Citing a security threat, the State Department has closed its consular office in a popular Mexican resort city and warned Americans to “consider this information” before traveling to the area.
The State Department on Wednesday night issued a security alert for Playa del Carmen, a tourist draw on the Caribbean coast, saying the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City had received “credible information” about a threat to the city.
“Effective immediately, U.S. Government employees are prohibited from traveling to Playa del Carmen until further notice,” the security alert states. “The U.S. Consular Agency in Playa del Carmen will be closed until further notice.”
A State Department official did not elaborate on what the threat was.
“Our priority is the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad,” the official, who spoke on background, said Thursday in an email. “We urge all travelers to review our information on travel.state.gov before they travel. We will continue to provide safety and security updates as they become available.”
Meanwhile, officials in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, where Playa del Carmen is located, have insisted that the city is safe. Playa del Carmen's beaches and resorts have typically been a huge attraction for spring break travelers from the United States.
“All tourism and economic activity in Playa del Carmen continues in a normal manner,” the state government said, according to the Associated Press.
In addition, Quintana Roo officials noted that hotel occupancy in Playa del Carmen was at 80 percent and emphasized that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was scheduled to attend a conference in the city on Thursday, the AP reported.
Following the United States' lead, Canada on Thursday also issued a new security alert for Playa del Carmen and urged travelers to “exercise a high degree of caution.”
The advisories come about two weeks after an explosion on a tourist ferry in Playa del Carmen injured 26 people, including at least five U.S. citizens. Mexican authorities are investigating the blast.
Last week, undetonated explosives were discovered on another ferry that, like the first one, shuttled tourists between Playa del Carmen and nearby Cozumel island. Shortly afterward, the U.S. Embassy said its employees were banned from using all tourist ferries on that route until further notice.
While the U.S. alert does not explicitly discourage citizens from traveling to Playa del Carmen, it does tell people to buy travel insurance that specifically covers Mexico and includes medical evacuation insurance.
“Be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution,” the alert states. “Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you need assistance.”
With the consular agency in Playa del Carmen closed, the nearest consulate would be in Merida in the state of Yucatan, about 175 miles to the west.
Earlier this year, the State Department rolled out a new tiered travel advisory system to warn U.S. citizens of potential dangers while traveling abroad. Now, travel advisories range from Level 1 (“exercise normal precautions”) to Level 4 (“do not travel”). Previously, the department had used “travel alerts” for short-term dangers and “travel warnings” for long-term concerns, a distinction that was often confusing.
The State Department official said Wednesday's security alert for Playa del Carmen is different from a travel advisory and is meant to inform U.S. citizens “of specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends and weather events.”
The State Department's travel advisory for Mexico remains at Level 2, which comes with a note to “exercise increased caution.” The state of Quintana Roo also comes with a Level 2 warning.
“According to Government of Mexico statistics, the state experienced an increase in homicide rates compared to the same period in 2016,” the warning for Quintana Roo states. “While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents injuring or killing bystanders have occurred.”