Q. There's a tour I'd love to go on in February to visit the monarch butterfly sanctuary in the state of Michoacan in Mexico. I'm concerned about the violence occurring in the state by gangs working for the drug cartel. The tour organizers say that it's safe if you take the usual precautions, such as sticking with the tour guides and staying in at night. I spoke with an employee of the St. Paul Mexican consulate, who also said I shouldn't be afraid to go. These people are not going to discourage me from spending money on their tour or in their country. I'm looking for more objective advice. Would you go?
A. In weighing your fascination with a destination against safety risks, you ask a question that more travelers should. One of the best places to begin the decision-making process is at the website of the U.S. State Department (www.travel.state.gov). It monitors situations around the globe and issues warnings and alerts designed to help keep Americans safe worldwide. It can be eye-opening.
On Sept. 10, the department issued a new warning for Mexico, and it is clear about travel to the west-central state of Michoacan: "U.S. citizens should defer unnecessary travel to the area." It notes that "security incidents" have occurred in and around the state's world-famous butterfly sanctuaries.
The warning was far less definitive regarding major resort areas that are not along the troubled U.S. border or drug-trafficking routes. (The exception is Mazatlan, which saw more murders in the first quarter of 2010 than in all of 2009.) It states that "millions of Americans safely visit Mexico each year" and that "the Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations." It also notes that "it is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks involved in travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations and who to contact if one becomes a victim of crime or violence." To read the report, go to www.travel.state.gov/travel, click on the "International Travel Information" tab, then "Travel Warnings" and "Mexico."