Danger alert: Mexico spring break destinations to avoid, according to the State Department
Beaches of Cancún, Mexico. Medios y Media/Getty Images

On Christmas Day 2022, Ohio architect Jose Gutierrez, 31, vanished in Mexico with his fiancée, her sister and her cousin.

Gutierrez flew from Cincinnati to Zacatecas, a city known for its beautiful historic downtown, ancient silver mine and nearby wineries. The four dined at a nice restaurant. As they were getting into the family vehicle, witnesses reported hearing screams as a group of men grabbed them.

Their killers were likely the last people to see the four alive. Last month, Mexican prosecutors notified the Gutierrez family to tell them Gutierrez's DNA matched the body found next to a bullet-riddled van and with his betrothed and her two relatives. His employer, Champlin Architecture, has established a scholarship in honor of Gutierrez who was working on a hospital and a university when he was murdered.

This year, on the brink of spring break, the U.S. Department of State has issued a “do not travel” advisory for Zacatecas, warning that it’s unsafe because of crime and kidnapping threats.

But it’s hardly the only place in Mexico. U.S. officials have issued travel advisories or alerts for every Mexican state except the Yucatán and Campeche.

Popular destinations for college students, such as Tijuana and Puerto Vallarta, are grappling with violence along with the glamorous vacation spots of Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco and Cancun. The advisories and alerts include cruise ship favorites Mazatlán, Tulum and Playa del Carmen.

The State Department declined to answer specific questions from Raw Story about spring break travel to Mexico. Spokesperson Vanessa Smith emailed a statement noting that the State Department evaluates each of Mexico’s 32 states so danger levels may differ.

“The U.S. embassy and consulates abroad also issue alerts to notify U.S. citizens of specific events and changes happening locally in real time,” she said. “Each of Mexico’s 32 states is evaluated and their danger levels differ. Some areas of Mexico have an increased risk of crime and kidnapping. We encourage travelers to read the entire advisory. U.S. embassies and consulates abroad also issue alerts to notify U.S. citizens of specific events and changes happening locally in real time. We publish alerts to the U.S. Embassy Mexico webpage.”

The U.S. Embassy Mexico webpage posted travel alerts as recent as January 23, which warned about U.S. citizens being injured by violence between taxi cab drivers and Uber and Cabify drivers in Quintana Roo, a state that includes Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.

Mexico’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for comment.

The State Department doesn’t track how many Americans have been killed, assaulted or otherwise victimized by criminals in Mexico.

But according to Mexican government statistics, 324 Americans vanished in Mexico between 2006 and 2020. That’s in addition to more than 70,000 Mexicans reported missing in their own country during the same time period.

Mexican journalists are routinely murdered for reporting on crime, which makes documenting murders a dangerous challenge.

Here’s what you should know about the current state of some of the most popular Spring Break destinations in Mexico:


Police agents search a man for illegal contraband during a drug sweep in Colonia Chula Vista December 14, 2006 in Tijuana, Mexico. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

State Department advisory:Reconsider travel

Right across the border, Tijuana topped 2,000 murders in 2022, helping make the state of Baja California the second deadliest in Mexico.

The State Department warns of the omnipresent threat of "crime and kidnapping".

But visitors are drawn to Rosarito Beach, a pretty Tijuana enclave 10 miles from the U.S. border.

Orange County public defenders Kimberly Williams and Elliot Blair, 33, celebrated their first wedding anniversary in Rosarito’s Las Rocas Resort and Spa. They enjoyed dinner and dancing at a nearby restaurant then drove back to the resort. But they were stopped by local police who claimed that Blair rolled through a stop sign. Williams says the police wanted to be paid or they would ticket the couple. Blair refused, and Williams said they continued to the resort safely to the resort.

Williams was awakened the next morning by hotel staff telling her that her husband had died from a fall off a third floor breezeway. Authorities who arrived to investigate suggested Blair was intoxicated. Williams denies that. But Blair’s body was embalmed without the family’s permission, making a routine toxicology report impossible.

