Tourists Still Head To Los Cabos Despite Safety And Security Warnings

Sep 1, 2017
Originally published on September 1, 2017 5:39 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Los Cabos, Mexico, took a beating today from Tropical Storm Lydia. The powerful storm made landfall early this morning and killed at least four people, including a baby. It's been a rough year for the popular resort town. It's already been struggling with a dramatic rise in murders, a more-than-200-percent increase over the last year. The violence prompted U.S. officials to issue an unprecedented travel warning for the destination. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, despite the warning and the violence, the tourists keep coming.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: A waiter eggs on the mostly American crowd over a scratchy sound system at the Mango Deck bar on one of Cabo's most popular beaches.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: If you don't know how to count to three in Spanish, here's a free Spanish lesson.

KAHN: The contestants are getting ready for a beer chugging contest.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Let me here you count. (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Diego Castello of San Diego lost, but he says Cabo is awesome. He's aware of the U.S. State Department's warning about the recent violence here and in Mexico's other hot tourist spot, Cancun.

DIEGO CASTELLO: Horrible things happen every place in the world now. You never know when it's your time. But it's just to have fun about it. Just be in Cabo San Lucas. That's top No. 1 destination in Mexico to be right now.

KAHN: Los Cabos tourism officials agree. They say this year they expect to top 2 million visitors, the majority Americans. But with the killings unabated - more than 230 in the first seven months this year - and the travel warning just weeks old, it may be too soon to say how tourism is holding up.

DWIGHT ZAHRINGER: We have had people that have canceled.

KAHN: Dwight Zahringer provides concierge services, including armed drivers and bodyguards, to some of Cabo's more well-off visitors. He says some have expressed concerns, especially after gunmen killed three people last month on a popular beach, forcing tourists to take cover. Though Zahringer, who's from Detroit, says he's not too worried since the attacks aren't targeting tourists. But an incident in March did give him pause. Two severed heads were left in a cooler just blocks from his office at the base of one of Cabo's most exclusive neighborhoods.

ZAHRINGER: It's quite a message. It really is.

KAHN: Cabo's violence erupted last year soon after the leader of the once-dominant Sinaloa cartel, Chapo Guzman, was extradited to the U.S. Now splintered into smaller warring factions, the cartel is also fighting off turf incursions from the Jalisco New Generation gang. In the first seven months of this year, there was nearly a murder a day. Five years ago, there was barely one a month.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)

KAHN: Elias Hernandez is fixing up his mom's gravesite at the Santa Rosa Cemetery high up in the hills, far from the beaches and tourists.

ELIAS HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The whole place filled up since she died two months ago of old age," says Hernandez. Simple wooden crosses sit on crude gravesites leading up to the cemetery's back wall, which is covered in graffiti. Longtime residents say the violence goes deeper than just a turf war. They point to the influx of tens of thousands of workers from around the country filling construction jobs and working in new hotels. Twenty are currently being built. Basic services, schools and social programs can't keep up with the growth. And they say kids are left behind alone and easily lured into the drug trade.

This waiter at a beachfront club who was too scared to give his name says he keeps a close watch on his two kids. He came from Acapulco more than a decade ago to escape the violence there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "There's still time for us here in Cabo so we don't become another Acapulco," he says. "We just need someone to come in here and take control and do it now." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Cabos, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ED SHEERAN SONG, "I SEE FIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.