It's around the time that we all start looking forward to our summer vacation plans. But, if you've been paying any attention to the Mexico travel warnings coming out of the U.S. Department of State recently, alarm bells may be ringing.
On January 10, this year, the Department of State launched a new system for U.S. travelers, under which it gives every country a "Travel Advisory" ranging from a Level 1 (the lowest) to Level 4 (the highest). And, as we've seen recently with Mexico, certain areas within a country may be given specific rating. The State Department currently gives the state of Guerrero, which includes Acapulco, Ixtapa, Taxco and Zihuatanejo, a Level 4, and Jalisco, which includes Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, and Nayarit, which includes Sayulita, a Level 3.
Here's how the ratings break down:
- Level 1- Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.
- Level 2 - Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
- Level 3- Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
- Level 4- Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
Most of the countries given a Level 4 come as little surprise. They include such trouble hot spots as Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Others are probably politically influenced — a Level 4 for Iran, for example, and a 3 for Russia.
Where it does get interesting, however, is when you go up the list and find out which places the State Department believes to be safer than, say, the tourist towns of Puerto Vallarta or Sayulita, Mexico. Israel, West Bank and Gaza, for example, are grouped together and given a mere Level 2 rating — that's the same as Denmark. The alert does elaborate that you should not travel to Gaza due to terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict, and reconsider travel to the West Bank due to terrorism, potentially violent civil unrest, and the potential for armed conflict, but the overall Level 2 stands.
Jamaica also gets an overall Level 2, despite the Jamaican government issuing a State of Emergency, which has been extended through early May, and the U.S State Department itself issuing the chilling advice that: Violent crime, such as home invasions, armed robberies, and homicide, is common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, even at all-inclusive resorts. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.
It's also beyond the scope of the warning system to consider who might have problems traveling to certain places and who is likely to feel safe where. Bermuda, for example, gets a Level 1 with no warning, yet the nation recently repealed same sex marriage, which may suggest hostility to LGBT travelers. "Personally, I wouldn't send anybody there," Jerry Desmarais, an LGBT travel specialist told Travel Weekly. Hungary and Poland are both ranked Level 1, but a turn toward ethnonationalism in those, and neighboring countries, is making them less welcoming to non-white travelers.
It's difficult to take away a lesson from these apparent discrepancies, except, perhaps, to say that you should keep informed by checking travel advisories but try not to view the world solely through them. Travel warning or not, always consider your safety when traveling.
And if the warnings have got you shaken up and thinking about staying at home... well, the State Department does not issue a travel advisory for the United States. Given that the U.S. has a higher intentional homicide rate than Turkey (Level 3), Lebanon (Level 3), Burundi (Level 3) and Cuba (Level 3) — and has already had more than 65 mass shootings this year — we have to wonder what number the department might give it.
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