May 16, 2011

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How Safe is Cancun for Tourists?


The news media routinely carries stories about how violent and dangerous Mexico is.  But the reality is that most of that violence takes places thousands of miles away from Cancun and the Riviera Maya.  And very, very little of that violence has any effect on tourists visiting Mexico.

Death Data of Tourists Visiting Cancun & Riviera Maya

I was privileged to get my hands on some data about deaths of foreigners who were in Cancun or the Riviera Maya at the time of their deaths.

Here’s what the data showed:

Basic Data

  • Total foreigner deaths in the data sample: 93
  • Date range of deaths: January 2007 to April 2009
  • Average age at death: 53.6 years
  • Males: 67
  • Females: 26
  • Number who were married: 61
  • Number who were single: 32
  • Number who died between midnight and noon (in the a.m.): 48
  • Number who died between noon and midnight (in the p.m.): 45

Nationalities of Foreigners Who Died

  • Americans: 56
  • Australians: 1
  • Belgians: 1
  • British: 6
  • Canadians: 14
  • Chinese: 1
  • Dutch: 2
  • El Salvadorans: 1
  • French: 1
  • Germans: 4
  • Irish: 1
  • Italians: 1
  • Polish: 1
  • Spanish: 1
  • Swedish: 1
  • Swiss: 1

Note that the majority of tourists visiting Mexico are Americans, and Canadians come in second.  So the high number of American deaths is because most of the tourists visiting here are American.

Causes of Death of Foreigners Visiting Cancun & Riviera Maya

  • Heart Attacks: 38  (40% of all deaths)
  • Drowning: 22  (23% of all deaths)
  • Car Accidents: 7  (7.5% of all deaths)
  • Septic Shock: 3
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage: 2
  • Pneumonia: 2
  • Multiple Sclerosis: 2
  • Cerebral Edema: 2
  • Asthma Attack: 1
  • Fall from Balcony: 1
  • Choking on Food: 1
  • Multiple Organ Failure: 1
  • Sudden Death: 1
  • Complications from various pre-existing conditions: 10

People Die From Heart Attacks Here
In looking through the medical notes for the people who died from heart attacks many of them has pre-existing conditions or were morbidly obese.  It seems likely that these people would have had a heart attack at some point regardless of where they were.

People Die from Drowning Here
A total of 22 deaths in the sample were from drowning.  Sometimes there was an indication in the medical notes that the person was drunk at the time that they drowned.  Often the notes say that the person was swimming or snorkeling then either got injured or had a heart attack, and then drowned.  So often the drownings seemed to come about as a result of the situation the person was in.  Note that the 2 cases of Cerebral Edema appeared, from the notes, to be diving accidents.

People Die in Car Accidents Here
Wear your seat belts!  I can tell you from driving here that I have near-misses in traffic all the time here.  People here drive like maniacs.  You may be on vacation when you are here but wear your seat belt anyway.

People Die from Normal Stuff Here
I’m no medic, but the data I reviewed looked like lots of people come here and die as a result of some pre-existing condition.  The medical notes for these deaths are full of notes about how the person suffered from Diabetes or Cirrhosis or Epilepsy or some other disease.

What the Data Doesn’t Show
The data didn’t show any violence against tourists.  There wasn’t a single gunshot victim among the death data I saw.  Not one death was from a stabbing or any other type of violence.  In the data sample I studied there simply wasn’t any indication at all that tourists die from violence here.

Furthermore the data fits the understanding I had of how tourists die here.  Before seeing this data I had heard of people dying of heart attacks and drownings and car accidents and the occasional fall from a balcony.

Use Common Sense
The thing I learned from studying this data is that you cannot leave your common sense at home when you go on vacation.  If you don’t swim well then take extra care when you go in the ocean.  Make sure to eat well and take your medicines.  Be sure to wear your seat belt.  It may sound silly but don’t get drunk and wander around in riptides.  Don’t get drunk and lean way over balcony railings.  Be careful, just the way you would be at home.

