A Safe Place

Los Cabos residents and regulars respond to safety concerns

When Eve Nova moved to Cabo San Lucas 21 years ago, she was looking for a town to raise her very young children.

Los Cabos was a very different place then: a handful of hotels and resorts, few restaurants, and the population was only a fraction of what it is today. Residents traveled to La Paz for medical services and major purchases like household appliances and furniture. A lot has changed during those 21 years.

Now the beaches are filled with resorts and hotels. There are restaurants that specialize in everything from tacos to Thai, and if you can’t find something to buy in Los Cabos, you must not be trying. But one thing that has not changed, Nova says, is how safe and comfortable she feels in the community. “What makes us so different here is we protect our people, we take care of each other,” she says. “I had car trouble at [the grocery store] the other day, and the people who passed me in the parking lot all asked if there was anything they could do to help. In that sense, we are still a small community. It is a community where Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans can get together. We are not one specific culture, like Mazatlán or México City. And it is safe. That’s why I came here to raise my children and why I am comfortable taking my grandchildren around now.”

Nova, who works in property management and real estate, says she is aware of the image México has in the United States and Canada. “It is all exaggerated,” she says. “If you are looking for bad energy, you can find bad energy. If you are looking to get into trouble, you can get into trouble. But that’s [true] anywhere. This is a very safe place, and I am meeting more and more people who want to move here. Last month, I rented seven properties to people from the United States.”

That doesn’t mean Los Cabos is trouble free. At the end of October, local police and military personnel exchanged gunfire with two armed men in a Cabo San Lucas shopping mall. The two men were quickly taken into custody, and there were no injuries. This was an isolated incident, an aberration.

The violence that is reported heavily in the United States and Canada has to do with the shootings and activity that take place mostly in border towns and on the mainland of México. Los Cabos is far removed from that activity geographically and statistically.

Ricardo García Castro, director of Planning and Tourism Development in Baja California Sur, has strong words about the misconceptions so prevalent in U.S. media. “México is a very large country and the lack of knowledge of geography by the American media makes people [think] an incident in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, affects Los Cabos and Baja California Sur,” he says. “It is like if an incident in New Jersey would affect Florida or Montana.” He adds that Baja California Sur is one of the three safest states in México. “If Los Cabos and La Paz were to be a city in California, it would be in the top five safest cities regarding crime rate,” he says. García Castro notes the recent exchange of gunfire the shopping mall. “[This was] to attack crime in our destination,” he says. “Unfortunately it was very outstanding due to gunfire. However, no civilians or tourists were harmed, and this did not happen in the tourist area.” He also points out that the U.S. State Department has issued no travel warnings for Baja California Sur.

According to numbers released by the Mexican Tourism Ministry, the most recent crime statistics can range wildly. For example, the homicide rate in Chihuahua, located along the U.S. border, was 74 people per 100,000. In other states, including Yucatán, Querétaro, and Baja California Sur, it  ranged from 5 people per 100,000 to none, which is low even by U.S. standards. A report released by the U.S. State Department states that there has not been a U.S. citizen killed in Baja California Sur since 2004.

Carson VeDellaire splits his time between Los Cabos and his permanent home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, Canada. During the course of a typical year, he spends up to seven weeks here, his wife as much as two and a half months. “Downtown Cabo is a lot safer than downtown Toronto,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s paradise, heaven. The stories being reported in the press? They are overexaggerated.”

Barbara and Ron Watt split their time between their condo in San José del Cabo and their home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They started coming here 11 years ago.

“Since we bought our place here, I’ve heard from friends who have concerns,” Ron says. “I tell them, ‘Think of the place where Jennifer Aniston comes to frolic.’ They lump México into one big thing.” Barbara says friends have expressed concerns. “Yes, I’ve heard some things from them, but you know, people get shot there [in Vancouver]. There’s violence everywhere.”

The Rev. Michael Galles and his wife, Laura, came to the area in June 2010, when he became pastor of Cabo English Church, an interdenominational Christian church, which participates in a program called Feeding Los Cabos Kids. “It’s a barrio ministry with seven kitchens up and running,” Galles says. “They are very humble kitchens, but we feed 3,000 mouths a month in very poor areas. We don’t feel threatened at all [when we out into the community]. We take a lot of mission people out there, people who visit our church, who want to help the ­underserved and disadvantaged. The fear is nonexistent.” Galles and his wife moved here from the outskirts of Chicago. “More people died in Chicago in 2010 than in the Afghan War,” he says. “People think all of México is a dangerous place to live. That’s not true at all.”

Enrique Turcott came to Los Cabos 15 years ago from México City. As manager of the Casa Dorada resort, he listens closely to what his customers have to say. He says none have expressed concerns about safety while visiting the area. “One of the problems is that people in America or Canada don’t know the difference between Ciudad Juárez and Cabo,” Turcott says. “Yes, there are some specific cities with problems, but not Cabo.” He says that maybe those coming to the area for the first time might have concerns, or those who travel in groups, but that his customers, for the most part, are frequent visitors who have come to know Los Cabos. “They come here two, three, four times a year,” he says. “They know exactly where Cabo is, and they come back.” He points out that Disney Cruise Line gave the Los Cabos area a vote of confidence by dropping Mazatlán as a port destination and replacing it with Cabo San Lucas. “I talked to some people who work with the Disney cruise,” he says. “They feel really comfortable coming to Cabo. They talk about the weather, the hospitality, the food. They don’t talk about the other stuff. They told me they also get the feedback from their passengers and that they feel really safe in Cabo. Yes, they had some problems in Mazatlán, but that is very far from here.”