Touring Mexico's Most Violent City

"In this [rural] region of Acapulco, kidnappings have been intensifying, as well as robberies of cattle, pick up trucks and murders," said Carlos Garcia, one of the organizers of the self-defense squad, also known as a "community police force." Garcia said that twenty rural and suburban communities have already decided to join his makeshift organization, which will be run by a community development group called Union Popular.

Community organizer Joel Mendoz is trying to organize self defense groups in rural Acapulco

"We're already working on sustainable development in the region, with issues like ecological agriculture and food security. Now we need to ensure the security of people," said Joel Mendoza of Union Popular. The self-defense group plans to train ten volunteer "policemen" in each community that joins their group.

One area that will not yet join such programs is the Costera hotel zone, where murders are low and criminal gangs do not yet seem to be taxing local businesses on a large scale. But the violence present in other areas of the city is already having an adverse effect on this part of town.

Laura Caballero directs the Association of Costera Retail Businesses, an organization that represents 200 souvenir shops, clothing stores and restaurants located on Acapulco´s tourist strip. She says that over the past two years, half of her association's affiliates have gone out of business because Acapulco's bad reputation drives tourists away.

"People simply don't come here anymore, even if nothing [crime related] happens in the tourist zone," Caballero said. "Our businesses used to open until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., but now nobody wants to walk the streets after 11 p.m."

At least half a dozen hotels have shut their doors in Acapulco over the past two years

Hotels have also suffered in this city, which depends on tourism for at least 75 percent of its income. According to the Secretariat to Promote Tourism in the State of Guerrero --where Acapulco is located-- occupancy rates for Acapulco hotels dropped from an average of 56 percent in the first 9 months of 2006 to 44 percent for the same period in 2011.

But Javier Aluni, the Secretary for Tourism Promotion in Guerrero, told ABC Univision that hotel occupancies for the first two months of 2013, were the strongest since 2009 thanks to a large influx of tourists from Mexico City, which is just a five hour drive away.

"The crime that happens in Acapulco does not (generally) happen in the tourist zone, but in parts that are far away" Aluni said, suggesting that some people tend to "generalize" too much about the city, and paint all of its neighborhoods with the same brush.

Tourists get some sun at the terrace of Hotel One, a budget hotel in Acapulco

But locals say that Acapulco's once booming tourism industry has also declined due to several other factors aside from violence, such as aging infrastructure, lack of promotional support from the federal government and competition from newer destinations like Los Cabos.

But violence remains king when it comes to scaring tourists away, and even worries some seasoned visitors.

"I'm hosting five Germans here, but I'm not talking to them about the crime situation," said Martha Padilla, an affluent housewife from Mexico City, who doesn't want her visitors to get stressed out over staying in the vacation home she owns in Acapulco.

Waiting in line outside one of the courts at the Mexico Tennis Open -- an event she has attended for the past 12 years in the resort city -- Padilla said that reports of violence in Acapulco have not kept her away. But she also said that she is "adapting" to the current situation by staying in her apartment at night, and no longer going for evening runs on the city´s beach.

"As long as you can move around in your country, you feel at home" Padilla said. "But I don´t feel so at home in Mexico anymore. I don't feel like I can just go anywhere around here."

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