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How safe is Mexicali … and Mexico?

Seized narco-money

Seized narco-money

This post is prompted by a comment sent in by one of our readers. He is coming to Mexicali on business, and wonders if he will be safe.

That’s a very fair question. My short answer is “yes.”

Jim and I could only afford to move to a border town. The trip deeper into Mexico was well beyond our means. Mexicali, where we live, is a border town, and our house is just 176 feet south of the big steel fence which divides Mexico from the U.S.

Before moving to Mexicali, we checked out some other towns, either on the border, or nearby. Going from east to west, these included Agua Prieta, Naco, Nogales, Sonoita, Mexicali, and Rosarito Beach.

In Agua Prieta, near Douglas, Arizona, we did not see any suitable places to live. We stayed in the Hacienda Motel. As soon as night fell, large black SUVs filled up the parking lot. There was a lot of noisy coming and going, with the headlights flashing into our room, and voices talking in Spanish. At one point Jim actually stepped out (in his boxer shorts) to take a look. When he came back into the room, he said, “Great rims on those SUVs, yup.” Later, around midnight we heard gunshots and sirens – went on for some time. By dawn, everything stopped – the SUVs were gone, and you wouldn’t notice anything strange about the Hacienda Motel – except that everyone there avoided eye contact.

To the east of Agua Prieta, Naco and Sonoita had only very small towns across the border in the U.S.

The Pacific coast towns, such as Rosarito Beach, have beautiful Southern California weather in the summer, and are bit milder than Mexicali in the winter. Rosarito Beach was a bit congested and touristy. In addition, a motorcycle cop stopped us, saying we went through a stop sign – which we didn’t. We had to settle up with an eighty buck bribe with that guy.

THEN, on the way back to San Diego, going through Tijuana, the police had sealed off the ramp that leads up to the U.S. border checkpoint. We had to circle all through Tijuana to get back to the ramp again, and it was still sealed off with yellow tape. Jim pulled over to ask the police what was going on. Immediately, the policeman said, “No seat belt – that’s a fine – you will have to follow me to the police station.” Jim said that he had taken off the seat belt only after we came to a full stop.

The officer repeated, “Follow me to the station.”

At this point, Jim, by now an old pro at bribery, said, “OK, Sir, what’ll it take to pay the fine now?”

“One hundred dollars.”

“OK,” said Jim, and for that, can you remove the tape so I can go up the ramp and get back to the States?”


Jim took two fifties from his wallet and handed them to the officer, who, without saying a word, walked over to the ramp and removed the tape. We were back on our way to the States, and Jim didn’t start cussing until we were in San Diego.

For us, Mexicali turned out to be the best. Across the border is Calexico, a small town, but with all the shopping, and support (such as flu shots) that you could want. The downside to Mexicali is the weather. It is blistering hot in summer and a little cool in the winter.

From what we understand, there is a turf war between drug cartels going on in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, and even down to Ensenada. We understand the turf war was caused by the arrest of some leading members of the Arellano Felix gang who controlled the area. Now, another gang is attempting to move into the vacuum, and take over the territory. Jim and I would not feel safe in Rosarito Beach or Tijuana.

Tijuana has a very long border fence, which is probably a help for illegal crossings into the U.S.

Mexicali, on the other hand, has a short border fence – only a couple of miles long – and easy to monitor.

On the other side of the border fence from us, there is constant patrolling by the U.S. Border Patrol cars, helicopters (we hear them everyday), and aircraft. Things are very calm in Mexicali, and we feel completely safe. I don’t think we look worth kidnapping.

We lived for a while in Phoenix, Arizona, which now has the distinction of being the kidnapping capital of the U.S., with one kidnapping reported every day – and how many go unreported?

Miss Sinaloa 2008

Miss Sinaloa 2008

The main center of the drug trade is not at the border, as some might think, but in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, where “El Chapo” rules. The beauty queen, Miss Sinaloa 2008, Laura Zuniga 23, and her boyfriend were arrested on Dec. 23rd at a checkpoint outside of Guadalajara. Miss Sinaloa was riding in one of two trucks, where soldiers found a large stash of weapons, including two AR-15 assault rifles, 38 specials, 9mm handguns, nine magazines, 633 cartridges and $53,300 in U.S. currency.

Allegedly, Miss Sinaloa claimed that the cash was for her shopping. Small change for the drug cartels, which bring in a total of $53 billion a year, and who can afford to pay top Mexican Government officials $500,000 a month for information.

The Sinaloa Cartel is the one of the largest drug trafficking cartels in Mexico. The cartel’s leader, “El Chapo” is one of Mexico’s most wanted criminals. The U.S. has a $5 million reward for his capture – but no one is interested. Many of El Chapo’s “soldiers” were trained in advance weaponry by the U.S. Army – in an attempt to beef up the Mexican army. Why stay in the Mexican army, when you can work for El Chapo? The pay is a lot better – some say ten times better.

