Canadian government issues travel warning for Playa del Carmen

Federal policemen and army soldiers arrive at the dock where an explosion occurred on a ferry in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo state, Mexico on February 21, 2018. An explosion, apparently caused by a mechanical failure, on a ferry that runs between the touristic Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel, in the Mexican Caribbean, left three Canadians and 15 Mexicans injured on Wednesday, local authorities reported. / AFP PHOTO / STRSTR/AFP/Getty Images


The Canadian government has issued a safety and security warning for travellers visiting Playa del Carmen in Mexico, but travel agents say Calgarians are still headed south for their vacations.

The travel advisory was issued Thursday, one day after the United States issued a warning to citizens about a possible security threat in the coastal resort town.

Violence related to organized crime has been on the rise in Mexico since 2017, including at popular tourist destinations in the state of Quintana Roo, such as Playa del Carmen and Cancun.

But Allison Wallace with Flight Centre Travel Group said the company has actually seen an increased number of bookings to Mexico compared with this time last year.

“Mexico is by far the most popular sun destination among our clients but, of course, if someone is feeling uncomfortable travelling anywhere, we can always find them somewhere else to go,” Wallace said.

Tracey Babuk, owner of a Marlin Travel in southwest Calgary, echoed Wallace’s comments, saying so far the advisory hasn’t changed any of her client’s travel plans and Mexico is still the “No. 1 selling destination” for Calgarians.

“I haven’t had one single call on it today,” Babuk said. “I don’t think Canadians panic as much as Americans do.”

The warnings come after an explosion on a tourist ferry in Playa del Carmen last month injured more than 20 people. More explosives, which didn’t detonate, were found on another boat owned by the same ferry company last week.

The Canadian advisory says criminal groups — including drug cartels and gangs — frequently fight over territory and smuggling routes.

While these groups don’t usually target tourists, the advisory says “armed clashes” between criminals and security forces can occur without warning and Canadians could be “caught in the crossfire.”

Calgarian Aleks Samardzija witnessed a fatal shooting in 2017 at the Blue Parrot nightclub in Playa del Carmen. He was only a few metres from the gunman when the shooting started and prosecutors said the shooting — which left three foreigners and two Mexicans dead — was motivated by low-level drug sales.

Samardzija said he went back to Playa del Carmen in January and he has “never felt unsafe” in the tourist destination.

“I have been back and I didn’t feel unsafe,” he said. “I felt the security was a little tighter in Playa del Carmen and it seems like they’ve got cameras on the streets now.”

He said he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when the shooting occurred, and those kinds of incidents “could really happen anywhere in the world.”

U.S. government employees are currently not allowed to travel to the area until further notice and some cruise lines have cancelled excursions that involve ferries in the area.

The Canadian advisory warns travellers “to exercise a high degree of caution in Playa del Carmen” and avoid taking tourist ferries.

“Remain vigilant, stay in tourist areas and follow local media closely,” the advisory reads. “Be very cautious on major highways and in rural areas. Avoid travelling at night.”

Last week, four gunmen burst into a hospital in Cancun and killed a suspected drug gang member and his wife and, in 2017, four people were killed when a gunman attacked the state prosecutors’ office in Cancun.

The ferry explosion last month in Playa del Carmen injured 19 Mexicans and at least five U.S. citizens. State prosecutors say the ferry incidents are under investigation.

On Wednesday, Mexican officials said Playa del Carmen is safe despite the U.S. security alert.

“All tourism and economic activity in Playa del Carmen continues in a normal manner,” the state government wrote in a statement, noting that hotel occupancy at the resort was 80 per cent.

“We do not know why the U.S. government decided to emit this alert,” the government said.

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