I’ll never forget my first taste of violence in Latin America.
Spending some time in a city prominently featured on the world’s most dangerous cities list, I decided to head down to the park at dusk.
A brutal hangover had set in from the night before and another night of boozing was on the horizon. A little exercise was needed to get the blood flowing. I wanted to do a few pull-ups and push-ups.
Sadly, that never happened.
Before I knew it, five guys with prison-style shanks had my buddy and I surrounded in front of a soccer goal at the park. They were yelling in Spanish and I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on.
Apparently, they wanted cell phones and wallets but ended up settling for basketball shorts and sneakers.
We weren’t smart enough to stay inside at night while visiting San Salvador, but at least we knew enough to leave the smartphones back at the hotel.
Once back in the hotel, I vowed never to visit another place prominently featured on the world’s most dangerous city list.
Then the 2018 edition came out.
Fake News! Why the World’s Most Dangerous Cities List is Pure Propaganda
When I first saw the list, I couldn’t help but laugh. I began scanning the 50 cities for places I’d been and recalling interesting encounters and experiences.
But my eyes kept darting back to the #1 spot…
Los Cabos, Mexico is the most dangerous city in the world.
That can’t be right. Los Cabos, Mexico is home to Cabo San Lucas, a well-known vacation spot for Americans and Canadians.
Nearly two million tourists visit Los Cabos every single year!
Why on earth would tourists frequent the most dangerous city in the world? That just doesn’t make sense to me.
I’m damn near an abject degenerate with a taste for adventure, but I’m not planning to head back to any of the top-10 most dangerous cities in the world anytime soon, especially after my experiences in San Salvador.
Why would someone knowingly bring their families to the most dangerous city in the world?
Well, some wouldn’t. And they haven’t been coming to Cabo nearly as much. Tourism has plummeted in Cabo San Lucas over the last six months.
First, the U.S. State Department issued a warning telling tourists to stay clear of the region. Overnight the city lost nearly 20% of their tourism dollars.
Nearly 35,000 hotel room nights were canceled after the warning was issued (Source).
Next thing you knew, the world’s most dangerous cities list claimed Los Cabos was the most dangerous city in the world.
It’s not hard to surmise tourism is about to plummet even further in the area. What once was expected to completely replace Mazatlan, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta – may now be replaced, too.
But, is Los Cabos actually the most dangerous city in the world? Without even visiting, I want to state this clearly…
While there’s a multitude of reasons why, they’re practically irrelevant. You only need to know one thing when assessing the actual threat of danger in Los Cabos compared to other vacation spots.
Anywhere White Women Go Isn’t That Dangerous
I said it. Not even hating, but anywhere that American white women go on vacation in droves just isn’t that dangerous. It just can’t be.
Don’t believe me. That’s fine. You don’t have to.
But do this for me…
Get on Instagram and type into “Cabo San Lucas” into the location filter. Then scroll through the photos.
Who is traveling in Los Cabos right now? White women. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them, all taking weekend or week-long trips to the beach in Los Cabos to snap Instagram selfies.
If the blonde California bombshell who can’t speak a lick of Spanish stays safe while getting “white girl wasted” all week in Cabo, then I’m forced to believe this isn’t actually the most dangerous city in the world.
Sure, it’s anecdotal, but you won’t see any “white girl wasted-ness” on Instagram in cities like Caracas, Venezuela.
Gang Violence Vs. Being a Target
The situation in Mexico seems to be getting worse with each passing year. Ever since El Chapo was taken out, the various drug cartels have been at war with one and other.
Things have spiraled out of hand and many tourists and digital nomads alike have begun avoiding the country, especially certain areas.
But is Mexico really that dangerous for the average gringo looking to enjoy a little fun in the sun?
I’d suspect not and I’ve put my money where my mouth is. I’ll be traveling Mexico’s Pacific coast for the better part of 2018.
Why? Because after spending time in a number of cities on this list, I understand there’s a difference between gang members killing each other in certain areas and criminals targeting tourists and locals throughout the whole city.
The vast majority of crime in Mexico seems to be cartel on cartel violence. While there have been times when the crime has spilled over into tourist areas, the country generally does a good job of keeping things separated.
While we Americans hear about problems in Mexico all the time, it must be noted that nearly 35 million foreign tourists visit the country every year (Source).
That’s over five times more than any other country in Latin America! The reason we hear about all the issues in Mexico more than anywhere else is proximity and sheer numbers.
More Americans go to Mexico than anywhere else. Plus, Mexico has 12 cities on the list. So, the concerns many have are warranted.
But crime against tourists doesn’t seem to be increasing in Mexico. The vast majority of the crime is still drug war violence between the cartels.
This is different from other areas on the list. From what I’ve heard, places in Venezuela and Brazil do a far worse job of separating drug violence and normal civilian life.
Cuando somos pandilleros, no hay ninguna problemas de la criminalidad.
Peace in the Middle East and Africa?
The world’s most dangerous cities list excludes war zones, which makes it a little more difficult to compare and contrast areas.
It was also created by a group called Seguridad, Justicia, y Paz in Mexico.
