Although the number of U.S. citizens killed in Mexico so far this year is down, the U.S. State Department has again issued a detailed travel warning for visitors to the country.
The state-by-state assessment urges travelers to "defer nonessential travel" to four of Mexico's 31 states — Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas. The department also warns tourists to avoid unnecessary travel to remote towns and border areas in 11 other states, mostly in the northern section of Mexico.
In the state of Coahuila, for example, the travel warning noted that more than 100 prisoners escaped from a prison near the Texas border in September and that they have been involved in "a series of violent incidents since the escape."
The latest travel warning noted that 32 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in the first six months of 2012, compared with 113 in all of 2011.
In a statement, Mexican tourism officials said that so far drug violence is limited to a small percentage of the country's 2,500 municipalities. In addition, protection of tourists "is at the pinnacle of importance to the Mexican government," said Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer for the Mexico Tourism Board.
Criminal violence has been on the rise over the last six years because of a drug war between the Mexican government and various drug cartels.
The U.S. began issuing state-by-state assessments this year in response to criticism from Mexican tourism officials who said the warnings were too generalized.
For years, Mexico has been the top international destination for U.S. travelers. But the number of U.S. visitors to Mexico was flat in 2011 and has declined slightly in the first eight months of 2012, according to federal statistics.
The latest travel warning urged U.S. travelers to be cautious even in popular tourist destinations, including the beach town of Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa. The State Department said travelers to Mazatlan "should exercise extreme caution particularly late at night and in the early morning."