<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Safe Travel for RVers in Mexico
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.




Some Say That Mexico Is Extremely Dangerous

While Others Say That It Is Extremely Safe

Like Most Things The Correct Answer Lies Somewhere In The Middle

by David Eidell

[ED NOTE: Though this article was first published in 2008, and conditions on the ground in Mexico have since changed and continue to be in a state of flux, many of the points made in this article apply to current conditions as well.]

Mexican newspaper headlines love to prey on violence, gang activity and apparent lawlessness in the United States. The average Mexican who has never visited the U.S. thinks that the safety rating here lays somewhere in-between Iraq and Columbia. This would be laughable except that this is the way most Europeans and Japanese feel as well.

Drug gangs are rife in Mexican cities along the border. There are too many American dollars flowing around which attracts wholesale corruption and violence. The USA and Mexico have been effective in eliminating top drug cartel members lately, and this has led to a sharp increase in violence by other gangs trying to fill the vacuum. In sort of a perverted way Mexico is being forced to modernize her antiquated police and judicial system to eliminate corruption and incompetence. The process has been painfully slow but nevertheless progress is measurable and well received by an impatient Mexican public. For those readers who may sneer at Mexican efforts to eliminate crops of marijuana and opium, compare their problem to our problem in the pacific northwest of the United States---we haven't solved illegal growing in our national forests so what makes a person believe that Mexico can be more efficient? We need to accentuate the positives to Mexico so that they would feel better about all of the lives and pesos that are being spent to protect the USA---illegal drugs are everyone's problem. Finally on this subject if you think that all Mexican officials are corrupt, you'd better take a hard look at the numbers of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents that have been arrested for corruption. The number is disturbing.

So, is Mexico safe (Well, for that matter, is America safe)? Yes and no. Both countries have areas that are decidedly unsafe, especially at night. But like in "small town" rural America Mexican villages are relatively safe (excepting casual petty theft). A big misnomer is one that implies that experienced Mexico travelers "know the ropes" and unless a newbie somehow crams in all the information and applies it, they will be a proverbial "sitting duck" in Mexico. This is positively untrue. People are naturally curious and many RV'ers love to gab---especially when they find out that the other person is new to Mexico.

Mexico has its own unique area, which is used for growing marijuana and or opium poppies. The area is quite large but thankfully very rural -- it is within the West coast Sierra Mountains, extending from the border with the USA down to and including the state of Oaxaca. Obviously the area of narco activity isn't universal, major highways bisect the sierras, and dozens of cities and towns dot the region. Narcotics growers and traffickers like to be utterly isolated. Local residents and tourists alike are glad to inform others of where the problem spots are located. Somewhat ironically Mexican cops whether straight or corrupt, try to intercept motor vehicles bound on rural roads for dope growing areas. A visitor would have to try very hard to end up on a dangerous secondary road in dope country. Inquisitive travelers who were blocked by three or four armed men who shouted and motioned for them to "turn around or else" have told tales about such encounters (my eyebrows would arch at the idea that such encounters have not been embellished somewhat).

Nighttime is the wrong time to find yourself on a deserted beach, poorly lit back street away from the tourist or business zone, or for that matter out on a public roadway. The cops and the military go home for the night (except those manning highway checkpoints). There are innumerable places in Mexico to spend a quiet evening without excess risk. The risk isn't only for armed gunmen, but includes run-ins with the local drunk who is upset at America because his brother emigrated and never came home---or the local Romeo who refuses to believe that his drunken advances toward a member of the opposite sex isn't utterly foolproof.

Just one year ago a couple told a tale about touring a remote mountain area that sees almost no RV traffic. "In the middle of nowhere" they reported "Our transmission burned out---all kinds of people stopped to see if they could help but an army patrol came by and after determining that (the couple) could be there for several hours decided to leave two heavily armed soldiers". The young men smiled like they hit the jackpot when the couple fixed them sandwiches and cold soda pop. Their patrol showed up to reclaim them at the same time a wrecker arrived. The wrecker took the rig and the couple to their shop and then invited them to a family fiesta, which the couple reported, "Was the highlight of our six-month trip". The shop sent their oldest son to Toluca for repair parts and they ended up with a fully rebuilt transmission for about half of what the job would have cost in Canada.

Yet we read about "kidnappings" occurring in Mexico. Victims are carefully scouted out and the "nab" is choreographed to perfection. But as I quipped in an earlier article about the subject, these guys don't go after "Thousandaires"; they want seven figures for the release of their hostages. Kidnappers concentrate on Mexican and foreign "industrialists" RV'ers just don't fit the profile and RV'ers usually don't haunt downtown big cities.

Petty theft can be a problem in Mexico. Keep your patio table clear of cameras, binoculars, MP3 players, tools, jewelry, and other inviting targets. Keep the side bins locked up. Propane tanks, gas cans, generators and other loose gear can be secured by running a cable through them and then in a long string a padlock will secure them all. I wear a "hidden traveler's pouch" beneath my clothing. Inside it I carry my tourist card, driver license, credit, and debit cards, money and traveler cheques.


The area bordering the United States and Mexico has never enjoyed a good reputation. Except for day-trippers who cross into Mexico only for several hours of shopping, very few Americans end up staying at the border. An RV will cross the area in a half hour or less. Try as you might you'll no doubt be disappointed if you wish to hear automatic weapons at work or bullets whizzing by your window. It would be rare to hear a single gunshot---In forty four years of travel I have never heard a gunshot in Mexico from other than a light-gauge shotgun aimed at a bevy of quail.

Common sense should be your guide both in the USA and in Mexico.