Category Archives: Safety

Is Mexico Safe? My Experience

Is Mexico safe? I just got back to Oaxaca after traveling for three weeks in Mexico City, Estado de Mexico and Michoacan. In Michoacan there is a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory, (I include this link to safety vs. sensationalism.)

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I went to Morelia, Patzcuaro and rural villages. I traveled far out into the countryside in a car with two other women and walked gorgeous colonial towns. How safe was it? Was I scared?

Map of Mexico

The day I returned, a must read tongue-in-cheek post came in about safety in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), the nation’s capitol, from Jim Johnston who writes Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.  It triggered my wanting to tell you about my journey. Is Mexico safe?

Morelia Best-27 Morelia Best-15

Me and Mary Anne (from the San Francisco Bay Area) teamed up to take this trip together. Yes, two women of some maturity and a modicum of wisdom traveling independently via bus, taxi, collectivo and sometimes, on foot!


We met up in Mexico City where we walked from our hotel to historic center destinations, often at night. Yes, it was dark. Did I feel threatened or at risk? No. I stayed on well-lit streets with good sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. Mexicans love to meander with their families at night, eating an ice cream cone or nibbling on a torta, pushing a stroller or walking arm-in-arm.

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We took a taxi, arranged by our hotel, to the regional bus station at Observatorio, and bought same day tickets on the Caminante bus line to Toluca. We were the only gringas on the bus. At the Toluca bus station, MA watched the bags and I bought a Taxi Seguro (secure taxi) ticket from the clearly marked stand inside the terminal to Tenancingo de Degollado. The worry was how we were going to get our five suitcases (three of them huge) into a small taxi rather than any safety issues.

Map of Estado de Mexico

Most of our trips in Tenancingo were via group van. But, when we/I (either together or separately) wanted to go to town, we went out to the front of our hotel and hailed a private taxi or jumped into a collectivo, sharing a ride with strangers.

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When we left Tenancingo, our next destination was Morelia, capital of Michoacan. So, we returned to the Toluca bus station and bought tickets on another bus line — Autovias — that serves that part of Mexico. Again, we were the only gringas on the bus (of either gender). It’s almost a four-hour bus ride to Morelia, whose tarnished reputation for being a drug cartel area has had a negative impact on tourism, even though it is safe by strict U.S. State Department standards.

IndepDay_Gar_Dar_MA-47 Patzcuaro 188-70

I don’t know if this is true or not. It didn’t seem like it. I did ask MA, when we were planning this trip, is it safe? Just once. She researched it and reported that the only possible dangerous areas were rural far from where we would be.

Morelia Best-33 Morelia Best-40

I’ve never been to a cleaner, more pristine city than Morelia. It has an incredible Zocalo, classical music, great restaurants, 16th century colonial architecture, outstanding gardens, churches, universities, libraries, a comprehensive Casa de las Artesanias folk art gallery and is gateway to some of Mexico’s most amazing folk art. No one hassled us. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. Did I feel unsafe or threatened? Not for a minute. Neither does Guns N’ Roses!

Morelia Best-6 Patzcuaro 188-28Patzcuaro 188-37

Nacho (Ignacio), our pre-arranged taxi driver, picked us up in Morelia and drove us to Patzcuaro, with a stop along the way to Capula, one of the craft villages.  I have friends from the USA who now live full-time in Patzcuaro. We hung out together during the time we weren’t going out to explore the Purepecha villages around the lake, and met the small, but mighty Patzcuaro ex-pat community, including photographer Flo Leyret (link to her photos below).

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Map of Michoacan

We spent the day poking around Santa Clara del Cobre — the copper mining village about thirty minutes beyond Patzcuaro where Purepecha people have been working the material with hand-forging and hammering since the 13th century.


Then, I got invited to go along to a concurso (juried folk art competition) in the village of Ahuiran, an hour-and-a-half north of Patzcuaro, where talented women weave rebozos on back-strap looms. Six of us, all women, drove in two cars over Michoacan countryside, through small villages, across rich farmland planted with corn and potatoes. At the entrance and exit to some villages there were guard posts and community-designated sentries asking us where we were going. It seems the villagers are protecting their territory and this is typical for rural Mexico where there can be land disputes or disagreements. Nothing to be afraid of.

