This is an easy one to answer: yes, of course it is safe to vacation or winter in Mexico. Of course you hear all kinds of stuff in the news about drug gang warfare and violence and so on. And it definitely happens. However, just as much if not more of that sort of thing happens in the US as well. Personally I think it’s even more dangerous in the US; most Mexican criminals don’t have the easy access to firearms that Americans do, and certainly not the same kind of access to semi-automatic weapons. If you search for Los Angeles or New York and drug-related violent crimes, you’ll find more and much nastier crimes than you would in Mexico. And just like the US, some areas are worse than others. Overall, though, violent crime against tourists just doesn’t happen much.
And what about those Mexican jails eh? People nearly die under inhumane conditions all the time and are thrown in jail for any old reason! Well, let me introduce you to Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail for the American equivalent. He houses the accused and guilty both in a tent city in Phoenix’s 110 °F, with only two meals a day costing approximately 90 cents per meal. He’s also re-instituted chain gangs, where inmates work in the blistering Arizona sun for hours while a rifle toting supervisor looks on. I’ve actually seen this – I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was like something from the 1950s. He’s been accused of violations of human and constitutional rights as well. The list goes on and on Truly, it’s appalling. The worst part? He keeps getting elected, year after year, because the senior citizens that make up the largest voting bloc like the fact that he’s “tough on crime”. While Sheriff Joe is certainly an extreme example, you can read about similar abuses, maltreatment and beatings in American jails all the time. There is nothing special about Mexican jails that way.
I drove all the way from Canada through Mexico to Puerto Vallarta, mostly on toll roads but not a little on regular highways as well. Car jackings? Road blocks with armed criminals demanding your money and goods? The famous ‘mordida’ where cops will hit you up for bribes on any pretext? Never seen any of it, and haven’t met anyone personally who has during my winter here. Of course you see examples of it in the media, but that doesn’t mean they’re ubiquitous and more than the Columbine shootings make teen murder sprees in schools ubiquitous either. I heard of exactly zero people who’ve had driving trouble here, but know first hand of many people who’ve witnessed road rage and been shot at in their cars in Phoenix.
Basically if you use your common sense, just like you would at home, you’ll be just fine. Don’t get drunk out of your mind and act like an ass, or yes indeed the cops will throw you in jail. Funny, they do that up north too as I recall. Get mixed up with drugs or drug gangs? Yup, your life span is likely to be short! Or you’ll wind up charged with federal offenses and in jail for many many years. Oddly enough, this is true of dealers and heavy users in the north as well. People flaunting expensive jewelry and high tech electronics in bad areas of town late at night? Why yes, they do get mugged, both here and in the north. It’s a question of whether you act sensibly whether or not you’ll be a victim, either at home or abroad in Mexico.
Stay out of the Mexican equivalents of downtown L.A. and New York (Mexico City springs to mind), avoid acting like a self entitled boor who has an invisible force shield around themselves because “I’m American!”, remember that the laws here are different as well, don’t get mixed up with drugs or gangs, and you will be safe as houses. People who come down to party wildly every night, drug themselves stupid, and child sex tourists… well, honestly I think they get what they deserve, be it at the hands of criminals or the Federales. Just be safe and sane and you’ll have a fantastic time!