down to money. Some people believe that an all inclusive is cheaper because the guest doesn’t have to pay for food and drinks. That is simply not true.

There is No Free Lunch
One doesn’t eat or drink for “free” at an AI. The price of what you will consume during your stay is factored into the price of the room. Those prices fluctuate greatly depending on the resort and on the time of year you are visiting Mexico. The truth is a stay in a small hotel in town, even adding in the cost of dining out, can easily be less expensive than the cost of staying at a large resort. More importantly, the small hotel can make decisions about discounts and upgrades on the spot. Rarely do they need to forward your requests up the corporate chain for a decision by someone not even in the same country.

AIs may occasionally offer what appear to be very low rates. However it is important to remember that those rates are per person, not per room like you’d find in a small hotel. And of course there are often extra fees—for towels, for use of sports and leisure equipment, and for those mysterious “resort fees.” Be sure to factor in all costs and fees, or you won’t be comparing apples to apples.

Playa Won’t Break Your Budget
If you’re concerned about cost, do a little research to look for the best deal. Look on the internet. Contact the hotels directly. Ask your travel agent’s advice. Go to tripadvisor.com and other travel-based websites. And don’t worry about paying for your own meals and drinks. After finding the small hotel that is right for you, you can be assured that the costs of dining out in Playa will still be very low. Most of the restaurants in Playa are mid-range to outright cheap. Sure, you can find a four star, multi-course dinner for top price, but if budget is your issue, you can find plenty of places to stretch your dining dollars. Eating and drinking well for little money is a tradition in Mexico that has been passed on to its visitors.

A One of a Kind Experience
And a vacation is not just about cost. People work hard for their money and want a quality experience when they take some time off. Cheapest is not always the best. And if you’re looking for a unique experience customized to your interests, you won’t find it in an AI. Why? Because large resorts are generally owned by international corporations which standardize their services and costs. Food is mass produced—often ahead of time—in order to serve thousands of meals each day. Accommodations must be of the same mass-manufactured design so that furniture and fixtures are interchangeable. Tours, activities and events are chosen and marketed to the guests based exclusively on the commission paid to the hotel, and steps are often taken to limit the guests’ access to other activities.

And often any spirit of the people or culture is eliminated when creating cost-effective generic resorts. You might be in an AI in Orlando one day and in one in Mexico the next and not be able to tell the difference.

You can choose an AI and have a “cookie cutter” hotel experience similar to every other hotel or resort. Or, you can choose a small hotel vacation and have a unique, one-of-a-kind experience You can stay in cabanas right on the beach or in a classic Mexican posada, experience the trendy hip vibe of a modern Euro-style hotel, or settle into a quaint, peaceful Caribbean bed and breakfast set amidst a tropical garden. It will be a vacation unlike any other you have had. And you will remember it forever.

It’s Your Vacation; It Should be Your Choice
In the end, if you’re planning a trip south of the border, you should consider the type of experience you want to enjoy. If you choose to come to Mexico because of its physical beauty, because of its rich culture, or because of its unique traditions and heritage…and if you want the adventure of new experiences and to meet and get to know people who live life differently than you do…then don’t lock yourself away in a gated high-rise resort. As a friend once remarked to us, “There is more to Mexico than what you can see from the lobby bar of a big resort.”

Consider a stay at a small hotel in Playa Del Carmen where the flavor, the adventure, and the people of Mexico are right outside your door.

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Mexico is NOT a war zone

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 7, 2010

By now you have probably heard the news: eight people killed this week in a fire bombing of a bar in Cancun Mexico. You probably first saw the headlines of a “Bar Bombed in the Popular Resort Town of Cancun.” Of course the immediate reaction was to imagine drug terrorists throwing bombs into a crowded hotel lobby bar as tourists in bathing suits were blown to bits. However the truth turned out to be something different.