Michoacan Artisans, Photographs by Florence Leyret Jeune

Patzcuaro 188-79 PatzLakeArtisans-16  [Above left is Purepecha ceramic artist Nicolas Fabian Fermin, from Santa Fe de Laguna, who I met this summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, with his wife. Above right is Teofila Servin Barriga, another award-winning Purepecha artist whose embroidery has won many international awards. She will be at Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, for the annual folk art market. This rebozo she is wearing will sell for 15,000 pesos.]

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In Ahuiran, we were the only visitors and the best potential customers for these stunning hand-made shawls that started at 2,000 pesos. The elaborate feather fringed rebozos (photos are still in my camera) were commanding a 5,000 pesos price tag, more than most of the local women could afford. But, then, they could weave their own or buy from a relative!

SantaClaradelCobre-21 SantaClaradelCobre-9

Why go to Michoacan? For the folk art, of course, and then, there’s the landscape, and the people, the history  ….

On my return to Oaxaca, I took a taxi from Morelia center to the regional bus terminal and bought my ticket the same day. It was a five-hour bus ride to Mexico City Norte terminal. I was the only foreigner on the bus. MA flew direct from Morelia to Oakland, CA on a non-stop Volaris flight. Lucky her. I, on the other hand, got into a secure taxi for the 30-minute ride to the airport to board the Interjet flight to Oaxaca ($116 USD round-trip).

Morelia Best-30 Morelia Best-3

Okay, so that’s the story. Or at least skimming it. Mexico is a treasure trove of history, archeology, folk art, contemporary art, intellectual discourse and culture. Her cities are beautiful. Yes, some parts are not safe. Most parts are. Some have reputations for being unsafe that have never been true and/or might have been true two or three or four years ago, like Morelia. Morelia is safe now. It is gorgeous. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Map of Oaxaca

Oaxaca has always been safe.

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Join us February 3-11, 2016 for Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More. 4 Spaces Left!

Food Alert! Guzina Oaxaca Opens in Mexico City

Casa Oaxaca is one of our favorite go-to restaurants in Oaxaca.  Sit on the roof. Overlook the spectacular roofline of Santo Domingo Church. Indulge in a tamarind mezcalini. Follow this with a perfectly prepared seared sea bass or duck tacos. Each sauce that accompanies is an art form in its own right. Finish with something made with Oaxaca chocolate and then walk down the Macdeonio Alcala to walk it off.

Now, when you are in Mexico City you can enjoy Oaxaca food at is finest.  Chef Alejandro Ruiz has opened Guzina Oaxaca in the upscale Polanco neighborhood where Quintonil and Pujol share addresses.  Guzina, which means kitchen in Zapotec, the predominant indigenous language of Oaxaca, showcases some of Oaxaca’s finest ingredients, include mole and mezcal.

It is also pricey.  Entrees are about 350 pesos or $25-28 USD. But if you have an appetizer, a cocktail, wine, entree and dessert, you could spend about $70 USD per person. But, then, Mexico City is one of those places with European ambience and style, a bargain if your economy is the dollar.

Food writer Leslie Tellez tells her story about Guzina Oaxaca. And, you can read more on Trip Advisor and El Chilango, too.

Chef Ruiz is not the only Oaxaca entrepreneur to make a foray into Mexico City.

Remigio Mestas Ruiz, textile curator, promoter of indigenous weaving and textile traditions ,and a man with a social conscience, opened Remigio’s at Isabel la Catolica #30 several years ago  His Oaxaca gallery, Baules de Juana Cata in the Los Danzantes patio, is where Oaxaca textile lovers go to find the very best backstrap loomed garments created with Thai silk and Egyptian cotton by the finest weavers.  These are all available in Mexico City, too.

More good reasons to come to Mexico City, don’t you think?

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Art History Tour in Mexico City, November 13-17, 2015.  

Oh, and did I mention that Mexico City is safe?

This restaurant tip came from one of my readers. Got tips about Mexico and Oaxaca you want to share? Send me an email.


Morocco Journal 1: What To Wear and Other Notes

The debate about how a woman from the western world is to clothe herself while traveling in the Moslem Kingdom of Morocco continues.  I want to be respectful and also comfortable as the temperatures hover close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cover your elbows, advises one friend.  Another says, elbows are okay, just don’t show forearms or cleavage.  Another tells me to wear a long skirt or dress and cover your ankles.  Don’t worry, ankles are okay, says one more, it’s not Saudi Arabia, you just don’t want to wear short shorts.  At my stage of maturity, that would not be my thing.  Today, I am in the serious pre-packing thinking stage of open suitcase and clothes on the bed.

