But the rule doesn’t always hold. And in two popular destinations for foreign tourists — Los Cabos, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula, and the Caribbean coast — local and state officials have recently sought help from the United States to take on organized crime that threatened to drive off tourists.
A spasm of violence at the end of 2021 and early 2022 rattled the tourist industry along the Riviera Maya, the 80-mile strip of Caribbean resorts south of Cancún. Two visitors were killed in crossfire between local gangs in Tulum; a gunfight on a beach in Puerto Morelos sent tourists running for cover into a nearby hotel; a hit man gained entry to a luxury hotel in Playa del Carmen and killed two Canadian tourists believed to have links to organized crime.
The federal government sent National Guard units to patrol the beaches, and Quintana Roo authorities asked U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, to provide intelligence, Mr. Guerrero said. Local authorities, flush with tourism revenues, invested in the police, which is typically the weakest link in Mexican law enforcement.
The joint approach led to a lull in gangland gun battles in Quintana Roo’s tourist areas, and experts say that drug sales to meet foreign demand no longer take place on the street, although they are continuing more discreetly.
The success in tamping down drug violence in Quintana Roo follows a similar improvement in Los Cabos a couple of years ago when U.S. authorities also collaborated with local officials in the state of Baja California Sur. The murder rate soared in Los Cabos in 2017 amid cartel wars, and although tourists were not targeted, that year police chased gunmen into the lobby of a luxury hotel in San José del Cabo, and a cooler containing two heads was left in a tourist area.
What about tourist areas in other states?
Even in states where crime is very high, tourist areas have been spared. San Miguel de Allende, a haven for U.S. retirees, is an island of relative peace in a state, Guanajuato, that has been riddled with cartel violence.
The Pacific Coast state of Jalisco, home to the resort of Puerto Vallarta, picturesque tequila country and the cultural and gastronomic attractions of the state capital, Guadalajara, is also the center of operations of the extremely violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The cartel’s focus of violence is in the countryside; Puerto Vallarta and the beaches to its north, including the exclusive peninsula of Punta Mita and the surfers’ hangout of Sayulita, are all booming — and, despite drug sales, the cartel’s control seems to limit open conflict.