Spring Break in Mexico tips from the U.S. Department of State Website.
Over 100,000 American teenagers and young adults travel to resort areas throughout Mexico over Spring Break each year. While the vast majority enjoys their vacation without incident, several may die, hundreds will be arrested, and still more will make mistakes that could affect them for the rest of their lives. Using some common sense will help travelers avoid these unpleasant and dangerous situations.
We encourage all U.S. citizens to phone home periodically to assure family members of your safety and inform them of your whereabouts. Remember, whether you travel to Mexico by land, air, or sea, you are entering a foreign country and are subject to the laws and customs regulations of Mexico.
Effective January 23, 2007, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air to the United States from Mexico, Canada, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport, (or if applicable, an Alien Registration Card, form I-551, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document), to enter or re-enter the United States. American citizens can visit http://travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on applying for a U.S. passport. Please see Mexico’s Country Specific Information for complete entry requirements.
While traveling in Mexico, American citizens are subject to Mexican law. An arrest or accident in Mexico can result in a difficult legal or medical situation, sometimes at a great expense to the traveler. Mexican law can impose harsh penalties for violations that would be considered minor in the United States, and U.S. citizenship in no way exempts one from full prosecution under the Mexican criminal justice system. If U.S. citizens find themselves in legal trouble, they should contact the closest U.S. Consulate, U.S. Consular Agency, or the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. U.S. consular officials in Mexico can visit detained American citizens in prison, provide information about the Mexican legal system, and furnish a list of Mexican attorneys, among other assistance. U.S. Consular officials cannot arrange for Mexican officials to release detained American citizens.
Alcohol and Drugs
Excessive alcohol consumption and unruly behavior can lead to serious problems with Mexican authorities. Alcohol is involved in the vast majority of arrests, accidents, violent crimes, rapes, and deaths suffered by American students on Spring Break. Disturbing the peace, lewd or indecent behavior, littering, driving under the influence, drinking on the street or on public transportation, using public transportation without payment, or making obscene or insulting remarks are all considered criminal activities by Mexican authorities. The importation, purchase, possession or use of drugs can incur severe penalties, including imprisonment without bail for up to a year before a case is tried, and imprisonment of several years following a conviction. All individuals 16 years of age or older are tried as adults.
Safety and Security
Standards of security, safety, and supervision may not reach the levels expected in the United States. This has contributed to the deaths of U.S. citizens in automobile accidents, after falls from balconies or into unmarked ditches, by drowning in the ocean as well as in hotel pools, and in water-sports mishaps, among others.
Warning flags on beaches should be taken seriously. If black or red flags are up, do not enter the water. Strong undertow and rough surf are common along beaches throughout Mexico, especially on the Pacific coast, and drownings have occurred when swimmers have been overwhelmed by conditions. Swimming pool drain systems may not comply with U.S. safety standards and swimmers should exercise caution. Do not swim in pools or at beaches without lifeguards. Do not dive into unknown bodies of water, because hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death. If you choose to swim, always exercise extreme caution.
Use only the licensed and regulated “sitio” (SEE-tee-oh) taxis. Some illegitimate taxi drivers are, in fact, criminals in search of victims; users of these taxis have been robbed, kidnapped, and/or raped. Hotels, clubs and restaurants will summon a sitio taxi upon request.
Firearms and Knives
It is best not to carry even a pocketknife into Mexico as this can result in a weapons charge if a knife is found on a traveler who is arrested for a separate offense. Visitors driving across the border should ensure that their vehicles contain no firearms or ammunition. Mexico imposes harsh penalties for bringing as little as one bullet across its borders.
Renting and Operating Vehicles and other Equipment
Visitors should exercise caution when renting vehicles, including jet skis and mopeds. Many are not serviced and in poor condition, and many are uninsured or under-insured. Read rental contracts carefully to be sure your own insurance will cover you in the event of an accident, if the rental company’s insurance is not adequate. Drivers of any vehicle, including jet skis and mopeds, should exercise extreme caution and ask the rental agency about local laws and procedures before operating the vehicle. The Department of State has received reports of equipment rental operators using locals to form a “mob” to intimidate customers into paying exorbitant amounts for damage to rented equipment.
Operators of any vehicle that causes damage to other vehicles or injuries to other people may be arrested and held in custody until full payment is made, either in cash or through insurance.
Driving in Mexico
American citizens planning on driving to Mexico should carry a valid driver’s license at all times. U.S. driver’s licenses are valid in Mexico. Mexican law requires that vehicles be driven only by their owners, or that the owner be inside the vehicle. If not, the car may be seized by Mexican customs and will not be returned under any circumstances. We strongly recommend that you purchase a full coverage insurance policy that will cover the cost of bail. Please be aware that if you are involved in an automobile accident, you will be taken into police custody until it is determined who is at fault and whether you have the ability to pay any penalty.
