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May 22, 2012

Don't Believe the Hype: Mexico Is Safe

A deserted beach on Isla Espiritu Santo (Nathan Borchelt)

The grisly discovery of 49 decapitated bodies in northern Mexico understandably populated national headlines last week. But one very important fact gets lost amid the gore and violence: Parts of Mexico are still perfectly safe.

Two weeks ago—the same time that the gruesome discovery was made just outside of San Pedro—I was in La Paz, Mexico. This gem of a city sits on the southern Baja peninsula, a world away from the drug wars unfolding across Mexico’s northern mainland. In La Paz, as well as throughout Baja Sur, crime is exceptionally low; the murder rate for South Baja is 2.58 per 100,000 people, which is lower than Los Angeles (9.6), Detroit (18.1), and Washington D.C. (24), according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

La Paz also defies another common perception of Mexico. Though it’s only two hours from Cabo San Lucas—a realm of time-shares, congested traffic, and towering, all-inclusive resorts—La Paz embraces an island mentality more akin to the Caribbean than Mexico. Clear coastline rims the city of 200,000, with a long boardwalk—or Malacón—that attracts local families who wander up and down the walkway, playing soccer in the sand, watching the setting sun, and embracing the cool breeze that rolls off the Gulf of California. Kayakers and stand-up paddlers ply the mellow waters, while locals and tourists at the waterfront Bismarkcito restaurant dine on fresh ceviche, fish tacos, and the famed chocolate clams, best eaten from the shell with a spray of fresh lime and a dollop of soy and habañero hot sauce.


A dolphin and mermaid statue, one of the many constructed on La Paz's Malacón (Nathan Borchelt)

The colonial city also serves as a gateway to the Sea of Cortez, one of the best spots for sea kayaking, snorkeling, and diving in North America. Hook up with Fun Baja for a day-trip to UNESCO-listed Isla Espiritu Santo. Snorkel with sea lions, check out bird estuaries, and then retire to the fine-sand beach for fish tacos made from whitefish caught that morning. Post-lunch, try sea kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding over waters alive with puffer fish, crabs, and star fish. On the boat ride back, keep an eye out for frolicking dolphins or migrating whales—a massive pod of dolphins congregated around our boat on the ride back, playing in our boat’s wake with the enthusiasm of puppies.

Simply put, the place exceeded my expectation—and served as a solid reminder that the real Mexico exists far beyond the horrors documented by the headlines.

The chef with Fun Baja prepares fish tacos on Isla Espiritu Santo (Nathan Borchelt)

Flights to La Paz from Los Angeles start around $500, departing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Whale-shark season—when the massive animals can be seen just off the Malacón—starts in November.

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Related Topics: Mexico Travel · Outdoor Adventures · Scuba & Snorkeling · Travel Raves


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Sorry, I can't agree with you. While the murder rate in areas not directly involved with the two warring drug cartels is good in comparison with the worst of US cities, the crimes are so hideous and ghastly they are far worse than a similar crime in the US. Not to mention the numbers in the mass killings, 49, 160, 110, etc. Acapulco has had a number of large scale killing directly involving the tourist world, with the murders of taxi drivers and hotel employees. Unlike Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Southern California you are told to stay in the hotel or resort complex after dark. I believe they do this for a few reasons, being stopped by federal police who will intimidate you into giving them your case supposedly for ambulance service on the highways, intoxicated drivers in Mexico the social stigma for driving drunk isn't amped up as in the US, many trucks and large vehicles have no rear lights which means the potential in running into the back of such a vehicle you cannot see is high at night, their are no shoulders on highways making a micro second of Inattention dangerous if one drifts even a tinny bit. I have never had a problem while staying in the tourist areas of Southern Calif with theft or personal injury and staying in a hotel room all night isn't my idea of fun. Hawaii is also very safe even while wondering late at night on restaurant row along Waikiki Beach. Living in Arizona, I have traveled everywhere in Mexico by car and aircraft to SCUBA dive and enjoy the beach resorts. After two in my group of divers were found a week after being reported missing (San Carlos, Mex) in their burned out car, I changed my mind and now either go to the Caribbean of the South Pacific.

I dived in Mexico las year, it was a great place! Lovely place! If you liked Mexico, then you should try diving in Seychelles! Such an amazing place!

I keep hearing MEXICO "IS" SAFE ... I keep thinking of that tourist bus from a cruise ship that was held up a couple of months ago, The tourists were robbed of their jewelry and other things. The robbers were ARMED Mexican thugs, what ever the variety. When we were in Canucn 1.5yrs ago, our airport shuttle was stopped at a roadblock by the Mexican Army and they spoke to the driver and gave us a good look. Not scared, BUT I can go to MORE safe places. Can I get robbed there? Of course, but less of a chance in MANY OTHER places, as far as I'm concerned.

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