Editor's Note: Update March 15, 2010—The State Department has issued a travel warning for northern Mexico border areas. Read our latest blog post for details.
It's been just about a year since the news of H1N1 broke and corresponding concerns about travel safety and global health threw the world into a tizzy. Perhaps no place has been affected more than Mexico, the inception of the virus and hotbed for all resulting negative press. One year later, though, finds the situation markedly improved.
Mexico wants travelers back, and you can expect a safe, enjoyable, and affordable vacation in many popular destinations. To sweeten the pot, travel providers are offering plentiful deals, and you can get so much more for your money compared to previous years. Still skeptical? Read on to hear from those who have recently visited.
"I have been welcomed with 'open arms' everywhere I've traveled in Mexico and have seen no signs of H1N1," says Flip Himmelreich, Travel Leaders, who visited Cancun, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, and Huatalco over the past two months. "Tourism is still down, but gradually coming back, especially in the Yucatan. We are still seeing great bargains in most [travel] destinations, even during peak travel periods (spring break) at some resorts."
Health and Safety
For better or worse, concerns about H1N1 linger in the back of travelers' minds, but you shouldn't let that damper your interest in a Mexico vacation. "There are no health-related reasons to avoid Mexico," says Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor, Travelocity. "The best advice is to see what the CDC has to say about travel. It's important to remember how quickly H1N1 left Mexico and became an issue in many places. They were in the forefront and they may still have that association, but there is no reason to avoid [Mexico] as a vacation destination."
"We don't feel the risk in Mexico is any greater than the U.S.," says Annette Youngbauer, CPC, Travel Leaders. "The best advice is to speak to your own doctor before you go, who would know your medical situation." As a general precaution, she also recommends travelers receive the H1N1 shot—a good idea regardless of where you're traveling in the near future. Other basic practices, such as staying hydrated, washing your hands regularly, and getting plenty of rest are also good rules of thumb.
As far as safety concerns go, note that most violence in Mexico is concentrated in border towns. The country's major tourist destinations are well beyond the regions where crime is a concern. Keep in mind the distances between where most of the crime-centric news comes from and where you want to visit—in many cases, it would be like West Coast crime statistics affecting travelers considering trips to North Carolina seaside resorts, or Seattle-bound tourists fretting over East Coast crime hotspots. The major tourist areas aren't experiencing the types of violence making the front-page news.
"It doesn't seem that safety in the major resort areas is a factor. People shouldn't feel unsafe," says Brown. "I don't think it should be a worry at this point."
"Overall the tourist areas ... are as safe as the same type of communities at home," says Youngbauer. "Basically, travelers need to be aware of [their] surroundings. Don't walk around with your purse hanging out, don't walk dark streets at night in areas that are unfamiliar. Use the same kind of common sense that you use at home."
If you've been following travel deals lately, you've no doubt seen the plethora of bargains available in Mexico. "That was a direct result of all the things that happened last year: border violence, H1N1, the very serious economic troubles in the U.S.," says Brown. "All things combined led to a dramatic drop in airfare and hotel rates ... Mexico was able to rebound because of such aggressive hotel pricing. We're not out of the woods yet with this economic crisis, so they're going to keep hotel rates low through 2010 to get travelers back to Mexico."
You'll also get a good deal by the sheer value of the dollar. At press time, the U.S. dollar exchange rate was equal to 13 Mexican pesos. (See XE.com for the most up-to-date exchange rates.) Simply put: Your money goes a lot farther in Mexico.
Additionally, the plentitude of all-inclusive resorts throughout the country leads to a big win for travelers hoping to keep costs down. "All inclusive seems to be resonating right now with travelers, especially considering you can really set your budget and stick to it," says Brown. "It's often those vacation extras that can really bust your budget." By choosing an all-inclusive, you won't have to worry about paying for restaurant meals, drinks, and entertainment. And, with so many all-inclusive resorts competing against each other for your travel dollars, you'll find good deals at these types of properties, too. You can search for the latest offers from providers such as BeachDestinations.com, CheapCaribbean.com, and Pleasant Holidays, among others.
Finally, it's important to note the emphasis on customer service travelers will find in Mexico. "I've been to Cancun four times in the last few months and am going again this Friday. I've been finding overall all the local infrastructure is bending over backwards to get tourists back," says Youngbauer. "The community that serves the tourism sector is really eager to get the American tourist back. They've always tried to offer a good product, and they're really working even harder on that right now."
In sum: Wherever there are a plethora of hotel rooms, you'll find good deals. Therefore, tourist-friendly Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and other well-developed destinations are good bets for finding outstanding values this year.
Additionally, keep your eye on the airlines, especially low-cost carriers. Where they fly, and especially where they expand their routes, will usher in good travel deals. Check out SmarterTravel's guide to new 2010 routes from low-cost carriers serving the Caribbean and Latin America. Currently, low-cost carriers fly to Cancun, Hermosillo, Morelia, Tijuana, and Zacatecas. Watch your preferred airline to see if any expanded Mexico routes become available—usually, introductory promotions are offered, and other airlines may expand their routes to match, leading to competition (and thus lower prices).
September also marks the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence. Celebrations are planned nationwide, with events including the dedication of a new monument in Mexico City; a fair and expo in Guanajuato; and the creation of six historic routes around the country, where travelers can visit areas significant to Mexico's fight for independence.
If you're undecided about where you'd like to go, browse the Mexico Tourism Board website for inspiration. You'll find destination information, trip planning tools, events, and more.
If you're planning a Mexico vacation, remember that a passport is now required for U.S. travelers. You can also read SmarterTravel's other passport coverage for additional tips on acquiring this needed document for international travel.
Have you visited Mexico lately? If so, leave a comment below and tell us about your experiences!