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Travelers to Mexico have no doubt heard about the country's violent cartels. Here, Global Guardian breaks down the infamous CJNG cartel and the actual threat they pose to safety, as well as where they are most dangerous.

BY Michael Ballard, Director of Intelligence


For decades, the safety of Mexican citizens and visitors to Mexico has been jeopardized by the violence and coercion of warring drug cartels and gangs. While media portrayals sometimes sensationalize the threat, the reality is that cartels in Mexico are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, abductions, and other heinous crimes, making the country one of the world's most dangerous. In recent years, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, known in English as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, has gained notoriety as a powerful and aggressive force in Mexico.

The CJNG first came to power in Mexico in the late 2000s, originally as an offshoot of the Sinaloa Cartel. The CJNG is known for its aggressive tactics and willingness to engage in violent confrontations with both Mexican security forces and rival cartels.

While tourists are rarely the target of cartel attention, travelers to Mexico should be aware of areas where the CJNG and other cartels operate and the risks they pose to general safety. Cartel conflicts can lead to collateral damage in public, and the involvement of cartels in organized crime can have broader impacts on seemingly peaceful communities. For these reasons, travelers must know specific risks associated with certain regions, stay informed through reliable sources, and adopt responsible tourism practices.

background: WHERE DID THE Jalisco New Generation Cartel COME FROM? 

The CJNG originally emerged around 2009-2010 as the armed faction of the Sinaloa Cartel. The group was initially formed to counter rivals like Los Zetas, as well as to safeguard Sinaloa's interests. Founded by individuals including Erick Valencia Salazar ("El 85"), the group is currently led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho," who is currently one of the U.S. DEA's most wanted with a $10 million reward for his capture.

The CJNG gained infamy in 2011 with the Veracruz Massacre, a gruesome event displaying 35 bodies of members of Los Zetas, signaling their presence and intent to "purify" the state. In 2014, the CJNG separated from the Sinaloa Cartel, a move influenced by the Milenio Cartel's fragmentation. Operating independently, the CJNG initiated conflicts with major cartels across Mexico, including former allies in the Sinaloa Cartel, leading to widespread violence and fatalities in states like Jalisco, Colima, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, and Michoacán.

This separation marked a turning point as the CJNG adopted a more confrontational approach. The CJNG's expansion and engagement in territorial disputes contributed to a significant escalation of violence in regions where they operated. This shift from alliance to confrontation reshaped the dynamics of Mexico's cartel landscape, marking the CJNG as a formidable and independent force in the country's ongoing struggle with organized crime.


Under the leadership of "El Mencho," the CJNG has undergone rapid growth, expanding its presence to at least 27 of Mexico's 32 states with allies nationwide. Ongoing conflicts include battles with the Sinaloa cartel for control of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, and clashes with Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel factions in central Mexico. The CJNG maintains a strong foothold in numerous states, including Jalisco, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Guanajuato, and others.

While primarily involved in drug trafficking, especially methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin, the cartel diversifies its criminal activities, engaging in extortion, kidnapping, illegal mining, logging, and fuel siphoning. Controlling key ports like Veracruz, Manzanillo, and Lázaro Cardenas, the CJNG oversees both the export of illicit goods and the import of precursor chemicals from Asia, crucial for manufacturing fentanyl and other synthetics.

Map of CJNG Presence in Mexico

Map of Mexico showing the presence of the CJNG cartel in different regions.


The CJNG has risen to prominence through its extreme and public use of violence, including public executions, displaying mutilated bodies of its enemies on streets and hanging from bridges, sharing killings on social media, and using “narcomantas” (narco messages) threats to intimidate local populations. This approach helped the CJNG earn a reputation as one of the deadliest cartels in Mexico.

The cartel has also become known for their use of high-powered weaponry, and direct confrontations with Mexican security forces.

Examples of CJNG Tactics Violence

Below are just some of the most notable examples of how the CJNG has wielded its power and capacity for violence and terror in different parts of Mexico:

