The US state department has warned Americans to completely avoid five Mexican states plagued by crime and drug cartel violence, putting the regions on the same level as war-zones such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
In an advisory issued on Wednesday, the state department said “do not travel to” the border state of Tamaulipas, as well as the Pacific coast states of Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán and Guerrero.
Sinaloa has seen spiraling violence since the 2016 arrest – and subsequent extradition to the US – of the former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and battles over the spoils of his criminal empire.
Guerrero has long suffered lawlessness, but became notorious for the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. It has turned especially violent as dozens of criminal groups battle for control of heroin production, and the US government warns that “armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas [and] maintain roadblocks and many use violence towards travellers”.
While Michoacán has a long history of drug cartel activities, the tiny coastal state of Colima has claimed the dubious title of Mexico’s murder capital as rival cartels are thought to be competing for control of the port of Manzanillo.
Last year was Mexico’s most murderous year in memory, with the violence spreading to tourist destinations including Los Cabos and Acapulco, and the country’s government has shown little sign that it is getting the upper hand, despite an 11-year militarized crackdown on organized crime.
The US state department gave Mexico as a whole a “level-two” rating and encourages travellers to “exercise increased caution”. At least half of Mexico’s 31 states were assigned level 3 or 4 warnings, meaning visitors should “reconsider travel” or “do not travel” to those places.
“Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread,” the advisory read.
US travel advisories are sensitive for Mexico, which attracted more than 35 million foreign visitors in 2016, according to the Mexican tourism board.
The tourism secretariat issued a statement Tuesday saying Mexico’s five main destinations – Cancún, the Mayan Riviera, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit and Mexico City – were not subject to the US restrictions.
It added that the crime statistics and violence used for the evaluation “are not related to incidents that directly affected foreign visitors”.