The revised U.S. State Department international travel advisory for Morelos State (Nov.15, 2018) is unjustified   with respect to the state of Morelos where I have led more than one hundred tour groups and where I live in retirement.

Mexico’s overall status is arguably fair, Level 2:  “exercise increased caution.” But the advisory for the State of Morelos is unfair, misleading, exaggerated, and alarmist.

Morelos state – Level 3: Reconsider Travel.  Reconsider travel due to crime. Violent crime and gang activity are common in parts of Morelos state.  

Crime is common in what parts of Morelos State?  And what kind of crime, directed against whom?  For the most part, violence consists of drug lords murdering rival drug lords. Many rural areas of the state lack competent police coverage making them unsafe for travelers. But most of them are not areas tourists are interested in. Huitzilac and Santa Martha, mentioned in the warning, are not tourist destinations. Failing to distinguish the numerous safe areas of the state is a disservice to the state and to travelers.

Many tourist destinations in the U.S. are far more dangerous that Morelos. New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates in the country. Chicago has become a battleground at times. Given the statistics, the State Department ought to advise tourists to reconsider travel there. But tourists know they can visit and enjoy those destinations by taking care what areas they visit and  staying vigilant.

Morelos state is one of the most diverse in the Republic in its tourist attractions. (Some of this essay repeats my photo-essay on Morelos tourism in my blog,

Morelos is Mexico’s second smallest state but one of its most appealing tourist destinations. Located on the border of the Federal District in south-central Mexico, it is only a 90-minute drive from the Mexico City airport and two and a half hours from Acapulco. Its near-perfect year-round climate has attracted visitors since the days of the Aztec emperors. The climate is so agreeable that many Hollywood films have been set here, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Under the Volcano, and Two Mules for Sister Sara.

The state is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world for which investors chose it to create the largest and most bio-diverse flower garden in the world. The multi-million-dollar Jardines de Mexico constitutes almost 250 acres with millions of plantings and a sculpture park, just twenty-five minutes from the capital city, Cuernavaca. (

Jardines aerial floral fan

The Floral Fan at Jardines de México

The state’s pre-Columbian heritage can be admired at magnificent archaeological sites like Xochicalco, Malinalco, and Chalcatzingo.

Xochicalco panaoramic

A panoramic view of the ruins at Xochicalco, Morelos.

Since its conquest from the Tlahuica Indians by Hernán Cortés in 1521, Morelos has played a major role in Mexican history especially in the war of Independence from Spain, the War of the Reform, and the Mexican Revolution, famous for the leadership of Emiliano Zapata. One can follow his heroic footsteps on “La Ruta de Zapata.” ( During the colonial period, numerous religious orders constructed splendid convents that are now world-heritage sites that visitors can enjoy by following “La Ruta de los Conventos.” (

The state is home to more than 35 aquatic parks and bathing resorts (balnearios) described online at Nearby Lake Tequesquitengo offers quality-vacationing and sporting activities including water skiing, wakeboarding, and one of the first cable-skiing parks in Mexico

Several charming colonial haciendas have been converted to deluxe vacation resorts. A web search will reveal tempting photographs and lists of amenities. Among them are Hacienda Cocoyoc, Hacienda San Gabriel de las Palmas, Hacienda San José Vista Hermosa, San Antonio el Puente, Ex-Hacienda Santa Cruz Vista Alegre, and Ex-Hacienda de Cortés in Cuernavaca. Several of these resort hotels offer airport transfers from Mexico City.



Also worth a visit are the enchanting pueblos mágicos (magic villages) Tepoztlán and Tlayacapan. Hundreds of Mexico City residents and foreign tourists visit them on frequent weekends.

The capital of Morelos, Cuernavaca, remains one of the premier destinations of the Republic, albeit largely avoided by foreign tourists thanks to State Department exaggerations. Yes, petty crime is common, but pickpockets and purse snatchers are not nearly as prolific as they are in Madrid, Barcelona, or Paris, not on the “reconsider travel list.” One must follow the State Department’s excellent guidelines for precautions in areas of criminal incidents. Yes, there is narco-related violence. But tourists and students are neither the targets nor the victims.

Cuernavaca once had hundreds of foreign students studying Spanish in its numerous excellent language schools, second in number only to Salamanca, Spain. The decline in enrollments is due to perceptions of violence in the country as a whole. But the schools have superb security and their administrations insist that they are safe and their students not victims of violence. Given the incidence of date rape and gun violence on U.S. campuses, one might argue that Cuernavaca is safer for students than many of their home campuses. The State Department poses a serious threat to school enrollments since many constipated educational authorities can use the advisory to cancel or fail to approve study-abroad programs in the city. (See my blog post

State and city authorities have strengthened security measures in the capital and continue to upgrade crime-fighting technology. Statistics do not tell the whole story since many cadavers of victims in remote areas are dumped in the capital to publicize the messages of the drug cartels. Violence against students and tourists is extremely rare, and foreigners are far safer here than in New Orleans and many other U.S. tourist destinations.  (See my blog post

Cuernavaca boasts the Cortés Palace housing a museum of Mexican history from pre-conquest times to the 20th century, including some of Diego Rivera’s best murals. The ex-Hacienda de Cortés was the conquistador’s private sugar estate. Jardín Borda boasts artifacts of the empire of Maximilian and Carlota who vacationed there in the 1860s. The cathedral and convent were among the first in the Americas. Cortés donated money for the construction of the convent which began in 1525 and for the Franciscan church of the Assumption in 1529, (not to become a cathedral until the 1890s). In the 1960s it became one of the centers for liberation theology in the Americas. Two other churches, San Jerónimo and Tlaltenango are among the oldest in the Americas. The Museo de Arte Indígena Contemporáneo houses a spectacular collection of the finest contemporary folk art by native artisans, and the Robert Brady Museum has a superb eclectic private collection not to be missed. Smaller venues include the city museum, the ethno-botanical museum, and the museum of religious art. Travelers will love the new Museo Juan Soriano, the subject of another photo essay in this blog.


