Earth : North America : Mexico : Baja California : Baja California (state) : Tijuana
Tijuana is the dominant focal city of Northwestern Mexico, in Baja California, Mexico. It is located right across the border from San Diego, California, USA. Due to its Pacific coastal location, the climate is very moderate for most of the year, with average temperatures during the daytime ranging from 68ºF (20°C) in January, to 86°F (30°C) in August. The rainy season is short (and tame, with yearly averages close to only 10 inches/ 254 millimeters of rainfall), and encompasses late winter to early spring. Tijuana has a population of around 1.3 million people according to the last census, including its surrounding suburbs 1.7 million. The city has grown from a small border town with a salacious reputation during the Prohibition Era in the United States into a large, modern city with a sizable middle class and ever expanding housing estates. Tijuana's proximity to the United States, along with Rosarito, has made the two adjacent cities a very popular tourist destination, especially for day-trippers from San Diego.
Tijuana is by far the largest urban center of Northwestern Mexico, but also its westernmost city. Along with its U.S. neighbor San Diego form the largest metropolitan area on the U.S.-Mexican Border with a population of 4.5 million. There is a high amount of cultural exchange between the two areas.
Economically, Tijuana is bordered by the wealthiest and most populated section of the United States to which it has a border, and also the more agreeable climate of the Pacific Ocean. It is home to not only manufacturers taking advantage of NAFTA, but also a sizeable middle class with disposable income. Despite a hit on tourism from the drug trade from 2008-2011, the city has managed to develop a vibrant culture, and its sheer vastness has shielded large parts of the city from the crime ridden areas. This characteristic that allowed the city to attract many national and international businesses which had largely shunned the city before. Tijuana is home to every class of people, from working class to the wealthy, from junkies to businessmen, but notably a large presence of fashion and trends from chicanos of the United States, including its own use of Spanglish. Tijuana is a major transit point for undocumented immigration into the United States, as well as a common destination for any illegal Mexican immigrants deported from the West Coast of the United States. As such, some areas are swollen with poor people with no roots in the city, who inhabit illegal but albeit tolerated shantytowns. In sharp contrast to these shantytowns lie housing estates for the upwardly mobile, from maquiladora families, university students, to high class businessmen, Tijuana is one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico. Some (mainly residential) areas of the city reflect the significant number of wealthy people who inhabit the city.
Tijuana has a growing cosmopolitan character, but far from the scale and diversity seen in Mexico City. The city is home to many people who have migrated from within the same country, as well as some native Mexican Indians, but it boasts an important amount of Asian residents, predominantly Chinese diaspora families, Korean and Japanese factory managers, as well as many US citizens (predominantly Mexican-Americans including "cholos" and ex-cholos, with a sprinkle of retired American folk, though Rosarito is attracting more retirees in the past decade, cheaper life seekers, and Americans escaping law enforcement), and South Americans from Argentina and Uruguay, among others.
Frequent English-speaking visitors to Tijuana use the term "gringo-friendly" for a shop, bar, or restaurant in which a non-Spanish speaking customer will be at ease. A place is gringo-friendly if the staff here is accustomed to dealing with American tourists, if they speak English and have English-language menus. Places that are not gringo-friendly may require use of Spanish, and patience. Just because a place is not gringo-friendly does not imply that the people there will not be friendly or that tourists will not be welcome.
While the Mexican peso is the legal currency, US dollars are widely used and accepted, even by locals. Tijuana observes daylight savings time (DST) the same way as the USA does. Money changers on the US side may offer better rates when buying pesos and worse rates when selling pesos.
Spanish is the dominant language in Tijuana, as it is in much of Mexico. However, English is spoken by almost everybody in the city's tourist hot spots (such as Avenida Revolución), as well as by taxi drivers and the Americans who live in the city. Having someone with you who can speak Spanish will be helpful when going away from Avenida Revolución.
Most tourists enter Tijuana through the border crossing at San Ysidro, which is reportedly the busiest border crossing in the world. The crossing can be made by car, bus, or on foot.
