The revised U.S. State Department international travel advisory format, at least for Mexico, is a disappointing revision of a formerly more-detailed report. The failure to distinguish safe from unsafe areas is particularly egregious 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. U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel on any roads from Huitzilac to Santa Martha, Estado de Mexico, including Lagunas de Zempoala National Park and surrounding areas.
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
The 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, https://jimhornnews.com/2014/01/19/tourist-attractions-in-the-state-of-morelos-mexico).
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. (http://www.jardinesdemexico.com).
The state’s pre-Columbian heritage can be admired at magnificent archaeological sites like Xochicalco, Malinalco, and Chalcatzingo.
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.” (http://www.morelostravel.com/ruta_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.” (http://morelostravel.com/ruta_conventos).
The state is home to more than 35 aquatic parks and bathing resorts (balnearios) described online at http://infomorelos.com/turismo/balnearios.html. 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 https://jimhornnews.com/2015/08/10/study-abroad-why-choose-mexico-its-preeminence-its-impediments).
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 https://jimhornnews.com/2015/02/21/security-tops-the-agenda-in-morelos).
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 a planned museum of religious art.
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: https://jimhornnews.com/2016/11/19/cuernavaca-mexicos-unparalleled-place-to-retire).
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 Amazon.com.