and Safety in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta safe? Is Puerto Vallarta safer than where
I live now? The answer to the first question is
“Yes, but it’s not perfect”. The
answer to the second question is “Yes, probably
much more so, but it’s not perfect”.
Mexico is a VERY different country, MUCH more so
than, say, the difference between the U.S. and Canada.
Tourism is a huge industry for Mexico, the third
largest generator of revenue in fact (behind oil
and foreign remittances by Mexicans living abroad),
so the country in general and Puerto Vallarta in
particular are very protective of tourists (even
those ‘tourists’ who live here year-‘round).
You will see army and police personnel with machine
guns occasionally. This doesn’t mean there’s
a gang of bandits about…it’s merely
a sign that Mexico intends to protect a valuable
asset – tourism.
99% of all the headlines you read about terrible drug gang violence in Mexico refers to activity generally over a thousand miles away from Vallarta, along the border between Mexico and the United States. To concern yourself with encountering violence in Puerto Vallarta is like worrying about violence in Denver because of a drug-gang war in Chicago. And the Department of State (USA), in their October 10, 2014 travel advisory for Mexico specifically states "There is no recommendation against travel to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.". Most newspapers in the US and Canada are quick to report ANY snippet of "bad news", but frequently fail to report the good news. An example of this is the fact that for the most recent 2-year period where records are available (2010 and 2011), there were ZERO murders of U.S. citizen tourists in Puerto Vallarta. That's right, NONE. But I'll bet you never heard that news from your local newspaper or website blog. (Feel free to confirm for yourself this information at the Department of State's website: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html)
Here's another bit of good news regarding safety in Puerto Vallarta that was somehow ignored by your local newspapers in favor of more grizzly news: The leading global investigative and security firm Thomas Dale and Associates found in their 2012 report that Puerto Vallarta continues to be one of the safest destinations for international visitors (as well as for expatriates who have made PV their home). In case you missed that bit of good news about Puerto Vallarta, a lot of people apperently didn't (or simply ignored the mis-placed and over-hyped bad news about other parts of Mexico): Hotel occupance in the first 5 months of 2012 was up by 19% in Puerto Vallarta. (And - surprise!- NONE of them were murdered, forced into slavery, or otherwise victimized by criminal violence.)
Are there ‘banditos’
here? I’ve never seen any, except for the
timeshare hustlers, but that’s not to say
they don’t exist. Your chance of a first-hand
experience with violent crime here are drastically
less than in Canada or the U.S.
While this is true in most of Mexico, it is particularly
valid here in Puerto Vallarta where tourism is virtually
the ONLY industry, and therefore the focal point
of the government’s protective stance. Vallarta is also geographically situated between the ocean and steep mountains, with virtually only 2 roads in or out. This means it's simply not a naturally agreeable place for drug- and gun-runners to operate.
Taking normal precautions, just
like you would at home, will keep you safe: Avoid
walking unlighted streets at night, keep your money
safe, don’t flaunt expensive jewelry in unfamiliar
surroundings. Your safety is not likely to be compromised
by a criminal, but more often by other hazards which
you might not even have imagined, such as these that follow:
TRAFFIC: Mexicans are aggressive drivers. This, however,
seems to be the norm as opposed to ‘the States’
or Canada where you have a mix of overly-aggressive
and overly-cautious drivers and everything in between,
which is the base cause of accidents. As it is,
since EVERYBODY drives aggressively here, it all
seems to flow very smoothly (though not quietly…Mexicans
love to communicate with their car horns). Indeed,
most gringos are amazed at the considerable LACK
of road accidents here, compared with their daily
experiences back home.
Driving at night outside of the
city is widely recognized as something to avoid
if at all possible. This is not due to gangs of
banditos setting up roadblocks to rape and kill,
but because stray cows and other farm animals tend
to be attracted to a nice warm stretch of asphalt
as a place on which to sleep (an even more serious
‘roadblock’). Of course there’s
also always the question of how sober the other
guy coming at you might be.
The real danger from traffic is
when you are a pedestrian. Here, the pedestrian
does NOT have the right-of-way. It’s important
to recognize this immediately, and wait for large
breaks in traffic before crossing a street, and
to check BEHIND YOU before crossing for vehicles
which intend to turn the corner across your path.
SIDEWALKS: How dangerous can a sidewalk be?
The answer lies in the wonderful lack of lawyers
and the legal difficulty in filing liability lawsuits.
Amazingly, in Mexico, a person is actually LIABLE
for their OWN MISTAKES! So forget about suing the
restaurant that served you the steaming hot coffee
you ordered and then spilled on yourself, causing
3rd-degree burns. No lawyer in the city, state,
or country will take your case.
