Other Safety Concerns: Transportation, the Great Outdoors and Disease
Drug-related violence is often on the top of peoples’ minds when they think of northern Mexico but what about other safety concerns, such as driving, the elements or bug bites?
Driving in Mexico can certainly be a different experience and although I’ve done it I can’t say I was super comfortable with it. In fact, I lived in Playa del Carmen for 6 months and in that time I saw no less than 7 accidents outside my apartment. In Chihuahua I saw at least two.
If renting a vehicle is part of the plan I’d advise caution in the bigger cities and especially around stop signs as people sometimes ignore them. Once on a highway or in small towns, it should be much easier. But beware, speed bumps are overused, often very poorly marked and seem to pop up out of nowhere.
Driving around in the Sierra Madre Mountain range can also be risky due to sharp turns, steep cliffs and rockslides. Sometimes a bus with an experienced driver is just a better option.
Any outdoor activity anywhere in the world entails some risk, so take the usual precautions. Many viewpoints in the Copper Canyon will have areas without fences and just a sheer drop-off. It might make for a fantastic photo but people have fallen to their death doing this so be careful.
The train itself, El Chepe, can also pose a risk if one isn’t careful. Part of what makes the train so amazing is the fact that passengers can hang out of the windows between the cars to take in the views or snap photos. There are signs posted to discourage this but everyone does it and no one says anything. However, be careful and watch for branches that can smack you in the face (it’s happened to me). Hold tight to your camera or phone and personal belongings. And one more thing, don’t fall out.
Animals aren’t much of a safety risk in the Copper Canyon but some are more dangerous than others. Rattlesnakes, Mexican Beaded Lizards (venomous lizard) and scorpions live in the area but will almost always avoid humans when possible. I haven’t heard of any tourists being bitten but if you plan to trek the risk will be a little higher. It’s best to have a guide who knows the area and the wildlife.
Altitude sickness is generally only a risk above 2500 m (8000 ft). The highest town along the Chepe route in the Copper Canyon is around 2350 m (7700 ft) so the risk is very low. Taking acetaminophen or paracetamol (Tylenol) can be effective for mild altitude sickness if it occurs.
At higher altitudes, the suns rays are stronger so sunburns are a greater risk. Always have sunblock on hand for outdoor activities. If planning to swim in any natural bodies of water use biodegradable sunscreen.
Disease, Infection and Parasites
Before travelling it’s always a good idea to visit a travel doctor to discuss vaccines and medication. Hepatitis A and B are often recommended and bringing something along for Travellers’ Diarrhea never hurts. The tap water in Mexico is not potable so you’ll need to buy bottled water throughout your travels.
If you are experiencing bowel issues I’d recommend trying some Yakult. It’s a probiotic drink found in the dairy section of most Mexican grocery stores. It won’t get rid of Travellers’ Diarrhea but it can help speed up the process or minimize the cramps from antibiotics.
Insect transmitted diseases such as Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya are present in Mexico but aren’t considered much of a risk in the Copper Canyon region. Wearing insect repellent in warmer climates is the best way to avoid bites and potential infections.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Malaria is present in Chihuahua and Sinaloa so ask your doctor if medication is recommended. In the winter most places are too cold for mosquitos but El Fuerte stays fairly warm year-round.