March 14, 2011

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Cancun Weather Reports


When it gets close to travel time for your trip to Cancun it’s only natural that you will begin to check the weather reports. Often when you check the weather reports for Cancun and the Riviera Maya you will see RAIN in the forecast.

But please don’t be alarmed! What you are usually seeing is not a prediction of rain, it’s usually just an indicator that there is a possibility of rain. We are in the tropics here and there is often a possibility of rain in the forecast but, on average, we get fewer than 20 days per year that have rainfall greater than 1 inch. And we get more than 200 days a year of sunshine in Cancun.

Rain showers in Cancun, when they do happen, are usually brief, lasting just a few minutes. And because the air and rain are both warm here rain showers don’t usually interrupt outdoor activities.

For more information see our Cancun Weather page.

For current weather forecasts for Cancun see: Cancun Forecast
Weather Underground: Cancun Forecast

February 6, 2011

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Renting a Car? Don’t pay that Bribe!


Thinking of renting a car when you come to Mexico on vacation?
If you do any online research about renting a car here you will probably come across one or more stories of tourists who rented a car here and then were pulled over by police who solicited a bribe from them.

But no fear, we are here to help you avoid paying that bribe. First, some background information…

Rental Cars Have Special License Plates
When you rent a car in Quintana Roo (the Mexican state that includes the Riviera Maya, Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen) your rental car will have orange markings on the license plates. Taxi cabs also have plates with orange markings. But the rest of the cars on the road here have green markings on the plate. So when you rent a car here it’s obvious to anyone who sees your license plate that the car is a rental. This makes it easy for cops to target you.

You Are Rich, Cops Are Not
Now the reason cops will target tourists is two-fold. First, tourists grow dollars in their pockets…you didn’t know that? But seriously, tourists usually carry money, often a lot more money than locals do. The second reason is that most cops here make less than $800 USD per month, and any local can tell you that this is not a comfortable living wage here. So many cops are looking for easy ways to supplement their meager incomes.

Taking Bribes is Illegal in Mexico
Contrary to how it may seem it is against the law for public officials and police in Mexico to take bribes. So if you report a cop for soliciting a bribe that cop is in trouble, just like their counterparts in other, more lawful, countries would be.

Tips for Avoiding Paying Bribes
Just in case you are pulled over driving in Mexico here are some tips to avoid paying a bribe to cops:

  • If a cop pulls you over get his or her name. If you know the cop’s name you can report anything he does wrong. The cop should be wearing a name tag, if he/she is not then ask (“Como se llama?”) over and over until they tell you. If the cop knows that you know his name he will be much less likely to solicit a bribe from you.
  • Get the number of the cop’s vehicle and get its license plate number. Having this information will make it easy for you to report the cop if he or she asks for a bribe. Make it obvious to the cop that you can identify his/her vehicle.
  • Play innocent, be nice and deliberately misunderstand when they ask you for money. Force the cop to be very direct and solicit that bribe openly.
  • If the cop tells you how high the fine is for the ticket just smile and say “esta bien” (it’s ok) and let them know you WANT that ticket. The cop may try to scare you with the idea that the amount of the fine is really high, and may imply that you will pay much less if you give him a “tip” for helping you. The cop is counting on the idea that you don’t want the ticket, if you tell them you DO want the ticket then the cop loses his/her hold over you.
  • Remember that once the cop has openly solicited a bribe from you that cop cannot risk writing you a ticket, because his own data will be on that ticket. And if you went to pay that ticket you could easily file a complaint against that cop.
  • The key is to simply and politely refuse to pay a bribe while making it clear to the cop that you can identify him/her.

Cops in Mexico who pull over tourists here in Quintana Roo are most often just looking for an easy bribe. If you prove too difficult to get money out of they will generally just let you go with a verbal warning and then they will move on to another tourist who is dumber than you are.

Good luck and happy motoring! Enjoy your vacation!