Mexico cartel clashes worry Canadian tourists
Published Tuesday, May 5, 2015 10:44AM EDT
The relative safety many Canadians enjoy at Mexican resort destinations may be in jeopardy, as ongoing gang violence in the country's Jalisco state threatens to affect some of its most popular tourist spots.
Conflict between Jalisco's drug cartels and its state police boiled over recently in a series of violent battles, prompting Canadian and U.S. embassies in Mexico to warn their citizens against travelling to popular areas in the region, including Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara. In the past month, Jalisco-area cartel members have shot down a military helicopter, ambushed and killed more than a dozen soldiers and set fire to several banks, gas stations, cars and buses. The violence comes in the midst of a government crackdown on organized crime in the state.
Canadian Crystal Clappis witnessed the fallout of the gang wars firsthand earlier this week. Clappis says she was in a tour group that drove by a burnt-out bank in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, mere hours after the bank was destroyed by cartel members.
"The bank was only about two or three blocks from our resort, so that made us panic a little bit," Clappis told CTV Vancouver Island by phone on Monday.
Clappis is one of an estimated 1.9 million Canadians who visit Mexico each year. Parts of Mexico can be extremely dangerous for foreign tourists, but coastal resort towns are typically isolated from the worst of the gang violence.
"Generally, if you're staying in the resort areas such as Puerto Vallarta and Cancun, you're typically safe," travel agent Shane Buksh told CTV Vancouver. "The resorts are fairly secure."
However, incidents such as the firebombing in Puerto Vallarta could spell disaster for the area's resorts, travel agent Elizabeth Smith said. Similar clashes near the Mexican city of Mazatlan have caused major issues for that city's tourism in recent years, she said.
"The cruise ships pulled out, the tour operators pulled out," she told CTV Vancouver Island. "I think if that continues in Puerto Vallarta, you'll see a similar kind of reaction."
Coquitlam, B.C. resident Calle Bellet says she cancelled one of her travel excursions while on vacation near Puerto Vallarta this week because of the violence. She and other tourists at her resort didn't want to take the "risk" of travelling through Puerto Vallarta, she said.
"We decided not to go," Bellet told CTV Vancouver by phone from her resort.
Victoria, B.C. resident Antonio Espinoza, who was born and raised in Puerto Vallarta, says it's important to note the cartels are not specifically targeting foreigners.
"The war is between the different gangs and the government," Espinoza said. "It's nothing against the people or tourism."
Espinoza remains in touch with family and friends who are living in Puerto Vallarta.
Mexican authorities say the worst of the violence is over, but Canadian officials are still instructing citizens to be vigilant. Canadians in Mexico are being told to stay in touch with their emergency contacts back home. It's also recommended tourists register as Canadians travelling abroad with the federal government.
Travel agents say Canadians should be on their guard at all times in Mexico. They warn against taking long drives, especially on remote highways. They also recommend Canadians take the most direct route possible to their resorts from the airport.
The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs says Mexican airports are operating as normal.
With files from CTV Vancouver and CTV Vancouver Island