Following the U.S. State Department’s lead, Canada warned tourists on Friday to stay away from areas of Mexico in light of surging drug-related violence in some parts of the country.

An advisory posted on the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade site says Canadians travelling to Mexico “should exercise a high degree of caution,” particularly in northern areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, where police and drug traffickers have waged pitched battles using automatic weapons and grenades.

Cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez have become the frontline of a war between the government and increasingly powerful drug cartels. Mexico tripled its military presence this week in Ciudad Juarez, where even the police chief and the mayor’s family have left town.

In 2008, more than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico.

Last year, the number of Canadians who travelled to Mexico rose to 1.4 million, 20 per cent more than the year before.

“You can see that certainly the conventional tourist spots, the major tourist locations, don’t have any more risk involved than at normal times,” Peter Kent, Canada’s junior foreign minister, said in an interview.

“But there are parts of Mexico off the beaten path … where there have been incidents lately, and they’re itemized on the [departmental] website.”

The U.S. State Department issued an alert of its own earlier Friday warning tourists to stay away from prostitution and drug-dealing areas in the country’s north, but stopped short of saying they shouldn’t visit.

The alert comes ahead of spring break in March, when about 100,000 high school and college students are expected to travel to Mexican resorts.