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Is Spring Break in Acapulco Safe?

By March 18, 2007

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Acapulco got a lot of press in 2006 and some of 2007 -- drug killings, tourists winged by stray bullets --- but students have been flocking to this former jetsetter destination on Mexico's Pacific coast regardless, and it looks like spring break in Acapulco is nearly as popular this year as last, even with the new passport rules. And for the gazillion college students there now, drinks by the pool and fun on the beach seem to be the order of the day, not crime victimhood.

What's Been Happening in Acapulco

Violence between drug gangs and cartels in Mexico's states of Guerrero (where Acapulco is) and nearby Michoacan resulted in the deaths of several Mexicans in 2006, including some incidents in Acapulco, where a total of six severed heads have been found in the last year (CBS News) (one of which infamously washed up on a beach Msnbc); all murders have been said to be related to drug turf wars.

Two Canadian tourists were struck by automatic gunfire as they lounged outside their hotel on a February Saturday night (National Post); both authorities and the injured tourists say the shooting was accidental, as the bullets were intended for a local man walking on the street nearby. In January, a Canadian tourist died from injuries ruled to be from a taxi hit and run (Digital Journal), though the teen's family alleged that the 19-year-old Canadian died as a result of injuries from beaten outside an Acapulco nightclub.

And most recently, a Canadian high school teacher has said he was punched by an Acapulco cab driver March 12; the Toronto Star reports that the teacher and his wife were in a cab being blocked by another cab, and "... raised their hands (to the other cabbie) as if to say, 'What are you doing?' ", according to the Star. The cabbie apparently responded by coming over, opening the couple's cab door, and punching the teacher.

What to Expect in Acapulco

As About's Guide to Mexico, Suzanne Barbezat, reports, the undertow on some Acapulco beaches and the city's terrible traffic are more statistically and historically dangerous than any potential drug cartel crossfire. Suzanne advises that you're likely to see a heavy military presence (federales usually tend to ride around in open four wheel drives, bearing machine guns) in Acapulco, and will encounter highway check-points on your way into town (I've been stopped at these highway checkpoints, and dealing easily with them is generally a matter of you showing your id and not smuggling drugs). Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderon, has deployed 25,000 federal troops to Guerrero since taking office in this winter. Farther inland in this pretty Mexico state, the Popular Revolutionary Army, an ant-government insurgency movement, is reported to be getting guns from drug cartels in exchange for guarding poppy fields. Says Suzanne, "If fears of violence will inhibit your fun on your holiday, consider a different destination."

Is Acapulco Safe?

You need to make your own decision, but I can tell you this: I've been to Acapulco, and I'm going to visit Acapulco again, and as things stand right now, I wouldn't fear being the victim of violence, unless I hear that the equivalent of war has broken out. If you go, be polite (being rude to cabbies, federales, and fellow tourists is never, ever worth it), watch US government travel advisories, and follow basic safety rules.

Related: Spring Break 2007 | Popular Spring Break Destinations 2007 | Alternative Spring Break | Gay Spring Break | Beginner's Guide to Mexico Travel

Photos: Top - Kathleen Crislip (La Condesa Beach); center - Joshua Jones
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