Playa del Carmen, located on the coast facing the island of Cozumel, is Mexico’s leading cruise ship destination. Once a quiet fishing and ferry town, it has grown exponentially in the last two decades, with lower-income neighborhoods springing up on the inland side of the coastal highway.
The resort is midway between Cancún, to the north, and Tulum, to the south, in the coastal state of Quintana Roo, which has seen homicides more than double in the past year, with 688 killings in the first 11 months of 2018, compared to 322 in the same period of 2017.
At that rate, Quintana Roo could end 2018 with a homicide rate of about 50 for every 100,000, on a par with El Salvador.
The Caribbean coast – especially Cancún and the area south known as the Riviera Maya – had long been largely spared the drug violence affecting other areas, but that no longer appears to be the case. Local sources report that the feared Jalisco New Generation cartel has moved into the region, disputing control with local gangs.
In September, two Mexican marines were found stabbed to death in Cancún. In a single day in August, police found eight bodies strewn on the streets of Cancún.
In January 2017, gunmen attacked the state prosecutors’ office in Cancun, killing four people. A day before that, a shooting at the BPM electronic music festival in Playa del Carmen left three foreigners and two Mexicans dead.
The US embassy in Mexico issued a brief travel warning for Playa del Carmen in March. A February 2018 blast on a ferry apparently caused by an explosive device injured 26 people, including several American citizens.
That has sparked fears that the Caribbean resorts could come to resemble the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco. The bloody violence in Acapulco that flared in 2006 eventually earned it a level-four “do not travel” warning from the US Department of State.
Still, violence in Playa del Carmen is still far from Acapulco levels. In 2017, Acapulco had a homicide rate of 103 for every 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in Mexico and the world.