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Foreigners undeterred by violence in Acapulco

By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
  • The tourist mecca has seen its murder rate soar due to drug violence
  • Spring breakers were no-shows this year
  • But foreigners who live in Acapulco say they feel safe; real estate values remain strong
  • "Once you're here, you won't want to leave," says an American resident of Acapulco

Acapulco, Mexico (CNN) -- Pascal Clemens arrived in Acapulco 17 years ago. The native of Germany who owns a real estate company in the Mexican beach resort says he immediately fell in love with the place. His original plan was to move to New York, but he couldn't get enough of the sunny beaches, friendly people, cool breezes, and above all, the spectacular weather in Acapulco.

"It's not only good, it's excellent, it's outstanding, every day! Have you seen any rain here?," asks Clemens as he looks up to the deep blue sky standing by a sandy beach on a recent, pleasant morning.

Temperatures in the mid to upper 80s Fahrenheit (about 30 Celsius), sunny skies, and cool breezes are among the main reasons why countless foreigners have made Acapulco their paradise for decades.

Back in the 1950s, actor John Wayne owned the Hotel Los Flamingos, which was built on top of Acapulco's highest cliffs. Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan in Hollywood films, spent the last four years of his life here and is buried in Acapulco. Latin pop sensation Luis Miguel lived here for many years as well.

The Mexican beach resort is full of luxury homes overlooking the bays and mansions with private gardens.

According to local officials, at least 3,000 foreigners including Americans, Canadians, and Europeans call Acapulco home.

A recent wave of drug violence that has sent the murder rate soaring to more than 80 violent deaths per 100,000 people is keeping some tourists away, especially spring breakers who were no-shows this year. Acapulco, with a population of 1.2 million, had 1,010 violent deaths last year, according to the Acapulco morgue, marking a steady increase from previous years.

But violence is apparently having only a minimal effect on the real estate market.

"Right now the market is down in terms of sales, but the prices have maintained, surprisingly stable," says Clemens, who owns a property management, realty, and villas rental company called Beachfront Acapulco.

The current situation is mildly affecting the luxury rental market. A $1.6 million home with two pools and six bedrooms located in the luxurious Las Brisas residential area used to rent for about $1,000 a day. Now it's down to about $700.

Natalie Farmer, a Canadian who owns a time-share condominium and has spent weeks here every year since she was a little girl, has kept coming with her family in children in spite of the violence.

"I've always felt safe here. You certainly don't go looking for trouble and you stay within the compound and go out in groups, you know? And I think it's safe," says Farmer.

Mayor Manuel Anorve says government agencies are working hard to turn the tide of violence, increasing police and military presence. "Acapulco is standing on its feet, and of course, the three levels of government are working together to solve these problems, but I will say it again, Acapulco is bigger than its problems," says Anorve.

Twenty-two-year-old Shana Dewale, a native of Belgium, has spent spring breaks here since she was a toddler. "I see more violence in my country, in Belgium, than I see here in Acapulco. I never saw anything here as a tourist. I love it. I come every year and it's the best vacation I have," says Dewale.

Joyce Patterson, an American from California who teaches English at the Universidad Americana de Acapulco, has been living in Mexico for 42 years, 35 of them here. She says she's concerned about the violence, but is not about to pack her bags anytime soon.

She explains her reasons the way a native would. "There's a phrase that they use here it's called 'el embrujo costeno' ('the coastal spell')," Patterson says. "Once you're here, you won't want to leave because we've got the beach, we've got the breeze. It's a beautiful place to live."