Every visitor who plans to return to the United States must have a passport. A passport card will work too for U.S. citizens. Although technically illegal, American citizens can visit Tijuana and re-enter the United States with just a driver's license with little hassle from immigration officials.
From the Tijuana International Airport
Tijuana-General Abelardo L. Rodtríguez International Airport (IATA: TIJ, ICAO: MMTJ) is served by the two Mexican legacy carriers, Aeroméxico and Mexicana, and also serves as a hub for the growing low-cost airline market in Mexico. Carriers such as Volaris and Interjet offer low-cost products similar to U.S.-style low cost carriers. Previously international services were very limited until 2007, when Aeroméxico begin services to East Asia adding Tijuana as a stop on its Mexico City-Tijuana-Tokyo (Narita) flagship route. In 2008, this route was augmented by a Mexico City–Tijuana–Shanghai (Pudong) flight. The flights serve as routes not only as flights between four of the world's most populous cities, but also as the link for the significant East Asian-Mexican community in the northwestern areas of Mexico.
The airport is located parallel to the USA-Mexico border line, only a few miles east of downtown Tijuana and the San Ysidro International Border Crossing, and one mile west of Otay International Border Crossing. The airport is used as a transit point for travelers wishing to visit San Diego and L.A. as well.
You can take an authorized taxi cab, sedan or van, at the Airport. Buy a ticket in one of the booths at the exit of the airport. They have fixed and official rates; It will cost you about $200 Pesos to Zona Rio (15 min ride), or $250 Pesos to Zona Centro (25 min ride), or $300 pesos to the Grand Hotel (30 min ride). US Dollars will be accepted.
You can take also public transportation from the Tijuana airport all the way to city downtown and it will cost you $ 8.5 Pesos, less than 1 US Dollar. Go outside the airport and take the blue and white bus, heading west. It has the legend: “Centro” or “Plaza Rio”. US Dollars will be accepted.
The airport has international coach transportation to San Diego or the major destinations in south California and transfer to the Greyhound, Some airlines provide their own coaches to/from major San Diego destinations, including Lindbergh San Diego Airport.
-- Please note that even though the Mexican Peso is the official currency in Mexico, US Dollar will be accepted every where in Tijuana and the whole Baja California State, despite the fact MXP/USD interchange rate changes daily.
From the San Diego Airport
San Diego International Airport (IATA: SAN)  is 15 miles north of the international border and can be used as a transit point for travelers wishing to visit Tijuana. You can take public transportation from the San Diego airport all the way to downtown Tijuana and it will only cost you $10. Go outside the airport and take the airport express bus, which is route 992. Buy a $5 day pass from the bus driver, which will also cover the trolley. Take this bus to the first stop on Broadway. From here, you should see the American Plaza Trolley station. Walk over to the west side, and you will catch the Blue Line to San Ysidro. The day pass you bought from the bus driver will work on the train, which could help you to catch a train that's just arriving at the American Plaza Trolley station. The San Ysidro exit is the last stop on the Blue Line. Everyone will get off the train. Follow everyone across the bridge to the right of the trains. You cross the freeway on the pedestrian bridge by going up, across and back down. Go through a one-way gate, and if it's your first time, go straight, and cross through another one-way gate. This will take you to the more expensive yellow taxis driven by taxi drivers in yellow shirts. The fare for these taxis is $5 USD to revolution avenue. Sometimes a taxi driver will ask you to pay $6, but you can always get these taxis for $5.
If you've been to Tijuana a few times before, then go to the right after the first one-way gate. This will take you to a small market and here you can catch the lower-priced taxis which are usually green and white and called either "Taxi Libre" or "Taxi Economico." These cost $3 USD to get downtown and the prices are all listed on various boards.
If it's during the day then you could walk to downtown. Follow the signs that say to Centro. You'll walk across a long bridge, and generally head toward the Revolution Arch.
While in the San Diego area, take I-5 or I-805 to south. Either park at the border and continue on foot or drive into Mexico. Driving from the US to Mexico often requires no stopping, but inspections driving south have become more frequent as authorities attempt to stop firearms trafficking into Mexico, resulting in long wait times during periods of heavy traffic. However, driving from Mexico to the United States will result in a long wait, even moreso during evening rush hour or on holiday weekends.