Many Mexicans, however, idolize the drug lords. There are songs written about them, and colorful names, such as The Queen of the Pacific, The Empress, and, of course,  El Chapo (shorty).

Sinaloa has a beautiful coastline, and Mazatlan, which is in Sinaloa, is a favored spot where American retirees live and play golf. Jim and I would never set foot in Mazatlan or Sinaloa.

Mexicali is peaceful place, with a lot of police trucks patrolling around. Many of the cars have California license plates, and you can pay in dollars as well as in pesos.

So long as Jim and I stay out of the turf wars, we are going to be A-OK in Mexicali.

Here is something you should take note of, however, regarding bringing guns into Mexico. The rules are very strict.

The Mexican constitution allows for possession of one small-caliber firearm, however, the owner must be a Mexican citizen (foreigners, even those with legal residency status, are not entitled to this privilege).

The weapon must of small caliber as specifically cited by regulations,be registered with the army and, critically, the and not be  carried in the street.

The purpose of the law is to provide for self-defense within the confine of one’s own home.

Jim suggest you get a cross-bow. His choice is the 80 Lbs Self-cocking Crossbow Pistol Cross Bow 15 Arrows that sells for under 30 bucks on Amazon. “Just click that there link, and you’ll have something much better than some tiny pistol,” says Jim.


Update: February 22, 2014:

El Chapo captured in Mazatlan!

El Chapo

El Chapo arrives in Mexico City, after arrest

A senior US law enforcement official said Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was taken alive overnight in the Mexican beach resort town of Mazatlan. “We’ve been actively tracking him for five weeks. “Because of that pressure, he fled in the last couple of days to Mazatlan. He had a small contingent with him.”

Guzman was found naked in bed with an AK-47 nearby, which he didn’t get a chance to grab. The raid was so fast his bodyguards didn’t even have a chance to react, the source said.

Saturday’s arrest followed some near-misses in attempts to capture Guzman during the last three weeks.

Mexican authorities missed taking him “within seconds” at a condominium in Mexico 10 days ago, the source said. Guzman escaped through an elaborate tunnel under a bathtub, leaving behind his personal handgun, which authorities confiscated.

Guzman, 56, faces multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the US and is on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most-wanted list.

His drug empire stretches throughout North America and reaches as far away as Europe and Australia.

In more than a decade on the run, Guzman rose from a middling Mexican narco to the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.

His fortune is estimated to more than a billion dollars, according to Forbes magazine, which listed him among the World’s Most Powerful People and ranked him above the presidents of France and Venezuela.

Update: February 27, 2014:

Hundreds of Mexicans are marching in support of drug kingpin and fold hero Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Chanting slogans in English such as “I love Chapo,” the demonstrators demanded his freedom during marches Wednesday evening in three cities in Sinaloa, the state that was the birthplace of Guzman’s vast multibillion-dollar drug empire.

Guzman was Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive and one of the largest drug traffickers in the world. His capture was seen as an important victory for the Mexican government in its long drug war, although few experts believe it will have a any effect on the $50 billion annual flow of drugs to the United States. (Yes, that’s $50 billion that is flowing into Mexico from the U.S—all for drugs.)

Many of the marchers had apparently been bused in and given free T-shirts and other gifts. Who is paying for all of this?

In the eyes of many people Guzman remained one of the old-style drug lords who showering local communities with benefits: money, business, gifts.

The United States continues to press for the extradition of Guzman, which Mexico opposes. Mexico wants El Chapo in Mexico.

As Jim says, “Shucks. It’ ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

El Chapo – Dying for the Truth: Undercover Inside the Mexican Drug War by the Fugitive Reporters of Blog del Narco

El Chapo's gun

El Chapo’s gun

The day he was captured on February 22, Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzman was carrying a semi-automatic Colt 45, embedded with gold and diamonds. The gun is valued at $ 303,000. The hammer, trigger and safety are gold and the handle is inlaid with black diamonds. On the handle is a plaque inscribed with “701 billionaire Forbes,” referring to El Chapo’s position on the Forbes list with an estimated billion dollar fortune

At the time of his arrest, El Chapo was up early, cooking breakfast for his wife.

Update: April 30, 2014

The is a great article in the New Yorker about El Chapo’s capture.

It raises the question—was it really El Chapo who was captured.