Eventually, after the initial “Mexico is a war zone” reporting, the facts began to come out: The “bombs” were not explosives but rather gasoline filled bottles used to burn the building down. The bar was not a tourist bar. In fact it was miles from the resort zone on the outskirts of the large city of Cancun (the resort zone is on a peninsula, technically an island, separated from the larger city). The bar was owned by a figure with criminal ties, and it appears the arson was in retaliation against him. The “bar” was actually a ramshackle wooden building which housed a “full service” topless bar. The unfortunate victims were employees who succumbed to smoke inhalation.

It wasn’t an attack on tourists or anywhere near the tourist zone. Yet we have been overwhelmed with comments on the internet about how the drug war is “creeping closer” to the Riviera Maya tourist zones and, “it is just a matter of time before the drug cartels start killing tourists.” Pardon our French…but that is crap.

The facts are pretty simple:

1. The drug wars in northern central Mexico are mostly about control of the drug cartel’s smuggling routes across the joint US/Mexico border. Here in Mexico’s Caribbean coast known as the Rivera Maya (the area between Cancun and Tulum, including Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Akumal, etc.) there is no border with the US and so the drug war violence has never really extended to this part of Mexico.

2. Yes there is crime here, just as there is crime everywhere. The murders and arson of this Cancun bar are perfect examples. However murders related to drug gang activity take place in the US in almost every state of the union. In the past 30 days the Department of Justice news clearinghouse shows gang-related murders and criminal activity in California, Missouri, New York, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, New Jersey, Utah, Oregon…the list goes on and on. Drug gang crime is on the rise in the US, too, not just in Mexico.

3. The reality is that Cancun has a crime rate less than the entire state of Montana…and Playa del Carmen has a crime rate less than that of Cancun. In a modern world any urban area has criminal activity…but our part of the world certainly has less than most and is undeserving of the label of “dangerous.”

However the facts don’t seem to matter anymore. Without a doubt any major crime in this part of Mexico will be broadcast through the US and Canada as a proof positive that Mexico is dangerous, that the drug war has spread across this country and that you are risking your life by coming here. It isn’t true of course but it serves a purpose. It sensationalizes the news, and that helps sell newspapers and makes people turn on the TV. More importantly it fosters the fear of “others.” It tells people to be safe, stay home and distrust anybody not like “us.” And that is working. Click on any major newspaper or TV news station website that reports on Mexico. Now read the comments left by the public…hateful, racist, angry, bitter comments about a country and a people of which few of these posters have any first hand knowledge. It disgusts us.

People have every right to be concerned and to ask questions. People should investigate to ensure they really are going to be safe if they venture across the border. But people shouldn’t fall back on easy answers, fearful conjecture or racism. Mexico is being used as a media scapegoat and as an appeal to the worst attitudes of many people in the US. And that’s simply unfair to the wonderful people of this beautiful country.

We don’t know what to do about this, other than to keep on doing what we have been doing…telling the truth. The Caribbean coastline of Mexico offers no more danger than your own hometown. It is beautiful and safe. Now wouldn’t it be nice if someone would make that into a breaking news headline!

BTW, to hear about the reality and safety of life in Mexico in words much better than we could ever put together, click here for an article by the wondrous Linda Ellerbee.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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The Truth about Safety and Crime in Mexico 2010

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 7, 2010

For the last year the US and Canadian media have been having a field day in revealing each new atrocity or crime in Mexico. The picture of Mexico as a lawless, dangerous destination has sold a lot of newspapers and filled a lot of time on 24 hour news channels. Yet the truth is the picture of Mexico they present is more myth than fact. Mexico is not the wasteland of drug gang warfare that has been portrayed in the news.

The stunning beach in Playa del Carmen, MexicoThose of us who live in Mexico and those brave souls who have continued to visit here have long known that the violence of the drug wars, while real and horrifying, is limited to a specific part of this country, far from the beaches and resorts of the beautiful Caribbean paradise that is Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Thankfully, it now seems that some reporters in the US media are slowly becoming aware of that fact.

This past week USA Today featured an article amazingly entitled, “Mexico’s Violence Not as Widespread as Seems.” The article by Mr. Chris Hawley sets forth some important facts (as opposed to the sensationalized conjecture so often seen in reports from Mexico). Some of those facts are:

A closer look at the latest official statistics indicates that much of Mexico has modest murder rates.

