According to the experts, there is no other border in the world, which is as extensive and busy as Tijuana – San Diego. Every year, occur more than 65 million crossings through this border.
This border divides two large metropolitan cities – Tijuana in Mexico and San Diego in the US. Combined together, they are considered a single conurbated area with about 5 million inhabitants.
Separately, both cities are dynamic cultural centers in their own right.
San Diego is considered the finest city of the United States. The city is built on mesas (land plateaus) separated by deep canyons and hills, creating small pockets of natural parkland scattered throughout the city and giving it a hilly geography. San Diego’s climate is described as ‘arid-Mediterranean’ and is characterized by warm, dry summers and mild winters with most of the annual precipitation falling between November and March. Tourism is a major industry owing to the city’s climate.
Tijuana is the largest city of the Mexican state of Baja California and considered by the Mexican government to be the dominant regional center in northwestern Mexico. It is one of the one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico due in part to having the highest per capita income in Mexico. Tijuana is noted for its rough terrain, which includes many canyons, steep hills, and mesas. The climate is considered to be ‘sub-tropical Mediterranean’ and is similar to that of San Diego but with a higher humidity level.
There are two border crossing stations. It is estimated that they account for 300,000 daily border crossings.The largest and oldest one neighbors San Ysidro, California. There are 24 gates at this crossing however, getting through them in a reasonable amount of time can be challenging because traffic is very congested every day of the week, from dawn to dusk. Fridays and Saturdays, particularly between 4 to 6 pm, are even worse. I would recommend that visitors use the newer crossing at Otay Mesa. There are two main motor vehicle lanes that approach the gates to Otay Mesa. Between the two lanes is a long strip with many Mexican curiosity stores. The lane to the right is designated an HOV lane for vehicles with more than one passenger but rather slow moving. The lane to the left leads to Sentri lanes People who frequently use the crossing can apply to the US Immigration Office for a card that allows rapid crossing or “Sentri” (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) card which allows for expedited crossings using lanes 1 through 4. Using these lanes without a Sentri card will result in being turned back and may also lead to a fine.
(Information and applications for Sentri cards are available at http://gosentri.com or at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/trusted_traveler/sentri/sentri.xml)
Without a Sentri card, the best option is to use the far right lanes (#13, 14 or 15). They may appear to be as long as the others when you arrive but they move more rapidly because they branches into two, and sometimes three lanes, in short order.
Use caution and courtesy when you are in the line-ups. If you need to change lanes while in the line-ups, roll down your window and request permission. And, if somebody requests your consent to pass into your lane, allow them to do so. This prevents tempers from flaring and damage to your car from forced lane changes.
You can call the local number 700-7000 to get updated information about border traffic. Unfortunately, the information is only available in Spanish.
Websites provide border crossing traffic updates as well: http://traffic.calit2.net/border/border-wait-times.php?type=passenger&sub=standard&port=250401
PARK AND GO
A good option for apprehensive first-time visitors is to leave their car parked in San Ysidro, ($5 a day) and walk into Tijuana, catching a taxi on the other side. If you choose this option, I would make 2 recommendations:
1) Park your car in pay parking lots, don’t park in the street or in lonely, unattended places. If this is not possible, hire one of the street guys that watches cars for a tip; they are everywhere there are lot of cars being parked. You can give them $1 for the service once you return to your car. Always activate your car alarm and/or use ‘the Club’ when you are away from your vehicle, no matter where it is parked.
2) Avoid Red or Yellow taxis. They do not have meters and are notorious for overcharging tourists. Use the small, white taxis with red stripes that are labeled ‘Taxi Libre’ (Free Taxi). They will charge you by the meter rate and in pesos.
It is very important that you bring with you legal proof of your citizenship in order to return to the United States. The documents include passport, driver license, and/or birth certificate.
If you are stopped by the police, do not get out of your car, wait until the officer comes to you. If they stop you for a non-existent charge, don’t be alarmed, remain calm and take your time while you talk to them. If you don’t speak Spanish, speak slowly in English. If they threaten you with taking you to the “delegación” (police station), go along with it. They do this generally to scare people into paying a fine. When you are cooperative, they will usually let you go before actually arriving at the delegación because they are aware that there are no grounds for detaining you. The officer must explain his actions, in your presence, to the judge if you should actually be taken in. At worst, ask the officer to ticket you, and tell him you will send the fine by regular mail.
There is a local hot line to report abuses: (664) 685-0297.
Other useful numbers are:
- Tijuana’s Chamber of Commerce (664) 682-84-88 or (664) 682-84-86 Web page: http://www.canacotijuana.com/
- Tijuana US Consulate General phone: (664) 622-7400.
Please, feel free to call the office for these or other topics concerning your visit to Tijuana.