The best protection for your valuables is to leave most of them at home, especially expensive jewelry. Be watchful in crowded places, including in the US. Many people lose baggage and cameras in large American airports while traveling to and from Mexico. In an ironic twist, a Mexican friend, a tourism official herself, had her luggage stolen by a well-dressed, fast-moving American woman in the lobby of a hotel in Acapulco.
Keep your valuables in the hotel safe. Hotel rooms are not security vaults. Dont take chances with your extra money, expensive jewelry and other valuables. This simple precaution cant be overstressed. Hotel cajas de seguridad (safe deposit boxes) are your best protection against theft and accidental loss.
Wear a money belt or Hidden Pocket. If you dont have a money belt or hidden pocket (see Personal Stuff: Hidden Pocket for instructions on making your own), safety pin a sock inside your pants or shirt and stuff it with your valuables. Money belts and thin leather wallets that can be worn inside your clothing can be found in Mexican luggage and leather-goods shops.
Better safe than sorry doesnt sound like a cliché when you consider the consequences of losing your money and identification. If I dont like the looks of the hotels security boxes (or the desk clerk), I keep my money belt close at hand, 24-hours-a-day. This includes taking my money belt into the bathroom while showering or using the toilet, especially in rooms that dont have double locks on the door.
Today in Mexico one may occasionally be held up on the road, just as one may be held up in Wyoming or Vermont, but brigandage as a lucrative career for young men of courage has been suppressed.
Viva Mexico by Charles Flandrau (1908)
Take reasonable precautions against muggers. The same precautions you observe at home or when visiting an American city will protect you in Mexico. Most muggings and petty crimes occur late at night. Main thoroughfares and busy streets are usually lighted until 10 p.m. or later, but lighting isnt dependable on side streets, parks, alleys, shopping arcades and beaches. When in doubt, walk in groups on darker streets or take a taxi.
If you are an unescorted woman, you will attract unwanted attention. Always use cabs after 9 p.m.
Resort beaches may or may not be patrolled by the police at night. Where they arent patrolled, beaches have a way of attracting night people, from down-on-their-luck campesinos (countryfolk) looking for a warm bed of sand to strollers, drunks, lovers and skinny-dippers. Needless to say, these innocent fish may attract a few sharks. Because of this, Im sorry to say that romantic, midnight walks on dark deserted beaches are not wise.
In the daytime be alert for pickpockets in crowded places. Pickpockets, purse snatchers, baggage nappers and other rip-off artists tend to work crowds. The richest pickings are at airports, bus stations, subways, banks, hotel lobbies, churches. public events, crowded markets and street celebrations.
I make a simple rule never to carry more in my pockets than Im willing to lose; the rest of my valuables are either in a hotel security box or inside my money belt.
Avoid carrying valuables in purses, belt pouches and shoulder bags. Expensive bags are obvious targets, but thieves arent above slitting a dusty daypack to get at the contents.
When Im on the subway or in a city crowd, I carry my daypack or shoulder bag on my chest, with one arm draped across it. This simple precaution should be enough to protect your bag and to advise potential thieves that youre on guard.
Be equally cautious on resort beaches. Unless youre planning to haggle for souvenirs, take only a little pocket money. Beach thieves have sharper eyes than a zopilote (vulture). Hiding your watch, money and passport under a towel or burying them in the sand is the oldest trick in the book -- and an invitation to get ripped off.
Keep track of your personal belongings. When Lorena and I lead tours or travel with friends, we continually pick up our companions stray cameras, passports, purses and room keys. Tourists routinely walk away from their suitcases, leave their credit cards at souvenir shops and their only shoes at the beach, and cant recall which lavandería (laundry) they left their clothes in.
Absentmindedness isnt limited to possessions. Cab drivers are regularly confronted by panicked tourists who have absolutely no recollection of what city theyre in, much less the name of their hotel.
If something goes missing, make a thorough search of your luggage and hotel room before you report it as lost or stolen. The notion that thievery is common in Mexico is definitely exaggerated. In many cases, tourists themselves are to blame.
A fellow we traveled with in eastern Mexico left his binoculars hanging on a chair in the restaurant of a small hotel. By the time he realized his mistake we were hundreds of miles away and couldnt go back. When I returned to the hotel two years later, the owners first words were, I have the binoculars your friend forgot.
You should have sold them, I teased. I would have.
I couldnt do that, he said, clearly shocked. ¡No son míos! (They arent mine!)
As a postscript, the fellow who lost-and-regained the binoculars returned to travel with us again. This time he left a very expensive Nikon camera in the washroom of a museum. In this case, however, the camera had vanished by the time we returned for it.
Stay safe in Mexico City: The "Big Enchilada" is safer than New York City and Los Angeles, but petty thieves and pickpockets are on the increase. Stick to well- traveled tourist zones (don't venture into distant barrios), wear a money belt, and keep five or ten dollars worth of pesos stuffed into a pocket. If you are mugged, hand this money over quickly, without argument. Mexican muggers seldom terrorize or attack their victims, especially if they dont put up a fight
Continued... with part 6