• The murder rate in 2009 was still lower than it was a decade before, long before the Mexican government began a crackdown against the cartels.

• The state with the lowest murder rate is Yucatán, the Gulf of Mexico state known for its beaches and Mayan ruins. Its murder rate of 2 per 100,000 was comparable to Wyoming and Montana.

• Washington, D.C.’s murder rate is nearly quadruple that of the Mexican capital, Mexico City. Washington’s murder rate was 31.4 per 100,000 people in 2008; Mexico City’s rate in 2009 was 8.

Mr Hawley’s balanced article makes several of the points we and others have been making for months now: Yes, the drug wars in central Mexico are terrible and constitute a danger to those living and traveling there. However, those areas are far removed from the beaches and resort areas of Mexico’s Caribbean Coast. Mr Hawley’s entire article can be seen here.

A similar article recently appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle under the title, “Most Dangerous Places in Mexico — and Where it’s Still Safe to Travel” by Christine Delsol. Ms. Delsol’s article notes that:

“Geography is still the overriding safety factor; most of the violence happens around the lucrative points of entry to the United States, particularly in manufacturing areas with a large U.S. presence. You can still go to Mexico, as about 18 million Americans do every year, and have a carefree vacation.”

Ms Delsol also quotes Stratfor, a global intelligence company that advises government agencies, international corporations and other organizations on security issues as finding that:

“Popular tourist areas remain the safest places in the country.” She also notes that “Stratfor singles out Cozumel, Cancún and Los Cabos as the safest of all.” Ms Delsol’s entire article can be seen here.

And of course no less than the First Lady of the United States recently visited Mexico and invited her fellow countrymen to do the same. “I would encourage any American to spend time here,” she said.

In keeping with the facts and the reality of the situation, we would again ask…would you cancel a trip to New York or Orlando because of the high murder rate in Washington DC? If your answer is no, then it should be clear that the same rule applies for Mexico, i.e. violence several thousand miles away should not be a reason to avoid those peaceful and beautiful parts of this wondrous country.

It’s time to talk truth and facts: Mexico’s Caribbean beaches are among the most beautiful, tranquil and safe in the world. We invite you to come and see for yourself.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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Mexico: Safety, Health and Money

Posted by Tony & Cheri on December 28, 2009

Ahhh....the gorgeous blue water of the CaribbeanHere 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.

Crime

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.

Imagine yourself on this beach...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.


Health

The beach in Playa del Carmen, MexicoThe 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.


Why Mexico?

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?

Isn't this better than a snowbank?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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Playa del Carmen, Is it Safe?? Part II…the Swine Flu

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 28, 2009

We thought it time we said something about the swine flu in Mexico. First let’s deal with the current situation in Playa del Carmen as we know it.

As of this morning there have been no reported cases of swine flu in Playa del Carmen or in the larger area of Quintana Roo, the state in which Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum reside. In fact, to our knowledge, there have been no reported cases of swine flu in the entire Yucatan peninsula, comprising the eastern portion of the country of Mexico. This somewhat contradicts the statement of a so-called medical expert on MSNBC TV last night who proclaimed with wild eyes that the virus had “spread through the entire country of Mexico.”

Playa del Carmen itself is calm, except for the kids who seem to be everywhere today. Mexico in its wisdom has closed all of the schools nationwide until next Wednesday. As a result, the kids have a holiday and are making the best use of it. Kinda like snow days we remember from our own childhood. :)

There are no other closings or restrictions to our knowledge. Stores and restaurants, clubs and tours, business offices and governmental buildings are all open for business. We haven’t seen anyone wearing a mask. There is no sense of hysteria or even anxiety about this. The main concern is how the economy will react to the sudden drop in tourism, since so many people earn their living from that industry.

