Ignore the Myths and Take The Kids to Mexico

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Preparing to cross the U.S./Mexican border along a road trip our family of seven was taking from Alaska to Argentina (in a veggie powered truck), the comments and concern for our safety didn’t come as a surprise. We knew what the media was saying, and what was “common knowledge” on the current state of affairs south of the border.

In the minds of many Americans, Mexico was a “lawless, violent, dangerous” country, an “unnecessary risk” – a country that “keeps getting worse.”

We didn’t know what it was really like in Mexico. We had driven the entire Pacific Coast before, on our first road trip from the U.S. to Costa Rica (when our kids were 4, 3, 2 and 2 mos). But that was in 2007. Had things really changed that much?

We suspected that most of it was media hype, but we were also a little curious. Was Mexico more dangerous now than before? Were average citizens living in fear?

What we discovered about Mexico was so far from the rumors, news reports, warnings, and “common knowledge” that it was almost comical, if it wasn’t so sadly incorrect.

For four months we traveled from the Arizona border through Chihuahua, Durango, to Guadalajara, Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and most of the Yucatan Peninsula before crossing into Belize.

What we discovered about Mexico was so far from the rumors, news reports, warnings, and “common knowledge” that it was almost comical, if it wasn’t so sadly incorrect.

More than once, we laughed to ourselves about the “danger” in Mexico, as we sent our kids on errands to the local tiendas, walked through the centros at night as families gathered, or watched a sunset while camped in the countryside.

Yes, there are people being killed in Mexico. Yes, there is a drug war going on. Yes, regular precautions should be taken, just as you would if you were taking a trip to the United States for the first time. You probably wouldn’t pick a known gang neighborhood in L.A. as the place you would spend your time.

The same logic applies for visiting Mexico. For the most part, the urban legends  just aren’t true, and if you avoid the “bad parts of town,” the result will be a rich, rewarding experience.

Here are a few of the fallacies:

1. Because of the drug war, all of Mexico is unsafe. Don’t risk traveling there, especially with kids.

It’s been our experience as travelers that blanket statements are so inaccurate.

To say that all of Africa is hot, or all of India is dirty, or that all of Mexico is dangerous is an extremely over-generalized statement.

The vast majority of it was completely, entirely, undeniably safe. So safe, that during our time there we never once felt threatened, frightened, or afraid in any way.

The truth is that every country has a vast diversity of culture, climate, and other variables. Some parts of Africa get cold, even snow. India has immaculately clean locales. Much of Mexico is very, very safe.

This was our experience as we traveled through fields, mountains, farms, cities, and towns. The vast majority of it was completely, entirely, undeniably safe. So safe, that during our time there we never once felt threatened, frightened, or afraid in any way.

2. Tourists are being targeted and killed, even in the “safe” areas. Anyone could get caught in the crossfire, even your children.

There have been accounts of tourists being killed as a supposed by product of the drug war.

But most often, these deaths are a result of individuals being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Individuals who have been in known drug cartel territory, nightclubs, and up to no good are the most common victims of these attacks. These violent episodes aren’t usually happening mid-day in your average cities and towns.

Which provides even more reason for families with children to be safe while they travel through Mexico.

Staying away from where bad stuff happens is a strategy that parents use on a daily basis.

They won’t be visiting any of the places that are remotely sketchy, or hitting the bars and nightclubs when the sun goes down. Instead, they’ll be in bed (and I don’t just mean the kids).

Staying away from where bad stuff happens is a strategy that parents use on a daily basis. For the most part, it keeps you and your kids safe, no matter where you are.

Employing this strategy while traveling to Mexico will yield the same results.

3. If you do go, stick to the touristy areas – they’re the safest for you and your kids.

In our experience, tourist locations actually pose greater risks for travelers. They become target areas for criminals – an easy place to perpetrate crimes on unsuspecting vacationers.

Throughout our entire four months in Mexico, the only crime committed against us happened in the touristy town of Tulum – my $1000 camera was opportunistically stolen.

We’ve found the local villages and towns to be the safest and provide the most rewarding experiences.  The local people live simply and honestly; there is very little crime, and almost no violent crime; and they’re more down to earth, open, and genuinely interested in your welfare.

We’ve found the local villages and towns to be the safest and provide the most rewarding experiences.

Too often the locals living in the tourist areas are jaded due to repeated exposure to haughty, frightened, rich vacationers who view their country as being dangerous and poor.

If you do go to Mexico with your kids, get out of the tourist areas, and have a safer, richer experience in real Mexico.

4. Mexico is just a poor, third world country. There’s not much to see and do anyway, especially for kids.

I’ve been to Mexico before. But after our last expedition, I’ve developed a real love for the place.  Mexico has a lot to offer. It’s rich in history, culture, and custom. It has great infrastructure and modern conveniences. It’s clean and refined.  It also provides an abundant variety of landscapes, climates, peoples, languages, arts, traditions,and food.

Despite stereotypes, it’s not all burritos, tacos, sombreros, and adobe huts. You could spend a very long time exploring all that Mexico has to offer and still not see or do it all.

