Mexico City Myths Debunked

Travel Lists Mexico City

“But isn’t it dangerous?”

Without fail, this is one of the first questions friends and family members will ask when you say “Mexico City” and “wonderful vacation” in the same sentence. The answer, to put it briefly, is no. The longer version is that the most real dangers facing tourists in the Condesa neighborhood, for instance, include getting diabetes from the high saturation of cupcake shops and burning your tongue on a street corner quesadilla—the scent of griddled cheese is just too tempting to wait that extra second.

That’s probably not what your mother was imagining, though.

But the fact is, Mexico City doesn’t even make the top 50 in the world rankings of cities with the highest homicide rates—a list including the likes of New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis. That’s not to say flashing wads of cash outside a Lucha Libre fight at the Arena Mexico comes highly recommended, or that you should guzzle tap water when the altitude addles you. However, there’s no more reason to question the safety of a trip to Mexico City than to worry about one to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Dallas or Miami.

For further proof, read on.

Myth #1: Eating the food will turn your vacation into a staycation—in the hotel bathroom.

Reality: There’s always some risk when eating abroad. Even Anthony Bourdain, famed for his willingness to eat everything, says that when someone on his crew gets sick, it’s usually from hotel buffets or other “Western-style businesses.” Food safety expert and lawyer Bill Marler agrees, explaining that anytime you eat food far from home, you’re at risk for illness, “not because these people aren’t nice, or they aren’t clean, but simply because your body’s not used to some of the bugs you’re probably going to find there.” Mexico City’s food ranges from the much-feared street taco to menus that would rival New York’s best 4-star restaurants (in fact, chef Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol just opened Cosme in New York—and is proving just that). If sticking only to restaurants helmed by chefs with experience in Michelin-starred kitchens would calm your fears, it would still take you a while to exhaust your options.
But…: The key is to stick with what you’re used to—and if that includes street food, frequenting stalls with high-heat cooking happening in front of you can keep you safe. The great thing about Mexico City is that whatever level of market-breakfast menudo (spicy tripe soup) or fancy duck buñuelos (doughnuts) you’re looking for, it’s there, and it’s delicious.

Myth #2: You’ll be murdered by street gangs.

Reality: There are dangerous parts of Mexico, but the people dying due to violence are not Americans, and it’s not happening in Mexico City. Of the 6 million Americans who visited Mexico in 2013, 81 were killed. Notably, only two of those were in Mexico City.
But…: If you think you’re likely to be one of those two murder victims, you should probably pick up a few Powerball tickets, too. If you’re planning a trip to Acapulco, Culiacán or Obregón, this might be a legitimate concern, not so much Mexico City.

Myth #3: You’ll get kidnapped by drug cartels.

Reality: There was a time when this was likely—when kidnappers targeted foreigners and the wealthy. Those days are long over because said kidnappers have come to realize that such people have friends and family likely to cause trouble (like, say, alerting authorities, notifying media and contacting governments). Kidnapping is a significant—and growing—issue and, really, industry, in Mexico at the moment. Likely the problem is even greater than statistics show, given that experts think it is a crime that often goes unreported. That’s because these days the victims are shopkeepers, taxi drivers, service employees, parking attendants and taco vendors who often work in cash or in Mexico’s “informal” economy; people with quick access to cash who are unlikely to cause problems. As a foreigner and a tourist, you and your family are not so appealing, no offense.
But…: Know where you’re going and don’t flag down a taxi on the street.

Myth #4: If you carry valuables, they’ll be stolen.

Reality: A few years ago, holding your iPhone would mark you as a tourist and a target in Mexico City. Now, it does little to differentiate you from a local. There’s still no reason to wave your DSLR camera and wad of cash around; a little common sense combined with the recent security improvements of the city should keep you safe. More than 11,000 security cameras monitor Mexico City, which has one of the world’s highest police-to-citizen ratios (one uniformed officer to 100 people).
But…: Look for information online and ask locals about any neighborhood you might be visiting. Feel free to leave valuables in the hotel safe, but it is not entirely necessary when strolling along Polanco’s wide boulevards. Doctores, on the other hand, is a different story. Before enjoying Mexican wrestling (Lucha Libre) or the exciting nightlife (read: sketchy drunks) of the Roma neighborhood, lock up your valuables.

Myth #5: The U.S. State Department warns against visiting.

Reality: The U.S. State Department actually very specifically does not warn against visiting Mexico City. The general country warning states, “The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain places in Mexico due to threats to safety and security posed by organized criminal groups in the country.” The most recent warning (issued May 1, 2015) says that no advisories are in effect for the Federal District of Mexico (Mexico City).
But…: Check back for updates, however rest assured that at the moment, the “warning” is nothing out of the ordinary.

No matter where you are, if you feel unsafe, move, run, yell, leave. Do whatever it takes to change the situation. However, the bottom line is that you can feel this anywhere.

Naomi Tomky is The Gastrognome, a Seattle-based food and travel writer and the world’s most enthusiastic eater of everything.

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