We were disappointed to see the travel advisory put out by the Centers for Disease Control suggesting that non-essential travel to Mexico be curtailed. We appreciate the CDC and Homeland Security are doing their jobs, and we applaud them for it. However, the travel restriction seems to have more political foundation than health concern. There is an advisory against traveling anywhere in Mexico, not just the areas which have reported cases of swine flu, which is primarily Mexico City. While the US government is advising individuals not to travel to Mexico, there are no advisories against travel witihin the US, despite the fact that there are a number of swine flu cases there over a broader geographical area. And of course, when India, China and the European Union advises its citizens not to travel to the US, our government responds” ‘that’s not necessary.’ As we say, there is a lot of political emphasis here as the different countries weigh in on this issue.

Above the fray of nationalized attitudes, the World Health Organization has taken a different tact. The World Health Organization says that restriction on travel will have absolutely no affect whatsoever in controlling or eliminating this disease. According to the most recent WHO travel updates on swine flu, “WHO does not recommend to restrict international travel. As usual it is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention.”

Concern in this situation is legitimate and a natural response, but hysteria is not, and hysteria seems to be building, primarily through an overabundance of sensationalized news coverage. There is a difference between reporting the facts and creating a sense of overwhelming danger and impending doom. The other night FOX News led its evening broadcast with a split screen showing Mexico City on one side and the disaster movie Outbreak on the other!

But FOX is not alone in its overhype of this situation as a medical disaster. And that’s not just our opinion. “Of course we’re doing too much to scare people,” said Mark Feldstein, a former correspondent for NBC, ABC and CNN who teaches journalism at George Washington University. “Cable news has 24 hours to fill, and there isn’t 24 hours of exciting news going on. If you scare people, they’ll tune in more.” This quote comes from an excellent article by Howard Kurtz in today’s Washington Post. You can find it here.

Another good article can be found on MSNBC.com from David Whelan of Forbes.com. Mr. Whelan makes the point: “Hysteria and exotic-sounding disease outbreaks go hand in hand. Whether it’s anthrax, mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth disease, bird flu or, going back to the 1990s, ebola—news of an outbreak generates fear that’s disproportionate to the risk of catching the disease. In each of these cases deaths, if they occurred at all, were minimal.” He also goes on to say, “…in every year this decade—between 30,000 and 50,000 American deaths were recorded from complications related to the seasonal flu. Another 40,000 people died in automobile accidents. And each year, gunshot wounds account for 30,000 deaths, around 4,000 people drown while swimming or boating and 60 people die from lightning strikes.”

This is not to say that people should not be concerned. They should. This is a health issue they should pay attention to. But at this point in time, we have a virus that has been reported in only 65 people in the US (according to the CDC official report) . There have been no fatalities and only one hospitalization, and all seem to be on the road to recovery. There have been deaths in Mexico City, but only 20 have been conclusively linked to swine flu at this time. In a city of 22 million.

So we are suggesting some perspective and some calm. If you’re worried and don’t wish to travel at this time, that is obviously your choice. If you are canceling an existing reservation with a hotel, an airline or a travel agent, you should contact them immediately to see what your options are. Truthfully, most will tell you that you have no options and will forfeit your deposit. The reason for that is simple. They have no more control over medical circumstances and governmental advisories than you do. Trust us, your cancellation will cost them much more money than your forfeited deposit will cost you. They will still have to pay their employees, pay their overhead expenses and try and continue their business. We know this from personal experience. However, it never hurts to ask, and some businesses in the travel industry are creating some alternative plans for people who are wishing to change or delay their travel. Of course, this is another reason we always recommend people purchase travel insurance.

At our own Luna Blue Hotel, we have had some cancellations, some delays, and a number of new reservations for the upcoming weeks. We are certainly not in a position to tell people they should or should not travel during this time. But we are informing people that in our opinion travel to Playa del Carmen is safe, and we continue to accept and honor reservations. We’re trying to be understanding of our guests’ situations at this time, and so we have modified our cancellation policy to allow guests to change their reservations if they want to come later in the summer.

