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The Wall Street Journal Publishes Feature On Cancun’s Violence

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Feature Piece In Major Publication Highlights The Organized Crime Facing Quintana Roo

The Wall Street Journal released a feature article this week documenting Quintana Roo’s increasing gang violence and its effect on the tourism industry. The major publication reaches millions of readers every week, adding to Cancun’s public image problem.

wall street journal

The article (subscription only), written by Jose de Cordoba and David Luhnow, begins dramatically, painting a picture of the day Instagram influencer Anjali Riot lost her life in Tulum. The incident saw Ms. Riot and another German tourist gunned down in the crossfire between rival gang members. Three other tourists were injured.

The tragedy drew international headlines and marked the first in a series of escalating violent crimes linked directly to organized crime in Quintana Roo. In the months since, the state has been the scene of multiple assassinations, shootouts, and group murders, piling an increasingly poor reputation upon the popular strip of the Mexican Caribbean coast.

cancun skyline

The article isn’t wrong in its depiction, nor its understanding of the violence taking place in the region. Quintana Roo has already seen over one hundred murders since the beginning of the year, including a particularly bloody eleven days that saw twenty-one killed. Almost every one of these murders has been linked directly to the drug-fueled gangs that operate in the area.

Articles like this depict a war zone for many who have not been to Cancun, Tulum, or any towns on the 80 mile stretch of beaches. The figures make for concerning reading. Without context, any traveler would be justifiably hesitant to visit such a dangerous place. After all, Cancun is listed in the top fifty most dangerous cities globally.

hotel zone strip

But the reality of the matter is that tourists remain extremely safe in Cancun. Petty crime is even lower in the region than in some major tourist destinations like Paris and Las Vegas. Like Vegas, the tourists that regularly find themselves in trouble are the ones who venture out with the intent to find drugs or other illicit products or even take part in sex tourism.

An interesting statistic quoted in the article suggested that 70% of adults entering the state are looking, at least partly, “for alcohol, drugs, or sex.” Grouping all three of these in an unquoted survey seems misleading. There is a drastic difference between coming to Quintana Roo to drink and actively going out searching for drugs.

police car

There is no doubt that the presence of the gangs is directly related to tourist demand for drugs, but to conflate two very different types of tourists into one overarching group paints the state as something altogether different. Of course, younger crowds, particularly, have flocked to Tulum recently. Reports of drug-riddled parties emerge, but most tourists coming to these towns are there to relax with their families, friends, or significant others. Many rarely even leave their resorts.

empty beach

The fact remains that Cancun is a city divided between the safe hotel zone and the areas where the gangs operate. As violence escalates, there’s no doubt that tourists could be hurt. Still, anyone hoping to visit should be aware that this is the exception and not the rule.

The government has recently kickstarted a new initiative, highlighting the potential consequences of participating in any illegal activities in Mexico, whether drugs or the illegal sex trade. On top of this, they’ve brought in multiple safeguards to help protect the region in more direct ways.

The Tourist Security Battalion has been reinforced and regularly patrols the major tourist spots. Security surveillance has been expanded, and the police have gained access to most private security systems. It is hoped this will lead to quicker and hopefully more preventive measures instead of reactive ones.


As Easter approaches, tourists may read the WSJ and reconsider their trip to the Mexican Caribbean. Still, they should also be aware that they are incredibly safe when they arrive. Making smart choices, avoiding drugs, and enjoying the trip sensibly will allow Cancun and beyond to become the destination it could be. The simple truth is that tourists fuel drug problems, and the more who choose not to, the safer the state becomes for everyone.

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