Are Mexico and Central America Dangerous?
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When travelling to a new and uncertain region one of the main things that is sure to pop into the mind of travellers is whether the destination is dangerous?
It would be silly not to think about it prior to planning a trip. What fun would it be going on holiday if you were constantly concerned about your safety, as opposed to being care free and letting your hair down on a picturesque beach.
Doesn’t sound like much of a holiday to me.
There are certain parts of the world which have been painted with the same brush as all being dangerous for varying different reasons or another, but is Central America one of them? Should you cross out all your travel plans to this broad area, or are things being exaggerated slightly?
I’m going to try and answer this in as much of an unbiased manner as possible. For myself, I find the answer to be both yes and no.
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What is the greatest fear of visiting Central America?
Being caught in the middle of gang violence?
Being the victim of theft or an assault?
Or even rape for female travellers?
I’m not going to lie, these things all happen in Central America, and perhaps in greater numbers than what occur in your home town.
Did I ever witness any of this?
Do these crimes occur in my home town of Brisbane, Australia?
Do I ever feel threatened or scared in my home town when in certain parts of the city?
Did I ever feel threatened in Central America?
Yes, I did once during my 9 months there.
Much like any city of the world, there are good and dangerous parts of town. These sorts of crimes occur everywhere.
When in Central America I never felt directly threatened for my safety, but I did feel in certain areas of a cities there were parts I did want to avoid more so than others.
There are two possible explanations for Central America’s dogged image. The first is related to the gang and drug violence which occurs in the Mexican cities surrounding the Mexican/United States border.
*While Mexico is not apart of Central America, its often combined in trips to this region so I’ve included it here.*
This violence has occurred in certain areas for quite awhile, and is seen as systemic by some, and in turn it begins to shape a person’s views on the area usually towards the negative.
This negative view can be carried over towards all of Central America, as whenever a person hears any information on similar sort of violence as which occurs in the Mexican border towns they attribute it as being a mass problem of all of Central America.
The other explanation which lends itself to the first, is that of a person’s original view of the area to begin with. If a person has stereotyped a certain area to be dangerous, than any negative information relating to the area will be weighted more strongly than any positive information, thus reinforcing the negative viewpoint.
If there was considerable positive information being presented, the person may simply disregard the information and chalk it up as being a one off or an outlier. This could even have the opposite effect and reinforce the negative view even further.
As an individual may not want to deal with embarrassment to the ego of being incorrect, and may seek out information which further strengthens and supports their beliefs whether that is factually correct or not.
Take this for instance, in the context of the United States; there is a view point from outsiders that it is a very dangerous country. Of the 50 cities of the world which are rated as having the highest murder rates per capita, the United States is ranked four times (the highest ranked city is St. Louis at #19).
There is a high number of unlicensed firearms, there is gang related violence, drugs and drug violence, mass shootings, muggins, armed robberies and assaults. If I had an established negative view towards the United States of being a dangerous country not to visit, then whenever I saw a news report supporting my view point I would generalize the entire United States.
I would not be taking note of the specific location or circumstances surrounding the crime, and in return reinforce my stereotype that the United States is an unsafe and violent country.
However in the context of things the United States is a large country with a large population, and claiming that there isn’t a safe town in the country would be incorrect and unfair. By doing so I would miss out on some of the amazing landscapes, cities, and hospitality of such a wonderful country.
Much like Central America and Mexico, there are good and bad areas to visit. The whole area cannot be brushed aside due to one or two negative stories.
The trick is to work out where to go, and use your common sense. Certain areas like San Pedro Sula (Honduras), Guatemala City (Guatemala), and San Salvador (El Salvador) are seen as some of the worst in terms of gang violence, with San Pedro Sula generally rating 1st or 2nd for the city with highest murders per capita.
I have been to both San Pedro Sula and Guatemala City, and as long as you’re not displaying large amounts of wealth (jewellery, playing an iPad), bringing attention to yourself, or being involved in drugs or gangs you should be alright. But if you’re worried on your safety, I would suggest simply not visiting those towns.
There is no point putting yourself in undue stress when it can be easily avoided, especially when there are so many lovely towns and cities to explore in Central America where you can relax and feel safe.
And that’s the point of a holiday to relax and enjoy yourself, and Mexico and Central America are certainly a place to do that.