Tourists proceed with caution


Is it safe to visit the Tijuana region? There is no simple, single answer.
Much like travel anywhere in the world, it depends on who you are, where you’re going, and what you’re doing.

U.S. visitors have been staying away from Tijuana and other border areas, fearful they could get caught up in the rise in violence and kidnappings. Yet tourists are not being targeted, and major incidents in recent months have largely bypassed tourist areas.

The U.S. State Department Travel Alert for Mexico recommends caution when visiting the country, but points out that millions of U.S. citizens do so safely each year.

It often boils down to an individual’s own assessment. A veteran traveler who speaks fluent Spanish and has numerous contacts in Mexico might well take a different approach than a first-time visitor.

“Each situation is different,” said Martha J. Haas, chief of consular services at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. “Each person needs to evaluate their own individual circumstances.”

Shootouts in public areas have heightened fears that stray bullets could strike bystanders, and innocent victims have been killed in recent months. But as drug gangs fight for control of key drug routes, the great majority of victims this year have been linked to organized crime.

Some U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been targeted by kidnapping groups in Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, but they are not U.S. tourists or members of the large U.S. expatriate community. According to the FBI, these victims are kidnapped while conducting business or visiting family in the area.

And even as overall violent crime has increased, U.S. consular officials report a decline in crimes against U.S. visitors in the Baja California region. A series of attacks by groups of armed gunmen on surfers and other visitors traveling the coastal areas in 2007 has ceased in recent months, according to the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana.

Reports of police extortion of U.S. tourists in Tijuana and Rosarito Beach have declined dramatically, officials say; governments have taken steps to secure tourist areas, but the steep drop in tourism could be another factor.