If you’re planning a trip to Playa del Carmen now or in the near future, we hope this has been of some help. Despite all the hype and fear, the Caribbean Sea is still a beautiful blue, and the skies are sunny. And if you are going to be in town the 5th of May, don’t miss our blowout Cinco de Mayo party at the Luna Blue Bar.

For more recent information on this topic, Playa is Open for Business…Still No Flu in Sight.

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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Posted in News & Politics, Safety in Mexico, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 49 Comments »

Playa del Carmen: Is it Safe??

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 1, 2009

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety & Crime in Playa del Carmen Mexico 2011: The Truth

The headlines are full of stories about Mexico guaranteed to make the blood run cold: murders, beheadings, drug lords and crooked cops. It’s scary stuff, and some people planning a trip down here to Mexico’s Mayan Riviera (Cancun-Playa Del Carmen-Tulum) are frightened. We have received several e-mails in the past couple of weeks and seen questions on various internet travel forums asking, “How dangerous is it”? In our opinion, the truthful answer is: not very dangerous at all.

Now some folks will read this and say, “They own a hotel down there, of course they will tell people it’s safe.” And that’s true, we do own a business, and we do want people to come here. But the people who come here aren’t just guests. They are our family and our friends…people we would never place in danger. And of course we wouldn’t stay in business long if our guests were the victims of crimes every time they came on vacation. Most importantly, we wouldn’t live here ourselves if we thought it was dangerous.

The truth is that there is a drug war going on in Mexico. Drug lords are battling the police and each other for the lucrative shipping routes by which drugs are taken into the US and guns are smuggled back. It is dangerous and sad and has become a cause for great concern in Mexico. However this concern must be put in perspective. If you are questioning whether or not you should visit Mexico’s beautiful Caribbean, look at the facts about what is happening here.

The “drug war” of Mexico is primarily about smuggling routes which lead into the US. It is in northern central Mexico where the US and Mexico share a common border that this crime wave is currently going on. There is also an increase in crime in some large Mexican cities where organized crime is active, i.e. Mexico City. However this criminal activity is NOT centered on the Caribbean side of Mexico.

The latest US State Department advisory warning tourists about crime specifically names those cities “near the US border,” such as the towns of Tijuana, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and most especially Ciudad Juarez as being possibly dangerous. These cities are thousands of miles from the beaches of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. The ONLY reference in the State Department’s travel advisory which mentions the Yucatan, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen or the Mayan Riviera is a reference to another State Department posting warning against drinking too much and driving mopeds.

Map of MexicoThe increase in drug related crimes and organized criminal activity is very far from the shores of the Caribbean. For example, Ciudad Juarez, which is an area of major concern for crime, is approximately 2200 miles from Cancun. This is roughly the same distance as from San Francisco to New York City. Would you refuse to vacation in northern California because of a crime wave in New York City? Hopefully not.

There is no major crime wave or drug war in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.

This is not to say that there is no crime in this part of Mexico. Cancun, being a major city, has had its problems with attacks on police officers and those involved in organized crime, much as many cities in the US have experienced in the past. But again it is important to realize that these incidents have NOT involved tourists or happened in the well-defined resort and hotel areas.

And of course any tourist zone anywhere in the world will have crime. Vacationers always will attract pickpockets, thieves and con men. And that is true of Mexico as well. However here in Playa we have a special Tourist Police force designed to help with exactly those types of crimes and to assist visitors. The tourist who uses common sense, avoids drugs, sticks to well-known tourist areas and doesn’t behave foolishly (i.e. getting extremely drunk, flashing large amounts of cash, etc.) should be as safe in Playa Del Carmen as in their own home town.

We can’t guarantee that you will not be the victim of a crime on vacation whether you are here in Playa Del Carmen or on the streets of Orlando. What we can say with certainty is that the drug war crimes which have frightened so many people are not a concern or an issue for tourists in the Yucatan. And we can guarantee that thousands upon thousands of visitors are still coming here each day to enjoy our white sand beaches and swim in our blue sea without incident. Join us.
On the ferry between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, on a typical gorgeous day

Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012

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Posted in News & Politics, Safety in Mexico, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments »

 
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