When it comes to Mexico, travel and safety are often intertwined topics of conversation. Few countries are as intriguing, yet feared, by people north of the border (NOB). Mostly this is due to the media frenzy, always searching for yet another horror story to quench the thirst of the Mexi-phobes in the rest of North America (Mexico is part of North America). As you may have guessed, we’re going to dispel some of the myths you may have heard.
Mexico is a large country with many thousands of kilometers (yes, it’s metric) of roads and highways to carry you into its farthest reaches. It’s possible to travel a lifetime in Mexico and still have new places and things to discover. That’s the draw of Mexico to many people. Those who are experienced travelers know that safety is a relative term. Just like anywhere else in the world, your safety depends on some common sense.
Despite the urban myths you may have been told about gangs of banditos waiting to ambush you on some dark, rarely traveled road, the biggest danger awaiting you is something that is synonymous with life in Mexico – free range livestock. The number one reason that travelers are advised not to travel at night is the risk of coming round a corner to find a 1000 kg hamburger waiting to be made. There are other reasons of course, including the infamous “topes” (speed bumps) but those reasons still don’t usually include banditos. It is an unfortunate reality though, that many Mexicans continue to drink and drive even though it is illegal. And their cars are often in a poor state of repair, with no operational tail lights or brake lights. Add to this the fact that some people have the unique perspective that their night vision eyesight is somehow improved by not having headlights on and you have several good reasons to not drive at night.
Something else that many NOBs are not used to is having roadside police or military checkpoints. These are in place to make Mexico safer, so don’t fear them. Even though these young men are probably armed with some of the biggest automatic weapons you’ve seen, they are not there to harass you. Their job is to watch for transport of drugs, stolen property, weapons, and fugitives. Usually they don’t speak English very well if at all, but if you stop, roll down your window (turn on the interior light at night) and offer a polite greeting, they will simply ask you a couple of questions (where are you coming from and where are you going) and wave you on. Occasionally you may be asked if they can search your trunk, RV or trailer. Simply cooperate and you will be on your way within minutes.
A unique benefit of traveling by car in Mexico is the existence of a government funded organization called the Green Angels, who’s mission is to patrol the highways in search of stranded motorists. The Green Angels will fix a flat tire for you, offer gas if needed, repair a broken fan belt, or any of dozens of other roadside repairs, all for free! When you use the cuotas (toll roads) your fare goes toward paying for these services, but they can also be found on the libramientos (free roads) as well. If you find yourself stranded due to mechanical breakdown, just call them by dialing 078 on your cell phone or using one of the roadside call boxes.