Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department issued a new 2012 state-by-state travel warning and map for visitors to Mexico that details areas of violence but also highlights areas like Mexico City, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Cabo San Lucas that are perfectly safe with no advisories in effect.
The new warning is broader, more detailed, and more alarming than previous versions, but it's important to note that the vast majority of Mexico's popular tourist destinations (with the obvious exception of Tijuana) are not included on the list.
Most resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and areas along major trafficking routes. Furthermore, tourists aren't typically the targets of such crime.
So is it safe to travel to Mexico? Certainly, but you want to choose your destination wisely. Here's a look at five marquee tourist destinations that are not to be written off over safety concerns.
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas resort (creative commons/Ed Yourdon)
Nestled at the very tip of Baja California, Cabo San Lucas has a curious charm. Sure, it's known as a party town where you can toss inhibitions aside and down shots of tequila. Sure, there are more banana boats, parasailors, and kite sailors in the water than can fit. But, all the glitz and glam can be intoxicating. The coastal town of Cabo San Lucas and her milder sister San Jose del Cabo are connected via a 20-mile expanse of megaresorts and gated all-inclusives known as The Corridor. For those that prefer tranquility over tequila, San Jose del Cabo offers low-key shopping, a lively art scene, attractive plazas, and excellent dining.
Valle de Bravo
Valle de Bravo México (creative commons/Guillermo VA)
This idyllic 17th century town is full of whitewashed buildings and red terracotta-tiled rooftops. Just two hours away from the capital, this colonial center sits along the sparkling Lake Avandaro and is the perfect escape from the bustle of Mexico City. The pine groves east of town turn orange each winter as migrating monarch butterflies journey from Canada to escape the cold. Outside of monarch season, tourists flock to Valle de Bravo for paragliding, wakeboarding, mountain biking, and other outdoor pursuits.
Oaxaca: Dancers perform in Oaxaca (REUTERS/ Jorge Luis Plata)
Artists and artisans alike are inspired by Oaxaca's deep-rooted indigenous traditions and by its bright southern light. Its central plaza is one of Mexico's most enchanting spots and the surrounding restaurants serve spicy moles and other mouthwatering local specialties. Oaxaca is fringed by craftsmen villages and major archaeological sites like Monte Alban. The dramatic valley and mountainous landscape provide ample opportunities for horseback riding, mountain climbing, and biking with the region's well-organized tourism department. Though Oaxaca is one of Mexico's poorest states, it's also one of its safest and a true gem of Mexico's south.
Chichen Itza (REUTERS/ Argely Salazar)
If you believe in a popular interpretation of Mayan prophesies we've got less than one year left until the world ends on Dec. 21, 2012. To celebrate the ominous occasion -- and to make a few extra bucks -- Mexican tourism officials have invited travelers to the heart of Mayan country in the Yucatan Peninsula for a year-long countdown to the end of the world. The colonial city of Merida is the ideal spot from which to explore the major Maya archaeological sites like Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Merida has one of the largest historical centers in the Americas and many of the Spanish colonial buildings from its wealthy past remain intact. Accommodations range from elegant downtown inns to fabulously restored haciendas.
The beach at Tulum (creative commons/Javier Hidalgo)
This low-rise, high key ocean strip along the Riviera Maya is where the world's top fashion designers flock each winter. They're joined by high-profile actors and models who revel in the serenity of this luxurious eco-chic Mexican oasis. But it's not all sun tans and saluting the sun. Laid-back and pedestrian-friendly Tulum -- which Italian Vogue called the new Goa -- has plenty of attractions both on and off the beach. You can start your day at a Mayan ruin, go shopping at an unassuming boutique, and end with a sunset walk down the coast. Share a sneak peak of the end of the world with that special someone in this gem of the Mayan heartland.