Recently a friend who follows our blog asked in the Comments Section about safety in Mexico. He had noticed that in the pictures I posted of Mazatlan, every home had bars on the windows and doors. It is true, it's not just in big cities like Mazatlan, but virtually every home I have seen in Mexico has had bars on the windows and the doors. Mexico being Mexico, the bars are usually very beautiful, ornate hand-wrought iron, but still there are bars. At first, it unnerved me since I too imagined the lawlessness that must exist to make this necessary, since in America only homes in very poor areas in large cities tend to have bars on the windows and doors.
However, I think there is more to it. It's hot in much of Mexico through most of the year, and many homes do not even have glass in their window openings, they simply have wooden shutters to cover their windows. Many homes do not have air conditioning. People often leave their doors and window shutters open all day and night to keep the air circulating. The iron bars let air circulate and keep people and large animals out. They also keep little children in. Also, many of the homes in cities and towns are built directly against the sidewalk with no "front yard" or space to create a barrier to people passing on the sidewalk, so the bars add that sense. So I think the bars offer more than security, though that is a primary good.
When people think about safety in Mexico now, the images in their heads are from the extreme violence caused by Mexico's war against the drug cartels. It is getting bloodier and bloodier but so far it is affecting only a small segment of the population in certain areas. The Mex-Am border and large cities on the mainland are the most dangerous areas to be in. I was reading through the BBC news and in this article it mentions that of the 34,000+ murders in Mexico related to the drug wars, 89% are drug cartel members killed in turf wars. That 11% is still a lot of innocent lives being lost, but they tend to be the police officers and officials fighting the cartels. The fact of the matter is the Average Joe has little to worry about. I think that the same advice that keeps someone safe in America will do the same down here - do not buy, sell or use drugs, do not hang out with people who buy/sell/use drugs, do not wander through areas of large towns late at night alone, stay aware of your surroundings and the people in your surroundings, do not flaunt money or wear expensive watches or jewelry. Oh heck, that's good advice for any part of the world.
The other violent crime that very rich Mexicans must worry about is abduction of family members for ransom. It is a very serious, frightening problem and many rich Mexicans have been abducted for ransom. Abductions are on the rise, but I believe that tourists are not usually targeted. Apparently they are not random incidents and the victims have been watched and assessed. These abductions happen in large cities.
More pertinent to cruisers is that Mexico has just had its first acts of piracy within the last year. US fishermen/boaters on a large lake which spans the Mex-Am border were held up at gun point by Mexicans (most likely cartel members) in a panga. In one incident an American has died. Documented piracy in Mexico had never happened before. Piracy in the Sea of Cortez is probably the one thing I would be most concerned about, but not as a problem now, as a problem that could develop in the following years. It is something to be aware of and to keep an ear out for, but I would not change my plans trying to avoid something that has never happened.
There is crime against the cruising community down here but I have only heard of "things" being stolen - I have not heard of any violent crime against cruisers in Mexico (unless they were walking in a large town at night and they were mugged). In the large cities on the Baja peninsula and basically from Mazatlan on down the Gold Coast, cruisers have to be very vigilant of their personal items. I have heard of many items being taken from cruisers (especially on the Mexican Riviera) - everything from surfboards to dinghy motors. Usually the items are taken off the outside areas of a boat when either no one is home on the boat, or late at night when people are sleeping. Just like at home, the thieves take the easiest pickings first which means dinghys floating behind boats only tied on with a rope, or cans full of gas set on the outside rail of a boat. Thieves have been known to even take outboard motors off of deck railings, or off of dinghys that were hoisted high above the water, so it is a good idea to secure your dinghy motor with locks and cable to the dinghy or railing, even if it's high above the water line. I have heard of items being stolen from the inside of boats when the boat has been put in storage for the season, but that is not as common.
It's true, though many cruisers think of themselves as "poor" or on a budget, we still have far more personal wealth than the average Mexican citizen. However, I have never felt unsafe, threatened or in danger down here throughout our last two years. We have never had anything stolen. Instead, I have felt welcomed, accepted and befriended - especially on the Baja peninsula. Mexico and the average Mexican citizen are wonderful.