What’s this all have to do
with sidewalks? Well, in Puerto Vallarta, they are
not always level, even, or flat. Sometimes they’ve
got little holes in them where the cover for the
water access has been removed, or they’ve
simply settled and cracked. In older parts of town,
one section of sidewalk was built first, but later
land-owners on either side decided to make their
sidewalks a little higher, or lower. Sometimes the
sidewalks suddenly become ramps or driveways. Curbs
can be a few inches high or as high as your knee,
maybe with steps and maybe without.
This situation has been eleviated throught much of downtown and "old town" with the recent installation of new, wider sidewalks and the removal of many utility poles, but still: know that especially when you
first arrive, your tendency is to be looking up
and around, not at your feet. Try to do BOTH: WATCH
ALCOHOL: Keep your head about you! Getting falling-down drunk
is sending an invitation for abuse by less-scrupulous
types, and in general can cause you to lose inhibitions that would otherwise keep you out of dangerous situations.
DROWNING: More visitors are likely to die in Puerto Vallarta by drowning than by any other cause (traffic accidents are a far second place). And we're not just talking about getting caught in sudden heavy surf...your resort's swimming pool can be just as dangerous if you're drunk. On the beach, take heed of lifeguards and surf warning flags, and in general don't over-rate your swimming and strength abilities in this new and unfamiliar environment.
Most day-to-day Puerto
Vallarta health problems are easily preventable,
and fall into four categories: Water, Food Preparation,
Spices, and Alcohol.
The water treatment system in Puerto Vallarta produces
the highest international standards for purity and
cleanliness. However, those ratings are for water
as it leaves the plant…the pipes in-between
the plant and your house may be old and highly suspect.
Everybody (gringos and Mexicans alike) drink bottled
water, and restaurants universally serve purified
water from the standard 5-gallon (18 liters) containers
and serve ice delivered from an ice company that
uses purified water as well. Bottled water is also
available at every grocery store, from the largest
to the tiniest, in ½, 1, and 1-1/2 liter
bottles. If you stick to bottled water, you’ll
never have a problem.
FOOD PREPARATION: Most
everybody cleans their food with water treated with
Microdyn, an anti-microb agent mixed with water
(it purifies drinking water as well, so use tap
water with Microdyn rather than bottled water).
You can find Microdyn in nearly any grocery store
in Puerto Vallarta. Add 8 drops to each liter of
water, and soak your fruits and vegetables in the
mixture for 10 minutes. You only need to treat produce
that is going to be eaten un-cooked whole or with
the skin…for example treat celery and tomatoes,
but there’s no need to treat melon. Produce
with lots of ‘wrinkles’ is most important
to treat…for example, lettuce and cabbage,
cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, etc.
Basic conditions of cleanliness
should be observed before eating at street carts.
Watch to see that the hands that handle the money
are covered in plastic gloves or bags, or that the
person handling the money is not handling food.
We’re aware of many guidebooks that advise
against eating from the food carts on the basis
of health and sanitation reasons, but feel that
their views are a tad over paranoid. All the carts
are regularly inspected for sanitation, and carts
serving poor quality food don’t stay in business
long. There are a few things you might want to do
if you’re concerned. Squeeze some lime (“limon”)
on your tacos before eating them…every cart
has limes, and the juice is a natural anti-bacterial,
and adds a flavorful ‘zing’ to your
food. Also, if your stomach tends to be sensitive,
take some Pepto-Bismal before your meal.
Mexicans LOVE chili…a visit to any supermarket
will reveal an entire section of canned chilis and
an antire section of fresh and dried chilis in the
produce department. They’re used to it, but
YOUR stomach is probably NOT. Go easy on the salsas,
at least for starters. Ask for your food “no
picante” (not spicy”) or with “salsa
picante a lado” (spicy salsa on the side).
Again, Pepto-Bismal is good protection for sensitive
(or possibly-sensitive) stomachs.
In our opinion (and we can personally testify to
this), excess consumption of alcohol is probably
the number-one cause of “Montezuna’s
Revenge”. When on vacation, people tend to
‘cut loose’ and imbibe in considerably
larger quantities of tequila, beer, and other booze
than their system is familiar with. If you’re
only here for a week, well, we’re sure you
can justify it when you get back to normal back
We know you're on vacation and ready to have a good time, but over-indulgence in alcohol is just plain risky whether you are here or back home. Alcohol tends to fuel over-emotionality, so if you're an "angry drunk" you're likely going to find all the trouble you want here. Even "happy drunks" tend to lose more inhibition than they should, leading them into places or situations where any sane and sober person would never consider. We advocate moderation in all things, (including moderation itself, of course).
If you’re moving here, it
can be all too easy to slip into a routine of daily
happy hours, sunset parties, and other social gatherings
which revolve around alcoholic beverages. Monitor
yourself, and know that AA meetings and support
are available in Puerto Vallarta if you start to
slide down the slippery path of alcoholism.