Michoacan, Mexico: is it safe to visit?
Mexico Travel Advisory
According to, “travelstate.gov.” certain areas of Mexico are given a range of levels to determine if its safe to travel for Americans. The list is from 1-4; 1 being the lower end( nothing to worry about) to 4(ye who enters here abandon all hope). We all see it in the news, anything bad happens whether it be here, Mexico or any other country; bad news sells best. We are drawn to it, we look away but we still listen or peek at the horror. Is that all Mexico is though? Is it just drugs, theft and murder? Or are we looking through a lens of what the media portrays? Well, I traveled to Michoacan, a level 4(do not travel) state of Mexico. I will tell you my experiences; the good, the bad and some tips for your travel.
Before Traveling to Mexico
My wife and I decided we wanted to go to Mexico. My Father and Mother both met in Mexico. I haven’t been there in over 10 years. I had enough vacation time saved up, and we had a dependable vehicle to make the trip. My own mother was worried about the trip, last time she went was via the plane but the thought of actually driving through Mexico scared her. I was surprised. She even brought up the travelstate.gov map of Mexico. I told her it would be fine, but that planted a seed in the back of my mind of doubt and worry. I did some research, some said it as bad as the middle-east. Which of course all I knew about the Middle-East is what I see in the news, so that didn’t help. Then I took a step back. I knew there had to be people that travel there all the time. Which I did find a facebook group that did that. I read through the posts, asked some questions and my doubt got a bit smaller. The worries were still there. There are so many reports of travelers being robbed and or murdered. I was set on taking this road trip and there was no turning back. We went on Amazon and bought a few things for the long 3200-mile round trip. We got our Subaru ready and packed her all up. Mom and Dad in the back and my wife and I taking on the first shift. We left Kansas City, and we were on our way to one of the most dangerous places in the world.
Helpful Tips Before Crossing The Border
If you are going to drive to the border please realize its a lot more steps then just flying in. You can actually get everything ready before crossing the border. You will need the following:
- Get a vehicle permit (roughly $400 refundable deposit)
- If you are still making payments on the car you will need a letter showing permission from the title holder
- Mexican Insurance (American Insurance will not cover anything in Mexico)
- Get a visitor’s permit (roughly $24 per person)
Crossing The Border
There is a lot of bad stories about Laredo, TX. Echoes of the Cartel. It’s the last city before that part of the border of Mexico, and it was pretty much a lot of nothing. Well, a lot of farms I should say, but not a lot to see. We were crossing the border, and we got flagged for inspection. We pulled in, and they asked us where we were going and for how long. It was actually pretty simple. Then we went inside a building to get our permits; the whole process took about 30 minutes. We weren’t shot or stabbed but did enjoy some beautiful weather. Then we officially left the United States of America and onward to our neighboring country. It seemed the route we took was more for semi-truck drivers. From my work experience that’s a good thing. Truck drivers communicate pretty well amongst each other and have a type of brotherhood. I got to say, the potholes were horrendous. Our GPS was routing us through the Toll roads, which are the “safe” roads, but they are the highways/freeways that are well taken care of. They also include emergency services. Once we got to our first toll, smooth sailing from there.
I wanted to explain this a little further. In Mexico when you are traveling from city to city, you have the option to take the toll road or the free road. The tolls average around $2-$12. The free roads, well, they are free to use. They are not always taken care of by the city and or town. Sometimes the free roads are in very bad condition depending on how poor the city/town is. I would avoid these roads as much as possible unless you have someone native from the area. They are not always patrolled very well and crime is more likely to happen on these type of roads. The tolls roads have a lot of local authority and military presence. The only downside of toll roads is sometimes all you see is just scenery and not too many towns and cities.
