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Mexico is a great place to visit. With pristine beaches, majestic canyons, desert landscapes, ancient archeological ruins, charming colonial cities, scrumptious local cuisine, and a fascinating people, Mexico is sure to appeal to the nature enthusiast, the art and history fanatic, the food lover, and anyone else bitten by the travel bug. Despite compelling reasons to visit and its convenient location just below the border, many Americans put-off plans for visiting Mexico for security concerns. Mexico's reputation has been damaged by negative publicity from sensationalized news about drug-related criminality.
Like every other country (including the USA and Canada,) Mexico does have its share of crimes and violence. But what is not correctly reported is that these drug-related incidents are isolated to a few areas close to the border, like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. These crimes are attacks between drug organizations, and do not target visitors. In fact, ninety-five percent of Mexico is as safe as ninety-five percent of the US or Canada. Each year, Mexico is host to over 20 million visitors, and the number of visitors who are victims of crimes is statistically insignificant. David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute of the University of San Diego, likens the chances of getting kidnapped or killed while traveling in Mexico to the odds of being struck by lightning. Nevertheless, like any travel destination around the world, there are petty criminals in Mexico that will take advantage of unsuspecting visitors.
In general, the more crowded tourist areas attract more petty criminals. For a safe yet enjoyable trip to Mexico, you should visit less crowded destinations such as the quaint colonial cities located in the central heartland. Visiting these off-the-beaten-track locations allows the visitor to experience authentic Mexico at its heart. One of the most romantic colonial cities in Mexico is Guanajuato. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guanajuato boasts of one of the best-preserved colonial architecture areas in Mexico. Starting as a silver mining camp, this city was transformed into a majestic residence of aristocrats during the Spanish occupation. With grand cathedrals, baroque buildings, sprawling haciendas, stately mansions, colorful houses, elegant courtyards, underground tunnels, pedestrian alleyways, and cobblestone streets, Guanajuato is very reminiscent of old Europe. With picturesque scenery, aromatic scents from street cafes, and energetic music from mariachi bands, Guanajuato is truly a feast for the senses. It is also a university town, so Guanajuato has a large population of students and artists who give the city a uniquely youthful character.
A trip to Guanajuato will be an unforgettable and pleasurable experience. While this city is generally safe, some planning, prudent behavior, and a dose of common sense will keep you healthy and safe throughout your stay. Below are some tips that all visitors are encouraged to heed while staying in a small city like Guanajuato:
* Carry only enough money needed for each day. Leave your extra cash and other valuables inside the hotel safe. If you need to use an ATM, choose those that are located at banks or inside busy malls, and avoid withdrawing money at night. Keep your withdrawal receipts as these may come in handy in cases of balances disputes. Be discreet in getting cash from your money belt and put away all cash immediately.
* Be careful with your original travel documents. Your passport may be required for currency exchange, cashing traveler's check, securing a driving permit, etc. If you are carrying your passport with you while going around the city, make sure it is secured in your bag or body belt. If you don't need to carry your passport, store it in the hotel safe and just bring a photocopy with you when you go out.
* Blend in as much as possible. Don't wear gaudy or flashy "tourist" clothing, expensive jewelry, use fanny packs or backpacks, or carry fancy cameras or guidebooks that will call attention to you as a visitor. Dress conservatively and avoid standing out so that you do not become an obvious mark for any lurking criminal.
* Eat and drink clean, safe food. Do not use tap water to drink or to brush your teeth. Not all ice cubes are safe; use the commercial cubes (those that are cylindrical with a hole through the center. Street food requires special scrutiny - avoid those vendors that don't have running water where they can wash their hands and clean utensils. In restaurants, don't eat food items left on the table from previous customers like salsa. Ask for fresh salsa instead. Stay away from restaurants that do not look clean or that have flies flying around the tables.
* Practice prudent behavior. While those tequila shots may seem irresistible, you should not drink excessively. If you are drunk, you are more prone to figure in an accident, be an easy target for pickpockets, or lose or misplace personal items. Do not accept drinks from strangers. Stay away from all kinds of illegal drugs. Be polite to residents and to other visitors, especially to the police.
* Be street smart. Exercise caution in crowded areas. Do not swing your bags; instead, keep them close to your body. Criminals like to target persons that are distracted or appear weak and confused, so always try to look like you know what you're doing and where you are going.
* Trust your instincts. If for some reason, you do not feel uncomfortable in a particular place or situation, you should leave. In unfamiliar places, it is always better to err on the side of caution.
Whenever you are traveling, safety must be a top priority. While relaxing on vacation, many people tend to overindulge and become negligent. To be safe, you must be able to learn to unwind while being alert and careful at the same time.
Mike Anderson owns and manages a bed-and-breakfast and rental apartments and houses in the enchanting colonial city of Guanajuato, Mexico. He also writes and publishes travel information about the many museums, churches, monuments, and events in this charming city. Click to view his Guanajuato apartments or Guanajuato houses available for your next vacation in Mexico.
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