Many cities and pueblos in Morelos have become home to U.S. and Canadian retirees who enjoy the felicitous climate and lower living costs as well as the superb medical and dental facilities available at low cost. Morelos boasts an excellent State University and over 30 other institutions of higher education. Hundreds of expats in Cuernavaca would take exception to the warning to reconsider travel here. (See my blog post on retiring in Cuernavaca:

In sum, there are so many attractive places one can visit safely in Morelos State, to suggest that travelers “reconsider” visiting them is moronic. I hope Cuernavaca and Morelos State tourism authorities will request the State Department to reconsider its unfair advisory for the state.

James Horn is author of CUERNAVACA, A GUIDE FOR STUDENTS & TOURISTS, an E-book at



  1. I think you may be preaching to the converted here – those of us who read and enjoy your blog know that the situation is not as described by the State Department, but the information is definitely still worth putting out there. Indeed, WHAT parts of Morelos are affected? WHAT crimes, against whom? I doubt that it is related to tourists. I wonder how many of the employees who put out these warnings could find Morelos on a blank map of Mexico….. I’m glad you do what you can to counteract these reports, which are not helpful to Americans planning vacations in Mexico. Keep up the good work!

    • I hope I am reaching beyond the converted, Susan. You’d be amazed how many school administrators have used travel advisories to cancel study-abroad programs. I’m sure you have had to preach to constipated administraors during your career.

  2. I just read this and am quite surprised given I was there in the last 2 years. I felt absolutely safe walking a couple miles to and from the zocalo alone. I even ran a couple mornings at a bit past dawn and never felt skittish. I was in Cuernavaca and took advantage of seeing the ruins, the gardens, Cocoyoc etc., and can attest to the beauty of this area – I also checked out the palace and Brady museum as well as the market… alone with abandon!


    We visit Cuern at least twice a year, and have for 55 years. Thank you!!! Kathryn Miller Anderson in Austin Texas.


  4. I have just returned from a 2 week visit in Cuernavaca on January 13th. I found it to be a very welcoming and safe place for tourists. I experienced no problems. Cuernavaca is a large city and you must be alert as you would in any city in the world, including our U.S. cities. I never witnessed any violence or heard gunshots during my stay in Cuernavaca but unfortunately, I have observed such things at home in some U.S. cities.

  5. I am from the Buffalo/Niagara Falls, NY area, and studied in Cuernavaca around 2000. I never felt threatened nor did I feel unsafe. One has to be vigilant in any North American city. The U.S. should list the majority of its own cities on a travel advisory list. Both Buffalo and Pittsburgh, where I lived for decades suffer from virtually daily homicide attempts on its citizens; mostly drug related. Also, one cannot forget Las Vegas and the 57 people murdered there by a gunman.
    Now that I live in Halifax, Canada, which is statistically far safer than most American cities, I find that the U.S. State Department seems to want people to react to its fear tactics so people will fear leaving the country.
    To quote the old adage, “people in glass houses should not throw stones”.
    I just returned from the Yucatan; Mérida, which is one of the safest cities in North America. Sure, the border towns between Mexico and the U.S. are questionable, but the guns and hunger for drugs in the U.S. has created the monster in reality.

  6. Thanks John for your perceptive comments. My Canadian friends here in Cuernavaca are appalled at the violence in the US and can’t believe the way the State Department exaggerates the security issue here. Thanks for keeping your positive vision of Mexico..

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  8. Loved this blog, Jim and the style in which you express your thoughts and information. You are a master wordsmith. Keep up the good work and your defense of “our” México.

  9. Thanks, Jim, for your continued boosting of Mexico, even against the US State Department.
    Even though cognitive dissonance keeps people in a negative mindset, every little contribution of the truth helps, in my opinion.

  10. HI Mr. Horn,
    I have been to Cuernavaca and enjoyed the trip. I am reluctant to come back due to all of these reports of violence.
    Murder in Cuernavaca Plaza in Mexico Caught on Camera
    Murder in Cuernavaca Plaza in Mexico Caught on Camera. The murders happened during a protest by … Plaza in Mexico Caught on Camera. May 18, 2019.
    Who do I believe. How do you make a decision on travel based on just the beauty of the landscape when gunshots are ringing out in the square.
    Please tell me this is isolated.

    • Political assassinations are usually one-time events, although someone else was murdered a year ago. These are battles among corrupt politicians and have not had collateral damage. Yes, the drug lords are killing each other also, but students and tourists are NOT the targets nor the victims, nor has any of this violence affected them. But I think we need more time to see how the attack on a discoteque plays out. It appears now it was a one-time assassination of the target with collateral damage, and not punishment for not paying extortion.Those who live here and love it usually take more precautions when we travel in the states. Here no one is shooting up schools, theaters, or concerts with scores of dead innocents. And Cuernavaca has a lower murder rate than cities of its size in the US. Cuernavaca is quite safe for Americans and well worth a return visit.

  11. I am planning to travel to Morelos at the end of March. Do you feel like anything has changed in term of safety since your original post was written? Is there reason for me to be extra cautious or reconsider travel to Morelos?

  12. Hi Angelina, If you are in Cuernavaca or Tepoztlan you will be safe. It is in the smaller pueblos like Zapata, Puente de Ixtla, where there is poor security, but even there, it is narcos killing narcos. Tourists are not the targets nor the victims. Buen viaje.

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