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Is it safe to travel to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico? Advice from US, UK officials

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Since I write so often about Puerto Vallarta, one of the most frequent questions readers ask is is it safe to travel there. Puerto Vallarta has been Mexico’s most popular gay destination for over a decade. But news of drug violence has sometimes scared away would-be visitors.

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The short answer is, yes, it is very safe to travel to Puerto Vallarta. Of course, you should take the normal common sense safety precautions when traveling to Puerto Vallarta or anywhere. For example, don’t leave valuables unattended on the beach. Don’t walk alone late at night in deserted areas. And keep excess cash and valuables locked up in the hotel safe when you go out. If you insist on getting drunk in Vallarta, make sure you are with a designated friend or relative who can watch out for you so you don’t become vulnerable to opportunists who often prey on drunks.

Studies of crime statistics show that Puerto Vallarta is as safe if not safer than most other American cities. The city’s police force is cognizant that without tourists, they and most of the residents of Puerto Vallarta would be out of work. The city has a vested interest in keeping you safe, but you must do your part to take common-sense precautions.

US State Dept Mexico travel warnings

What does the US Department of State have to say about whether it is safe to travel to Puerto Vallarta?

The US State Department tends to air on the side of caution when it issues warnings to visitors. It would rather you not take a chance and go some place only to be a victim of crime or violence. In its official Mexico travel warning issued in January 2014, the State Dept. specifically exempted Puerto Vallarta from that warning:

“There is no recommendation against travel to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. There is also no recommendation against travel on principal highways in Jalisco between Guadalajara including the portions that cross into the southern portions of the state of Nayarit.”

Puerto Vallarta is in the Mexican state of Jalisco. The state’s capital and Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara, is about a four hour drive away from Puerto Vallarta. Many of the resort communities north of Puerto Vallarta are in the state of Nayarit.

UK government Mexico travel warnings

Want a second opinion? In an advisory also issued on January 2014, the British Government. warned about drug violence particularly in border communities but had no specific warning about travel in Puerto Vallarta.

The advisory noted, “The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta and these areas have not seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere."

Use caution when traveling outside the city

But in case you plan to travel outside the city, it had this advice; “When driving, avoid isolated roads and use toll roads (‘cuotas’) whenever possible. Keep car doors locked and windows closed, especially at traffic lights. There have been a number of violent car-jackings and robberies along the Pacific Highway and you should be careful when travelling on this route. Those travelling in large camper vans or sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have been targeted in the past. If you suspect you’re being followed or watched, drive to a police station or other safe place.”

Puerto Vallarta is safe!

Crime against tourists is relatively rare in Puerto Vallarta. Many of those involved in the tourism industry have long complained that Americans paint Mexico with a broad brush. When violence is reported in one part of the country, all the cities are tainted by association. Few Americans would judge the safety of Beverly Hills by violence in West Los Angeles, but many Americans judge safety in Puerto Vallarta by crime in the Mexican border towns.

Puerto Vallarta vs Anaheim

Puerto Valllarta's tourism board hired the leading global investigative and security firm, Thomas Dale and Associates, to review safety levels in the city. That full report can be found here.

The study compared Puerto Vallarta to Anaheim, California. Anaheim is home to Disneyland and has a reputation for being among California's safest cities. The populations of both cities is about the same and each of cities is tourism dependent. The report based on 2011 crime statistics found that crime was higher in Anaheim in every category except homicide. For example, more than twice as many robberies were reported in Anaheim than in Puerto Vallarta in 2011.

There were 29 homicides in Puerto Vallarta in 2011, while Anaheim reported nine homicides. While of course the higher homicide rate is significant, the report noted that none of the homicide victims in Puerto Vallarta were Americans. Only two of the homicides happened in the tourist zones of Puerto Vallarta.

Bottom line

The bottom line is that Puerto Vallarta is a safe place to visit It is as safe if not safer than most American cities. But of course, you should exercise the same kind of common sense as you would in any American city to avoid becoming a victim of crime.

For more information, the city's official tourism guide is visitpuertovallarta.com

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