As spring break nears, the U.S. government is warning Americans to stay out of much of Mexico because of rising drug-cartel violence -- and tells travelers to one of Mexico's most popular beach destinations to stay close to their hotels.
A newly expanded travel warning from the State Department says that U.S. travelers should avoid four entire states, as well as large areas of ten others, most in the north and west of the country.
The most popular destination affected by the warning is Acapulco, where the State Department urged Americans not to travel more than two blocks inland from the boulevard that runs along the popular beaches.
"We strongly advise you to lower your profile and avoid displaying any evidence of wealth that might draw attention," says the warning.
A warning issued last April listed 10 states as areas to avoid, but the State Department said the expanded warning, and stronger language, are a response to a rising level of drug-related violence that has claimed American victims, with crimes including "homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery."
According to the State Department, the number of U.S. citizens reported murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011. The death toll, coupled with the rising number of kidnappings and disappearances in the country, led the Department to take a stronger stance.
In its warning, the U.S. instructs travelers to "defer non-essential travel" to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas, as well as parts or most of Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacan and Nayarit.
"While any loss of life is regrettable," said Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, "figures from both U.S. and Mexican officials clearly show that resort areas and tourist destinations do not generally see the levels of violence experienced in some areas of the border."
"As the same Travel Alert states, millions of Americans travel to Mexico every year for tourism and about 150,000 cross south of the border every single day," said Alday in a statement. "Mexico continues to be the number one foreign tourist destination for U.S. travelers, and home to the largest U.S. expat community in the world, with around 1 million Americans living permanently in Mexico."