Travel and Risk Tolerance

Playa La Ropa, Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Mexico has gotten some pretty bad press lately. The U.S. Department of State has issued travel warnings to several areas of Mexico, including the following: “You should exercise extreme caution when traveling in the northwestern part of the state of Guerrero, which has a strong TCO presence. Do not take the dangerous, isolated road through Ciudad Altamirano to the beach resorts of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo and exercise caution traveling on the coastal road between Acapulco and Ixtapa due to the risk of roadblocks and carjackings.” See maps here.

Due to the reports of danger and the State Department warning, my travel companion and I faced two difficult questions about our winter travel plans. First, should we go to Mexico at all–or choose a different destination altogether? Second, should we limit the scope of our travels within the country and even the city of Zihuatanejo because of the reported risks? 

Sunset on Playa La Ropa, Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

These are not small considerations, as any traveler knows. And the risks to American travelers are certainly not limited to those within Mexico’s borders. In fact, throughout the world, Americans have a certain reputation that–how can I put it delicately–isn’t always glowing. We are affluent compared to much of the world, and may appear to flaunt our wealth, however unwittingly. We tend to speak and laugh loudly, even when it is culturally inappropriate. Our world politics precede us, and don’t always reflect kindly upon us. And in general, we have the luxury of speaking a language people in most other countries strive to learn–so we often travel without knowing the languages of the countries we visit. These habits or traits of ours can make us easily identifiable, and even, at times, a target.

We were well aware of the coverage of drug trafficking-related deaths since 2006 (reportedly totaling more than 15,000 in 2010 alone), and the State Department warning related to the area. Yet, after careful consideration, we booked our trip anyway. Online discussion threads about the area gave us hope for a peaceful vacation. 

Playa Las Gatas, Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

We also hoped to travel to one of our favorite stops in the area during the course of our visit: Troncones. Eight years ago, Troncones was a quiet town with long, tranquil beaches blissfully free of the barrage of vendors who walk the shoreline in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa.  Unfortunately, Troncones is located along the previously mentioned coastal road. On a previous visit, we had taken the local bus.  This time, due to the warnings, we felt it was safer to hire a driver for the day instead.

A quiet beach at last, and a great place to relax: Robert’s Bistro, Troncones, Mexico. 
Photo by Charish Badzinski.  

Our overall impressions: Americans aren’t visiting the region in the same numbers they once did. Locals are just as friendly as they always have been. The police patrol the area in greater numbers, and there are checkpoints on the highway. Beach vendors, perhaps as a result of the downturn in tourism, appear to be more numerous and more tenacious.

Frustrated competing musicians argue over territory on Playa La Ropa. 
At times so many musicians were on the beach that you could hear three playing 
in the same beach space concurrently. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 

Hotel occupancy seemed to be down, yet the number of Mexican tourists appeared to have increased. And that road to Troncones? Fringed by Cocos Frios stands, banana trees and rolling hills. And trouble-free. 

The greatest apparent danger in Troncones is to the fish. Red Snapper with ajillo sauce. 
Troncones, Mexico. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 

In short, throughout the course of our trip, the greatest dangers to us as American travelers were sunburn and indigestion.

Locals chat and laugh on a warm evening in Zihuatanejo. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 

I’m not saying there are no dangers to American tourists in Mexico–or any number of destinations–but every rollerbag goddess must assess her own risk tolerance and carefully consider her options. For some of us, visiting a place and a culture we love is worth a certain measure of uncertainty. And, in retrospect, what a shame it would have been to have missed out on all of the good of Mexico by bending to our fear of the bad. 

The Bahia de Zihuatanejo–the bay at sunrise. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

How have warnings and news reports affected your travel plans to Mexico or elsewhere? What  safety measures have you taken when traveling? 

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, foodie and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations. 

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
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Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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