Jude looks at argan soap

Jude looks at argan soap

Sunday, September 15 is departure day.  I am traveling with my friend Judith Reitman-Texier who has been to Morocco many times for her company La Bedouine argan oil skin care and lifestyle.  Her wise counsel is priceless and her planning even more so.  Jude, also a published journalist, invited me to come with her as she writes reviews of 5-star Marrakech riads for travel magazines and sources product for her business.  My role is to photograph and document all.  Of course, the textiles are what draws me there!


Morocco Packing Notes

  • wide-brimmed hat
  • sunscreen
  • no open-toe shoes
  • long linen dress
  • shawls that can drape and wrap to cover
  • 2 long linen skirts
  • 1 pair loose linen pants
  • loose linen tops (3-4)
  • long sleeve linen top
  • 3-4 changes of underwear
  • sleep shirt
  • comfortable walking shoes
  • closed toe dress shoes

The list sounds like what I recommend for Oaxaca, except the arm-leg cover-up part.  Always, no short shorts!

Plus these essentials:

  • Contact your bank to let them know travel plans so they don’t block ATM money withdrawal.
  • Contact your wireless mobile service if you want data, text and voice coverage while traveling.
  • Important Note:  Especially for a woman, it is essential to carry a cell phone wherever you are that connects you to home in an emergency.  Don’t skimp.  It is part of travel safety and security.

And comments from friends on my Facebook page keep coming in, like this one:

Covered up but cool because it sure was hot when I was there. And although they do not drink they serve local beer to the tourist – just do not try to take the lovely bottle as I did. The waiter went nuts and thought I was stealing (which could have cost me a hand) but the owner graciously insisted I keep the bottle after my husband came to my rescue. On the street my husband was offered two camels for me.


How safe is Mexico City for a single female traveler?

This question just came in: How safe is Mexico City for a single female traveler?

This is my experience.  I have been flying from the USA directly to Mexico City for the last several years. I do this to know Mexico better.  Usually I travel solo, alone, single, without a companion.  The Mexico City airport is very safe and secure.  I always buy a taxi ticket from the Taxi Seguro ticket stand in the airport after you exit from baggage claim.  This secure taxi service is licensed and registered by the Distrito Federal (D.F.) officials.  The cost from the airport to the historic center is about 200 pesos.

Mexico City is filled with culture, art treasures, stunning architecture, great restaurants and street food.  It is where Diego Rivera murals adorn public spaces to visually convey the history of Mexico from pre-Conquest to the socialist ideals of Communism.  It is filled with energy and beauty.  It is clean and overall safe. Definitely worth a stopover, in my opinion.

In the historic center I walk everywhere with my BIG Nikon camera and small purse (long straps crisscrossed over the my body) — to FONART, to Palacio Bellas Artes, to Mercado de San Juan, to Museo de Arte Popular, and to Palacio Nacional.  You need a taxi to the anthropology museum in Chapultepec Park.

If I’m there on the weekend, I will call a friend to go with me to Lagunilla flea market.  This is an all-day adventure.  There is a Saturday and Sunday Plaza del Angel antiques market in the Zona Rosa that is safe and accessible, and perfect for solo traveling.

I have taken the Metro with friends, but not yet solo.  Taxis are reasonable and plentiful.  Your hotel can call you a taxi they know to be secure and safe.  One Australian friend who has lived in D.F. for four years says to only take the white radio taxis that are available at marked corner stands.  I’ve used red and gold city taxis with no problem.

On past visits, I have asked my hotels or B&Bs to arrange a car and driver for a full day of sightseeing at about 100-120 pesos an hour.  We’ve gone to Casa Azul, the Dolores Olmeda Pineda Museum, and Xochimilco. The driver stays with us.

Two nights in Mexico City only gives you one full day, so I recommend at least three nights minimum to really get a flavor for the city.

As with all travel anywhere — in the USA or any foreign country — be mindful of your surroundings, only take cash out of an ATM during the day, keep your camera slung across your chest, don’t walk and use your SmartPhone at the same time (someone can easily grab it), check the taxi seat and floor before departing to make sure you don’t leave anything behind, stay alert, move away from people you think are suspicious.  I always carry my Passport with me for identification, but I’ve heard advice to the contrary.

I’m in Chicago this weekend and a platoon of policemen were heading toward Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile this morning for patrol duty.  Locals say there are a lot of iPhone thefts in that neighborhood, so there you go!