Mexican Highway 85 & 57
We had about 1400 miles to reach our destination, Tangancicuaro, Michoacan. Along the route, we were awed by the beautiful scenery. Mountains, hills, and weird looking trees that looked like dancing palm trees. There was a lot of truck stops, which is great. Truck stops get serviced better. We didn’t stop too much but the one time we stopped for a while was to eat some actual food. We made sure we had a seat by the window, so we can see the car. Nothing eventful happened. The 1400-mile was nothing but long stretches of highway and truck stops. The only “bad” moments were the window washermen who force themselves to wash your windshield. They are trying to make a living and all they ask is for some pocket change. Some of them were happy with food and fruit. We were cutting through the edge of Guanajuato which is a level 2. The worst thing about it was the traffic signals were a bit confusing but so far nothing dangerous.
Mexican Public Bathrooms
This isn’t common knowledge for new visitors of Mexico. Mexican public bathrooms sometimes require a toll to use them and or to get toilet paper. Its a way for the business not to eat up the cost of tissue and cleaning supplies. It usually averages 5 to 10 pesos. Which is less than a dollar. I suggest you bring your own toilet paper because of they are frugal with it. You will still have to pay a toll but I’d rather bring my own and not have enough.
We finally made it! We were exhausted and were greeted with street tacos! Then we passed out to the next morning. We woke up to roosters crowing. We got ready and explored the city. My wife has never been to Mexico so it was all new to her. She was worried herself and didn’t’ wear much jewelry or didn’t bring her fancy purses. We didn’t want to be flashy at all. Why attract unwanted attention? We just ate, walked and explored the streets. We went to Fiestas, to flea markets, and to a huge shopping center. There was a lot of armed officers and by armed I mean fully loaded with sub-machine guns or fully-automatic rifles. They looked like swat teams. It’s intimidating but also you felt safe. The cops were very friendly and professional. They scanned the streets at all times. They were always patrolling throughout all the neighborhoods. As we explored more, you do see some of the poverty but people were still happy and walking around enjoying themselves. People like to stroll around the town.
American Border Re-Entry
We only stayed for a week and a half since the drive is about 27 hours one way. We got up at 3 am and took off. Dad and Mom took the first shift. The route back was pretty similar. Nothing really eventful. No shoot-outs, no robberies, not even a car accident. Well… there was something eventful; after we passed the last toll I hit a massive pot-hole. I thought my tire was going to fall off or pop. Luckily my Subaru took it like a champ and kept rolling. A helpful tip before you cross the border: in order to get your deposit back, you have to check in at this small shack that’s a quarter mile from the border. Explain to the staff you are leaving Mexico and are wanting your deposit back. They will scan your vehicle permit and have you remove it from the windshield. It takes about 24 hours to get refunded back to your card or bank. After that, you’ll drive up to the border and go through a drive-through of cameras and scanners. The border agent will ask for everyone’s passport. They asked us how long we were in Mexico but not a lot of questions. We crossed the border and was taxed for a bottle of tequila we had, bummer. Now it did get dangerous, in Kansas, ice rain was pretty bad. Our vehicle kept sliding around as the wind blew. It slowed us down quite a bit but finally made it home safe!!
General Precautions of Mexico
Mexico is a large country that is heavily populated in their major cities. Like most populated cities, they are more susceptible to more crime. I will summarize cautionary tips.
- Do not be flash. Wearing a lot of jewelry and or wearing a nice fancy purse can make you a walking target to be robbed. Be simple if possible.
- Keep your phone and or wallet/cash in your front pocket. Keep your valuables in your line of sight.
- Use Toll roads when possible: yes they charge but they are more patrolled and the roads are taken care of.
- Do some research before you travel; where are the police stations, hospitals, public areas?
Is Mexico Safe?
First off, I wanted to say that this was just my experience. I know bad occurrences happen in Mexico. I won’t deny that Mexico has problems to work out. I send my sorrows for any misfortunes on people who travel out there. I just didn’t experience any of that. Most people that travel don’t either. The worst thing they encountered was driving at night because you couldn’t see the awful speed bumps and livestock. Bad events happen in any country, rich or poor areas. If you want to visit Mexico and have the opportunity to do so, I believe it would be a great experience. It would eliminate many misconceptions about Mexico. So the next time you want to travel to a different country, don’t just read the government warnings, do some research, use common sense and enjoy all the wonders this world has to offer.