On the whole, the world is a pretty safe place in all sorts of ways. Despite everything we all read, hear and watch on a near-constant basis suggesting otherwise. We’re always being told about the death and destruction that happens on this planet of ours because, well, it’s often quite grimly fascinating stuff. Never forget, though… murder and violent crime - like the natural disasters that make headlines for killing thousands - are still pretty rare.
So while we wouldn’t encourage anyone reading this to worry themselves over being shot, stabbed or strangled, we also can’t ignore that certain places are significantly more dangerous than others. One place, in particular…
We trawled through the statistics on the most dangerous cities to live in the world and there’s a noticeable trend. The data, based on ‘intentional homicides’ carried out during 2020, is clear: Latin America stands out.
Specifically, here are the cities you may want to swerve if you don’t much like the idea of being murdered:
#1: Los Cabos, Mexico
Los Cabos is one of Mexico's most beautiful, prized and visited tourist areas. Its coastline, mountains and desert have long attracted holidaymakers who enjoy the region, many of whom are often quite affluent. Its reputation as the ultimate fishing and golf retreat for wealthy Mexicans and Americans is in serious jeopardy, though. Vicious narco wars will do that to a place.
For years, the area was untouched by the fierce inter-cartel feuds that tore bullet holes through so many areas of Mexico. That all changed recently when turf wars and power vacuums saw the area become targeted on all sides. Until recently Los Cabos had never so much as graced a top 50 list of most dangerous cities to live in the world. Now it tops those lists. In 2017, murders went up some 500%. Those numbers keep rising.
Unless The Sinaloa Cartel and Tijuana Cartel call a truce or one concedes, it doesn't look set to change any time soon.
Murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants: 111.3
#2: Caracas, Venezuela
Venezuela is not a safe country. The UK Government warns against visiting unless absolutely necessary, saying this via the Home Office website: 'There is a high threat from violent crime and kidnapping throughout Venezuela, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Armed robbery, mugging, carjacking and burglary are all common and are often accompanied by extreme levels of violence – do not resist an attacker.'
The country's capital and hub, Caracas, is particularly dicey. Why? Well, it’s two-fold. Organised crime gangs take no prisoners (although they do kidnap folk and often kill them). And police and other government security forces are almost equally as violent. Human rights breaches are not uncommon there.
It isn’t just criminals that face beatings and potential loss of life at the hands and batons of the government in the Venezuelan capital. Anti-government activists in the bankrupt country face the very real danger of being killed for dissenting.
Murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants: 111.2
#3: Acapulco, Mexico
Unfortunately for the residents of this coastal city, it seems that murder rates are goin’ loco down in Acapulco. We can’t say if the magic down there is so strong, like The Four Tops famously sang. But the lure of violent crime to the hard-up young men in Acapulco certainly is.
This glamorous locale was renowned for being a retreat for A-Listers during The Golden Age of Hollywood. Yet while it is still a popular tourist destination, crime has steadily risen year on year. As with most violent crime in Mexico, the majority of the murders are tied in with drugs and the cartels.
Be it down to sheer weight of numbers, police incompetence or even corruption, of the 7,000+ murders to have been carried out in Acapulco over the past decade, just 3% of them have been solved.
Murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants: 107
#4: Natal, Brazil
We’re leaving Mexico for the fourth most murderous city on Earth, heading south to ‘The City of the Dunes’, Natal. The capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte may only be the 19th largest city in Brazil, but it easily sees the most murder. Again, gang violence is the cause. The state’s heavy-handed responses usually don’t help. A prison uprising in 2017 was crushed by the authorities. 26 inmates died in a single day.
Natal regularly sees up to a dozen violent deaths a day. Such is the intake of bodies coming into the morgue, the city often struggles to store them and arrange timely post-mortems.
Murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants: 102.6
#(5): Tijuana, Mexico
Tied for fifth is a rather notorious place, the Mexican border city of Tijuana. Statistically, murder is down on previous years. Mexico’s second-largest city used to regularly top this list and still sees some 2,000 murders a year.
Not only does cartel violence heavily contribute to the murder rate in Tijuana, crystal meth now exacerbates it. An epidemic of methamphetamine on the streets means it’s not just the Hollywood idea of coke and weed-smuggling narcos with gold-plated assault rifles running the streets. The filthy world of meth labs has now been added to the mix. And anyone who’s seen Breaking Bad knows that only ends one way.
Murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants: 84.8
#(5): La Paz, Mexico
With the exact same figures for murders as Tijuana, next up is yet another Mexican city, this time the capital of Baja California Sur, La Paz. Another coastal city with a reputation as a touristic favourite, this place used to be peaceful. In fact, it had never even come close to appearing in a list like this. Now it’s one of the most murderous places on the planet. Again, Mexicans can thank the drug cartels for the violence.
Murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants: 84.8
#7: Fortaleza, Brazil
This coastal metropolis is another tourist hotspot with beaches galore but a soaring murder rate. The white sands and crystal clear ocean might appear alluring - and are - but they’re flanked by crumbling favelas full of desperately poor folk driven to crime.
Robberies are beyond rife in the city. So tourists run a very real risk of muggings. As for murder, that’s less of a concern, unless you refuse to acquiesce to a mugger’s demands. Instead, the killings are - unsurprisingly - gang on gang murders that often take place high up in the mountains, in the back alleys between the ramshackle buildings with their corrugated iron roofs.
It’s not just street gangs that are at war with one another in Fortaleza. Its location is key, sat north east and on the Atlantic Ocean, the city hosts the largest port in all of Brazil. And that means one thing… drugs. Organised crime gangs fight for control over the precious port, with free reign meaning the shipment of narcotics and the raking in of serious cash.
The violence isn’t just inter-gang, though. Hardcore tactics from the state to curb the murder epidemic has led to reprisals from gangs, with bomb attacks on public institutions such as buses, police stations, banks and government buildings all too common.
Murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants: 83.5
Ciudad Victoria, Mexico (83.3), Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela (80.3), Belem, Brazil (71.4), Cape Town, South Africa (62.3), St. Louis, USA (60.6), Kingston, Jamaica (59.7), Baltimore, USA (55.5).
Scary stuff. Let’s not panic, though. Put into perspective, even 111 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants is still only a fraction over 0.01%.
Of course, most of the murders in these cities are targeted attacks carried out by and on members of organised crime gangs. Tourists and non-criminal residents of these urban areas face extremely low risk of murder. So don’t worry. Mexico’s still a pretty great place to go on holiday.