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Posted: June 09, 2011

Denver loves Mexico

But is it safe to go?

Robert Polk

A long-time customer recently asked me to comment about traveling to Puerto Vallarta for vacation since the State Department has updated its Mexico Travel Advisory. Many areas in Mexico are among the most popular summer destinations for Denver residents. With so many direct flights, you can jet out of DIA in the morning and be on the beach of your choice with the beverage of your choice by lunchtime.

The eight-page updated advisory focuses heavily on border areas, but also details specifics within each state of Mexico. In those eight pages, three tourist destinations are mentioned: Mazatlan, Acapulco and Ixtapa:

• "In the last year, the city of Mazatlan has experienced a level of violence, primarily confrontations between TCOs, not seen before. You are encouraged to visit Mazatlan during daylight hours and limit the time you spend outside tourist centers. Exercise caution during late night and early morning hours when most violent crimes occur."

• "Do not take the dangerous, isolated road through Ciudad Altamirano to the beach resorts of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo and exercise caution traveling on the coastal road between Acapulco and Ixtapa due to the risk of roadblocks and carjackings."

• "Downtown Acapulco and surrounding areas have seen a significant increase in narcotics-related violence in the last year. To reduce risks, tourists should not visit the downtown area at night and should remain in clearly identifiable tourist areas. In general, the popular tourist area of Diamante just south of the city has not been affected by the increasing violence."

It is important to note that violence in Mexico has not been specifically geared toward tourists in any way. Warnings are mostly related to attacks between gangs in the area or violence along roadways outside these cities, usually in remote areas.

I believe you can travel to Puerto Vallarta, as well as many other tourist destinations in Mexico, and have a safe and lovely vacation if you use some common sense. In turn, I also believe you can go to your neighborhood grocery store and find trouble if you leave your brain at home.

Whether you are planning a trip to Mexico or Morocco, these common sense tips apply:

• Commit your time to doing the research or use a trusted travel professional to make the planning process easier. Read up on the area you will be visiting, your hotel or resort, get a general "lay of the land" of your destination, and always check for state department warnings. If any warning makes you uncomfortable, pick a different destination. The globe is very big and you have lots of options. Nervous about Mazatlan? Try Cozumel instead.

• Protect your vacation investment and purchase travel insurance.

• Have your paperwork organized. Sign your passport and fill in the emergency contact information. Leave copies of your itinerary and passport with a friend or relative at home. Check your medical coverage to ensure you will be covered while you are away.

• Register foreign travel with the State Department's Smarter Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This helps the State Department assist you in the event of an emergency while you are visiting a foreign destination.

• Know how long it should take to get from the airport to your accommodations and have reputable transportation waiting upon your arrival, especially if you are arriving at an odd hour and especially if you do not speak the language. That is not the time to "wing it" and expect to hop in the first taxi you see. Only use reputable, licensed transportation for your day excursions and tours.

• Avoid being a target for any crime while you are traveling. Keep jewelry and clothing low-key. Do not carry large sums of cash. Do not take shortcuts through unfamiliar areas, even during the day, and avoid going out alone at night.

• Know who to call if you need help. Bring contact information for your airline and the nearest US Consulate and Embassy with you. If you plan your trip with a professional agent, they should include a 24/7 assistance phone number with your itinerary and travel documents.

Millions of people safely visit Mexico every year. Resort areas and tourist destinations are generally safe. Of course, I believe your best bet is to always utilize the expertise of a good travel agent to make sure you choose a good destination, safe accommodations, and reputable transportation and tours.

Our lawyers get very nervous when I state my opinion on safety when traveling to Mexico or any part of the globe that is having any kind of safety issue. That said, if you stick to resort and tourist areas, bring plenty of sunscreen, and avoid the tap water, you are likely to have a lovely vacation in Mexico.

But, please do not come home and blame me if you find trouble or it finds you!
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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at Robert@polkmajestic.com.

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Readers Respond

I'm amazed that ANYONE would go to Mexico. Why take the chance and my wife and I have been to most areas of mexico several times. Mazatlan was one of our favorites but not again in our lifetime. I don't even like to have to take the time to worry about where I am and at what time of day. "Wandering" is an important part of our vacations, so Mexico is OUT By John on 2011 06 15
Excellent common sense tips from the author for travelers that have safety concerns. As in any country, there are spots to avoid. But to label the whole country as unsafe, really? Propaganda, I say. Can you imagine all that baby boomer retirement money going to a neighboring country where it will buy more and offer a better quality of life? And by the way, here in San Carlos (an easy 4 1/2 hour drive from Arizona) we have drinkable water and English is the preferred language. Most of us are from Colorado, Canada, California, and Arizona! Come and see for yourself. By Norene Sullivan on 2011 06 09
If people would do a little research, I think they'd find that Hawai'i is more affordable than they expect. Beyond the affordability, Hawai'i is a US destination, with very low crime, no beggars or vendors accosting you on the beach, beautiful resorts, drinkable water, food you can eat without worry, and no money changing issues. With the slow economy in our own country, it might be a good idea to do whatever you can to spend your dollars in the US. By Tony Grieder on 2011 06 09
Thank you for a good article which is balanced, unlike most of the media scare reporting of the past several years. We drive from Pagosa to San Carlos , Mexico regularly we avoid border towns and travel in daylight * not for security concerns but road safety !!! At night un lit highways can often have animals on them or other obstacles without lights. Mexico, and Sonora where we are is incredibly safe for us - we encourage all our friends to come down. By the way there are loads of Colorado plated vehicles here - we can't all be wrong ! San Carlos, Sonora. Paradise by the Sea http://www.cobizmag.com/images/smileys/grin.gif By Ian Vowles on 2011 06 09
Recently visited friends in Guadalajara and rather than rent a car, traveled by luxury bus on to Puerto Vallarta. Very pleasant ride through tequilla country without a thought in our heads about trouble. The bus company was ETN and I recommend this mode for going from point to point in Mexico. By Stephen Koenigsberg on 2011 06 09
Great article, Robert. What I didn't see are examples of the safest places to travel in Mexico, like Cabo San Lucas. Still incredibly popular and such a good value during the summer months. My trip last week was spectacular! By Jonathan Bryant on 2011 06 09

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