It’s important for anyone considering joining the Fellowship of the Wheel to be aware of the safety and security situation in Mexico. That includes both potential safety risks as well as our planning & preparation to try to stay safe.
There is a perception among Americans that Mexico is extremely unsafe, and I believe that perception is inaccurate. Based on crime rates, a US citizen is actually safer while in Mexico than while in the United States. And as the US Department of State points out, “Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year.”
However, Mexico does experience very real violence especially involving drug cartels and local gangs. According to the State Department these groups do not target US citizens specifically. Most of the violence among them is aimed at other cartels and gangs—not at foreign visitors. I strongly encourage you to read the US Department of State travel advisory for Mexico. This advisory will help you understand the security situation in Mexico and the most common threats that visitors face.
If we take basic precautions we can help keep risk to a minimum and have the safest journey possible.
How We Chose the Safest Route
In planning the route for the Fellowship of the Wheel, I consulted with two friends who are Mexican citizens living in Mexico. One of these is a former editor of the security section of La Economista. Both of these friends provided valuable information and local insights, especially in choosing safe roads along the way.
Additionally, I compared the proposed route to this detailed crime map based on research from Stanford University [note: as of 9/3 the map page is experiencing an error and will not load]. The map is based on data from 2012, but if you compare it to more recent maps the results are similar. Because this map gives a township-by-township breakdown, it made it possible to plot a route that would completely avoid many high-crime areas. Indeed, most of the route is nowhere near the infamous cartel violence and many sections have a lower violent crime rate than my home city of New Orleans.
Obviously, cities in Mexico experience higher crime rates than rural areas, just like anywhere in the world. Our route stops at larger cities after every 3-7 day segment. We always aim to arrive in these cities in daylight and to proceed to a central area where tourists are more common. In cities I recommend getting a hotel room rather than trying to camp out.
The Border Area
There is one area on our route that does pass through a danger zone and that is the first leg, through the border zone. Our “Border Run” crosses the Mexican state of Tamaulipas from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey (route map here). This area experiences serious drug trafficking and cartel activity. In this area, we will be taking special precautions.
The plan for each of the three days is to start early, bike fast, and reach our destination before dark. We will use a well traveled, federally policed toll road with a wide paved shoulder. My Mexican friends believe that during daylight this will be a safe place for us.
During this leg we’ll stay in hotels rather than camping out. I have confirmed that there are hotel options at the cities we are staying in (Monterrey, in particular, has a large number of hotels to choose from).
Additionally, I am working to arrange a support vehicle to follow us or stay near us during this leg. While I cannot yet guarantee that we will have such a vehicle, its presence would give us a “safety net” of sorts: if mechanical failures or delays cause us to fall behind schedule, we can be picked up by car before sunset and drive to our hotel.
My personal commitment is to cross all of Mexico powered by my own body, so I could not leave this border section out. However, it is perfectly fine for others to meet us later in the trip, completely skipping this leg. If you are concerned about safety in Mexico, I recommend meeting us for Leg #3 (or later) in the Mexico’s safer interior. And if you want to volunteer to drive the support vehicle, I would love that! (To do so, email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Additional safety measures include:
- I carry a first aid kit on my bicycle and all group members will know where to find it.
- As a rule, let’s all keep each other apprised of where we’re going. It’s fine to go off on your own in a town, but let another cyclist know first. Ideally, go with a buddy.
- Helmets are a must.
- Exercise basic precautions like not flashing money or expensive electronics, not walking alone at night, etc.
- Again, I highly recommend reading the US DOS Travel Precautions for Mexico.
No trip is risk free, and each of us is responsible for our own safety. But I want to do everything I can to help people prepare adequately and to keep risk to a minimum. I am wide open to additional suggestions if you have them.