By Jose Perez
During this past Easter Break in San Felipe, hotels were full of Mexican tourists. However, the traditional Spring Breakers were absent. Usually Spring Break San Felipe is crazy. A town full of U.S. University and high school students partying nonstop. Locals usually left town on Easter Break. Fear is the reason students and older white folks are not visiting Baja California and or San Felipe.
Those of us who live in Baja, Anglo and Mexicano, find the fear ridiculous and unfounded. We know we are safer here than anywhere in the U.S. San Felipe is an extraordinary example of how farfetched the fear is. It is a quiet and peaceful fishing village of 17,000 locals and a few thousand ex pat retirees. Almost 150 miles from any border “trouble spot”. There is one road in and out of town and it has a military revision for folks entering and leaving. A quitter or safer place does not exist anywhere on the planet .
Robert Reed, a travel editor explains the absurdity of painting all of Mexico with the same broad brush by the U.S. State Department. “We tend to lump all of Mexico — a country the size of Western Europe — together. For example, a border incident resulted in the death of a Colorado tourist last year, and the Texas Department of Homeland Security recommended against travel to all of Mexico.
Two days before the holiday, the State Department added four Mexican states to its list of areas to avoid. It now urges U.S. travelers — the bulk of Mexico’s tourist economy — to steer clear of all or parts of 10 Mexican states, including most of the border region and popular vacation sites such as Acapulco and Monterrey.
What’s disconcerting is that these advisories are painting an entire country with a broad brush,” said Terry Denton, president of the Fort Worth, Texas, branch of the Travel Leaders agency. An hour inland from Cancun’s beaches, Yucatan state — home to the most popular Mayan sites and “real Mexican” colonial cities such as Merida and Valladolid — is among the country’s safest. The state, with roughly the same population as Kansas, saw two drug-related deaths in 2010. Wichita, Kansas, alone had six gang-related killings over the same period.
In most of central and southern Mexico, drug violence simply isn’t on the radar of daily life. ‘It’s as easy-going as it’s always been’, said Deborah Felixson, a diving operator on Cozumel who is ‘shocked’ when people say they had been scared to go to the Caribbean island. “We’re just small communities here. We all know what everyone’s up to.”
In San Felipe and Baja California in general, the lack of U.S. visitors has severely damaged the tourist industry and devastated the real estate market. Homes on El Dorado Ranch’s golf course, adjoining the Sea of Cortez, originally sold for a half million dollars. Additional investment in furniture and landscaping has only added to the losses. These homes are now reselling in the $90,000.00 dollar range. If you have cash, the bargains are incredible. The homes are selling for less than half of replacement costs, forget about land value.
It amazes me that most of the luxury vacation/retirement beach homes in Baja now sit vacant. I wonder why, given the investment, owners don’t question the media and State Department’s fear mongering. Neither are known for their accuracy in reporting. Abandoned homes, whether in Las Vegas or Mexico, will be broken into. Why abandon what were their “dream homes” to vandals and vagrants? If a squatter is in a home for more than five years, sans contract; Mexican law can grant him legal possession. I don’t get it!I would have to protect a half million dollar property (with my life) if it were mine.
The Mexico Tourism Board is spending millions of dollars plastering Southland billboards with images of the Great Pyramid of Cholula and underwater trees. But the U.S. government has widened its travel warnings in the last few weeks. Throwing a wrench into Mexico’s effort to attract foreign visitors. Nearly half of all available rooms in 70 major resort centers have been vacant this year. In Ensenada the average occupancy rate this year is at 28%. Forty six percent occupancy is required to “break even”.
Travel bargains are everywhere. Weekday hotel rooms are renting for seventeen dollars a night. On our recent trip to San Felipe my daughter and I ate in family run restaurants with outstandingly good food. We rarely paid more than six dollars for meals. A weekend vacation for a family of four will cost: Two rooms at $17.00 = $34.00 per night. A meal for four – $24.00. Shopping has never been cheaper given the lack of tourists. Total weekend costs for a family of four – under $400.00.
So what are you waiting for? Get to Baja and show your friends that coming back alive is more probable than coming back alive from Los Angeles. And, at a fraction of the cost.
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