It's the second-most-visited travel destination for Canadians outside of the United States -- but many travellers are worried about booking tickets to Mexico in light of a recent surge in violence.
The violence erupted on Jan. 5 after security forces captured alleged drug trafficker Ovidio "The Mouse" Guzman, who is a son of former cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
At least two passenger airplanes were hit by gunfire, prompting officials to close three of the airports in Sinaloa state, including Mazatlán International Airport (MZT).
While there were a couple of cancellations at Vancouver International Airport (YVR), MZT reopened the following day and Canadians have started flying back down to the popular resort town.
The Mexico travel advisory remains in effect for Sinaloa but the messaging around its advice has confused some travellers and industry experts alike.
Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?
While many cities across Mexico are mostly safe to travel to, Canada has warned travellers of increased levels of violence for months, urging tourists to exercise a high of a high degree of caution.
In August 2022, the U.S. government warned that violent crime, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, was widespread and common in the country.
But Canada's latest Mexico update instructed travellers to avoid all non-essential travel to Sinaloa due to the widespread violence. The advisory remains in effect, but above the new section, the webpage's "regional advisories," exclude Mazatlán, which is located in Sinaloa.
In fact, until Thursday, Jan. 12, the advisory said to avoid travel to Mazatlan in the "safety and security" section while excluding it under "regional advisories."
Will McAleer, Executive Director at the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA), told V.I.A. that this is the first time he's ever seen such confused messaging from the government, particularly when it concerns such an important directive.
The advisory was updated Friday and no longer mentions specific cities in the "safety and security" section but warns of widespread violence in Sinaloa state. The "regional advisories" remain unchanged, urging people to avoid all non-essential travel to Sinaloa, excluding Mazatlán.
When asked how concerned Canadians should be about travel to Mazatlan, particularly to Sinaloa, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told V.I.A. that it monitors safety and security conditions and promptly updates its travel advice. It did not comment on the current situation but advised Canadians to consult the most up-to-date travel advice for Mexico.
What is happening in Mexico in 2023
Despite the recent violence and confused messages, many travel agents say locals haven't been deterred from visiting Mexico. What's more, many of them have already flown down to Mazatlan.
Flight Centre Canada spokesperson Allison Wallace says while Mexico is a popular destination for Canadian travellers, fewer people travel to Mazatlán than coveted hot spots such as Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.
While the company located two clients in Mazatlan when the recent violence erupted, thousands of its customers were in Mexico at that time. Mazatlán is "not as big of a destination as it used to be," Wallace explained.
Travellers should always check the latest advice from the government before they book a ticket and before they leave, and they should understand the difference between a warning and an advisory, Wallace noted.
While there are always risks whenever you travel, many places in Mexico are "still quite safe" for tourists, she added. That said, travellers should always purchase a comprehensive insurance plan before they leave.
McAleer underscores this message, noting that travellers who do not book insurance before they leave may not get their money back for a trip that is cancelled due to an advisory.
Canadian travel advisories that have a "level three" or "level four" warning may be claimed under a trip cancellation and interruption plan. However, travellers can't claim insurance if they booked the flights or accommodation after the advisory was issued.
Canadians should always register trips that they take online before they leave so that the government can contact them in an emergency.
Canadians in need of emergency consular assistance should contact Global Affairs Canada's Emergency Watch and Response Centre by calling 001-800-514-0129 (toll-free from Mexico only), +1 613 996 8885, by text message at +1 613-686-3658, via WhatsApp at +1 613-909-8881, via Telegram at Canada Emergency Abroad or by e-mail.
With files from the Canadian Press.