Safe Travels in Sensational Mexico

Just in time for spring break, violence along the U.S.-Mexico border has brought a rash of bad press to the popular tourist destination.

But for those still planning a trip to Mexico, the U.S. Consulate in Merida, Mexico, recently released a Web video on how to stay safe, have fun and avoid bringing trouble upon oneself.

"If you're not going to do it at home, think twice about doing it in Mexico," one consulate employee says in the video. "Always stick with a friend. Watch what people put into your drinks."

"It's not a theme park, it's a sovereign country with laws," another reminds travelers.

Likewise, State Department spokesman Robert Wood weighed in from the podium recently, when he declared his love for Mexico and for spring break.

"OK, I'm guilty," Wood conceded. "I have gone down at least once in my life for spring break."

"But look," Wood added. "Mexico is a wonderful place to go and vacation. People just need to, you know, take sensible precautions to protect themselves. I don't have anything more to say on it than that. I mean, it's just using common sense and taking necessary precautions."

President Obama announced this week that he will personally travel to Mexico in April to meet with President Felipe Calderon to discuss curbing the violence, among other issues.

Safe Travel, Diverse Opportunities

If you do go, Mexico offers travelers opportunities to unwind on warm beaches, view art and artisans at work and get off the beaten path. It also offers the chance to learn something new, like languages or cooking skills. A visit to Mexico can fulfill any of these pleasures with the added advantage of being relatively inexpensive to reach, as well as a place where the dollar still goes a long way.

Oaxaca

Oaxaca, Mexico, lures travelers to its cool, shaded plazas, dry mountain air and ruins of empires long past. D.H. Lawrence lived here and chronicled the spectacle of market day, which extends back to pre-Colombian times and continues, to this day, as a riot of color that showcases the local culture of the surrounding indigenous villages.

Foodies are rhapsodic about the 11 different kinds of mole that evolved from the remarkable chocolate made here, and history buffs will obsess over the Zapotec ruins and the technological and intellectual powers they bespeak. Painter Rufino Tamayo, one of the first Mexican artists to use the vivid colors of the villages in his work, was from Oaxaca. Benito Juarez, Mexico's only pure-blooded Indian president, harks from here as well.

Oaxaca's history is told not just through the museums dedicated to these men, but also the charming architecture and nightlife taking place around the zócalo, the city center. For language classes and cultural tours, contact the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca at http://www.icomexico.com/index.php. It can also arrange home stays with local families.

Chiapas

The southern state of Chiapas borders Guatamala, and this mountainous region is rich with Mayan culture and natural beauty. And the dollar goes far in this lesser traveled region.

In the capital city of San Cristobal de las Casas, visit weaving and textile cooperatives like Sna Jolobil, in the Templo de Santo Domingo complex, where handiwork by local artisans are on display and for sale. Another interesting place to visit is the museum of Mayan medicine Maya Medicine Development Center, located at Avenida Salomon Gonzalez Blanco 10. When visiting the beautiful countryside of Chiapas, prepare for jungle, waterfalls and sub-tropical forests where coffee is organically grown. Conservation-minded trips are available through hotels like the Argovia Finca Resort, which offers organic, shade grown coffee plantation tours.

Eating and Drinking in Tepoztlán and Baja

Find the heart of Mexico in Tepoztlán. Dubbed an official "magic village," ancient traditions are still alive and the culinary tradition is an unbroken chain. One hour from Mexico City, the year-round, spring-like climate, with temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees, is always an appealing destination. It's rich in historical pyramids and monuments, like the archeological citadel xochicalco. Every Sunday, the cooking school Cocinar offers a "Taste of Mexico" and women from the village take guests through the markets so they can learn about food, including the important staples of chilis and corn. In an indoor/outdoor kitchen. they learn the art of handmade tortillas and sopes, as well as how to make authentic guacamole, three different salsas and a perfect margarita. Once a year, there are writing workshops with Latina authors such as Sandra Cisneros and Ruth Behar. For more information, visit http://www.cocinarmexicano.com.

Baja Wine Region

Many of Mexico's other most highly regarded boutique wineries are on the Baja Peninsula. This area, termed "The Forgotten Peninsula" by naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch in 1941, used to be visited by Southern Californians to whale watch or eat lobster and fish tacos. Now the wineries, such as Monte Xanic, Casa de Piedra and L.A. Cetto, particularly in the Guadalupe Valley and valley of San Antonio de las Minas, are giving the area chic cache. Here, the vibrancy and warmth that Mexico is known for is combined with natural beauty that has a Mediterranean feel because of the rows olive trees and grape vines planted near an azure sea.

Young chefs are opening restaurants with contemporary cocina alta, or fine dining. Often referred to as "the Chez Panisse of the South," Laja uses local, organic products to create contemporary, high-Mexican cuisine. Chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris opened the innovative wine bar and café Manzanilla, named for a kind of local olive. For more information, visit www.enswine.com.

Vera Cruz

Since Hernán Cortés arrived in the port town of Vera Cruz in the early 1500s, it has been a mélange of conquistadors, pirates, missionaries and traders. In the 1600s, the Spaniards brought slaves from six parts of western Africa. Over time, these groups mixed and melded and now Vera Cruz is known for its jarocho culture, a fusion of people from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean that gives this Mexican city its Caribbean flair. Outside of Brazil, this is the biggest Carnival celebration in Latin America.

Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula is Mexico's most popular travel destination. While more expensive to stay here than most other parts of Mexico because of its northern location, the flights are relatively short and inexpensive. A long weekend might cure the winter blahs and not be so hard on the budget. High-end luxury resorts are competing for guests by adding free extra nights and some, like the stunning Zoetry Pariaso de la Bonita, has become an all-inclusive so you can still enjoy great food and top-shelf wines and liquors without any surprises on the bill. At a new luxury resort, Rosewood Mayakobá, receive a $150 spa credit and a $150 credit for food and drinks during the stay. At the beautiful Maroma Resort and Spa, between May 17 and Dec. 22, visitors stay four nights but only pay for three.

ABC News' Kirit Radia and Kate Barrett contributed to this report.

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