Is Mexico safe for traveling families?

The short answer: it depends on where you go. Asking whether Mexico is safe for traveling families is like asking whether the entirety of the U.S. is safe, or the Caribbean, or anywhere else you may wish to travel in the world. One cannot judge an entire country by unsafe activities in isolated parts.

For the long answer, I spent several days last month in Puerto Vallarta with the e-Commerce manager of Velas Resorts who, in addition to graciously (and enthusiastically) playing tour guide throughout her city of Nayarit and neighboring Puerto Vallarta, helped to put me at ease about the safety of the region.

The good news: traveling families can (and should) visit this beautiful Pacific coast of Mexico. Taking the following common sense precautions will ensure a happy (and worry-free) vacation:

1. Lock up valuables. Use your in-room safe! Store valuables whenever you’re out (even to meals). It may be an overreaction, but most hotels and resorts prefer you utilize the resource of your safe. That’s why it’s there!

2. When outside your room, take only what you need. All-inclusive resorts and resorts that allow room charges make this easy. During our stay at Velas Vallarta, my wallet and all cash was stored in my safe 90% of the time. When I did need money while away from the hotel, I found that all I needed was a small amount of cash, one credit card, and my phone. You can use a money belt, but you will probably feel safe without it.

3. Book excursions and activities through your hotel or resort. This is not to say you shouldn’t venture beyond your resort…you should! But use the resource of your hotel’s concierge or activities planner. He or she can book second party tours on your behalf, and/or recommend reputable and professional companies. If nothing else, a conceierge can point you and your family in the direction of the best beaches, snorkeling, or shopping.

4. Don’t drink the water. After talking with my host for some time about the safety of her country, I asked, mostly in jest, whether the advice not to drink the water in Mexico was a false rumor as well. Her face fell as she asked urgently, “You’re not drinking the tap water, are you?! Don’t drink the water!” So yeah…don’t. In all high-quality resorts such as Velas Vallarta and neighboring Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, families will be served safe, bottled water in their restaurants (so yes, you can order a glass of it there), and tap water, as Americans think of it, is not served (or used at all in food preparation) at all. Outside of restaurants, traveling families need to follow due diligence: this means no glass of water taken from the kitchenette tap at bedtime, no swallowing rinse water while brushing teeth or in the bath or shower. Kids, especially, have a hard time remembering all this, and parents do need to remind them. Instead, have bottled water by the bed and in the bathroom, and along with you on any outings.

5. That said, drink lots of water! It’s important to stay hydrated in the warm Mexican sun, especially if you’ll be consuming your share of tropical drinks by the pool (or pursuing strenuous activities such as hiking, snorkeling, or paddling). All-inclusive resorts such as Velas Vallarta makes this easy; bottled water is continually supplied. If you don’t have such service, be sure to make a stop at a grocery store (or Wal-Mart) after arriving to stock up.

6. Lastly, don’t be an easy target for scams. Upon arriving past customs at Puerto Vallarta airport, families face a gauntlet of official-looking taxi drivers, shuttle services, and the like, all ready to take you to your resort (often combined with a ‘resort credit’ or ‘discount’). These are actually time share affiliated. My advice? Pass right by this onslaught to curbside, where taxi cabs await. Better yet, arrange for a specific shuttle or car service ahead of time. On public beaches and streets, comparison shop before purchasing souvenirs, and when possible, arrange for tour experiences such as snorkeling or deep-sea fishing through the concierge at your hotel, not through beach or street vendors.