For my birthday, we took a four hour busride to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato from Mexico City. A UNESCO World Heritage site, San Miguel de Allende has perserved its Spanish Colonial architecture. Some even call the city magical. Filled with artists, galleries line the cobblestone streets and festivities go on almost every weekend. It certainly is one of the most beautiful Latin American cities I have visited.
When my friend, Colleen, was sent down to Mexico City to work at the U.S. Embassy for six weeks, I quickly booked a ticket to go visit her for a week long trip to the Mexican capitol. Upon hearing of my trip, colleagues, friends and family, began lecturing about how dangerous Mexico City is, questioning my decision to travel there.
A seasoned traveler, to places that are even considered “unsafe”, I knew that the media hype on the drug cartels in Mexico has created an image of kidnapping and brutality. That is not to say that Mexico City is not dangerous, but I knew that many Americans throw Mexico City and Ciudad de Juarez in the same category.
Just to ease my own doubt, I jumped on the U.S. State Department Travel warnings to view the Mexico Travel Advisory, which listed Mexico City with “No advisory is in effect.” I spoke with my friend at the Embassy about potential safety risks in Mexico City. The risks were similar in many other major cities. At the airport, you are highly encouraged to catch a taxi from one of the inside taxi kiosks. You do not walk around with flashy jewelry. You do not go into areas that are sketchy or not well lit. At night you stick to populated, well-lit areas. And on public transportation, you are aware of your bags and purses. All of these precautions are things I already do on a daily basis in my current hometown of Washington, DC. I would never leave the airport at Reagan-National to catch a random taxi that wasn’t at the official taxi stand. I avoid all sketchy areas and at night I stick to well-lit streets, being aware of my surroundings at all times. Every day I take a risk at being mugged, assaulted or worse by just stepping out my door. Traveling to places like Mexico City, I just have to heighten those precautions a little more and increase my awareness.
I did my research, spoke with my friend at the US Embassy, and packed my bags. I was off! What I found was not a frightening city with the prospect of kidnap, but rather, a cosmopolitan, bustling, and exciting city. Mexico City is a mix of charming neighborhoods, artwork that includes murals by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, culture, dancing, fun, five star restaurants, world-class chefs, delicious street food, and genuinely warm, kind people.
Sometimes in life you just have to live a little. Don’t be stupid; but analyze the risk, think of the precautions, and make the jump. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.
Read more for Things to See and Do.
National Geographic: Mexico