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Despite bloody headlines, Americans still flock to Mexico

Last year, a record 22.7 million visitors chose Mexico as a tourist destination, and only 7 percent of American retirees who live there or travel to Mexico have been scared off by violence.

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Foreign residents gather at the pier on the shore of the Lake Chapala in Ajijic on June 9. For decades, American and Canadian expats have flocked to the shores of Chapala, seeking refuge in the spring-like climate of Mexico's largest natural lake.

Alejandro Acosta/Reuters

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Early last year, Joan Ward fell in love with this picturesque town of narrow cobblestone streets, scenic mountain views, and brightly-colored houses on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest.

A few months later, the retired business consultant traded her Minneapolis home for a place in Ajijic, where a mild climate, easy lifestyle, and attractive real estate prices have drawn thousands of Americans and Canadians to this swath of western Mexico for decades. Ms. Ward joined tens of thousands of Americans choosing to live abroad, some of them to reinvent themselves, others to fulfill a lifetime dream of living in a foreign country.

But living abroad has always entailed tradeoffs, and in Ajijic the typical considerations – like distance from family members – have taken on new dimensions. Since Ward bought her home, fellow expatriates have been kidnapped, robbed, and killed, and in May, 18 decapitated bodies were found stuffed in vehicles not far from her new residence.

“It’s particularly shocking violence here because of the way [it is carried] out,” Ward says. 

The impact of violence, some of it drug-fueled, on this retirement community is clear: After the springtime massacre residents stayed indoors and streets emptied out, causing businesses to suffer. But slowly residents here say they are coming out of their slumber, banding together to fight crime and to hold onto the quality of life that drew them south of the border in the first place.

 “I love being here,” Ward says, sitting outside an American-owned store that sells art, jewelry, and books. “I have no fears for myself.”

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