Often referred to as "San Diego South," and just 20 miles south of the U.S. border, Rosarito, Mexico (population 140,000) has exploded in popularity the last few years and has a substantial expatriate retiree population. In fact, some estimates claim that nearly 25% of the residents in Rosarito are U.S. citizens, originally drawn by the sandy beaches, slower pace and reasonably priced homes. Once a quiet haven for Hollywood's early stars (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were frequent visitors), today this sunny metropolis stretches along nearly 40 miles of coastline and boasts mega-resorts, golf courses, shiny condo developments and high-end spas.
Unfortunately, much of the charm that brought Hollywood's elite to Rosarito in the 1940s and 1950s, and U.S. expats to Rosarito in this century, has been lost. Until recently, the rapid growth and mass influx of new residents had essentially turned Rosarito into an extension of Southern California, and urban sprawl, overcrowding, traffic congestion and rising real estate prices reminded many U.S. residents of the problems that they thought they had left back home.
While many of these problems still exist, they look quaint when compared with Rosarito's increasing drug war violence. An underlying sense of danger permeates the city now, and both tourists and expats are fleeing (although we also found expat retirees who say they feel perfectly safe in Rosarito). The busy main drag, Benito Juarez Boulevard, has been the scene of shootings, and killings have taken place throughout the city. Although local authorities stress that the murders involve drug dealers killing other drug dealers (and police), one never knows when that could change and foreigners could become targets.
In time, the drug wars may end, and Rosarito will once again be a safe expatriate playground. In the meantime, anyone thinking of retiring in Mexico should look at other destinations (Lake Chapala, San Miguel, etc.). Once an idyllic seaside village, Rosarito today seems to be a Paradise lost.
Once a low-cost oasis, a place where expat retirees could find affordable beachside real estate, a sunny climate and a laid-back lifestyle, Rosarito today is a place to avoid thanks to ever-increasing drug war violence.
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