In recent weeks, the question has become common. But curiously, many people with second homes in Mexico don't seem too worried about it.
"You think Americans really are not visiting Mexico because of crimes in the papers? Don't they realize it's basically a border deal among drug gangs?" asked Jerry Kerr, a native of San Francisco who spends his winters windsurfing in the warm waters of the Sea of Cortes.
Kerr has a point. Recent news reports, including a segment on "60 Minutes," have depicted the entire country of Mexico as being an absolute mess, awash in blood and guns on every street corner. Ironically, people living there have a dramatically different perspective, especially in the "fly-in" destinations that continue to appreciate in value.
Despite what you may have heard, read and seen, the country is not under siege. The laid-back lure of Mexico's beaches, forests, deserts, people and culture has been capturing visitors and second-home buyers for decades and has become an international draw no longer driven solely by Americans and Canadians. Not only is land plentiful, exotic, captivating and beautiful, it also is typically more affordable than most of the property found in America's getaway areas.
Kerr's little casa across the street from the water near the tiny village of La Ventana, 40 miles south of La Paz, has nearly doubled in value in the past five years. He can walk to get basic groceries and wax for his windsurfing board while La Paz, home to 200,000 residents, supermarkets, hospitals, banks, cultural events and an international airport, is less than an hour by car.
The La Ventana area is gated and fenced on all sides -- not for protection from criminals but to prevent the neighboring cattle from invading the property and munching on the vegetation.
"Vandalism and theft have never been a concern,'' Kerr said. "In fact, our home and well being are much safer in Mexico than in California.''
Much has been written about the kidnappings, roadside hijackings, crooked cops and bandits in some regions of Mexico. Most of the violence south of the border, however, is directly related to the drug cartels and the authorities who are trying to eradicate them. There is absolutely no pattern of any innocent U.S. citizens being randomly murdered in drug violence.
Though much of the violence occurs in border towns, Mexico City has had major problems, as has the community of Culiacan, two hours north of Mazatlan. In reality, Mexico needs and wants tourism, and the country is doing a much better job protecting foreigners.
Unfortunately, the negativity surrounding the country comes at a time when more and more Americans could use a less expensive place to live. According to a new report by Washington, D.C.- based Center for Economic and Policy Research, baby boomers have not saved, will be forced to work longer and/or move to less expensive places than they anticipated. Property taxes, health care and cost of living will force boomers strongly consider moving to other countries, especially if they plan on living at the same level of comfort as they do now.
Let's remember that the United States is plagued with inner-city crime. Guns are commonly used in the U.S. (they are against the law in Mexico), and convenience store clerks should receive combat pay. Tourists in the states also are attacked, often with more violent consequences than are found in many "uncivilized" countries.
Mexico is still a relatively safe place to live and visit. However, some gringos continue to leave their brains at the border and behave as if all of Mexico is a safety zone -- acting totally differently than they would back home. Public drinking may be tolerated, and even encouraged in many Mexican tourist destinations, but public intoxication can easily lead to a spectacle and arrest.
As with anywhere on earth, think twice before walking home alone at 3 a.m. Play it safe and smart, no matter where you are.
Next week: Many Mexico markets continue to appreciate.