Rio Grande Valley
The Rio Grande Valley is a region in deep South Texas, which includes Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties. To the East this region is bordered by the Gulf Coast of Texas. To the South it is bordered by the Rio Grande River and Tamaulipas, Mexico. To the North and West it is bordered by the Texas counties of Kenedy, Brooks, Jim Hogg, and Zapata. The Rio Grande Valley is sometimes referred to as the RGV or The Valley by locals.
The region is known for its warm weather, exotic birds, and citrus orchards. The warm weather attracts large number of retirees from the Northern United States and Canada during the winter months. The abundance of great shopping opportunities attracts Mexican Nationals throughout the year. Beach lovers and sports fishermen are drawn to South Padre Island, Port Isabel, and Port Mansfield on the Gulf Coast. Bird-watchers can watch a wide variety of exotic birds in locations throughout the region.
The Rio Grande Valley is not really a valley, but actually a delta or floodplain. Cameron and Willacy counties are part of the Gulf Coast geographic region of Texas, whereas Hidalgo and Starr counties are part of the South Texas Plains region. The terrain is mostly flat, although there are some hills in the western part of the RGV in Starr county.
Everyone knows Texas is big. However, one does not truly appreciate its size until one takes a Texas road trip. Texas is about 800 miles north-south and about 800 miles east-west depending on your route. A 10 hour drive from the RGV will take you to Mexico City, Mexico or to Dallas, Texas. Although the RGV is only four of Texas' 254 counties, the Valley is comparable in size to the US state of Connecticut.
Also called the Texas Tropics, the RGV is known for its hot weather. Winters are usually warm and comfortable. Its rarely cold, and the infrequent winter cold snaps do not last long. Summers are usually very hot. 100F degree weather starts in May and usually lasts until October.
The first Spanish settlers arrived in the Valley during the 1740s. Jose de Escandon was commissioned by the Spanish government to establish settlements in the area. At that time the RGV was part of the Spanish colony of Neuvo Santander. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 the RGV was part of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. In 1836 Texas won its independence from Mexico, and the RGV was disputed territory between Mexico and Texas. Texas claimed that the border with Mexico was at the Rio Grande River, whereas Mexico claimed that the border was at the Nueces River about 200 miles to the north. The dispute was finally resolved in 1848 at the end of the US - Mexican War. The first battles of the US - Mexican War were fought in the RGV in the Brownsville area.
Many Mexican American families in The Valley can trace their ancestry to the first Spanish settlers that arrived in the 1740s. As a result a frequent expression they like to say is "we didn't jump the border, the border jumped us."
During Spanish and Mexican times the RGV was mostly ranch land. Large numbers of Anglos immigrated to the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those settlers were large scale farmers who established citrus farming in the region. Since the 1980s the RGV has witnessed an explosive population growth that continues to this day. Agriculture continues to be important to the economy, but trade with Mexico, and tourism are becoming increasingly important.
The two major languages you will find in The Valley are Spanish and English. If you are fluent in either of these languages you will get along just fine. Understand that 80% to 90% of The Valley's population is Mexican American. Additionally there are large numbers of Mexican visitors in the Valley at all times. So its not uncommon to meet people who's English is either limited or non-existent. A knowledge of Spanish is helpful, but not necessary.
You will find that most Valley natives are bilingual and can quickly switch from English to Spanish, sometimes in the same sentence. Since this is a border area there is a blending of American and Mexican cultures in this region. Its quite common to encounter people speaking 'Spanglish.'
There is no passenger rail service to the Rio Grande Valley. The nearest Amtrak station is in San Antonio , which is about 240 miles north of The Valley.
Greyhound stops in cities and towns throughout The Valley including: Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, Hidalgo, McAllen, Raymondville, Rio Grande City, Roma, and Weslaco. 
Numerous Mexican Bus lines also offer service to bus stations throughout The Valley.
If driving from the north:
If driving from the south:
Be sure to have the appropriate passport and other documents for entry to the USA. US citizens crossing from Mexico need to have a passport or passport card to re-enter the United States.
The most convenient way to get around The Valley is with your own car. Car rental places are available in the major cities and at all three airports.
Birdwatching: Many birds visit or pass through the RGV area each season. There are excellent Reserves in many areas of the Valley where one can observe parrots, egrets, spoonbills and a hundred other species as well. It is truely a "must visit" location for Birders.