From pine forests to tropical beaches; fresh water lagoons and sparkling rivers; booming metropolises and sleepy indigenous villages; adobe huts to towering skyscrapers; ancient ruins and high speed internet; handicrafts and fine art; tacos to tlayudas; snow capped peaks and humid rain-forests; Mexico has it all. And it has a lot to offer for kids.

Don’t let the urban legends spoil your perception of what Mexico is really like. Go for yourself and discover the truth.

Our family lived in India for 5 months in 2010. When we crossed into Mexico, my children said, “Mexico’s not anything like I thought it would be. I thought it would be dirty with cows wandering around, like India. It’s not like that at all. It’s more like Utah!”

Mexico is a spectacular place to visit (and even live) with or without children. It’s a country that we’ve fallen in love with and plan to visit again and again and again as a family.

Don’t let the urban legends spoil your perception of what Mexico is really like. Go for yourself and discover the truth.

Check out flights to Mexico and find a place to stay

Six of our favorite destinations

Here are six of our favorite destinations from our time in Mexico.

1. Lake Chapala

The largest lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala has several towns along her shores, which seem to have perfect weather year round. A lovely place to take the kids for boating, fishing, and raspberry picking.

2. Morelia

An attractive city that makes you feel more like you’re in Europe than Mexico, Morelia is a great place to visit for holidays. We were there for Dia de los Muertos and enjoyed their traditional gazpacho (finely chopped mango, pineapple, and jicama, topped with cheese and pepper sauce.)

3. Mexico City

One of our favorite spots to visit if you’re looking for a cultural experience.

We took the buses and subways to get around, visited the zocalo (city center) and ate some street food, and went to the Museum of Anthropology – one of the top museums in the world.

The best part is that it was all so cheap. Subway rides are 3 pesos (~$0.25USD) each to anywhere in the city. And a world famous museum was free for kids 13 and under (adults were only 51 pesos -$4USD- each). You can’t beat that!

4. Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a beautiful city with lots of culture as well, but our favorite part about visiting was the ruins of Monte Alban, located just outside the city.

Situated on the top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding valleys, there’s a special feeling as you climb the massive steps where ancient peoples once lived and thrived.

Definitely a must see, and a great place for kids to explore. Again, kids 13 and under are free, adults only 51 pesos (~$4USD).

5. Chiapas

The state of Chiapas is among the most beautiful areas in Mexico.  Cloud forests, indigenous villages, colorful markets - Chiapas is a magical place with a lot to offer.

Some of our favorite stops were Agua Azul and the ruins of Palenque. A popular attraction that we missed out on was the Cañon Sumidero, which is definitely worth the visit if you get the chance.

6. Laguna Bacalar

Named a puebla magica and the Lagoon of Seven Colors, Bacalar is a fresh water lagoon in the state of Quintana Roo, about 4 hours south of Cancun.

We spent six splendid weeks right on her shores – kayaking, swimming, sailing, and sunbathing. It was reallyreally hard to leave.

You can also check out the following articles and resources to prepare for your trip to Mexico:

Have you been to Mexico before?  Were your impressions vastly different than your preconceived assumptions?  Have you ever been to a country or city that was the opposite of how it’s portrayed in the media?  Comment below to share your thoughts.

Read more about author Rachel Denning here.


