DISCLAIMER: The following is the opinion of one person and is not the product of any governmental agency. Thus it is probably better.
1) US State Department: In years past we have been bombarded by grossly all-encompassing travel advisories by the US State Department that paints all of Mexico the same. The same blanket mindset by the US CDC advised people not to travel to the Riviera Maya region during the Swine Flu hysteria when it was not a concern there.
Recently the US State Department has modified their Mexico travel advisories to a more regional assessment. They are to complimented for this change. The advisory for Mexico is here:
You have to scroll near the bottom to get info on the Yucatan area of Quintana Roo. The current wording is copied here from that site:
“Quintana Roo: Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Tulum are the major cities/travel destinations in Quintana Roo -see map (PDF, 286 kb) to identify their exact locations: No advisory is in effect. (emphasis added).”
So no advisory is in effect. This does not mean that a visitor should not take normal precautions as they would at home, but paranoid fear of the area is unwarranted.
As a traveler to the area, I agree with that. My trips are mainly to Cozumel but I do fly into the Cancun airport. I have stayed in Cancun, made short trips there, to Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, day trips to Ek Balam, Coba, Tulum and other area attractions like Xplor, Selvatica, Hidden Worlds and several cenotes in the Tulum area.
2) Texas DPS Spring Break Warning: The following seems to be a way to get college kids to go to Texas (South Padre Island) instead of Cancun or other Riviera Maya locations. My opinion is that this “warning” is self-serving to Texas tourism, grossly general compared to the US State Department advisory and poor judgement by the Texas officials who approved it.
3) Armed Military: You are likely to see armed (machine gun) military personnel more so than in the USA but it is a normal sight in this area. They are not there to intimidate you so do not let their presence scare you.
4) Rental Cars: There are problems that you need to be aware of. Should you rent a vehicle, there are some reports of being charged for bogus vehicle damage. Try to minimize that chance by choosing a reputable agency and document with photos and agency paperwork any damage, however minor, or missing car equipment.
Two potential big issues are gas station scams and police extortion. Go to the Top Question section of the Playa del Carmen forum and read up on these matters. Here is a recent example of a person who knew of the police extortion and how he was not victimized while remaining civil and non-confrontational:
Your other option is using the excellent bus system or excursion provided transportation.
5) Sunburn: For some people, sunburn is a real, but preventable hazard. This is not rocket science. Be cautious.
6) Timeshares: For many, the following will serve you well:
Just say NO to timeshares
7) Drinking: After several years of reading about a few serious problems in Mexico, excessive drinking seems to be a possible factor in many of these events. Take appropriate actions to keep at least one person sober and in control of traveling companions who consume too much and these problems will be few and far between.
8) Attitude: Go to the area with a good attitude. Don’t treat the people working there as your servant. The local people you will encounter are most likely among the nicest you will meet anywhere. Don’t whine about minor inconveniences. There are differences between Mexican hotels and tourist attraction and where you live. If you cannot accept or adapt to those differences, perhaps a trip to Walt Disney World is a better choice for you.