If you are driving to Mexico, obtaining Mexican insurance with legal defense coverage is highly recommended, and can be bought immediately before crossing the border, or even online before your trip.
When coming into the US, the Otay Mesa and Tecate border crossings, also nearby, may sometimes be less congested. To get to the Otay crossing can be a little scary (not good for Gringos at night) and the border agents here don't seem as pleasant as the ones at the San Ysidro crossing.
If the pedestrian line returning to the US is long, it may be faster (in some cases) to take advantage of the numerous van and bus lines that cross the border. You will undoubtedly encounter agents for these services when approaching the pedestrian line back to the U.S., who will ask for $5 to $10 per person to let you board the vehicles which are already in line. Generally, the closer the vehicle is to the front of the line, the more they will charge.
Border Wait Times
Driving or walking, 1/2 - 2 hours. If you are driving and stay at a fancy hotel or eat at a fancy restaurant, ask them for a "Fast Pass". If you find the fast pass lane you will save a lot of time (driving) .
The Fast Pass has worked well. Businesses in Tijuana buy them to give to their customers. Mostly used for medical tourists, hence it mostly functions as a medical line. Make sure and take a taxi to figure out the driving route first. Tell him you want to see and learn the route to the fast pass gate. Get the drive down before you attempt it yourself. There is only one Fast-Pass entry and it's on a one way street. It is always wonderful to legally "cut the line" at the border
You can also use the Ready-Lanes. These are entered from the right side of the Port of Entry and are used for those Returnees that have an RFID enabled entry card (various cards exist).
Then the regular lanes. Let's just say, keep that empty Starbucks cup handy. It's a long wait
Many people drive to the border, park on the US side, and walk across. There are many lots available for this, which charge $4-$9 a day. While there are many taxis waiting to take you to Avenida Revolucion, it's only about a fifteen minute walk; follow the other tourists.
Mexicoach buses leave from the parking lots on the US side, cross into Mexico, and drop you off at the bus station on Revolucion Avenue in the middle of the downtown tourist district. These buses run during the day, every day, and costs $5 one way or $8 roundtrip. The parking lot at Mexicoach is about $7/day. The central de camiones for destinations in Mexico is reached by bus from Calle 3 or by taxi from the city centre and has direct coaches to most major cities in Mexico.
Cabs are abundant throughout the city. If you are walking into Tijuana via the San Ysidro border crossing, you will be immediately confronted with a massive array of yellow cabs waiting to take you into downtown. This group of cab drivers are conveniently located, but be sure to negotiate a price before jumping into a cab. You should pay no more than $5 in normal traffic to get from the border to the downtown area.
If you exit the border area by taking a right instead of going straight ahead to the taxi stand, then walk toward town after crossing the street, you will encounter the Taxi Libre taxi stand, which will generally cost half as much as a yellow cab would charge.
Throughout the city, cab drivers stand on the sidewalks and solicit customers. It is almost impossible to avoid them, so finding a cab should never be a problem. Yellow cabs do not have meters, so agree with your driver in advance what the cost will be. Taxi Libre, white with red stripe, cabs have meters and are cheaper than yellow cabs, though you might have to remind the driver to use the meter.
Be aware that when taking a Yellow Cab to a specific location, the drivers may tell you that the restaurant or bar you asked for is closed, and conveniently offer an alternative. This is almost always untrue, and the taxi driver is attempting to divert you to a business where he will receive a commission for delivering passengers. The driver may alternately tell you that "company rules" say that all rides to a given area can only take passengers to certain businesses, to achieve the same result. Taxi Libre drivers do not engage in this practice, as they are independent contractors, and do not have the commission structure that Yellow Cabs do.
Tijuana is on the ocean, but is not known for its beaches, for boating, or as a seaside resort, mostly because its strip of ocean is foggy all year round, very similar to San Francisco in weather. However, it is in cabbing distance of Rosarito - the trip will cost $20, while Mexicoach will bus you there for around $10. Ensenada is further down the coast but easily accessible by car or bus.