What else would you like to know?





Guelaguetza Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

7 nights, 8 days, July 26-August 2, 2013.  Our Guelaguetza Photography Workshop gives you an opportunity to capture indigenous folkloric traditions and build upon your photography skills.  Guelaguetza is a magical time in Oaxaca when indigenous people come to the city from throughout the rural areas of the state adorned in their finest handmade traje (indigenous dress). On Monday, July 29, we will take you to an extraordinary dance production of Guelaguetza where you can see the extravagant costumes, hear local music, and gain an understanding of the customs.

For all levels, beginners and beyond!  Limited to 10 participants.

At the end of July and early August are the famed Mezcal Fair and a tribute to Oaxaca’s seven moles.  We’ll introduce you to both.

Your guides and instructors are published art photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, our husband-wife team from Columbus, Ohio.  The Robbins’ are versatile and experienced, whose work is featured in national photography magazines.  This will be their fourth year to teach in Oaxaca with us.

  • Tom and Sam are excellent teachers and photographers. They have an incredible passion for photography and showed great care for each participant, taking time to understand each of our needs and looking through our photos with us.


  • Sam and Tom are the ideal instructors.  Any experience with them is one that is worthwhile.  I would recommend this program to others.  It is life changing and breathtaking.  — Emily Moore, The Ohio State University

The program focuses on the use of  digital SLR photography to capture, record and document indigenous life, the Guelaguetza festival, local markets, famed Mesoamerica archeological sites, folk art and artisans, landscapes, and people.  This is cultural immersion at its best!

We include all lodging, most meals, tickets to the Guelaguetza performance, and local transportation associated with the workshop in the cost of registration!


The colonial city of Oaxaca de Juarez is located 375 miles south of Mexico City.  It is safe, warm and inviting, and can be reached directly from the U.S. by United Airlines from Houston, TX or via Mexico City connections.

  • Every experience with Sam and Tom is one for the books, every minute in their company a gem. The order of places we went was excellent, very well planned and executed workshop.
  • The workshop was inspiring. Not only did it open up my world to a new culture, I gained a new passion for photography.

We will stay in Oaxaca City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in the family friendly Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Throughout the week, we will take you to private homes and artist studios to enrich and personalize your photography learning experience.

  • The instructors are exceptional, and there are endless picture subjects here. -Kellie Fitzgerald, The Ohio State University


We’ll visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stop to photograph the 3,000 year old cypress tree that is 160 feet in diameter in nearby Santa Maria del Tule.


  • With very little formal background in photography, the most valuable aspects of this workshop were the technical ones, as well as the time to practice and think about my work.
  • The most valuable part for me was being immersed in a completely different culture.
  • The whole experience of being in Mexico was very eye-opening and getting the chance to capture that with photography was fun!

Topics Covered:

  • Using manual camera settings
  • Understanding composition
  • Capturing light, shadow and reflection
  • Knowing more about aperture and shutter speed
  • Determining when to use flash, night photography
  • Experimenting with black and white, and sepia
  • Exploring the essentials of landscape and portraiture
  • Getting feedback for steady improvement

During the workshop, we will review each other’s work, give and receive feedback, and receive expert guidance and coaching from Tom and Sam.  A group presentation at the end of the week will give you an opportunity to showcase your best work and select a theme, if you choose.

  • Being immersed in the culture by sleeping in a local bed and breakfast with very kind, generous villagers helped make the cultural immersion a life-changing visit.  My direct experience of Teotitlan, Oaxaca and surrounding artisan villages is so far removed from any concern of personal safety it’s almost laughable.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn of more beautiful people and places in the world in a safe and inviting workshop atmosphere

Sam (behind the camera) and Tom Robbins lead summer 2013 Oaxaca Photography Expedition.

About Husband and Wife Photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, Your Expedition Guides and Workshop Leaders

Tom Robbins, a photographer for more than 40 years, recently retired as professor of architecture at Columbus (Ohio) State Community College.  His careers in architecture and education have deepened his love for,  and understanding of design, composition and visual impact.  Tom and his wife, Sam, have exhibited widely and their work has been published in “Black and White Magazine.”  Tom has photographed extensively in rural Ohio, New Orleans, and Southern Mexico where he finds the landscapes, the architecture and the people wonderfully photogenic. In the last five years, Tom and Sam have made Mexico the primary subject of their photography and have visited Oaxaca and the surrounding villages many times.  Most of Tom’s work has been with 35 mm SLR and medium format cameras.

