Tag 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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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).

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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.


Guelaguetza 2014 Photo Out-takes — Oaxaca Folkloric Fesitval Dazzles Crowd


It’s more like a party than a traditional performance. Oaxaca’s annual Guelaguetza folkloric festival draws crowds from throughout Mexico and all over the world.

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If you hang around the stage at the end while most of the crowds leave, you might be handed a small cane cup filled with mezcal and get a close-up photo, too.


I hosted a group of Australians and we had third row seats. That’s the luck of the draw, plus mostly getting to the tourism office early.  We bought these tickets in early June.


Even photo out-takes are worth looking at!


For a discussion about the cultural and political controversy surrounding Guelaguetza, see my July 24, 2014 post.


People ask me all the time if Oaxaca is safe.  There were 11,000 people in the audience, plus all the performers. Instead of the crush, we did the WAVE!


The exit is through a narrow underground tunnel and then down the Cerro del Fortin steps.  Most of us left that way!  Everyone was calm, helpful, friendly, gracious and orderly.

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We took a few minutes to stop and look at the stunning views of the city and the Santo Domingo Church below.


Is Oaxaca safe?  YES!


One big crowd pleaser is the Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma. It is a story of the Spanish conquest over the Aztecs. Many villages do this ritual dance. It is an important part of indigenous Mexican identity.

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The chief dancer is the Moctezuma, and featured are two girls, each representing the duality of Mexico — The Malinche and Doña Marina — who are one and the same.  How high the dancers leap is a feat of pure prowess and determination.


Everyone in the crowd was hoping to catch a pineapple — one of the Guelaguetza gifts thrown — actually hurled — from the stage into the audience by each village represented.


If we had our hands and a hat up, we got bread, radishes, lettuce, palm hats and fans, rolls, tortillas, sticky tamarind fruit, ritual bunches of fragrant greens.

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I managed to catch a bunch of bananas that I shared with my neighbors in keeping with the meaning of Guelaguetza. Only the front row received the pineapples. I think the organizers were afraid of injury!

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By the time we left the auditorium it was almost 10 p.m. We were hungry and thirsty. Somehow, sweet rolls didn’t seem enough. My mantra: time for a mezcal margarita and a good meal. This is the hour most Mexicans have their dinner! It was way past my bed-time.

Guelaguetza2014-29Our group of five women walked about six blocks to La Biznaga where we were lucky to find an open table. Beware: the margaritas are especially potent! The spinach lasagna (yes, Italian) was wonderful. Safe? Yes!

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?





Picking Up a Truck Driver at the Oaxaca Big Box

Out in front of the largest warehouse big box retailers in Oaxaca (you will tar and feather me if I mention the name), you can usually find a truck driver willing to carry the goods you just bought to anywhere in the city or surrounding villages — for a price.  This is an essential and valuable service for someone like me who is living here without personal transportation.  But, I’d never done this before and true confession is that I had a large butterfly in my stomach.

The only choice this day was a skinny, motley looking 30-something young man in need of a shave, his red baseball cap with Drink Coors emblazoned across the front tipped at a right angle.  He was wearing faux leather and metal.  I did not feel confident. As we began negotiating the cost to bring my new bed to Teotitlan del Valle, he raised his phone to his ear to check the price with his boss. That’s when I noticed a pinky fingernail longer than a guitar pick and wondered what he used that for.  His frame was thin and his belt was pulled tight around his waist, puckering the pants material.  It was a January hot like an early North Carolina autumn, dry and clear.  I needed to stand in the shade.  We agreed on a price.  Fair, I thought.  Did I say I was confident?

I pushed on, went in to make the bed purchase with the help of Abraham my trusty Teotiteco taxi driver, and waited the 40 minutes for it to come out of the warehouse and arrive at the front door, where the Truck Driver would take over.  There, standing next to him was a robust young woman with an about three-year-old boy in tow.  My wife, he introduced her.  My fear melted.  Then, an Ah, perhaps a ploy, I thought, headline: Woman accomplice with child decoy and long finger-nailed man kidnap naive gringa in front of the You Know What.

I’m driving, she said, and climbed in behind the wheel.  I joined her in the front seat of a beat-to-death Ford whose vintage I could not name.  The windshield was a series of spider webs that refracted light through the pattern.  Four crucifixes dangled from the rear-view mirror, one adorned with pearls, another with rose quartz beads.   A decal of the chauffeur’s prayer in Spanish was stuck to the only part of the windshield that wasn’t shattered. I pulled the door closed using the half-open window.  The inside panel was peeling off and by all evidence it had lost it’s handle some time ago.  The child straddled the floor shift between us. He was crying and I pulled a quinciniera lollypop out of my bag.  The bed went into the flatbed leaning against the modified rusting metal cage.

Whew.  She’s driving to me Teotitlan and I sighed deep.  We backed out of the space and exited the lot.  Just before we pulled out onto the highway, a boy of about 15  years old jumped onto the back of the truck holding on to the cage, leaning against the bed.  In a couple of blocks we stopped for a traffic light.  A motorcycle pulled up beside us and there was the husband with the long fingernail.  She made a right turn and drove through a residential neighborhood of narrow streets lined with simple block-constructed houses, landing up in front of one of them, turned the engine off and got out.  Adios, she said with a big smile. Gulp.

In climbs husband, who proceeds to drive me to Teotitlan.  I promise to go slow he said as we rocked over the series of topes (speed bumps) on the Ferrocarril road.  I pulled out my knitting.  Breathe, I said to myself.  He talked about his father who moved to Garden Grove, California, 20 years ago, television shows that impress with images of the U.S.A. as a pastoral landscape with perfect people in perfectly clean cities driving expensive cars and living well.  We talked about the reality of those images, immigration and lifestyle and poverty and jobs as we went from hustling Oaxaca city life into the calm of the countryside.

The bed was delivered without incident, of course.  He dropped me off at my favorite Teotitlan restaurant for lunch on the way back.  I paid what we negotiated plus a good tip.  All was well in my world.

Is Oaxaca safe?  Confirmation. Yes.