Touring Mexico's Most Violent City

Tourism and Drug Violence Live Side by Side in Mexico's Most Murderous City

ByABC News
March 4, 2013, 7:12 PM

March 5, 2013— -- You might feel quite pleased about life if you go to Acapulco, Mexico. The snazzy high-rise hotels provide beautiful views of the deep blue sea. The weather is deliciously warm. The city itself sits on a picture perfect bay, framed by small hills and white houses that give the area a Mediterranean feel.

But as you stroll along these beaches, your tranquility can be somewhat interrupted by the thought that you are actually in the world's second most violent city. In fact, Acapulco's murder rate of 142 killings per 100,000 residents is 28 times higher than the U.S. average.

These crimes happen mostly in working class neighborhoods that are just a short drive away from the luxury apartments, the cute vacation homes and the international franchise stores that line Acapulco's coastal strip.

On the last Wednesday of February for example, the daily death toll included a man who was burned alive in his car, two women shot to death by someone who broke into their home and another man killed with an AR-15 assault rifle, a military-grade weapon. And this is in a country with just one legal gun store.

"That's the sad reality of our Acapulco," said local crime reporter Martin Basurto, who spends much of the day lingering outside the headquarters of SEMEFO, the local forensic service.

Basurto follows investigators when news of a crime breaks, so that he can take pictures of the city's dark underbelly for local newspaper, El Sol del Chilpancingo.

He says that violence in the city started to skyrocket in 2009, after the drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed in Cuernavaca by Mexican security forces, sparking a struggle for control of Acapulco's profitable drug market among rival gangs.

The result: Basurto has seen dozens of beheaded bodies, victims with their limbs chopped off and some mass execution sites. There have also been a few "desollados" to take photos of Basurto said. He explained that desollado is the Spanish term for a victim whose skin has been peeled off his face.

But even after seeing all this gruesomeness, Basurto insists that his city is ok for the tourist crowd.

"You can't say that tourists are being targeted here," Basurto said, explaining that the city's tourist strip had only one murder in the past three months. He added that the crime problem "is in the periphery," meaning the neighborhoods away from the coastal strip. In those areas there have already been 200 murders in the first two months of this year.

Officials in this iconic Mexican tourism spot do not publish stats on what areas of the city have been most affected by the high murder rates. There is also no public information on which areas of Acapulco are most heavily patrolled by police.

But you can start to discern the stark contrasts in security by just walking -- or driving -- through the city's different neighborhoods. The Avenida Costera, where most hotels are located, is regularly patrolled by Mexican Federal Police Officers who zoom by tourists in shiny blue and white pickup trucks with long-range semi-automatic weapons.

When hotels and conference centers organize special events, local officials double or triple the number of police in those areas and set up checkpoints where cars are searched. In neighborhoods that are a couple miles away from the beach, patrols are less frequent.