As a kid, I had the opportunity to go to Tijuana and Rosarita, Mexico with my family when I came to visit my grandparents who live in San Diego. What I remember most of all is the houses made out of garage doors and other materials that we don’t typically use here in the U.S. I had never seen anything like it before. There were men, women, and children everywhere playing music with a cup in front of them or coming up to you asking for money, just trying to get by. One woman had a small baby, a toddler, and was pregnant again. We kept giving her money as we went by because we felt so bad about the situation that she was in. So that’s the sad part of the story, but let’s talk about Tijuana!
I now live in San Diego, so the border is about twenty minutes away from my house. I don’t go to TJ very often, but I try to make it every now and then and here is what you need to know.
They were all pretty nice and nobody really bothered us. There were a lot of kids coming up to you trying to sell things, but if you shake your head no, they’ll quickly go away and head over to the next person. My best friend went with us, who is black and everyone was fascinated with her and her hair. Kids wanted to touch it and adults called her names. No, not the racist ones like she has to deal with here in the U.S. oftentimes, but names like chocolate cookie and Venus.
Safety here is pretty simple really and similar to what I would tell you when visiting anywhere else. Use your common sense. Don’t take your flashy diamonds with you, don’t buy drugs if approached, and don’t drink so much you can’t make good decisions. If a neighborhood seems sketchy, leave immediately.
What’s That Smell?
It smells really bad. They don’t have a sewer system like we do, so the smell is horrible, but don’t let that scare you away it’s worth experiencing. Be sure to only drink bottled water, as the tap water isn’t safe.
Mexico’s currency is Pesos, but most places in Tijuana accept the American dollar as well.
There are places to exchange your money right before crossing the border into Tijuana or you can just take dollars and use those there. Keep in mind that the shops and restaurants in Tijuana may charge a bit higher of exchange rates than the currency exchange locations.
Be sure to calculate the prices yourself when getting food or buying multiple items. When we were there one waiter tried to charge us a few dollars worth of Pesos more, then what we actually owed. We explained our calculations to him and we tried to come to an agreement. We ended up giving him the money he was asking for anyway since we were planning to give him that as a tip prior to this situation.
The primary language spoke in Mexico is Spanish, but many people in Tijuana speak English. A lot of restaurants even have English menu’s, since so many people visit from The States. It’s always good to know a few words to get you by though.
Please: Por favor
Thank you: Gracias
How much is this?: Cuanto es esto
Do you speak English?: Hablas ingles
Where is: Donde es
How To Get There
Plane – You can fly into the Tijuana or San Diego airport. TJ is about 20 minutes or so from the airport in San Diego, so it’s an easy trip.
Walking v. Driving Across The Border
I personally prefer to take the trolley to San Ysidro, then cross the border on foot. It’s much quicker to get back across the border on foot versus driving, which took me 6 1/2 hours last time I needed to come back across. You can either drive down, park, then walk across or you can take the trolley, which goes right to the border. It only cost $2.50 each way.
If you want to park your car on the US side by the border, you can park it at www.borderparking.com for $7. I looked into this when I was considering parking first, then walking across, but I never ended up using it, since the trolley is within walking distance of my apartment.
You can always catch a taxi to where ever you want to go for a low price. To cross the border you have to go into a customs building to get into Tijuana. The left side is for Mexico residents and the right side is for all others. You will just show them your passport and you’re free to go. It’s nice and easy! The same is true for coming back. The process is basically the same, except they ask you if you have anything to declare, which is no big deal.
There are a few benefits to driving across. You have the peace of mind of having your own vehicle with you. You don’t have to pay for a taxi. If you don’t have a passport, you can get back into the U.S. this way with just your ID and birth certificate.
On the flip side, your insurance won’t cover you in Mexico. You can purchase additional insurance to cover your vehicle though. The price of the insurance depends on the type of vehicle you have. SUV’s insurance cost more then cars and old ones are cheaper than newer vehicles. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’ve been pulled over by the Police, then had to pay them off to be able to go free. I’ve never been stopped, but I’ve only gone by a car a couple of times.
Staying In TJ
It’s pretty cheap to get a hotel or rent a house in Tijuana. As a matter of fact, it’s so cheap that there are actually a lot of US citizens that live there and commute to San Diego every day for work. If you don’t feel comfortable staying there, you can stay in San Diego and commute there. You can find accommodation suggestions for San Diego here.
Tacos – They’re made with freshly made tortilla, then will make it so you never eat a store bought one again and they’re amazing. Surprisingly cheese on tacos is something that us in The States do, but a lot of places will still throw it on for us.
Burritos – They’re pretty good too, but I prefer the crunchy shell of tacos.
Churros – They make these fresh right in front of you. They melt in your mouth, yet have a slight crisp to them. I could eat them every day and never get tired of them. The last time I went, I actually got them as we waited in the line to cross the border into the U.S.
Chips and Salsa – The chips come from freshly made and fried tortillas with the best salsa you will ever have.
Margaritas – Depending on the place they can be pretty good…. and pretty strong. They’ll make them like here in The States with your choice of salt or sugar.
Beer – I’ve never been a beer drinker, but they had it for $1 – $3 a bottle. It sounds like a steal to me!
Tequila – You can’t go to Mexico and not try Tequila! They’re known for the amazing bottles they produce.
What Is There To Do In TJ?
1. Try some of the local cuisine and drinks!
Oh, the food! One great thing is that many places have menu’s in both, Spanish and English. I absolutely LOVE Mexican food but be warned if you think you’re getting those ground beef tacos with loads of cheese, you’re wrong. That’s an American thing! Cheese on taco’s there isn’t a thing. The carne asada is great though!
I’ve heard the lobster is amazing, though I don’t partake in seafood. The margaritas, on the other hand, I can attest for and they’re not too bad! Not too mention the fact that I’ve bought them for $3 – $4 at a restaurant, when I’m paying $8 – $10 here in San Diego (it’s horribly overpriced here, but we’ll get to that later on another post).
2. Like animals? Take a picture with a zebra. They’re everywhere after all.
3. Gamble wisely at Casino Caliente
4. Visit the Tijuana Cultural Center
5. Check out Monumental Plaza de Toros
6. Hit the beach! Go to Playas de Tijuana
7. Catch a soccer game
8. Check out the Tijuana Arch (it’s huge). It can be found in downtown Tijuana.
9. Go Dolphin or Whale watching
10. Party – I personally choose not to do this in Tijuana, because I have heard of people getting incarcerated overnight while being out on the streets really late at night. They were released and nothing bad happened, but I would rather not spend the night in jail. If I spoke the local language, then I might be more likely to.
11. Watch a wrestling match at Lucha Libre
12. Go Shopping
You can find some great cheap finds of good quality at the flea markets, like El Popo Market and Swap Meet Siglo XXL. If you’re like those back home in Indiana, you can definitely appreciate a warm heavy duty super soft blanket. Well, this is your place and they’re cheap! I still have this beautiful silver metal double dolphin bracelet that my parents bought there when I was a kid. Be sure to negotiate, they expect it and mark the prices a bit higher for this reason.