Bienvenidos a Tijuana
Let’s be honest – of all of the places in Mexico that you dream of visiting, Tijuana is never going to make anyone’s ultimate bucket list. However, if you are in San Diego, you may want to take a day trip across the US/Mexico border to this interesting city. If you love tequila, tacos, and having a good time, and who doesn’t, then you are sure to love Tijuana.
The drive from San Diego to the Mexico border is less than 45 minutes, and Tijuana is just on the other side. This makes it an easy and convenient day trip destination from San Diego. If you are driving, the best (and most commonly done) thing to do is to park your car on the US side of the border, and then cross on foot. This is a very busy border crossing and being prepared will make it go smoothly and efficiently. Be sure to have your passport ready, and all of your belongings easily accessible for inspection.
When you arrive, there will be many cabs waiting to take you to your destination. Zona Centro, or the historic old downtown and Avenida Revolucion is where you will want to go. It is the main tourist area with all of the shopping, markets, taquerias, and tequila that tourists come to Tijuana for.
The taxi fare won’t be too expensive, but there is definitely a chance that the cab driver will try to get a little extra fare. There are stories of taxis taking you to the wrong locations on purpose or taking a longer route just to gather a little extra fare. Have a few extra pesos or USD on hand for just in case this happens.
In fact, make sure you have a good amount of cash on hand and many smaller bills. This will come in handy when you are shopping. Many of the smaller vendors and taquerias do not take credit cards, so having some cash on hand is crucial for paying for your purchases. Also, if you plan on haggling, and I am no expert on this by any means, it is easier to do if you have smaller bills. It is hard to haggle when you flash a hundred-dollar bill for a $20 purchase. Also, do not flash around big bills for safety reasons.
As tourism is a cornerstone of Tijuana’s economy, most vendors are equipped to take US dollars, so don’t worry if you do not have Pesos with you.
Some of the best Mexican food I have ever had was in Tijuana. With so many amazing restaurants, taquerias, and taco stands around, you will be sure to get your fill of delicious Mexican food. The options might be overwhelming, but this just means you can try the food at multiple locations. Go hungry, leave happy. The food is really good, fresh, inexpensive, and plentiful, so indulge a little and enjoy.
Tequila is everywhere for purchase, and for immediate consumption at the local bars, and cantinas. Whether you just want to enjoy a fresh, handcrafted margarita on the patio of a bar, or if you plan on buying a bottle of Tequila to take back with you, there is plenty to choose from. In the last few years, Tijuana has experienced a bit of a craft-beer boom, with many breweries popping up around town. This will be worth stopping in for a drink as well. Just remember, that when you cross back over the border, you will have to declare your purchases, so know what you are legally allowed to bring back.
The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18 years old, unlike 21 in the USA.
Many tourists who visit Tijuana, will surely want to purchase some of the locally made handicrafts, blankets, pottery, jewellery, and souvenirs. There is no shortage of places to purchase these items in the many markets and shops on the side streets. Most of the blankets and serapes are hand-crafted in Mexico by local craftspeople, but there are some shops that carry blankets made elsewhere. The jewellery can be nice, but there can some fakery going on. Not all of the silver jewellery is real. There is plenty of beautiful pottery and ceramics to purchase in vibrant colours and elaborate designs that you may wish to purchase, but if you walked over, it may be difficult to carry some of the heavier items across the border.
Whatever you are interested in purchasing, haggling the price is very commonplace. Depending upon your level of comfort with haggling, have at it. My biggest suggestion is to be reasonable, and respectful. Haggling is not my thing. Not only am I not very good at it, but I could never devalue the cost of someone else’s hard work and effort. I just don’t feel right about doing it, especially in third-world countries, where these people rely on your tourism dollars. You can afford that extra peso or dollar, so just be a nice person, and pay the asking price. That is my traveller etiquette tip advice. Remember to bring small bills so you can make the purchase with ease.
The Tijuana Zonkeys:
You will surely see several Zonkey carts parked on the roadside throughout the Zona Centro, with elaborate Mexican paraphernalia and scenery. They have become an iconic symbol of Tijuana, and is a tradition dating back to the 1940s when cart owners began painting their Burros with Zebra stripes for more impressive photos. The owners charge tourists a small fee to pose for photos with the Zonkey cart for a typical Tijuana experience. As a first-time visitor, you may find this fascinating, and you will want to take your own photos of the Burro. However, before you do, remember this is a tourist attraction, and the owner is there to make money. The polite thing to do is to offer money for any photos you take.
Art & Culture:
You may not think of Tijuana as an arts & cultural destination, but there is a fair bit to explore when you are there. The CECUT (or the Tijuana Cultural Centre) is full of beautiful art and history. There is the Wax Museum of Tijuana right in the heart of the Zona Centro, which is a cultural centre with art exhibits, a theatre, IMAX cinema, and events. If you are into Mexican wrestling or Lucha Libre, you can plan your day trip to include a Mexican wrestling match. It is sure to be a lot of fun.
There is also a lot of street art in Tijuana, including colourful murals, vibrant graffiti art, and unique sculptures throughout the Zona Centro; that will make for some great Instagram posts.
You have surely heard about the crime in Mexico, and the seedy underbelly of Tijuana in particular. While there is definitely a strong criminal element in Tijuana, the city Tijuana relies heavily on tourism for their economy and visitors from America and Canada are a welcome sight. There is no guarantee that you won’t be the victim of a crime, but the numbers do not support many of the concerns people may have. Tourists are fairly safe in Tijuana, especially if you follow some simple safety tips when visiting:
- keep your appearances simple and modest
- do not draw attention to yourself as a target for pick-pockets or potential muggers
- be ever-vigilant for the potential for criminal activity
- keep personal belongings to a minimum when entering, and keep your wallet and passport secure at all times.
- do not get drunk, disorderly, or do drugs
- Stick to the main touristy areas of the city, where there is safety in numbers
A visit to Tijuana is a great idea for a day trip from San Diego. You will have a fun day doing some good shopping, enjoying amazing Mexican food, and sampling some local beverages all with very little expense.