Tijuana’s size and popularity arose from American prohibition of cabaret shows, alcohol and gambling in the early twentieth century. The city is the seat of the municipality and largest city in the state of Baja California, but its political significance is less than apparent at street level and its popularity remains deeply set in all things illicit.

It is an easy day-trip from Southern California with a regular tram service from San Diego. On arrival you can stroll through the revolving one-way gates with ease, pop into a shed to get a token passport stamp from the les than stringent immigration police and stroll into town. The first landmark is the concrete channel of the Tijuana River which is reminiscent of the final drag race in “Grease”, although the scene was not filmed there. From there on in vendors harass anyone who looks like they might have a spare dollar to buy unimaginable things as souvenirs. The locals range from beggars to moustachioed gangsters just as the visitors do from college students to more distinguished members of the gambling circuit.

There is a rich and exciting history of corruption, bravery, revolution and oppression and the city is worth a visit to experience the hive of trade and activity. You are free to enter into the spirit of things as much or as little as you wish as most people will leave you alone if you decline firmly enough. Those visiting with a more adventurous trip in mind however will have no trouble in doing so and will find themselves sitting on a donkey painted like a zebra in no time.


Greyhound Racing – A short taxi ride from the centre to “Boulevard Agua Caliente” at Tapachula takes you to one of the more entertaining gambling spots in Tijuana. Races take place each evening and on Saturday afternoons and are good fun to watch; even if you end up out of pocket it’s better than feeding coins into a machine. The people are relatively friendly but keep a firm hand on your cash, especially when discussing tips with the locals.

Bullfighting – There are two main arenas and fights begin at the one in the centre and conclude at the second ring by the sea. The season is roughly April to October, but the rings are pretty impressive just to have a look round if you visit outside these months. This is clearly not one for the faint hearted as the line between courage and stupidity is very fine in this case.

[http://www.cecut.gob.mx/ Tijuana Cultural Centre] –As you walk through the museum the story of Mexico’s history and culture is told through the various installations and historical artefacts. The art on display is brightly coloured, garish and occasionally quite scary. The spherical building which houses the museum also has shop selling books on Mexican art and history, a café, concert hall and cinema. The museum is open throughout the day and special events such as concerts take place some evenings although it’s worth noting that these are all conducted in Spanish.


The overbearing theme of Tijuana is expenditure and indulgence. This is primarily on food, alcohol, souvenirs and pharmaceuticals. As expected, the substances which are strictly controlled in America are most readily available close to the border with the majority of outlets selling all manner of discounted spirits, weaponry and medications.

Those whose retail interests are driven by something other than erectile dysfunction will not be disappointed by the Avenida Revolucion or the city’s two plazas. There are over 1000 shops here on what is said to be the world’s most shopped street, although you hardly need to trawl them all to find a bargain rug, hat or perfume. Local hand crafted goods make for a more interesting present and the local confectionary is of a very high standard. Plaza Rio is a more civilized shopping experience with the designer outlets and supermarkets you could find elsewhere. The [http://www.plazadelzapato.com.mx/ Plaza del Zapato] specialises in leather footwear at incredibly low prices. The busy shopping areas are popular with pickpockets and girls selling flowers act as a distraction, so extra care should be taken in these parts.

Nightlife and Eating Out

There is an inexhaustible choice of restaurants, cafes and bars which cater to every budget. The lowest priced meals are only worth trying if you have a very strong stomach and steer clear of the ice. The more expensive restaurants offer many different interpretations of the Baja seafood which range from Spanish and French to Argentinean and Aztec. Cien Anos, meaning “one hundred years” depends on traditional Mexican gourmet recipes based on the famous Jalapeno peppers and smoky flavours.

The legal drinking age in California is 21 and strictly enforced. The region’s college students and younger backpackers flock to Tijuana for a drink where the age is only 18. The result is that the nightlife is bright, obvious and aimed at extracting as much money as possible from a very young crowd. Some of the bars are busy throughout the day, although many of the customers have ulterior motives for their visit as the area is rife with prostitution. Avenida Revolucion is where the seediest bars are to be found, each with a team of heavies trying to entice you in with offers of various kinds. Plaza del Zapato has a good choice of bars which are sufficiently out of the way not to be full of alcohol hungry youngsters. Stories of corrupt police and “set-ups” here are two a penny but most involve some sort of foolish behaviour by the visitor, those who steer clear of any offers of drugs and strip joints should get away unscathed.

Tourist Information

There are three information centres in the centre and a further one at the airport:

  • San Ysidro Border Crossing (90 feet from San Ysidro International Border)
  • Telephone: (01152-664) 683-1405
  • Pedestrian Border Crossing (immediately outside the pedestrian border crossing)
  • Telephone: (01152-664) 683-4987
  • Avenida Revolución (between 3rd. and 4th.Street)
  • Telephone: (01152-664) 685-2210
  • Website: [http://www.tijuanaonline.org/english www.tijuanaonline.org]


Tijuana Airport handles flights from across Mexico and Central America. There is one runway and the airport is fairly basic. Shuttle buses run to the city centre and into America. The trip back into America by land can take several hours and security and customs checks are extremely stringent so bear this in mind if travelling to San Diego or Los Angeles airports to take international flights.

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