  • Ambush of Police in Michoacán (2015): In one of the deadliest attacks against Mexican security forces, members of the CJNG ambushed a convoy of state police in Michoacán, killing 15 police officers and wounding five others. This attack underscored the cartel's firepower and willingness to directly confront state authorities.
  • Siege of Guadalajara (2015): The CJNG laid siege to Guadalajara by setting up dozens of narco-blockades (including hijacked buses and tractor-trailers set on fire) and shooting down a Mexican military helicopter in one of the most extraordinary attacks on security forces.
  • Guadalajara Assassination Attempt (2018): The CJNG was blamed for an assassination attempt in Guadalajara against the former state prosecutor and labor secretary, Luis Carlos Nájera. Gunmen attacked a restaurant where Nájera was dining, leading to a shootout in one of the city's busiest areas.
  • Uruapan Massacre (2019): The CJNG entered Uruapan, Michoacan and killed 19 members of Los Viagras as the fight over avocado and lime farmer extortion expanded.
  • Attack on Mexico City Police Chief (2020): In a brazen attack in an upscale neighborhood of Mexico City, gunmen ambushed the city's police chief, Omar García Harfuch, resulting in multiple deaths

Risks to Travelers and Civilians from Cartel Violence 

In general, cartels do not target tourists in Mexico. The CJNG, like other organized criminal groups in Mexico, typically avoids targeting foreign tourists, particularly Americans due to the massive amount of attention such actions draw from both the Mexican government and American DEA and FBI. They are not looking or increased scrutiny, especially when their leader is already the most wanted man by the DEA.

Considering the CJNG’s capacity for public violence against security forces, there is the possibility that a tourist could be caught in the crossfire or otherwise be in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” In the cartel’s strongholds of Jalisco, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, and Guanajuato, travelers should exercise extreme caution. This includes avoiding areas known for cartel activity altogether, limiting travel at night, choosing reputable accommodations and well-trained private drivers, and staying informed of travel advisories.

People living in CJNG-controlled regions face the most danger, as the CJNG is known for terrorizing civilian populations in areas it both controls and seeks to control. According to ACLED, since 2018, violence targeting civilians represents a significant share – about a third – of the CJNG and affiliates’ attributed violence. About 47% of violence involving the CJNG and affiliates consists of clashes with other armed groups, representing the largest share of their reported activity. Clashes with security forces account for about 17% of the group’s activity.

Safety Tips for Travelers in CJNG Cartel Hot Spots

Traveling in areas associated with the CJNG requires awareness and precautionary measures due to the security risks posed by cartel activities. While these regions might have scenic landscapes and rich cultural experiences to offer, it's essential for travelers to prioritize safety. The following safety tips are designed to help individuals navigate CJNG cartel hot spots responsibly:

  • Understand the risks: Before traveling, research the current safety situation in the area. Look for travel advisories from your government or international bodies.
  • Learn about safe zones: Identify safer areas for tourists and areas that are best avoided. Use Global Guardian’s Mexico travel advisory map to help identify these areas.
  • Use reliable sources: Follow local news channels, reputable international news outlets, and official government communications for updates.
  • Know your emergency contacts: Have a list of emergency contacts, including local police, your country's embassy or consulate, and emergency medical services.
  • Identify hotspots: Be aware of specific towns, cities, or regions known for cartel activity or high crime rates.
  • Plan routes carefully: When traveling, choose routes that avoid these high-risk areas, particularly at night. Consult with local authorities or travel experts if necessary.
  • Hire local guides and use reputable services: A knowledgeable local guide or security-trained driver and agent can provide insights into safe areas and help navigate unfamiliar places.

Government Travel Advisories from the U.S. and Mexico 

If traveling in Mexico, you can lean on the resources and assistance of the U.S. Department of State, which maintains an active travel advisory for Mexico that is broken down by state. Many of the states where the CJNG operates are listed as Do Not Travel destinations by the U.S. State Department, including;

  • Colima
  • Guerrero
  • Michoacan
  • Zacatecas

Others are listed under the Reconsider Travel section, including;

  • Jalisco
  • Guanajuato
  • Baja California

The U.S. State Department travel advisory for Mexico can be found here. Individual embassy and consulate pages are also available. You can also register your travel in Mexico with the State Department (STEP), which is important in the event of a natural disaster, serious conflict, or other significant incident that may require emergency or diplomatic assistance.

During emergencies, accessing assistance from U.S. government services might pose challenges. For those planning to travel to regions controlled by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, taking proactive steps to engage security services is advisable. Consider establishing a dedicated point of contact with a reputable security services firm like Global Guardian, equipped with a 24/7 Operations Center ready to provide aid in case of an emergency. Your safety is paramount, and having such support can be crucial during unpredictable circumstances.

StandinG By to Support

The Global Guardian team is standing by to support your security and medical requirements when traveling to and staying in Mexico, including:

  • Duty of Care Membership
  • Custom Intelligence
  • Executive Protection and Transportation
  • Air Ambulance Medical Evacuation

To learn more about our pre-trip and crisis response services, complete the form below or call us at + 1 (703) 566-9463.

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