Fishing: Laguna Madre is a bay formed between the mainland shore of Texas and the long, narrrow North Padre and South Padre Islands. The island run much of the length of the Texas coast and have few outlets to the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing is outstanding with favorite fish being Sea Trout, Red and Black Drum and Flounder. Being a shallow bay, most of the bay boats you will see have tunnel hulls, and motors that can lift (usually a jack-plate). There is also excellent offshore Fishing. You will find numerous captains/guides that charter both small or large groups people for deep sea fishing. Highly productive snapper banks are 30-60 miles out and other locations yield trophy quality big fish from the deep blue waters. Several small costal towns that are favorite locations for fisherman. One of the best known is Port Mansfield which is located about 50 miles south of Corpus Cristi and 50 miles north of Brownsville or Harlingen.
Windsurfing and Kiteboarding: The Laguna Madre, a saline waterway that runs in a north-south direction for hundreds of miles along the Texas coast, is a great place windsurf or kiteboard. Because the Laguna Madre is realively shallow throughout most of its course, it is an outstanding location to learn these water sports South Padre Island has two rental locations and several easy to reach launch sites. The wind blows out of the south-east at about 10-30 mph most days of the year and, because of its southern latitude the weather is warm, even in winter. Surfing and kiting is also possible on the Gulf side of South Padre Island but surf is not as big as that found in some waters of the east or west coasts.
Scuba: while the Gulf of Mexico often has a "murky layer." there are artificial reef areas set aside specifically for scuba (these have several features sunk for divers to experience) and in the upper layers of water; the visibility is quite good.
There are many eating options across the RGV area, new to the McAllen Mission area, is the entire zone around the McAllen Convention Center- several restaurants from PF Changs, to the more local Kumori Sushi exist here alongside our more traditional Tex-Mex or RGV food. Local dining stands are sometimes small, with hamburgers and traditional tacos around (a normal order is 6 small format tacos).
On South Padre Island, Blackbeards has been serving up half pound burgers, shrimp and even steaks for more than 30 yearsl the back room is the original restaurant seating area. The Island has been recovering from Hurricane Dolly (2008) and from the own bridge collapse in 2001 (a barge hit it). There are many places to eat at the Island, from Beachside to Bayside; many places on the bay are excellent spots for sunset watching.
Many people enjoy a beverage while watching the sun set. Pelicans Wharf is one such spot, as is 202, Louie's backyard, and many more. By the time you arrive, there could be a new one you should try out.
The food options extend to both sides of the border: just be sure to bring your passport. Garcias, Arturos, La Mansion, La Fogata, and many other high service food options are just across the border, or for the adventurous, several Calle de Taco options are out there.
Many of the great local places have grown out of walk up stands- to full service places and even adding on rooms for special events like weddings and such. One is Trevino's in Edinburg (north of the Courthouse on Business 281). Even in the last 14 years, it has expanded twice.
Drink plenty of water as this is a very hoy climate. Dehydration will make your trip a bad one.
Violent crime rates tend to be lower in The Valley when compared to the US national average. However, crimes such as theft and auto theft tend to be higher. It is advised to take precautions to protect your car especially if you drive a model that is a frequent target of theft.
Violent crime has increased in recent years especially on the Mexican side of the border as a result of cartels competing over control of drug routes into the United States. The Mexican military has increased its presence in the region, which has resulted in frequent firefights between various cartels and the Mexican military. There have been occasions when innocents were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when a firefight broke out. One should exercise extreme caution when visiting Mexican cities such as Matamoros, Reynosa, etc. According to the US Department of State in recent years US citizens have been victims of "homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking, and highway robbery" in Mexico. 
When leaving the Rio Grande Valley whether you are flying or driving you will be asked for proof of status from the Border Patrol. If you are driving north on US 77 or US 281 there are Border Patrol checkpoints about 70 miles north of the international border with Mexico. At these checkpoints all cars must stop. The agents there are looking for illicit drugs and undocumented immigrants. If you are not a US citizen then you need to have appropriate documents (i.e. passport, visa, greencard, etc.) When flying out of a Valley airport you will also be stopped by a Border Patrol agent when going through security. Even though you are still in the United States you will need to show documentation verifying that you are in the USA legally before you can fly. So, for example if you are an exchange student living in Dallas, Boston, or any where outside The Valley, then you need to bring your passport and student visa with you when visiting The Valley.
If you are a US citizen travelling to Mexico you do not need any documentation to travel to Mexican cities and towns along the border. Mexican authorities at the international border will not ask to see any documentation. However, if you travel deeper into Mexico then you will need a tourist visa. There is a secondary checkpoint further south, and there you will need a tourist visa to proceed past that checkpoint. US citizens must bring their passports or passport cards when crossing the border into Mexico in order to return to the US.
If you are departing by water, it is possible to leave the RGV from either Port Mansfield (a scenic fishing and small boat port) or Port Isabel. (Port of Brownsville is for ships, while Port of Harlingen is for barges). If you are heading to Florida, sail east for 600 to 1000 miles; if to Cancun, go southeast for 600 miles.