Tijuana is a large border city in the very northwest of Mexico, on the ocean. About 40 km officially separates it from the American San Diego, but this is nothing more than a convention: the agglomeration around Tijuana has spread so much that it practically “presses” on the border. Actually, the border is a factor that determines almost all life in Tijuana and the appearance of the city: noisy, multinational, chaotic, overcrowded and not to say safe. However, for tourists here is a real expanse: if you do not meddle in dubious quarters, then you can spend time in Tijuana as much fun as moral principles allow; and without spending too much. Check liuxers for customs and traditions of Mexico.
It just so happens that most visitors go to Tijuana to get drunk, dance, buy drugs or hang out in the Zona Norte.
How to get to Tijuana
Naturally, the most popular way to get into the city is to cross the border at San Isidro, which can be done by regular bus, in your own car, or even on foot. Tijuana International Airport named after General Abelardo L. Rodriguez stretches parallel to the border about 10 km from downtown and receives flights from all major cities in the country, as well as Los Angeles, Shanghai, Tokyo, Korea, Vietnam and several other metropolitan areas. And about 25 km from the border is the American San Diego Airport, from where you can arrive in Tijuana by express shuttle.
It takes about 20-30 minutes for Americans to cross the border from the US to Mexico. But the return for the same American citizens may require from 2 to 6 hours. In front of the border stretches the longest line of pedestrians, with beggars, street musicians and all kinds of beggars and merchants.
The city was officially founded in 1889 with a population of less than 250 people. But this lull did not last long: 20 years later, the first gambling houses, a hippodrome, and a casino began to be built here – and life in Tijuana began to boil. Americans came here to spend money. Mexicans from the south – try to move to America; this was by no means always successful, and the losers remained in the city. The city grew at the expense of these marginal personalities, which accordingly affected the level of unrest and crime. And to this day, of all Mexican cities, Tijuana is growing perhaps the fastest: every year its population is replenished by about 80 thousand people.
Tijuana has historically entrenched a bad reputation of a different kind. The local drug cartel is the second oldest in the country and almost the main source of cocaine, which is sold to America. In the 1980s the Arellano family, the founders of the cartel, traded only in smuggling and little things – marijuana. But after a generation and a half, the power of the group reached its peak. Some members of the cartel are constantly sitting in American and Mexican prisons, but even more remain at large: more than 5 thousand people are involved in the group. It was the Arellano cartel that was discussed in S. Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning film “Traffic”.
Entertainment and attractions in Tijuana
Tijuana is a really big city. Historically, it is divided into several districts, of which four will be the most interesting for tourists. The Centro zone is the Old Town, where the busiest and most popular street of the city, Avenida Revolution, is located. The Rio zone is a modern downtown, business district. Playas – a place of concentration of beaches and hills to the east of the downtown. And, of course, Zona Norte is a red-light district.
5 things to do in Tijuana:
- At least look at the tourist center from the outside. Its design resembles a huge sandy egg with the remains of the shell.
- Attend a bullfight. The bullfighting stadium is open all summer, and fights take place almost every Sunday. The arena in Playas de Tijuana, adjacent to the border, is the only arena in the world by the sea.
- Visit the historic center of Lazaro Cardenas, which was the central storage and transshipment point for liquor smuggling during the time of Al Capone.
- Buy duty-free tequila (cheaper there), a silver bracelet or pendant (may be fake), vanilla and traditional medicine herbs.
- Eat tacos and churros. You don’t have to go to an expensive restaurant for this: tacos are the same almost everywhere, and churros are sold only by hawkers on the streets.
The most famous local delicacy is called Tijuana Special. This is a classic Tex-Mex dish of enchiladas, rice and bean puree.
The Centro zone is a completely touristic place. Avenida Revolution stretches for 8 blocks, and it’s 8 blocks full of shops, bars and restaurants. It is this street that is usually the goal of a one-day visit to Tijuana. Although, in addition to Revolutionary Street in the Old Town, there are more sophisticated entertainments: for example, art galleries and even wine tasting shops. Busy Constitution Avenue, a block to the west of Revolutionary, is filled with nightclubs.
If you are sitting on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant, there is a good chance that you will be approached by buskers. Sometimes it’s easier to give up than to explain that you don’t want to listen to them. The standard fee is 1 USD per song per person: that is, if there are five performers in the group, the song will cost you 5 USD.
Trendy cafes and bars can be found on Brazil Street, which is in the hills in the southern part of the district, where the wealthiest citizens live. And half a mile from Revolutionary Street is Guerrero Park, clean and well-groomed, where fun entertainment often takes place on weekends.
American tourists refer to places in Tijuana as “gringo-friendly” or vice versa. Gringo-friendly restaurants, for example, have menus in English and the staff also speaks English. In “non-gringo-friendly” you will be spoken to in Spanish, although this does not mean that here they are unfriendly to tourists.
The Rio Zone is a trendy place where the middle class of Tijuana settles, the best for shopping. To an American or a European, this area looks like you never left the USA. The central street of the quarter is the wide and lively Paseo de los Heroes: almost all the intersections on it are decorated in the form of roundabouts, and in the center of each there is a large statue of the hero. Small busts of heroes with not so high status are installed along the lawn in the center of the boulevard. Other places of interest in the area are the Mercado Hidalgo, a large open-air farmers’ market, and the popular Plaza Rio shopping mall, one of the largest in the Baia California area. In contrast to the touristic Centro, Rio is an area for the locals: it will be difficult to get by with the knowledge of English alone.
The fame of the Norte Zone has not subsided for decades. It is visited by tourists, the US military from the border and the locals themselves. It should be taken into account that, on the one hand, this area is really dangerous – this is not civilized Amsterdam or clean Hamburg. On the other hand, paradoxically, the Tijuana red-light district is the safest in the city. The fact is that there is the highest concentration of police officers here. Still, you should not rely on them: wandering into the Norte Zone on business or out of curiosity, stay alert at all times.
Playas, “The Beaches” is not a very popular area of Tijuana. Here are the Bullring, a bullring, and several restaurants that have seen better days: they are visited mostly by locals. The city is not popular as a seaside resort: the fact is that most of the time and all year the ocean is covered with a foggy haze, which is similar to the weather in San Francisco. In search of the best places for swimming or fishing, you can drive to Rosarito or Ensenada. It’s all the more worth it because in the latter you’ll find at least a few great surf beaches – San Miguel Beach, California Trailer Park, Starks and Tres Emes, as well as the world-famous island of Todos Santos among surfers. And Rosarito serves the best lobster in Bahia California.
It just so happens that most tourists go to Tijuana to get drunk, dance, buy drugs or hang out in the Norte Zone. At the same time, the authorities are doing their best to somehow correct the image of the city. So, in 1982, the Tijuana Cultural Center was opened with lecture halls, an exhibition hall, a museum of California, a planetarium and a home platform for the Bahia California orchestra, as well as a center for the Spanish-American guitar. The Tijuana Country Club occupies an impressive skyscraper and boasts many famous members and a famous golf course. There is also a large Rotary Club in Tijuana. In addition, the city has a wax museum and a museum of traditional trompos – that is, yo-yos.
Those who have no desire to spend time indoors can limit themselves to sightseeing in the open. This is, for example, the magnificent baroque Palacio Jai Alai, which began to be built in 1926 and completed 21 years later. Or the minaret – part of the old Agua Caliente casino, which was destroyed in the 1940s. (if you’re lucky, you can climb the minaret for the views of the city). Or the sculptures on Avenida Revolution, stylized as objects of pre-Columbian art.
The prices on the page are for December 2021.