Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mexico's drug wars far from tourist areas

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I'll be taking my first trip to the Yucatan in Mexico soon, and I'm excited to delve into Merida's music scene, explore ancient ruins and relax along the Mayan Riviera.

I'm also thrilled about the prices. I'm paying $60 for two nights, including breakfast, at the Hotel Julamis, a boutique inn with a garden and pool in Merida's historical centre.

For a short stay in the beach town of Puerto Morelos, I found a studio apartment for $80, with free bikes thrown in.

I've travelled in Mexico for years and I always look forward to going back.

Mexico is cheaper than Hawaii and in my opinion, more interesting than Costa Rica. But with all the reports of drug-related violence and killings, people ask, "Is it safe to go Mexico?"

I put the question to Mexican Tourism secretary Gloria Guevara, who was in Seattle recently for meetings with airline executives and travel agents.

Her answer: "Get a map."

Guevara didn't sugar-coat the effect the drug cartel violence has had on how people feel about travel to Mexico. How could she when I brought along a news clipping about a man's torso and arm found on a street near a beachfront hotel in Acapulco?

Mexicans are even more upset about what's happening in their country. But Guevara points out that Mexico is a big country, with 2,500 municipalities.

"All of the problems you hear about have occurred in just 80 of these places, less than five per cent," nearly all out-side the places most travellers go.

"Asking if Mexico is safe," she says, "is a little like asking if something happens in Atlanta, is it safe to go to Seattle?"

Fair enough. So what is the biggest misconception people have?

"When they think of Mexico, they don't think about specific places," Guevara says. "They just say 'Mexico.'

"It's true drug-related violence has left thousands of Mexicans dead in the border towns of Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo.

The violence lately has begun to spread.

It's also true most tourists go to a handful of destinations such as Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and the Mayan Riviera, all areas as safe as they look.

Tourism is hugely important, with 22 million international visitors annually, 2.5 million jobs in 2010, and $11.8 billion in revenue, Mexican government figures show.

It's Guevara's job to promote travel.

But I get her point.

I've never felt unsafe in Mexico. Not taking the subway in Mexico City. Not riding a long-distance bus to Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, home to one of the most powerful drug cartels. Not walking the streets of Guadalajara, Sayulita, Oaxaca or Guanajuato.

Most people who go to Mexico feel this way, Guevara said. Ninety-nine per cent of travellers who responded to a recent government tourism survey said they had a good experience and would go back again, she said.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2012 D7

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