Tijuana, Mexico is quite literally the place of legends. When I told friends and collegues I was planning a trip across the border during my stay in San Diego responses ranged from “You’re going to get your head chopped off” to “They have the best hookers on the planet!”.
The same information was presented on the internet. There were two extremes – brave travelers singing the praises of wild Tijuana or conservative vacationers giving dire warnings of entering the third world. So – if you are considering a trip to Tijuana here are a few pieces of advice I learned during my stay.
1. Getting From San Diego to Tijuana
The good news is getting from San Diego to Tijuana is simple and inexpensive. For around $5 you can easily get from the airport to the border. Simply take the 992 (bus) to America Plaza Station. At America Plaza take the Blue line (Trolley) to the border. The last stop is San Ysidro transit station. You can walk across the border from there – just follow the Mexicans across the border. (Airport to Border = 1 hour commute)
Getting across the border is as easy as walking across. There is no one there checking paperwork or so much as guarding the entrance. However; to get back across you will need your US passport. (We’ll talk more about that later.)
2. You’re in Tijuana. Now What?
Once you’re in Tijuana you can find almost anything in this world that your heart desires. That’s both good and bad. You can purchase a women for the night, gorge yourself on cheap tacos and $2 beers, or simply enjoy the Mexican culture and buy a few trinkets from the local shops. Depending on the kind of entertainment you’re looking for – the night is yours.
Negotiating: Please buy my Shit!
No matter what you want to do plan on people soliciting you at every turn. Remember – you are a gringo. You are they kind of person that comes across the border and buys stuff. You buy trinkets, you buy food, you buy alcohol, and you have US dollars in your pocket. These shop owners and local business people will hound you relentlessly in effort to part you from your all-mighty dollar. This isn’t a bad thing just know how to deal with it.
One trick of the trade is be sure to negotiate prices. It doesn’t matter if you are buying a trinket in a shop or haggling entrance prices at a club. I found that if you are at a shop aim for 60% their asking price. Be prepared to walk away and negotiations will almost always be in your favor.
Water and Air Quality
Do not drink the water unless you want to shit yourself for the next few days. Any water that goes in your mouth should be from a bottle – this includes brushing your teeth, washing your food, and ice. When in doubt don’t eat or drink anything suspect.
Also, the air quality is horrible. For some reason the people of Central and South America refuse to keep a car with a cadalytic converter. Mexicans seem to remove this part like it’s cancer. For this reason people with asthma or allergies might want to pack an inhaler.
Women, Drugs, and Nightlife
Everything you’ve heard about Tijuana is true. Hookers are cheap, strippers are cheaper, and the beer is almost free. My advice – stick to the beer.
However, since you aren’t going to use my advice here’s some information. The strippers in Tijuana are much more forward than those in America. $5 is likely to get you more than you expected and touching seems to be encouraged. If you go to a strip club expect to be continuously solicited, groped, and harassed by naked Latin women.
Beer should cost you about $2 a piece and Tequilla around $3. If you are paying more than that find another place. Settle on prices for EVERYTHING in advance – this will help you avoid the Gringo tax. If you can, try to pay for each drink as you go or do a really good job of keeping up with your tab. A common scheme is to over charge drunken Gringos at the end of the night.
Avoid hookers and drugs. Nothing good can come from that. Most stories of murder and robberies involve some combination of these two things.
Pretty much everything you want to do in Tijuana is within walking distance. If you must take a cab do not use the guys immediately across the border. Use a random cab in the city (which are everywhere) – they are substantially cheaper. As with everything settle on a price beforehand. Almost everyone speaks English, but this isn’t guaranteed. Learn a few words of Spanish before you go.
3. Getting Back to the U.S.
Now that you are sufficiently hung over and undoubtedly filthy from a night of legend-making you probably want to come home. What you probably don’t realize is that the U.S./Tijuana border is the busiest border on the planet. Hundreds of thousands of people cross DAILY! Wait times can range from 1 – 3 hours so plan accordingly. (Mornings are usually busiest)
To get back in the country you will need a U.S. passport. Border control will ask you a few questions, check your identification and you’re home free.
Hint: If the line is really long there are guys offering to expedite your trip to the front of the line for $5. They will lead you to a van and take you to the front. Mexican border authorities, who are apparently in on the scheme, will move you to the express lane. I used this option one morning when the line was unmanageable and it took about 30 minutes to cross the border (instead of 3 hours). Please use this option with caution and always be mindful who you are getting in a van with.
Once you get back across the border you can take the Trolley right back to San Diego. The trip takes about 45 minutes and cost $2.50.