BY RON SPRENGELER
We were at a conference in Hollywood a few weeks ago, and as we talked with our friends and colleagues, the same question came up a few times. The Baja sounds lovely, but is it safe in Mexico? We have lived in Mexico for about six months now and we have friends in the US who are reluctant to visit because of security concerns, particularly if they are travelling alone. I absolutely understand that individual circumstances shape our concerns and I will readily acknowledge that I am one of those people who generally feels safe travelling in Mexico. After all, I am 6’2”, 200 pounds, I generally travel with my wife or others, and I speak some Spanish, all of which contribute to a less threatening travel experience. That said, folks with different situations have a much different perception about travelling here and I want to examine the facts in a more comprehensive way.
I will start with violent crime since that is the biggest threat and we have all seen the headlines about crime in Mexico. Just a couple of weeks ago, four tourists were kidnapped in a border town and two killed which, of course, made the news everywhere. Our relatives in Germany checked to make sure we were ok, but of course they do the same whenever there is a mass shooting in Colorado. Overall, the murder statistics for Mexico are grim. Mexico has the highest murder rate of any country, and worldwide nine of the ten cities with the highest murder rates are in Mexico. Most of this is fueled by the cartel wars occurring in concentrated areas of the country and for that reason, there are several places in Mexico I would not visit due to safety concerns. But my experience, and that of everyone I know who lives here, is that we live in a safe and peaceful place. So where is the disconnect?
I think that much of it has to do with the vast size of Mexico and our human nature to think that anything we remember easily is common. Baja California Sur, or BCS, is the name of the state that covers the southern half of the Baja peninsula, where the cities of Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz are located, along with many smaller towns and beach communities. Cerritos beach, where we live, is one of these. To give an idea of the size, the kidnapping and murders that I mentioned earlier were in a border town called Matamoros which is 30 miles from South Padre Island, TX. Matamoros is about 1,200 miles from us. Clearly, there is not any relation between that area and us. Another natural advantage that we have is our position at the tip of a 750-mile-long peninsula. This makes controlling land traffic much easier and gives the authorities a real advantage fighting the cartels.
Looking into publicly available crime statistics was illuminating. According to 2021 government statistics, BCS had the lowest violent crime rate in Mexico. That’s great, but how does that compare to the places closer to home? Of course, I looked at Los Angeles first since that got me wondering about the whole thing, and since we recently moved from Denver and have many friends and family there, that was of interest. The standard for reporting is the murder rate per 100,000 people. Here are the published murder rates in 2021 for several locations that I was curious about.
Murder Rate per 100,000 (Highest to Lowest)
Los Angeles 7.1
US Overall 6.9
Canada Overall 2.06
Baja California Sur 1.8
Strictly as a comparison of murder rates, BCS is safer than Canada and much safer than my hometown of Denver! Then I read an article that made me think about this issue differently. After all, I am most concerned about how many US visitors (short or long-term) are killed here. In 2021 there were 75 US citizens murdered in Mexico according to the US State Department. That same year there were 28.8 million US visitors to Mexico. This results in a murder rate of US visitors to Mexico of 0.26 per 100,000. Not a single US city and only one in Canada with a population over 100,000 has a murder rate that low. Only 2 US States and only five countries in the world have lower murder rates!
How do the US State Department Travel Advisories fit into this picture? When you google travel safety to Mexico this is the first thing that comes up. Baja California Sur Mexico gets a rating of 2 on a 1-4 scale. This rating is described as exercise increased caution. BCS specifically says “exercise increased caution due to crime. Criminal activity and violence may occur throughout the state.” We know that the murder rate is very low, so this category would seem to include all manner of theft, scams, bar brawls, etc. The State department does not document its methodology so we don’t know. However, I agree with the instruction to exercise increased caution and, in fact, my wife and I do. We make sure that the gas station attendant zeroes out the pump before they start filling our car. We try not to drive at night, more for the cows that wander onto the road than criminal activity, but it is still just prudent. Since we live here, we rarely visit the tourist areas where scammers and pickpockets would tend to operate and when we do visit them, I am more alert. But with all that said, almost everyone you encounter as a tourist – car rental agent, airport gate agents, immigration — speaks English and are very helpful if you need assistance.
All of this reinforces the sense that I and all our ex-pat friends down here share, that the security situation here is very good, and the violent crime rate is extremely low. High-profile cases involving Americans get a great deal of publicity, giving the impression they are more common than they are, and it is easy to hear a story of what is happening in one part of Mexico and assume it is the same everywhere, but this is simply not the case. Baja California Sur is a safe, beautiful place to live and visit!
What Do Foreign Investors Need To Understand About Baja California Sur, Mexico? (forbes.com)