3 May 2024

What do we know about Mexico's Baja California, where two Australians have gone missing?

10:42 am on 3 May 2024

By Liana Walker and Andrew Thorpe

Baja California is known for its surfing, with some spots a driveable distance from the US.

Baja California is known for its surfing, with some spots a driveable distance from the US. Photo: %29.jpg / Mark Harpur

Two brothers from Perth have gone missing during a surfing trip on the west coast of Mexico.

Jake and Callum Robinson, both aged in their 30s, failed to arrive at their holiday accommodation in the north-western city of Rosarito, south of Tijuana, after reportedly spending time at Punta San Jose, a popular surfing spot.

The pair's mother, Debra Robinson, has appealed for information on social media, asking anyone who has seen the brothers - who were travelling with American Jack Carter Rhoad, who is also missing - to please get in contact with her.

Here's what we know about the area where the trio have gone missing.

What draws tourists to the area?

Rosarito and Punta San Jose are located south of Tijuana, in the very north-west corner of Mexico's Baja California state.

The region borders the United States, making its popular surf spots driveable locations for visitors from California.

A series of reefs along the Baja California coast produce a wide range of surf conditions, drawing surfers of all levels of experience to the area.

Travel guide Yeeew describes the surf in Punta San Jose as "a fun collection of reef breaks and a point that are mostly rights, serving up some rippable sections when the conditions line up".

The missing men were believed to be surfing at Punta San José.

The missing men were believed to be surfing at Punta San José. Photo: Google Maps

The missing men were believed to be surfing at Punta San José.

The nearest major city to Punta San Jose is Ensenada, the state's third-largest city after Tijuana and Mexicali.

Lonely Planet describes Ensenada as "hedonistic Tijuana's cosmopolitan sister".

What are the local crime rates?

According to Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), residents of Baja California reported 27,211 criminal incidents per 100,000 people in 2022, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

That's slightly lower than the nationwide rate of 28,701 incidents per 100,000 people in the same year.

However, to put that in perspective, Australia's comparable crime rate in 2022 was 2118 reported incidents per 100,000 people.

Experts also believe about 92 percent of crimes committed in Mexico in 2022 went unreported, meaning the real crime rate is potentially orders of magnitude higher than that of Australia.

Baja California is also among the worst states in Mexico when it comes to violent crime, with ongoing conflicts amongst drug cartels contributing to a spike in the local homicide rate.

Tijuana recorded 1770 homicides in 2021, a rate of 95 homicides per 100,000 people - the highest rate recorded by any municipality in the country.

Vision of Humanity also ranked Baja California Mexico's least peaceful state in 2022 for the fourth year running.

According to INEGI, in 2023 68.5 percent of adults living in Baja California perceived their state to be unsafe.

How risky is the area for tourists?

Local officials in recent years have been at pains to stress that tourists who stick to well-travelled areas of the country and do not interact with criminal gangs are unlikely to be the victims of serious violent crime.

That's because Mexico's drug cartels have traditionally focused on fighting each other, rather than targeting civilians.

It's not a hard and fast rule, though.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2022 acknowledged that recent violence in some northern cities was unusual in that cartel members had begun to attack members of the public.

"This is something that hadn't presented itself before and hopefully won't be repeated, because they attacked the civilian population, innocents, as a type of retaliation," López Obrador said.

What is the Australian government's travel advice?

The government's Smartraveller website advises Australians visiting Mexico to exercise a high degree of caution due to the threat of violent crime in the country.

The site states violent crimes related to the drug trade are widespread in Mexico, and shoot-outs, grenade attacks and car bombings have occurred in public places.

Violent carjackings have also increased, Smartraveller says, especially along Mexico's northern borders and along the Pacific coast.

Australians are advised to avoid travelling at night outside major cities, including on major highways, as well as to monitor the media for new safety risks and avoid changing large amounts of money at the airport.

- This story was first published by theABC