There are disappointingly few bargains to be had in Tijuana. Silver and leather products are allegedly cheaper than in the US. Souvenir shops abound. Many of the items sold in the souvenir shops are actually purchased in the San Diegan swap meets and brought into Mexico and resold to tourists.
Apart from the abundant, over-priced tourist traps, local cuisine ranges from world-class restaurants to locals-only eateries and street vendors selling tacos. Travellers' diarrhea is more of a risk at the cheaper establishments, but will probably not be a concern. In many sit down restaurants, musicians will wander in and play for tip. A good price for a song is $1 USD per musician per song, but most musicians will try to charge $2 USD per musician per song. For example, if there are five musicians in a band then a good price is $5 USD. Many non-mariachi musicians are untalented and some work with pickpockets, so keep an eye out.
If cuisine is an important factor in your visit to Mexico, be sure to check out the more locals filled taco shops, where you will be able to enjoy the best carne asada tacos in the world and for better price. Also delicious are Churros made by street vendors, and the "hot dog" imitations sold as well. Be sure to avoid vendors that are not being patronized by locals.
However, American establishments such as McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and Carl's Jr. (As Carl's Jr., not Hardee's) are in many parts of the city. However there are some local chains, such as Cafe Sanborns, that prove to be more popular and interesting than the American ones.
There are many other great restaurants in the city, ranging from mexican to asian food. The city is also full of sushi bars, something that has caught on in recent years. Another favorite is chinese food, and thanks to a large chinese population in Baja, the locals tend to say that it's the best chinese food in México or the region.
Beer drinkers are well-advised to visit the "Cerveceria Tijuana," the Tijuana Brewery, and its brewpub. It is on Blvd. Fundadores, a few minutes by taxi south of the Ave. Revolucion shopping district. Not only do they brew and serve six different Eastern European-style lager beers, but they also have a reasonably-priced food menu.
The brewpub is especially impressive because it is designed to look just like a European pub, with dark wood paneling, stained glass, and hardwood floors. One area even has a large window looking into the brewery floor, where you can see the workers busy at their brewing. Be aware that flagging down a taxi in this area is often difficult, especially at night, so for your return trip consider arranging transportation ahead of time or having the phone numbers of taxi services available to call when you finish your meal.
Of course, beers, margaritas and tequila are also available at numerous establishments.
Migrant houses offer free or very cheap accommodation for anyone regarded as a migrant. Some are said to also accept backpackers.
Although travel guides and taxi drivers insist that there is no cheap accommodation to be had in Tijuana, there is if you know where to look. Most of Tijuanas budget haunts are located in 2nd and 3rd Street, while the more outlying ones are probably less safe and certainly more difficult to reach.
Hotel Astor Tijuana Blvd. Insurgentes, Los Alamos offers affordable, comfortable, clean and functional rooms equipped with general amenities. Astor staff offers attentive friendly service. The Restaurant serves traditional International Breakfast. WiFi connectivity is available. Located in the 3rd stage in Zona Rio, only minutes from the Tijuana World Trade Center. Central Station , American Consulate and Tijuana International Airport.
At the north end of Zona Centro, directly adjacent to the large arch spanning Ave. Revolucion, is the Hotel Nelson. It is reasonably-priced and clean, and has a bar as well as a restaurant downstairs. The major drawback would be traffic noise from the myriad bars and clubs along this tourist-oriented street.
Hotel Ticuan, 8th St at Revolucion, . A newer hotel at the upper end of mid-range pricing, located on 8th Street just west of Ave. Revolucion. It has a very good restaurant and bar, comfortable rooms with plasma TVs and free WiFi, and free admission to the dance club "Las Pulgas" which is right around the corner. The staff is very polite and helpful, and most speak decent English. You can get a discount of 100 to 150 pesos per night on your room by booking online.
