Mexico’s Yucatan beaches provide a scenic backdrop for an ugly reality of kidnappings, gun violence and other crimes, with U.S. officials warning American travelers to be on their toes as they hit the sand.
The attorney general in Mexico’s waterfront Quintana Roo state announced an investigation last week into an alleged kidnapping and machete attack against a Utah dad visiting Cancun with his wife for Valentine’s Day.
Dustan Jackson, a 36-year-old contractor from Salt Lake City, told Fox News Digital Thursday that he wanted to pick up some chewing tobacco before his flight home from Cancun and called a cab. As a result, he said, he spent months in and out of the hospital, underwent multiple surgeries and suffered permanent nerve damage in his left arm.
He said the driver pulled up to a grocery store around 10 a.m. on Feb. 12, and he got out to get a tin. Then: "Bam!"
He blacked out and woke up after sundown, he said, with broken front teeth, a welt on his head and machete wounds up and down the left side of his body. The attackers took his cellphone and credit card, and he spent hours bleeding and looking for help before he said a police officer bandaged him up and drove him to the airport.
Jackson said he was not sure why the officer drove him to the airport instead of a hospital.
"She put a few bandages on me, why didn’t she take me to the hospital, I don’t know," he said. "Some of the horror stories I’ve heard, I’m glad that [she] didn’t, because I could have been stuck down there. Who knows?"
Once at the airport, he begged strangers for help until someone who spoke English called his wife for him and helped set him up in a hotel overnight and arrange a trip back to the U.S.
Police in Cancun’s tourist district and at the airport separately told Fox News Digital they had no record of the attack or of interactions with Jackson, but prosecutors confirmed last week they were launching an investigation. A State Department official also said the U.S. government was aware of the allegations and prepared to assist.
Quintana Roo, which includes tourist hotspots like Cancun, Tulum, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, is far from Mexico’s most dangerous area, statistically speaking. However, the State Department warns that Americans visiting the region should "exercise increased caution" due to crime and kidnapping.
"Criminal activity and violence may occur in any location, at any time, including in popular tourist destinations," the State Department warns. "Travelers should maintain a high level of situational awareness, avoid areas where illicit activities occur, and promptly depart from potentially dangerous situations. U.S. citizens and [lawful permanent residents] have been victims of kidnapping."
As post-pandemic travel restrictions have wound down, alarming incidents in some of Mexico’s most desirable vacation beaches have shocked travelers.
Nine days after Jackson said he was attacked, a shooting in Tulum left two men dead and another wounded at the waterfront Art Beach Restaurant.
A cartel gunbattle in Cancun last December resulted in no injuries but left guests fleeing an all-inclusive beach-side resort in a panic. Gunmen on personal watercrafts jetted up to the shore near Grand Ocean Palm resorts and opened fire on rival drug dealers.
Quintana Roo’s police chief at the time said the suspects were dressed up as soldiers.
Just a month prior, another shootout left two other suspected dealers dead at the Hyatt Riviera Cancun nearby. No tourists were "seriously injured" in the crossfire, authorities said.
Additionly, in October 2021, a California woman and another from Germany were struck and killed by stray bullets in Tulum, also a Quintana Roo resort town, in the crossfire of a gang shootout. Three other additional European tourists were injured.
The violence prompted Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to deploy 1,500 members of the country’s National Guard to patrol the beaches.
The State Department in August issued a series of travel warnings for different parts of Mexico.
"Violent crime – such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery – is widespread and common in Mexico," officials warned. "The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas."
Recommendations additional urge Americans to completely avoid six of the country’s 31 states: Sinaloa, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Kidnappings are plaguing all of those except for Guerrero, according to authorities.
Other Mexican regions where kidnappings are prevalent include Baja California, Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Sonora, Nuevo Leon, Puebla and San Luis Potosi.
David Unsworth and The Associated Press contributed to this report.