Rampant crime and gang activity in Mexico prompted the U.S. State Department on Wednesday to issue a stringent travel advisory, warning tourists to completely avoid five Mexican states, an advisory level often reserved for nations at war.
The advisory tells Americans "do not travel" to the five Mexican coastal states of Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas.
Turf wars between rival drug cartels have torn apart Tamaulipas, and Sinaloa is home to the cartel of the same name.
The warning for the states, issued Thursday, was raised due to crime.
Criticizing what it describes as a travel warning for the country as a whole based on crime, violence and other statistics that are "not related to the number of incidents that impact foreign visitors", the MTB said, "It is these kinds of facts and context which are relevant to tourists that we believe are still missing and are important to keep in mind when evaluating this and other travel advisories".
"Local law enforcement has limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state", it added, according to the BBC.
While not addressing the latest warnings directly, the government's Mexico Tourism Board said in a statement that "Mexico's major global tourism destinations have been explicitly listed as having no travel restrictions", apparently a reference to major resorts like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Huatulco.
Tamaulipas - located on the USA border - and Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero on the Pacific coast have a level four "do not travel" advisory, marking the highest warning issued by the department.
The country as a whole had a "level 2" rating, which meant US tourists or travelers should "exercise increased caution".
An additional 11 states were slapped with Level 3 warnings, urging Americans to "reconsider travel" there because of crime and gang activity.
While the State Department has long recommended travelers exercise "increased caution" in Mexico in general because of widespread homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery, the new warning elevates the five states to level 4, the highest level of potential danger.
In Jalisco, a Level 3 state that is home to Guadalajara and the Puerto Vallarta resort, there are no stay restrictions on USA government employees.
For Baja California Sur, outlined in yellow - the color code for Level 2 - the State Department suggested travelers "exercise caution in the state capital of La Paz" and said that the state registered its highest homicide rate since 1997. But the travel advisory said there are "no restrictions on US government employees for stays in". Under President Enrique Peña Nieto, overall intentional homicide numbers have declined as much as 30%, according to the Mexican government.