Safe and Secure Los Cabos

What does the latest U.S. State Department travel warning mean for Los Cabos visitors?

By Chris sands

Isn’t it dangerous down there? It’s an innocent question, but one those of us who live here are tired of hearing.

The Baja Peninsula, and more specifically this state of Baja California Sur, is home to a lot—and we do mean a lot—of U.S. and Canadian expatriates. Many chose to retire here because of the region’s winning combination of natural beauty and excellent quality of life; safety and affordable medical care figure heavily.

Tourists continue to flock to Los Cabos in high numbers. Pictured: Two cruise ships harbor in the Cabo San Lucas Bay, as visitors enjoy Médano Beach

As a former U.S. resident, I’m more likely to associate the word danger with places like New Orleans or Detroit than with Los Cabos. But I understand my words may hold less sway now that the U.S. State Department has issued its most recent travel warning, the first to mention Baja California Sur.

It reads: “Baja California (Sur): Cabo San Lucas and La Paz are major cities/travel destinations in the state of Southern Baja California – Exercise caution in the state capital of La Paz. According to the Department of Interior of Mexico, in 2013 Baja California Sur registered its highest homicide rate since 1997. Many of these homicides occurred in La Paz, where there has been an increase in organized crime-related violence.”

This latest warning raises several questions. What does this mean for Los Cabos? Is this a good time to visit? Do we need to take extra steps to protect ourselves? Is it safe to go to La Paz?

Let’s tackle the last question first. Rafael Peña is a spokesman for the Baja California Sur Tourism Board. He says, “The violence perpetrated by two small groups was a very rare occurrence in La Paz, something that has never happened in 25 years. [It] has been contained by our local peace officers and the district attorney’s office. Nothing like that had ever happened here, and when it did, no tourist was affected and everything has since returned to normal.

“The city is still completely safe and family friendly. In truth, it’s terrible that such an incident made unwarranted noise and put our tranquil and peaceful city in a bad light for a few weeks. In collaboration with the secretary of tourism, we have enjoyed a return to what has made La Paz a wonderful attraction for every one of our visitors who come to enjoy whale watching season, Isla Espíritu Santo, and Balandra Beach, just to name a few.”

And now the other questions; what does this mean for Los Cabos? Is this a good time to visit?

A big part of Los Cabos’ appeal is its isolation. Set at the southernmost part of the of the Baja Peninsula, Los Cabos is a 1,000-mile drive from the U.S. border, and it’s separated from mainland México by the Sea of Cortés. As such it has been blessedly untouched by the drug-related violence that has scarred many areas of the country.

But let’s be even more clear: Although U.S. media reports tend to paint México with a broad brush, the country’s drug-related trouble pockets are primarily located along the border, at entry points to the United States, or along well-traveled drug distribution routes.

Because of checkpoints throughout the length of the peninsula and Pacific Coast interdiction efforts by the Mexican Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, the state of Baja California Sur qualifies as neither.

Despite the unfortunate occurrences in La Paz, there is not now, and in fact never has been, a bad time to visit Los Cabos. The state’s beaches are as beautiful as ever, new layouts from Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have added to the region’s swelling ranks of world-class golf courses (see more about this on page 42), and luxury resorts and amenities continue to proliferate, with new properties from the Auberge, Hard Rock, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Starwood hotel groups expected to open in coming years.

Do we need to take extra steps to protect ourselves? The first thing you should know is that Los Cabos deeply values its status as one of North America’s premier vacation destinations, and it has independently taken steps to ensure your safety. Foremost among these proactive measures are specially trained, bilingual Tourist Police stationed throughout heavily trafficked tourist areas.

Playa Las Viudas, Widow's Beach, Cabo San Lucas
Playa Chileno (Chileno Beach) is a favorite stretch of sand for tourists and locals.

Of course, no place is perfect. And despite Los Cabos’ standing as one of safest areas in the country—and, anecdotally, I will say it is the safest place I have ever lived, including the small town in Indiana where I grew up—there is crime, the most common of which is minor theft.

So as a visitor to Los Cabos, you should exercise the same precautions you would anywhere: Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t advertise affluence with flashy clothing or jewelry. Leave your valuables in the hotel safe. Don’t overindulge in alcohol. And be particularly careful after dark.

But the most important advice is this: Don’t let worries about safety detract from what should be a wonderful vacation. Odds are the worst that could happen is a bad sunburn and a wicked tequila hangover. And there’s no crime in that.

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