Planning a Trip
Getting There & Departing
Gone are the days when U.S. citizens could merely flash a smile and a driver's license to drive across the border. As of June 1, 2009, all travelers attempting to enter the United States, including U.S. and Canadian citizens, by land or sea must have a valid passport or other WHTI-compliant document (such as the new Passport Card and SENTRI, NEXUS, FAST, and the U.S. Coast Guard Mariner Document).
Mexican immigration requires that visitors have passports that are valid for at least 6 months. American and Canadian tourists do not require a visa or a tourist card for stays of 72 hours or less within the border zone (20-30km/12-19 miles from the U.S. border). For travel to Mexico beyond the border zone, Americans must be in possession of a tourist card, also called a Tourist Migration Form (FMTTV: Migration Form for Tourists, Transmigrants, Visiting Businesspersons or Visiting Consultants). This document is provided by immigration authorities at the country's points of entry. If you enter Mexico by land, it is your responsibility to stop at the immigration module located at the border.
By Plane -- The Tijuana Airport (tel. 664/607-8201) is about 8km (5 miles) east of the city.
By Car -- To drive to Tijuana from the U.S., take I-5 or 805 S. to the Mexican border at San Ysidro. The drive from downtown San Diego takes about 30 minutes, or you can leave your car in a San Ysidro parking lot and walk the 20 minutes to Avenida Revolución.
If you choose to leave your car behind, which may be a wise decision since traffic is challenging, you can take the San Diego Trolley to the San Ysidro border. From there you can follow the signs to walk across the border, or hop one of the buses (tel. 664/685-1470), which are located next to the trolley station. Once you're in Tijuana, it's easy to get around by taxis, which are still relatively safe compared to those in other large cities like Mexico City. Cab fares from the border to downtown average 50 pesos. You can also hire a taxi to Rosarito for about 200 pesos one-way.
By Trolley -- From downtown San Diego, you have the option of taking the bright-red San Diego Trolley (tel. 619/233-3004; www.sdmts.com/Trolley/Trolley.asp) headed for San Ysidro and getting off at the last, or San Ysidro, stop (it's nicknamed the Tijuana Trolley for good reason). It's simple, quick (about 1 hr. from Old Town San Diego to San Ysidro), and inexpensive; the one-way fare is $2.50. The last trolley leaving for San Ysidro departs downtown San Diego around midnight; the last returning trolley from San Ysidro is at 1am. On Saturday, the trolley runs 24 hours.
Prior to your visit, you can write for information, brochures, and maps from the Tijuana Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 434523, San Diego, CA 92143-4523. You can also get a preview of events, restaurants, and more online at www.seetijuana.com. Once in Tijuana, pick up visitor information at the Tijuana Tourism Board, Paseo de los Héroes 9365, Zona Río (tel. 888/775-2417 toll-free in the U.S., or 664/687-9600; www.seetijuana.com). You can also try the National Chamber of Commerce (tel. 664/685-8472; Mon-Fri 9am-2pm and 4-7pm). Its offices are at the corner of Avenida Revolución and Calle 1, and its staff is extremely helpful with maps and orientation, local events of interest, and accommodations; in addition, the Tijuana Tourism Board provides legal assistance for visitors who encounter problems while in Tijuana. For additional information online, visit www.tijuanaonline.org.
Tijuana has a special tourist assist number (tel. 078; this is a free call) to help visitors with special needs.
Although Tijuana has the reputation for being a carefree party playground, now more than ever it's important to use common sense while visiting. In early 2009, the U.S. Department of State heightened its Travel Advisory for Mexican border cities. This superceded a 2008 report that was issued after a series of shootouts between drug cartels and the federal police, sent in by President Felipe Calderón to eradicate the dealers, shook up this already rough-and-tumble city. While most of the people targeted in the attacks were involved in law enforcement or the drug trade, the violence has come close to innocent bystanders in some instances. One shootout caused a kindergarten to be shut down and another caused a high-speed chase that ended with a truck crashing into the airport before dawn. The Department of State reports that in 2007, dozens of U.S. citizens were kidnapped or killed in crimes apparently unrelated to drugs. Despite these shake-ups, however, life goes on in Tijuana as in any other large metropolitan city. (I was in town on a rainy day in Feb when dozens of families braved the cold weather to bring puffy-jacket-wearing children to watch a Teletubbies-like live show at the Centro Cultural Tijuana -- in welcome contrast to recent reports of violence.) Locals are still very proud of their city's culture and welcome visitors with open arms. They also advise you, however, to say no to illegal drugs of any kind.