Tijuana the largest city of Baja and 5th largest in Mexico, borders the U.S. at the cities of San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, suburbs of San Diego, California. A border where more than 50 million people cross annually, making the San Ysidro Port of entry the busiest land border crossing in the world and Tijuana one of the most visited cities on the globe.
So why are there so many visitors? Because not only being a large modern city and “the Gateway to Mexico” it has a very cosmopolitan feel with people living and visiting from all over the world. The cost of living is less than right over the border in the U.S. and it has all that anyone would want to live comfortably. The visitors come for many reasons some of which include the great dinning, soccer games, art festivals, cultural events and others for the inexpensive medical procedures. Doctors trained from all over the world are commonly sought out for dentistry, alternative cancer treatments and cosmetic surgeries being some of the most popular.
Tijuana with its proximity to the U.S. affords the day visit whether for a stroll down the old shopping district of the Revolution Boulevard, some specific cultural event, food festival or the renowned night life. It is becoming easier everyday to cross over for the day and return in the evening or night to the U.S. There is a new Chaparral border crossing adjacent to San Ysidro, that just recently open 25 new lanes returning to the U.S. with 46 booths and in January it will have 34 new lanes and 63 booths making the sometimes 2 hour wait to get back to the U.S. to less than 30 minutes. This is a huge economic development for both sides because people will be able to more quickly visit friends or family and cross over for shopping whether it is Mexicans coming to spend money in the U.S. or vice a versa.
Yes there was a history of violence in early 2000 in the city due to drug cartels but the city and federal government has worked very hard to curtail these problems and believe me you will not feel unsafe in the major areas of the city and will find people that are incredibly friendly, helpful and courteous. Tijuana was officially founded July 11, 1889 but was first populated by a tribe of the Kumeyaay and then visited by Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 and is currently a city of almost 2 million.
The city center is in the valley of the Tijuana River (Zona Rio) that cuts right through the downtown area with residences and other colonias sprawling over hillsides through canyons and mesas all around the old river valley.
Tijuana is located in the Gold Coast region of Baja and has its own developing beach area just south of the international border fence. While there are some pretty run down homes and businesses you will also see the newly constructed stores, condos and renovated homes and restaurants along the mural lined beach boardwalk. The beach and climate are the same as San Diego has yet without the cost and therefore renovation is happening as more people desire the more economical beach life.
Driving in Tijuana can be a daunting at first. The traffic can be heavy and until you are comfortable entering and exiting large round-a-bouts (Glorietas or Retornos as they are called in Spanish) you may feel a little un-easy driving in the city. It actually is not that difficult as I spent three days driving around and learning the city and found that while I didn’t always know exactly how to get somewhere directly I could calmly find my way there.
Take note where the larger buildings are, the famous Arch on Revolution Blvd., several large flags and churches visible at distance to help keep you orientated. You will find Tijuana has a fairly straight forward simple lay out and once you get your bearings it is fairly easy to navigate. Just be prepared for one way streets and the fact you may need to do a few u-turns to get where you want to be.
The nice thing is that taxis are reasonable and fares are pretty standard and running between $5-$15.00 usd to just about anywhere in Tijuana. One trick many Americans use is to park in long term parking on the U.S. side then walk across and use taxis from the border. Most major and medium size hotels do have secure parking and once there just for convenience just because of traffic or lack of parking you may choose to use taxis once based at a hotel.
Many people that drive south are quick to get over the border and head south to Rosarito and Ensenada because they don’t feel comfortable in the bigger city of Tijuana. This is a big mistake as there are so many great restaurants, hotels, stores, shops, galleries, museums and theaters to enjoy. There is a large Cultural Center (CECUT Centro Cultura de Tijuana) where they regularly have art festivals, cultural events as well as an IMAX movie theater. The Cinema for example has VIP theaters where you sit back in a large recliners and order food and drinks including full entrees, sushi and alcoholic beverages to enjoy during the movie.
East of the city in the Colonia Centenario is where you will find the largest concentration of manufactures and Maquillodres (factories operated by foreign interests with a special tax status) and this is where you will find the Otay Mesa crossing which is a commercial crossing but open to the public as well. This crossing maybe faster than the old San Ysidro (El Chaparral) crossing into the U.S. but can be a little difficult for some to find. It is basically just to the east of Tijuana International airport where 11 airlines service Mexico, America, and Asia including direct flights to China.
The Tijuanense and tourists may enjoy anyone of hundreds of restaurants from the local taqueria (taco stand) to many courses of fine dishes from around the world. One of the best known restaurants is Caesars as it is home to the very famous Caesar salad created here in Tijuana. During the U.S. prohibition days Tijuana was very popular simply because it was legal to drink. Today there are new breweries and pubs serving hand crafted beers locally brewed as well as those from all over the world. The wine area of Mexico located just an hour south of Tijuana in the Valle de Guadalupe ) has also created a great deal of interest with tastings and culinary festivals in Tijuana and the surrounding areas on a regular basis.
Many of the restaurants and bars are located in downtown (centro) or Zona Rio, Revoulcion Blvd. and the newer area of Paseo Chapultepec which is Tijuana’s new culinary plaza. There is no lack of great places to eat or varieties of gastronomical delights at very reasonable prices. So whether you are coming for the day or several, the city of Tijuana has much to offer the world traveler. You will be welcomed by some of the friendliest and in many cases English speaking residents that are proud of their city and love to share it with you. So plan a day trip, a week or a stop by as you head further south and you might be surprised at what all Tijuana has to offer.