From the New Yorker:

Several years ago, a fearless journalist named Anabel Hernández published a book about the Sinaloa cartel, called “Los Señores del Narco.” (It was recently published in English, under the title “Narcoland.”) Hernández argued that Guzmán’s influence was so pervasive, and the Mexican political system so thoroughly rotted by graft, that the whole Chapo saga could be interpreted as a grand charade. Guzmán was “imprisoned” at Puente Grande, but he was actually running the place. He “escaped,” when in reality, Hernández suggests, the President of Mexico at the time, Vicente Fox, personally authorized his release, in exchange for a colossal bribe. (Fox has angrily denied this accusation.) Guzmán spent years as a “fugitive,” though everyone knew where he was, and the authorities were simply lying when they claimed that they “could not catch him.” Hernández’s book sold more than a hundred thousand copies in Mexico.

She is not convinced that the man who was photographed in Mazatlán, and whose DNA was tested, is the real Chapo.

When Guzmán was questioned in prison by authorities, he, too, seemed to suggest a case of mistaken identity. He maintained his innocence, his rote replies taking on a smug absurdity:

Q: May the deponent say to which organization he belongs.

A: I don’t belong to any cartel. . . . I am a farmer.

How the drug lords live—here are some photos:

Nice Drug Lord Home

Nice Drug Lord Home – Visitors approaching


Drug Lord Home

Nice inside, too…

drug lord with his money

A drug lord with his money…

Drug Lord gun

Some Drug Lord guns to protect the money…

Drug Lord guns for his staff

Drug Lord guns for his staff…

Update, June 22, 2014 – Mexico’s top ten most dangerous cities:

From Mexican President Pena Nieto’s inauguration in December 2012 to the end of January this year, Mexico has had 23,640 murders, nationwide.

Here’s a list of Mexico’s top ten murderous cities for 2013:

1. Acapulco, Guerrero

This Pacific resort city has had 883 homicides in 2013 to 883. Acapulco, a vacation spot for unwary Ameracans, is the most dangerous city in Mexico.

2. Mexico City

Mexico’s capital and largest city had 753 homicides in 2013.

3. Tijuana, Baja California

This border city has had 564 murders in 2013.

4. Culiacan, Sinaloa

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s town had 479 homicides in 2013.

5. Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua

This border town had 453 murders in 2013.

6. Ecatepec, Estado de Mexico

This Mexico City suburb had 312 killings in 2013.

7. Guadalajara, Jalisco

Mexico’s second largest city had 297 murders in 2013.

8. Monterrey, Nuevo Leon

Monterrey had 266 murders in 2013.

9. Zapopan, Jalisco

Zapopan had 258 murders in 2013.

10. Chihuahua, Chihuahua

The capital of Chihuahua had 251 murders in 2013.


106 comments to How safe is Mexicali … and Mexico?

  • If that’s a possibility you’re looking at you can contemplate getting
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  • Becky:
    Sorry, but we have only been on the outskirts of San Luis.
    God Bless,

  • Becky

    Also, does anyone know what a good neighborhood is in San Luis? I know no city is with out its faults. Are there any websites about San Luis for gringos?

    Michelle was a very gracious hostes.

    God bless,


  • Becky

    We’re currently looking at San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mx. Do you have any input on what it’s like there? What about the crime? We visited Mexicali once, and decided it wasn’t for us. San Luis seamed to be better on the joints when we visited the dentist there a few months back. We also liked the general feel of San Luis.

  • Rob:
    Thanks for the info. The best place to stay is the Siesta Real Hotel has excellent parking, a very nice restaurant, and a swimming pool. It is located not too far from the border, and within easy driving distance from the major medical areas of Mexicali.All the info is on our site at . By the way, we have a great dentist and doctor here.
    God Bless,

  • Rob

    Hi Mary Ann.

    I have posted here before. I am here in Los Algodones at the moment – have been here with my mother for a week – she is recooping from surgery and had a dental emergency and could not come down to Mexico by herself for her dental work. So I have been around Los Algodones for several days now with her and have spoken to Gilberto, a clerk at the health food store here, about the bus by the park on A Avenue. Apparently it will take you all the way to Mexicali safely for US $5 – what a deal! My question is this – I would like to get on testosterone therapy which is over the counter in Mexico but I would like to rent a room in Mexicali for a month for this to take effect. Then I can go on over the counter testoterone enhancers – herbal – in the US. Where would I find a family or someone else willing to rent to a room to me for one month only? I checked on craiglist and Mexicali is not there, only Tijuana. Any advice is Muy appreciated! BTW this time in Los Algodones my Mom and I have been staying at the Hacienda los Algodones and I can totally recommend it – and I get nothing out of recommending this place, just hope I can help others needing an affordable place to stay during dental/medical work. Really hoping to find a place to park it in Mexicali for one month like I said – please direct me to any resources if you would be so kind. Will be glad to let you know how the bus trip to Mexicali works out if you like!!! Rob A.

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