Spring Break in Mexico

Over 100,000 American teenagers and young adults travel to resort areas throughout Mexico over Spring Break each year. While the vast majority enjoy their vacations 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.

Mexican Law

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 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. Consular Agency, U.S. Consulate, or the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. (see Contact Information below). 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 arrested 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 open 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. 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.

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 separate offense. Visitors driving across the border should ensure that their vehicles contain no firearms. Mexico imposes harsh penalties for bringing so much as one bullet across its borders.

Visitors should exercise caution when renting vehicles, including jet skis and mopeds. Many are in poor condition, and many are uninsured or under-insured. Read rental contracts carefully, and make sure your own insurance will cover you in the event of an accident, if the rental company’s insurance is not clearly adequate. Drivers of any vehicle, including jet skis and mopeds, should exercise extreme caution and ask the rental agency about local laws and procedures.

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.

Know Before You Go

The following cities and areas are some of 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:

Cancun and Cozumel: Both areas are still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. Many hotels are conducting full renovations and will not re-open until after Spring Break season. Other hotels are not operating at full capacity or with full amenities. Beachfront areas have not fully recovered. Contact your travel operator or hotel prior to your travel to learn more about what to expect on your visit.

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 discotheque environment. Therefore, it is important for travelers to be aware of their surroundings and to 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 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 moped, 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 the Sol y Mar. Several drownings and near-drownings have been reported on the east coast of Cozumel, particularly in the Playa San Martin-Chen Rio area.

Acapulco: Drug-related violence has increased in Acapulco recently. 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.

Use only the licensed and regulated “sitio” (SEE-tee-oh) taxis, and avoid the “pirate” taxis that cruise Acapulco’s streets looking for fares. Some of the pirate taxi drivers are, in fact, criminals in search of victims; users of these taxis have been robbed, kidnapped or raped. Hotels, clubs and restaurants will summon a sitio taxi upon request.

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.

The Department of State has received reports of equipment rental operators using local colleagues to form a “mob” to intimidate customers into paying exorbitant amounts for damage to rented equipment.

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 months 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.

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, a prescription from a Mexican doctor is needed. 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.

Oaxaca: 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 the dramatic drop in fatalities, but swimmers are advised that mild currents can quickly become treacherous, even for accomplished swimmers.

Nogales/Sonora: Puerto PeÃ?±asco, 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.

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