by Michael J. Shapiro | March 08, 2018
The United States Embassy in Mexico City issued a security alert yesterday for Playa del Carmen, a tourism hotspot in Mexico's Riviera Maya, saying it had received information about an unspecified "security threat." U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to Playa del Carmen until further notice, and the U.S. consulate there has been temporarily closed. 
The alert follows one issued last week, which prohibited U.S. government employees from using any tourist ferries between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. A Feb. 21 explosion on a ferry, which occurred in port at Playa del Carmen just after passengers had disembarked, injured 26 people, including U.S. citizens. Last week, Mexican law-enforcement officials discovered undetonated explosives beneath another tourist ferry run by the same company, Barcos Caribe. According to the Associated Press, that vessel was anchored some 500 yards off the coast of Cozumel and hadn't been in service for at least 10 months. Barcos Caribe operations have been suspended since late February. This past Tuesday, March 6, the Mexican federal prosecutor's office opened an investigation into the matter.
 
The government of the state of Quintana Roo - home to Playa del Carmen, as well as Cancún - responded yesterday to the U.S. security alert to assure visitors that it was very much business as usual in Playa del Carmen. "In Playa del Carmen and throughout the state, all tourism and economic activities are operating under normal circumstances," read the statement. "In fact, the current hotel occupancy in our destinations is about 80 percent.
 
"Our armed forces are working day and night to guarantee public security for citizens and tourists," the statement continued. "We are not aware of the exact reasons behind the issuing of the travel alert by the government of the United States. We want to reassure our commitment to work hand-in-hand to provide security to all U.S. and international tourists that visit our state."
 
Security is especially heavy today at the nearby Mayakoba development in the Riviera Maya for the 2018 World Ocean Summit, produced by The Economist Events. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto is scheduled to appear at the summit later today. 
 
The U.S. Embassy advises any U.S. citizens traveling to the area simply to be aware of their surroundings and exercise caution, to purchase travel insurance that specifically covers them in Mexico and includes medical-evacuation insurance, and to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if they require assistance. The nearest open U.S. consulate would be the one in Mérida, in the state of Yucatán.
 
Since the ferry explosion occurred, a number of international cruise lines have canceled excursions that rely on ferry service between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. Planners and travelers are advised to confirm all such itineraries with their cruise operators. 
 
The U.S. Embassy also issued an additional, general alert yesterday for U.S. citizens planning to visit anywhere in Mexico for spring break. While the vast majority of the thousands of north-of-the-border spring-break visitors to Mexico have safe and enjoyable trips, the alert noted, unforeseen problems have occasionally arisen. Here's what U.S. citizens should know:
 
• In case of medical emergencies, private-hospital prices in Mexican tourist destinations can be comparable to those in the U.S., but many facilities require payment in advance of treatment. 
 
• Some beaches have strong undercurrents and riptides, and there might be no warnings, signs or lifeguards present.
 
• There are concerns that unregulated alcohol might be served in some establishments, as some U.S. citizens have reported losing consciousness or becoming injured after one or two drinks.
 
• Some incidents of rape or sexual assault have been reported, and it is possible that perpetrators target inebriated or isolated people.
 
• Drug possession and use, including medical marijuana, is illegal in Mexico and could result in a lengthy jail sentence.
 
• Drunk and disorderly behavior, and urinating in public, are illegal, and offenders might be arrested.
 
The U.S. embassy alert also reminds all U.S. travelers to Mexico to avoid strong currents, heed warning flags and to not swim while drinking alcohol; to drink responsibly and keep an eye on one's beverage at all times; to seek medical attention immediately if feeling ill; to remain with friends while imbibing and/or in clubs, bars and dimly lit areas at night; to obey Mexican laws and remember that they may differ from U.S. laws.