Know Before You Go
The following cities and areas are some traditional destinations in Mexico for travelers on Spring Break. While other resort areas may not be as well-known for this type of travel, the advice contained here still applies:
Acapulco: Drug-related violence has been increasing in Acapulco. Although this violence is not targeted at foreign residents or tourists, U.S. citizens in these areas should be vigilant in their personal safety.
Avoid swimming outside the bay area. Several American citizens have died while swimming in rough surf at the Revolcadero Beach near Acapulco.
Cabo San Lucas: Beaches on the Pacific side of the Baja California Peninsula at Cabo San Lucas are dangerous due to rip tides and rogue waves; hazardous beaches in this area are clearly marked in English and Spanish.
Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel: Cancun is a fairly large city, approaching 500,000 inhabitants, with increasing reports of crime. Crimes against the person, such as rape, commonly but not exclusively occur at night or in the early morning hours, and often involve alcohol and the nightclub environment. Therefore, it is important to travel in pairs or groups, be aware of surroundings, and take general precautions. To protect against property crimes, valuables should be left in a safe place or not brought at all. If you are a victim of a crime, immediately notify the U.S. Consular Agency in Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Cozumel or the U.S. Consulate in Merida at the telephone numbers provided below.
If you rent a moped or other vehicle in Cancun, it is advisable to purchase third-party insurance, as the insurance offered on some credit cards will not cover you in Mexico. Should you have an accident or cause damage to the vehicle, you may be required to pay the full amount of any repairs, in cash, as determined by the rental agency, or face arrest.
In Cancun, there is often a very strong undertow along the beach from the Hyatt Regency all the way south to Club Med. Already this season, several U.S. citizens have drowned when overwhelmed by ocean conditions. In Cozumel, several drownings and near-drownings have been reported on the east coast, particularly in the Playa San Martin-Chen Rio area.
Matamoros/South Padre Island: The Mexican border cities of Matamoros and Nuevo Progresso are located 30 to 45 minutes south of the major Spring Break destination of South Padre Island, Texas. Travelers to the Mexican border should be especially aware of safety and security concerns due to increased violence in recent years between rival drug trafficking gangs competing for control of narcotics smuggling routes. While it is unlikely that American visitors would get caught up in this violence, travelers should exercise common-sense precautions such as visiting only the well-traveled business and tourism areas of border towns during daylight and early-evening hours.
Mazatlan: While the beach town of Mazatlan is a relatively safe place to visit, travelers should use common sense and exercise normal precautions when visiting an unfamiliar location. Avoid walking the streets alone after dark, when petty crimes are much more common. Beaches can have very strong undertows and rogue waves. Swimmers should obey warning signs placed along the beaches which indicate dangerous ocean conditions.
Nogales/Sonora: Puerto Peñasco, a.k.a. “Rocky Point,”, is located in northern Sonora, 60 miles from the U.S. border, and is accessible by car. The majority of accidents that occur at this Spring Break destination are caused by individuals driving under the influence of alcohol. Travelers should exercise particular caution on unpaved roads, especially in beach areas.
Oaxaca City: There have been ongoing demonstrations and protests in Oaxaca City due to civil unrest since June 2006. Several groups have engaged in violent demonstrations in Oaxaca City, which resulted in the death of an American citizen in October 2006. Prior to traveling to Oaxaca City, U.S. citizens should monitor the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City’s web site, as well as http://travel.state.gov for the most up to date Safety and Security information. U.S. citizens should avoid participating in demonstrations and other activities that might be deemed political by the Mexican authorities. The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners, and such actions may result in detention and/or deportation.
Oaxaca (coastal): There have been a number of drownings along the beaches of the southern coast of Oaxaca, namely Zipolite Beach. Professional lifeguard training has contributed to a drop in fatalities, but swimmers are advised that currents can quickly become treacherous, even for accomplished swimmers.
Tijuana:Tijuana has one of the busiest land border crossings in the world. The beach towns of Rosarito and Ensenada also attract a large number of tourists. Drinking alcoholic beverages excessively on a public street is prohibited.
Tijuana boasts a large number of pharmacies; to buy any controlled medication (e.g. Valium, Vicodin, Placidyl, Morphine, Demorol, and Ativan, etc), a prescription from a Mexican federally registered physician is required. Possession of controlled medications without a Mexican doctor’s prescription is a serious crime and can lead to arrest. The prescription must have a seal and serial number. Under no other circumstances should an individual purchase prescription medicines.
Register with the Embassy or Consulates
Registration with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate (in the country you are visiting) makes your presence and whereabouts known, in case it is necessary for a consular officer to contact you in an emergency. During a disaster overseas, American consular officers can assist in evacuation were that to become necessary, but they cannot assist you if they do not know where you are. You can register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site.