A more luxury hotel is the Grand Hotel Tijuana. The Grand Hotel Tijuana is one of the most prominent feature in Tijuana's skyline, having 2 33 story twin towers. It features several bars and restaurants, and an in house shopping mall. Adjacent to the hotel is the Club Campestre de Tijuana, Tijuana's oldest and most prestigious country club, which features an 18 hole golf course in very good shape designed by Allister McKenzie, who also designed Augusta National Golf Club(site of the masters professional championship).
Marriott Hotel Just recently opened, the Marriott took over the Hotel Emporio
Hotel Lucerna Tijuana is another very safe and clean hotel in the Zona Rio with a great pool, and service. It also has a very upscale bar, restaurant, and lounge area. Guards 24/7 and valet parking.
Camino Real Tijuana
Tijuana has a reputation for crime, though reputations do not reflect real conditions. Opportunism in the form of cons or misrepresentations can be found anywhere in the city, but from 2007-2011, drug violence had erupted and then waned in Tijuana due to intense crackdown by the Mexican government and Mexican drug cartels turning on each other. However, joint action between the government and the police severely weakened the Tijuana cartel, and now all that's left is the remnants of an uncontrolled group of renegades. The vast east side of Tijuana is particularly dangerous and prone to drug violence, though this also varies on exact neighborhood, there are many gated and planned communities which are isolated from it. Zona Norte can also be very dangerous if you are walking alone. Much of Tijuana's drug violence happens in these two parts of the city. Most of the drug violence is not targeted at tourists, but rather at competing drug cartels as well as Mexican police. However, it is possible for tourists to get caught in the crossfire, so like anywhere it is best to stay alert, though as of 2012 there is little a casual tourist will see in the way of drug violence unless one specifically seeks it out. Most tourist sections (for the most part) are generally safe, such as heavily patrolled Avenida Revolucion, Playas de Tijuana, Zona Rio, and Tijuana's red light district in Zona Norte. As with any large city, use common-sense and street smarts when walking the street; especially in the red light district of the "Zona Norte" (North Zone), as streets get more isolated they become more prone to opportunists. Due to mexican drug violence, you still want to pay extra attention in any place with illegal housing and/or vice.
It is advisable to be very careful of buying anything that would alert suspicion from Mexican police, this would include any type of prescription medicine (with potential for abuse, or perhaps low overdose/extreme side effects), pornography, and weapons. The police are generally protective of tourists and the business they bring, but will not hesitate to act on their suspicions if they do stop you, so the less they have to go on the better. Laws differ from those in the USA.
Park in well marked parking lots with security guards. Police enforce the laws on foreigners who commit crimes such as pedophilia or buying illegal drugs, including pharmaceuticals without prescription. Corruption still exists among the Tijuana Police Department as it does in many Mexican cities (the Mexican Federal Police on the other hand is trustworthy), so beware. But this is usually done when you are alone after a night on the town, are slightly intoxicated, and your actions make you a potential victim. When speaking to an officer, stay calm and respectful. Typically, if you have done nothing wrong, stand your ground and they will eventually let you go. You can insist on seeing a judge, and explain what happened. If you do this, most likely the officer will try and save face, and give you a warning and send you on your way. Never offend or belittle the officer or the country of Mexico, as agitating the officer will never work.
For traffic infractions, you are entitled to a written ticket, and you can pay the fine by mail. In any case, these made-up charges are usually only a small fine, most likely less than the bribe you would offer; you do not go to jail. Remember that you are not immune from Mexican laws, if an officer pulls you over for speeding because you were speeding, it's not corruption. Illegal drugs and drunk driving are taken seriously in Mexico, as they are elsewhere.
Tijuana offers several Bus routes into Mexico. Updated Tijuana Bus routes are available online at. From Tijuana you can easily go to Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, Ensenada, or further south to Guerrero Negro, which is a very popular destination for whale watching. It is a 12 hour bus ride to Guerrero Negro but well worth it. Other bus routes locations include La Paz, San Juan del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja.
Taxis from Ave. Revolucion to the Central Camionera cost about 60 pesos, or less by bus.
Tijuana -> Guerrero Negro: $945