This means the researchers do a far better job of combing through murder rates and statistics in Latin America, as their native language is Spanish.
What does this mean for intrepid travelers? Well, it basically means that violence levels in Latin America will be more accurately reported than other regions around the world, especially Africa and the Middle East.
Yeah, that’s common sense. I get it.
While Venezuela is essentially a war zone these days, most cities in Latin America are still quite livable, even if they made the list.
For example, you’re far better off living in Cali, Colombia or Mazatlan, Mexico than you would be in a number of African countries that didn’t make the list.
I’m confident many cities that made the list are safer than African countries like Somalia, Libya, Congo, and more (Source).
Furthermore, you’re far better off in Latin America than many a city in Iraq or Syria. Sure, many of these places are war zones.
But these places have been war zones for going on a decade. At a certain point, it’s no longer a war zone and just how life is in certain places.
My point? While Latin America is overwhelmingly featured on this list, hold 42 out of the top 50 spots, that doesn’t necessarily mean the region is the worst in the world.
It means the statistics are actually getting reported in many Latin American countries, like Mexico and Brazil.
Sure, there’s danger in many Latin American locales, but it’s also pretty easy to spot and stay away from in my experiences.
Interesting Tidbits For Travelers in Latin America
For Latin American traveler junkies, the list brings some interesting tidbits of information. I anxiously began scanning the interwebs after looking at the world’s most dangerous cities list for 2018.
It seems a few spots I had my eyes on may have opened up. Plus, I noticed a few other things:
Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico Dominate
And not in a good way, either! It’s clear that Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico are the three most dangerous countries in the regions – and it’s not even close elsewhere.
Brazil seems to be in a downward spiral. Home to the most cities on the world’s most dangerous cities list with 16 places, Brazil has become more and more dangerous the last few years thanks to economic problems and political scandals.
Things seem to have gotten especially bad in northern Brazil, although I’m not sure why.
Mexico comes in at the second spot here with 12 cities on the list. Nearly all of Mexico’s violence is centered around drug smuggling routes in along the Pacific coast and near the border with the U.S.A.
Venezuela only has five cities on the list, however, that’s not entirely accurate. The situation has gotten so dire in Venezuela that most places aren’t reporting murder statistics any longer.
Even the crime rates from Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, should be taken with a grain of salt. Most consider Caracas to be the most dangerous and violent city in the world that’s not a war zone.
Colombia Cleaned Up Its Act
With only three cities on the list, Colombia has seemingly cleaned up its act as of late. Medellin, Colombia isn’t even on the list any longer and it used to be the most dangerous city in the world.
Cali, Colombia and it’s suburb of Palmira did make the list, but I can personally attest to improving safety levels in Cali after spending a few months there last year.
Just a gringo in the mean streets of Cali, Colombia.
Most of the crime in Cali, Colombia is restricted to certain barrios. If you stay in nicer neighborhoods like Granada or El Penon, you shouldn’t have any issues in this city. Knock on wood, but I certainly didn’t. – P.S: Read more here:
Is Colombia Dangerous?
Getting Drugged in Colombia: Is Scopolamine a Real Danger?
In a surpirsing turn of events, Honduras may be improving. The country used to feature two of the top-5 most dangerous cities in the world year-in and year-out, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
Both cities have become markedly safer over the last year, as they come in at numbers 35 and 36 respectively on this list.
What’s caused the change in Honduras?
Apparently, the President invested large sums of money (much of it U.S. aid dollars) into a maximum security prison that gangs couldn’t break in and out of. He then began rounding up the worse criminals in Honduras and throwing them into this maximum security prison.
In a matter of months, the country’s murder rates were seemingly cut in half. Now, that’s second-hand knowledge on my part. Don’t judge me.
But if the stats are true, then they seem to speak for themselves. Honduras is becoming safer and safer with each passing year.
If the trend improves, I’ll be headed to Honduras sometime soon to check out some Mayan Ruins and do a little pioneering.
It’s always surprising to see Caribbean cities make the list. Cut off from drug running routes, you wouldn’t expect these small island nations to have huge violent crime problems.
But things seem to be getting worse. Kingston, Jamaica is rapidly rising on the world most dangerous cities list.
Coming in at number 16 this year, Kingston seems to one of the more dangerous cities on the list for tourists. From my perspective, this isn’t a Los Cabos situation – where the tourists are shielded from the actual violence. Kingston can get dangerous quick.
San Juan, Puerto Rico also made an appearance on the list for the first time in recent memory. The hurricane issues may have something to do with it, or the country’s economic struggles have started to take a toll on safety.
Fake News! Why the World’s Most Dangerous Cities List is Pure Propaganda
Alright, so pure propaganda might be a little strong. But there’s no denying a few things about this list just aren’t right.
Sure, Latin America is decidedly more dangerous than many places in the U.S. and Europe, but Cabo San Lucas is not the most dangerous city in the world.
Point. Blank. Period.
It’s just not. I strongly believe tourists can still visit Los Cabos without any issues in 2018.
Furthermore, I’d be willing to bet my life that you’re far safer in many Latin American countries and cities on this list than you’d be in a number of countries in Africa and the Middle East.
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