Enjoying the pleasures of border travel without the fear of incident - is it still possible? With so many reports coming from the border it's hard to know what to do and what not to do when it comes to visiting the border. But when making a decision of where to go and where not to go is critical to your safety and how much you enjoy the cross-border, so selecting your destination and level of safety-awareness may answer your questions...
Sure - there's been a lot of bad press lately about visiting the border towns of Mexico. And the truth is, a lot of bad things have happened over the last several years. From murders to muggings, kidnappings to forced ATM withdraws, visitors to many Mexican border communities have become victims of street crime, so much so that the U.S. State Department has consistently warned travelers to beware before crossing international bridges into Mexico for a day of shopping, medical services, dining and perhaps a little dancing.
The naked truth is, the same types of crimes are taking place in cities on this side of the border and around the world as well. Just turn on the news and you'll hear about hundreds, thousands of Americans victimized in such familiar locations as Houston, Dallas, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London and other destinations. In fact, you might be surprised at the number of Mexican Nationals who fall victim to such crimes on U.S. soil during their visit to the States.
The Tragedy of International Crime
That's not to say the criminal incidents are tolerable - on either side of the border. Regardless where you are or where you're from, it's a tragic thing to become a crime victim - at home or on the road.
But what makes international crime incidents seem so much more sinister is that, generally, the victim is a 'stranger in a strange land,' without command of the language, the customs or the procedures for reporting and dealing with such circumstances. To add to that, it's easy to blame local law enforcement officials for 'not doing their jobs,' or not providing enough security.
Then - to make matters even worse - an often over zealous media can't wait to focus on such tragedies because they make good headline stories.
To put it all in perspective, visitors crossing into border towns can become and sometimes are the victims of crime. It's unusual and rare indeed that tourist are caught in the crossfire of Mexican police and drug traffickers gunning it out on the street, though that has happened in isolated incidents. Can it happen again? Yes, of course, no matter which side of the border or, for that matter, what country you are visiting. Does it happen - yes, in both Mexico and the United States. But in general terms, it's unlikely - though possible.
More likely, if a crime is to take place, it will be in the form of a mugging or forced robbery of your wallet and valuables. Generally speaking, once the robbery is complete, the victims are released unharmed.
Of course there are exceptions, but to fear to cross over the border is probably taking measures to the extreme. Of course, it you want to be absolutely certain crime doesn't happen to you, then by all means, stay at home. But for those that still have an adventuring spirit, being prepared and well informed about the dangers is probably all the planning you need to make your visit enjoyable and safe, depending on your destination. For instance, Kandahar or Islamabad are probably not good places to visit given the climate of current events. You get the picture.
Choosing Your Destination
Probably the best way to avoid trouble is to stay as far away from it as possible. If you're looking for a day of shopping and fun across the border, select your destination carefully. For example, Nuevo Progreso seems to have less trouble of this nature than most border communities. Perhaps the community is more visitor friendly because there are less bad guys that operate there. Perhaps it's just the luck of the draw.
While I wouldn't personally rule out Reynosa or Matamoros as a travel destination, I would agree that Nuevo Progreso 'feels safe.' Of course there is still crime in every city. But there seems to be a successful community effort in Nuevo Progreso to protect U.S. visitors. However, after visiting with officials from both Matamoros and Reynosa, I am convinced these communities are also expending manpower and budgets to curtail crime in their cities, though their size and larger groups of organized crime tend to be greater in those cities. By and large, Nuevo Progreso is probably the safest choice of all Mexican border towns that lie across from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
The bottom line to personal safety when traveling is using good judgment and common sense. Anticipate the dangers and keep yourself off of dark, deserted streets; stay away from high crime areas; be aware of the various types of crime that are the current fad; hang with large crowds, especially fellow visitors; and most of all, if you fall victim to a scam or a crime, remain level headed and remember the objective is to escape without personal injury. You should, of course, report all incidents to local authorities as well as to U.S. authorities upon your return.
To this day I will and have crossed in Matamoros and will probably continue to do so. But I do so with caution. The sad part to refusing to patronize Mexican shops and restaurants and pharmacies is that it penalizes the local people, and they often depend on your business for a healthy local economy. It has been sad to see so many of them have suffered in recent years as news of crime filtered back across the border and served to discourage visitors from crossing the bridges.
I would caution visitors about the increased crime activity in Reynosa, but also admit that traveling there is a matter of personal choice. hundreds if not thousands cross into both Matamoros every day without incident. But I still say there is great sense of security by crossing into Nuevo Progreso instead. and that is where I will end my recommendations and warnings.
If you have any concern about visiting locations across the border, I would say your concerns are justified considering the increased amount of crime in Northern Mexico. But I still believe there are good times and safe times that can be experienced provided you are aware of the dangers and stay in groups. Use your head when deciding when and where you go in Mexico and always be aware of your surroundings. If you do, you should have a successful experience.