The spring break season is now in full swing, but following recent reports of border violence in Mexico and a new U.S. State Department warning for Costa Rica, some Americans are reconsidering their south-of-the-border travel plans.
Four Americans traveling to Mexico for medical treatment were caught in a shootout with a drug cartel on March 3 as they crossed the border from Brownsville, Texas, into Matamoros. Two were killed and two were kidnapped but later released and arrived back in the United States last week. The incident has drawn attention to the violence that persists in a nation that welcomed more than 33 million foreign tourists last year.
Six of Mexico’s 32 states, including Tamaulipas, where Matamoros is located, are under the State Department’s do-not-travel warning (level four is the most severe warning). Seven states, including Guanajuato, where San Miguel de Allende is located, a UNESCO World Heritage site, have level-three warnings, which advise Americans against travel due to local crime and/or the risk of kidnapping.
Although Baja California Norte is also listed as level three, the southern Baja region of Los Cabos is listed as level two (exercise increased caution). This is important to know for anyone planning to drive from the United States down to destinations on the peninsula, including the Pacific surf mecca of Ensenada (85 miles south of San Diego).
Although most of the violence in the state has occurred in rural areas, far from the protected community of Punta Mita and the nearby surf town of Sayulita, Jalisco – home to Puerto Vallarta and the nearby Riviera Nayarit – is also classified as a level three because the state is the center of operations for a cartel.
Costa Rica has seen a recent increase in crime in the Capital
Contrarily, Costa Rica has long been regarded as one of the safest and friendliest nations for families in Central America. The U.S. Embassy, however, issued a fresh safety advisory on March 1 due to “increasing levels of crime, particularly violent crime, in Costa Rica and specifically San José,” the country’s capital.
The current caution, according to Javier Echecopar, cofounder of the travel agency Journey Costa Rica, is exclusive to regions like San José and Limón, which aren’t frequented by most tourists. People travel to Costa Rica to enjoy the outdoors, he claims. “Most visitors fly into and out of San José, then proceed directly to the beaches and jungles, which are still completely safe.”
You can’t compare Mexico with Costa Rica when it comes to travel safety, according to Hans Pfister, head of the Cayuga Collection, a chain of eco-friendly hotels with six properties there. Pfister, a resident of San José, believes that at current time, Costa Rica is far safer than many US cities.
“The problem that I notice is that many visitors that come here get reckless and just think, “Pura Vida” The unofficial slogan of the nation, which roughly translates to “live life to the fullest,” the man claims. “They don’t even take the slightest precautions, as they would at home. One has to be smart.”