How safe is travel in Mexico? It depends on where you're going.

A new travel warning by the U.S. State Department points out areas of concern in the border towns of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros.

In the past, government alerts frequently took a broad-brush approach, simply advising against travel to a country as a whole. What's different about this warning, issued March 14, after the shooting in Ciudad Juárez of three people with ties to the American consulate, is its level of detail, and the way it targets towns where drug-related violence has been rampant.

As the State Department points out, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, and this isn't likely to change. Nearly a million Americans live in various parts of the country, including retirees and people taking advantage of low-cost medical care there. But tourists should exert common sense precautions, even in beach resorts or historical cities.

The bottom line: If you're planning a vacation to Mexico, heed the State Department's advice: Visit only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where drug dealing might occur.

The State Department's Web site (travel.state.gov) contains some good information aimed at spring-break vacation crowds, but it's useful for anyone planning a trip, especially its summaries of the security situation in some popular destinations.

Here's some of its advice:

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Acapulco

Drug-related violence has been increasing in Acapulco.

Although this violence is not targeted at foreign residents or tourists, U.S. citizens in these areas should be vigilant about their personal safety.

Also, avoid swimming outside the bay area. Several Americans have died while swimming in rough surf at the Revolcadero Beach near Acapulco.

Cabo San Lucas

Beaches on the Pacific side of the Baja California Peninsula at Cabo San Lucas are dangerous due to riptides and rogue waves; hazardous beaches in this area are clearly marked.

Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel

Cancun is a fairly large city, approaching 500,000 inhabitants, with increasing reports of crime. Crimes against persons - such as rape - commonly, but not exclusively, occur at night or in the early morning hours, and often involve alcohol and the nightclub environment. Therefore, it is important to travel in pairs or groups, be aware of surroundings and take precautions.

Matamoros/South Padre Island

The Mexican border cities of Matamoros and Nuevo Progresso are 30 to 45 minutes south of the major spring-break destination of South Padre Island, Texas.

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Travelers to the Mexican border should be especially aware of safety and security concerns due to increased violence in recent years between rival drug-trafficking gangs competing for control of narcotics smuggling routes. While it is unlikely that American visitors would get caught up in this violence, travelers should exercise caution, such as visiting only the well-traveled business and tourism areas of border towns during daylight and early evening hours.

Mazatlan

While the beach town of Mazatlan is a relatively safe place to visit, travelers should use common sense and exercise normal precautions when visiting an unfamiliar location. Avoid walking the streets alone after dark, when petty crimes are much more common.

Beaches can have very strong undertows and rogue waves. Swimmers should obey warning signs placed along the beaches to indicate dangerous ocean conditions.

Nogales/Sonora

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Puerto Penasco, aka "Rocky Point," is in northern Sonora, 60 miles from the U.S. border, and is accessible by car. The majority of accidents that occur at this spring-break destination are caused by people driving under the influence of alcohol. Travelers should exercise particular caution on unpaved roads, especially in beach areas.

Tijuana

Tijuana has one of the busiest land border crossings in the world. The beach towns of Rosarito and Ensenada also attract a large number of tourists. Drinking alcoholic beverages excessively on public streets is prohibited.

Tijuana boasts a large number of pharmacies; to buy any controlled medication (e.g. Valium, Vicodin, morphine, etc.), a prescription from a Mexican federally registered physician is required.

Possession of controlled medications without a Mexican doctor's prescription is a serious crime and can lead to arrest. The prescription must have a seal and a serial number. Under no other circumstances should an individual buy prescription medicines.