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Leave a Comment

  • Freddie Mireles said at 2014-06-22T19:00:58+0000: They're not "myths". Some awful violence does happen during the mid-day. I have family in Nuevo Laredo. It's a hot spot for cartel violence. Reading this article angered me a little. Only reason why you didn't encounter to many problems 1. Obviously going to the places where Cartels don't really operate. Some of those small villages are controlled by cartels. They do go after tourists more often for car jackings. They extort, kill innocent families. Do a little more research and and actually go visit some of the cities that the cartel control. Then write another article.
  • Alyssa McCloud said at 2014-05-18T13:31:42+0000: Thank-you! My son travels to Mexico regularly with his dad and it's amazing how many people warn me not to let him go! Thank -you for easing my mind and giving me a goid resource to dispel the myths.
  • Kelly McLaughlin said at 2013-08-29T19:14:20+0000: I've lived in Mexico for ten years, had my son here (he's 8 now) and LOVE this country. Thanks for dispelling the myths. :)(And Riviera Maya is a fabulous family destination!)
  • Michele Samal Kinnon said at 2013-09-01T02:54:39+0000: Moved to Mexico with our small children in 2004. Best decision we ever made! (Here's another thumbs up for the Riviera Maya as a family destination).
  • Ye Lin said at 2013-08-29T19:20:37+0000: Basing a trip to Mexico on media reports is like planning a trip to the US based on how Detroit and Chicago are doing.
  • Robert McCormick said at 2013-09-02T18:28:56+0000: I've spent last 9 winters in Mexico and all of this is accurate. I also recommend Patzcuaro for Dia de los Muertos in Michoacan( nobody does it better), a little village called Yelapa south of Puerto Vallarta( accessible only by water taxi and therefore a walking village), and Uxmal ruins in the Yucatan. It's a great country to live in.We could learn a lot from their family values.
  • W Jones Jordan said at 2013-08-29T20:56:12+0000: I came to México the first time when I was ten years old, and visited repeatedly until I retired here in 1995. I have never seen a better or more objective story about México today, nor better advice on the best places to visit, all of which, except Bacalar, I know fairly well. I enthusiastically endorse and thank you for this article!
  • David Hales said at 2013-08-31T15:20:36+0000: Keep dispelling the myths we live and love life in Mexico.
  • Ginger Carney said at 2013-11-19T06:16:11+0000: Things are rarely as depicted in the media. If we believed everything we saw about our area we would think we lived in a flood plain and get washed out every time it rains.
  • Larry Ford said at 2013-08-31T21:00:45+0000: Great article! Glad you pointed out it's just as safe to travel Mexico as it is in any major city in the US. Love that you picked Lake Chapala as the #1 destination! Our clothing optional B&B overlooks the lake! it's a great place for a vacation or getaway.
  • Candace Spence said at 2013-08-31T17:15:04+0000: But will anyone believe postitive publicity?
  • Linda Sanden Youcha said at 2013-09-06T21:24:19+0000: In 2006 we traveled by car for 3 months from Minnesota to the Yucatan, spending 2 weeks in Meridia, then all over Mexico, mainly to the beautiful colonial cities (Oaxaca, Puebla, Mexico City, Morelia, Guadalajara, to the Pacific Coast). We had no problems, except getting lost once and the local police were kind enough to lead us out of the city to the right highway.
  • J-seph Carcellar said at 2013-08-30T01:30:06+0000: Yucatan is one of the safest place in Mexico if not in the whole world. I travelled to that part of mexico using public transport, the locals are amazing. This is a complete package state of Mexico. Its so safe that one time, I went to a open restaurant with all the ipads and gadget just laying on the table unattended with the owners swimming on the beach >;-).
  • Elaine G Kellaway said at 2013-08-30T16:46:19+0000: Thank you for such an informative & positive article - a refreshing change from all the US negativity! We live here (run a small hotel in Ajijic) & absolutely love it, & am so pleased you & your family all had a great time, too.
  • Diane White Daniel said at 2013-08-30T02:36:38+0000: We love spending time in Mexico and have visited and lived for a few months at a time in several places. Right now I'm on Isla Mujeres - a lovely little island off the coast of Cancun. The people are wonderful and it is very safe. Thank you for a really nice article.
  • Mexico on my Mind said at 2013-09-01T02:44:57+0000: Thank you for the wonderful and truthful article.
  • Marcia Lavender said at 2013-08-30T15:26:58+0000: Sent this to my kids...AGAIN.
  • Ruth Kaplan said at 2013-09-15T17:05:43+0000: great article on travelling to MX!
  • Ulises Zárate Mayoral said at 2013-09-01T15:55:38+0000: Great article! I LOVE Mexico and spend hours of my free time browsing through Youtube videos of places in Mexico because I yearn so badly to return. I lived in Guadalajara for 10 years and traveled by road all over the country and NEVER had any problems whatsoever. I only moved back to the US so that I could work enough years to earn Social Security. Even though I was born in the US and in spite of all the supposed "conveniences" of living in the US and all of the "disadvantages" of living in Mexico, Mexico will always be my REAL home.
  • Indika De Fonseka said at 2013-08-30T19:35:25+0000: Well done Rachel for an awesome article! It's so nice to hear the truth about the place and the people, instead of the stereotypes and negative garbage.
  • Joy Wesson said at 2013-08-30T14:47:48+0000: I will never regret moving here. I feel so much more secure in this wonderful town. I love the Mexican people in all their different flavors.
  • Carlos Jimenez said at 2013-08-30T18:34:26+0000: Just use common sense. Always keep an eye on each other no matter what country you go to. Don't send your kids on errands by themselves.
  • Betsy McNair said at 2013-08-30T04:54:06+0000: Thank you. This is the real story of Mexico!
  • Paulina Muez said at 2012-11-09T20:22:11+0000: Hi Rachel! thanks a lot for taking your time to write about Mexico. There are so many thing this country has to offer and yes not everything is drugs and war.I live in Puerto Peñasco, I hope you come visit some time soon. Happy to help you plan your trip, it's perfect for families. Happy travels. Puerto Penasco Reservaciones Sea Side.
  • Rodolfo Ramirez Tirado said at 2012-04-02T18:36:36+0000: Thanks SOO much for sharing this great article! I was born and raised in Mexico City and now live in the US (Hartford, CT) for over 13 years...my heart and soul get hurt when I hear people talking bad things about my home country. I always tell people that NYC is not that different than Mexico City in ALL meanings...and that they should take precautions in both places...and as far as crime goes, Many parts of Florida are more dangerous than some parts in Mexico. Regardless, This article really highlights the beauty of Mexico...Thanks from the bottom of my heart.