Just two years ago, Los Cabos, a Mexican holiday destination known for its pristine beaches, deep-sea fishing, and five-star hotel accommodation was off the radar of Mexico’s war against drug cartels and street-level criminals. But in just 12 months the number of murders in Los Cabos spiked by more than 500% to 365, or one murder a day, making the municipality of about 330,000 people the most dangerous city in the world.
This is one of the starkest details to emerge from data provided by El Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal (The Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, a Mexico City-based advocacy group) in its 2017 report about the 50 cities in the world with the highest number of homicides per 100,000 residents. The report only considers cities outside of combat zones with populations greater than 300,000 that provide murder statistics. Murder statistics are closely tracked because they’re harder for investigators to rig (unlike other types of crime) and tend to indicate other types of crime are also prevalent.
Another big takeaway from the data: Latin America remains the most dangerous region in the world, with dozens of cities facing political unrest, gang violence, failed enforcement strategies, extreme poverty, joblessness and often crippling national economic conditions.
While Colombia’s efforts to reach peace with rebels have helped lower its murder rate, neighboring Venezuela is roiling with unrest and violence amid deep economic and political crises. Meanwhile, Brazil is struggling with increased criminal gang activity in cities across its northeastern region, although hardline policing tactics have reduced street-level violence in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
There are 17 Brazilian cities on this year’s list, which used 2017 data, down from 19 in the previous year’s list, which used 2016 data. But three of the Brazilian cities are in the top 10, up from one last year. The number of Mexican cities on the list increased from eight in the 2016 report to a dozen in the 2017 report.
The U.S. cities of Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans, and St. Louis remain on the list, as they have been for years, with homicide rates higher than those in some cities in Mexico and Brazil that made it to the list.
A high homicide rate does not necessarily mean tourists and business travelers are at greater risk. Most of these murders are committed by locals against locals. Using common sense and general precautions foreign visitors are typically not exposed to these crimes in most of these cities. Nevertheless, the U.S. State Department urges caution when traveling to these cities and recommends that travelers avoid certain areas of these cities or surrounding countryside completely.