A serious photographer for over 20 years, Sam Robbins considers herself to be a “photographic hunter.”  Like her husband, Tom, she is most comfortable walking and wandering with her camera at the ready. While she has done studio portrait work, she is happiest allowing photographs to present themselves.  Sam is an award-winning New Albany (Ohio) High School teacher of art, English and photography.  She sees sharing her passion for photography with students as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.  Sam is also a quilter, and believes that her work with color and design have contributed to her photographic eye.  Though most of her work has been with a 35 mm SLR, she also has shot with medium format and really enjoys using a plastic toy camera.  Recently, Sam taught and exhibited at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, where English and Spanish-speaking participants applauded her thoughtful, supportive style.

Tom holds the Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Illinois.  Sam holds the B.A. in political science from Ohio University and the M.A. in English Education from The Ohio State University with an art minor from Otterbein University.

See their work at


Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change): 72 hours of instruction

Day One,  Friday, July 26:  Travel to Oaxaca. Arrive and settle in to our bed and breakfast. (D) Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Two, Saturday, July 27: Breakfast and learning session. A walking orientation to explore Oaxaca’s churches, museums, Zocalo.  Group lunch.  Afternoon market visit.  Best of the Day show.  (B,L).  Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Three, Sunday, July 28:  Visit Monte Alban archeological site and Atzompa pottery village after the morning learning session.  Best of the Day show. Group dinner.  (B, D). Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Four, Monday, July 29: After the morning learning session, we will travel to the afternoon Guelaguetza Folkloric Performance in the El Fortin Auditorium.    Then prepare for Best of Day show. (B, L)

Day Five, Tuesday, July 30: After breakfast and the morning learning session, we will pack and travel to Teotitlan del Valle, the Zapotec weaving village, making a stop at El Tule.  (B, D) Overnight in Teotitlan.

Day Six, Wednesday,  July 31:  After breakfast and the morning learning session, we’ll travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to photograph this famed archeological site then visit a master weaver for a weaving/natural dyeing demonstration.  Best of Day show at end of day.   Group dinner (B, D)

Day Seven, Thursday, August 1: After breakfast and the morning learning session, you will begin to prepare your final presentation for Best of Week Show with Gala Grand Finale Dinner.  (B, D)

Day Eight, Friday, August 2:   Departure.

What You Should Bring
  •  Your energy and enthusiasm
  • Digital SLR camera
  • Laptop computer and editing software (such as Lightroom or Photoshop
  • Batteries and battery charger
  • Memory card(s) and card reader
  • Pen and notepad
  • Memory stick–jump drive

Plus, sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Upon registration, you will receive a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list and other useful information.


In Oaxaca City we will stay at a delightful, safe and upscale bed and breakfast that is highly rated by Trip Advisor.  In Teotitlan del Valle, we stay in a local bed and breakfast operated by three generations of women — grandmother, mother, daughter — all great cooks! The food is all handcrafted and delicious.  Vegetarian options are available.

Cost:  The base cost for the trip is $1395.00 USD double occupancy per person.  This includes 7 nights lodging in a shared room, 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners, transportation to villages and archeological sites, Guelaguetza performance ticket, and all instruction.  Most travel programs of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

Optional Add-ons:

  • Single occupancy with private bath, $1,595.
  • Come early or stay later, add $135 per night lodging in Oaxaca City and add $55 per night lodging in Teotitlan del Valle
  • Include travel health insurance, ask for quote based on age and length of stay
  • Cooking Class with noted Oaxaca chef, $85 per person

It does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, tips/gratuities, and some meals.

Reservations,  and Cancellations

A 50% deposit ($700) is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by May 1,  2013.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an  invoice.

Note: Last year filled quickly. Don’t hesitate if you want to attend!

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After June 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before June 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Comments About Safety

  • I can’t recall one instance the entire time where I felt threatened.  Almost everyone we encountered was very receptive and endearing – only adding to the beauty of this wonderful place.
  • I never felt unsafe during the workshop, including getting to it by flying to Mexico City and taking buses to Puebla and then Oaxaca.  The organizers helped us by providing useful tips. 
  • I always felt safe in Teotitlan and Oaxaca, the people are so warm and welcoming. 
  • I felt completely 100% safe all of the time.  Perhaps more safe than in my hometown, if that’s possible!

To register or for questions, contact:

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  For more information, see: