No. 2: Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
This border town — a departure point for illegal drugs bound for the United States — has been a perennial contender on lists of the world's most dangerous cities. Juárez earned its grim reputation as a result of a turf war between the Juárez and Sinaloa drug cartels that killed more than 6,000 people between 2008 and 2010, corrupted members of the police force and the government, and turned the city into a ghost town. This year, there have been signs that the violence is abating: While a single month during the drug war's peak could produce a body count of more than 300 people, the first seven months of this year witnessed just 580 homicides, according to The Washington Post. Observers attribute the decline in bloodshed not to effective policing, but to the Sinaloa cartel's triumph in the battle for control of the city. Still, with a rate of 148 homicides per 100,000 residents, Juárez is violent enough to secure the second spot on the murder capitals list.
No. 3: Maceió, Brazil
Brazilian officials have sought to turn this former sugar-mill town and port city into a tourist destination based on its long, sandy coastline. Their efforts, however, have been hampered by a homicide rate of 135 murders per 100,000 residents. The authorities in Maceió — the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Alagoas — blame the rising violence (murder rates have soared 180 percent over the past 10 years) on the growing presence of crack cocaine in the favelas around the city. Perhaps to keep tourist money flowing, officials also claim that most victims are drug users who are killed for failing to pay up on debts.
No. 4: Acapulco, Mexico — once renowned for its beaches, high-rise hotels, and a nightclub scene that drew the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor — has not escaped the drug-related violence that has engulfed the rest of Mexico, and it is now the country's second-most violent city, with 128 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Fighting for control of the southern state of Guerrero has led to shootouts on what were once the main drags in Acapulco's resort area, while severed heads have been found in prominent locations around the city. Unsurprisingly, foreign tourism has suffered; the head of Guerrero's travel agency association estimated in November 2010 that U.S. and Canadian tourism had fallen 40 to 50 percent in the span of a year. "We have to defend Acapulco to defend Mexico," said Miguel Angel Hernandez, a police chief, in 2011. "Acapulco is Mexico. It's a brand that sells."