Blair’s family hired a biomechanics and injury expert, Dr. Rami Hashish, to examine Blair’s body. He told the Los Angeles Times that Blair’s injuries — he had multiple skull fractures — were inconsistent with a fall. Hashish said bruising and scrapes indicated that Blair had been dragged along the ground at some point.

Back in August 2020, veteran San Diego firefighter Francisco Aguilar vanished from his beloved Rosarito beach house near Tijuana. His vehicle also disappeared, his home was ransacked and splashed with blood. Two suspects who were using his credit cards were arrested. But a judge released them, frustrating Mexican investigators and Aguilar’s grieving family.

“It is incredible how having the evidence, having the audio, looking at photos, looking at how criminal groups do very severe damage to society but because of technicalities, because of details, interpretations, personal criteria, (judges) let them go free,” Baja secretary of public safety Isaias Bertin told the San Diego Union-Tribune.


State Department advisory:Exercise increased caution

In January, a big battle between Uber and taxi drivers near the Cancun airport warranted a State Department alert. Taxi drivers blocked roads leading to the long swaths of luxury hotels.

In one video, a bewildered Russian family is ordered out of their rideshare as drivers argue over them and police try to stop fistfights and prevent guns from being drawn.

General crime and kidnapping also remain a concern, and the State Department is urging travelers to “exercise increased situational awareness after dark in downtown areas of Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, and to remain in well-lit pedestrian streets and tourist zones.”


State Department advisory:Exercise increased caution

Its big draw is unique cuisine, gorgeous historic architecture and a vibrant visual arts scene. But Oaxaca had 731 murders in 2021 compared to 1,210 murders by August of last year,according to the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System. The secretariat has not yet completed statistics for 2022.

“Criminal activity and violence occur throughout the state,” the State Department further warns.


A fire twirler he Playa de los Muertos is seen at sunset in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

State Department advisory:Reconsider travel

The Pacific resort town isn’t home to some of the worst violence in Jalisco state, where it’s located. Much of the worst activity is taking place in Guadalajara, about 200 miles inland.

There, “territorial battles between criminal groups take place in tourist areas. Shooting incidents between criminal groups have injured or killed innocent bystanders,” the State Department warns.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Embassy Mexico noted that Jalisco state issued “a state-wide security alert and increased security presence” in December as there is the “potential for conflicts between police and criminal elements.”


Mexican marines stand guard at the site of a suspected drug-related execution on March 3, 2012 near Acapulco, Mexico. Drug violence has surged in the coastal resort in recent years. John Moore/Getty Images

State Department advisory:Do not travel

The city, located in the state of Guerrero, is famous for the young men who dive from the soaring La Quebrada cliff into the bay below.

The Pacific coast setting is so dazzling, Hollywood used it as a backdrop for Elvis and James Bond films.

But in 2022, Acapulco crimes made international headlines. Three tourists were gunned down in a beachside restaurant. The head of the restaurants, bars and club owners’ guild was murdered in front of his nightclub in a heavily policed neighborhood. A shuttle driver was gunned down and his passenger wounded on the nearby federal highway. Gunmen pursued a visitor into a hotel before realizing they mistook him for someone they apparently wanted to shoot.

Travel blogger Chrissy Kaprolos recently stayed with her boyfriend’s grandparents in their middle-class home near the luxury beachfront hotels. The grandparents set an 8 p.m. curfew for safety’s sake. One night, they saw a truck loaded with soldiers roll by their house. The grandfather remarked that their mission must be crucial because they normally avoid the dangers in residential areas after dark.

"News clippings don’t always capture the frequency of missing persons, whereas locals sometimes hear of incidents solely through social media," she wrote.

Some Mexican highways are targeted by outlaws who block the roads with burning tires or rubble so they can rob drivers. The State Department regards the highways to Mazatlan and Acapulco as so dangerous, government employees are not allowed to drive them even in daylight. They must fly or sail into the ports.