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State Department Warns Against Mexico Travel, But Is It Unsafe?

Last week the State Department released a vague warning about Mexico travel to Playa Del Carmen, saying it had “received information about a security threat,” and prohibited government employees from traveling there for several days.

According to CNN, the Mexico travel warning came one week after a crude explosive device was found on a tourist ferry in the area. In its travel advisory, the State Department specifically noted that U.S. government personnel were “prohibited from using ferry services between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel” and that “U.S. citizens should not use ferry services operating between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel.”

Authorities reportedly ruled out terrorism and organized crime in the attempted bombing.

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“US citizens must have as much information as possible to make informed travel decisions,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement to CNN Thursday. “We take our obligation to provide information to US citizens seriously as evidenced by the clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information we release worldwide.”

The Mexico Tourism Board pushed back on the warning, which coincided with high-season spring break travel to the region, saying “messages like this, which imply safety issues without any basis in fact, are counterproductive to the goal of informing and educating travelers to Mexico and we strongly disagree with both this approach and the contents of this security message.”

So, how should travelers respond to this kind of warning? Ultimately, it’s a matter of your personal risk tolerance.

It’s worth remembering that Mexico overall is Level 2 country on the State Department’s new Travel Advisory system, which means travelers should “exercise increased caution” due to crime. There are several areas the State Department says travelers should not consider visiting; Quintana Roo, however (where Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Tulum, Cozumel, and the Riviera Maya are located) is listed as a Level 2, meaning travelers should exercise increased caution.

Mexico’s crime issues are well known: The worst of it tends not to affect or involve tourists, which makes this warning a bit unusual as the bomb was placed on a tourist ferry. But visitors to Mexico have been long encouraged to use extra caution and common sense, and to stick to tourist areas.

“Specifically related to Playa del Carmen, I would probably follow the State Department’s alert and suggestion, and stay away for a while,” Eric Olson, senior advisor to the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center and deputy director of the Latin American Program, told USA Today. “But there are tons of other places, wonderful places, to vacation in Mexico.”

Readers, what’s your take on visiting Mexico?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the About.com Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Japan. I'd love to take a month off and visit the cities, temples, and countryside. I'm fascinated by the country's juxtaposition of ancient traditions and modern ambitions."

Travel Motto: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” –Terry Pratchett

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window."

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