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South of the Border: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana, Mexico

April 19, 2017
Guide to Visiting Tijuana, Mexico
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If you’re in Southern California, you might have thought about visiting Tijuana. Tijuana’s raunchy, strip club scene of old is practically gone, and instead has undergone a refreshing revival in gastronomy and craft brewery. Even a surprising hipster scene has emerged! 

Visiting Tijuana Hipster Scene

Tijuana was also in the news for crime and drugs wars, which kept tourists away. Now Tijuana is a safe place to visit again. But since safety is most likely still on everyone’s mind, let’s go over this first.


Safety Talk

It’s always best to check out the State Department’s travel advisory website for updates on any safety rules and recommendations.

Besides that, some safety rules of thumb I always follow are:

  • It’s best to not go alone
  • Never walk around at night alone
  • Never get intoxicated either alone, or in the company of people I just met
  • Wear a zip-able purse and cross it over my shoulders
  • Stay in the tourist areas where there are lots of people around

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana, Mexico

Do I Need a Passport?

Yes! Although, this wasn’t always the case. As of January 2008, a valid passport is required if you plan on crossing over to Tijuana. Pedestrians crossing into Tijuana are also required to complete a Mexico Visitor’s Permit (FMM), the same form you would fill out if you were flying into Mexico. This permit is free if you’re staying 7 days or less. However, if you plan on staying longer, a fee of 332 Mexican pesos (roughly $20 USD) is required. If driving across the border you are exempt from this process. 


Currency: Do I Need Mexican Pesos?

Visiting Tijuana, Mexico - Mexican Pesos

The U.S. dollar is widely accepted, as are credit cards. Obtaining Mexican pesos before you trip is not a necessity, unless you particularly want to.

Getting to the Border

There are 2 main ways to get to Tijuana:

1. You Could Drive Across

Visiting Tijuana, Mexico - San Ysidro

You could simply drive across into Mexico. However, unless you have plans to visit other locations in Baja California (Guadalupe Valley, Rosarito, Ensenada, etc.), this may be unnecessary and the least favorable option. The border is open 24 hours a day and being the most crossed port of entry in the world, you can surely expect delays. If you choose to cross by car, be aware that the wait to cross back into the United States is a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour! I have personally waited up to 7 hours during a holiday weekend.


2. You Could Use Pedestrian Crossing

Visiting Tijuana, Mexico - San Ysidro

If crossing on foot, a minimum wait of 45 minutes to an hour can be expected. However, it has become the norm to wait at least 2 hours. On a normal weekend, I have waited up to 2 hours to cross but, you might get lucky depending on the time of day.

There are a number of changes in pedestrian border crossing happening that will create improvements in the near future. One of these changes is San Ysidro’s new port of entry, PedWest. I used PedWest in my most recent weekend trip, and there was no wait (however, this may change as more people are aware of its existence).


There are 3 Ways to Use Pedestrian Crossing:

  1. Drive and Park – Driving I-5 south, exit at 1A. It’s the last exit before the Mexican border and there will be signs saying “Last USA Exit Parking”. Parking is available ranging from $7 a day to $25 a day depending on the day of the week. From there follow signs for border crossing into Mexico. If wanting to enter through PedWest, pedestrians will be able to take the 907 bus or walk (roughly half a mile and very safe).
  2.  Tourismo Express Bus – Once parked at San Ysidro, the Tourismo Express Bus (formerly Mexicoach) is an option for direct transportation to downtown Tijuana. The bus runs 7am-6pm every hour on the hour and tickets are $10 one way. The Tourismo Express Bus has its advantages since there is a special bus lane which makes the border crossing much faster.
  3.  Trolley – The San Diego Trolley can be accessed at many locations around San Diego. You’ll need to take the blue line south towards San Ysidro and exit at the last stop. Tickets cost only a few dollars each way. From the San Ysidro stop, it is a short walk to the Mexican border (east side). If wanting to enter through PedWest, you can use your trolley tickets for the 907 bus at no extra cost. Or you could walk.

Visiting Tijuana, Mexico - San Diego Trolley


After Crossing into Tijuana

At the U.S./Mexico border you shouldn’t expect delays getting into Mexico. After you cross you’ll see taxis and pedi-cabs willing to take you to downtown Tijuana. Don’t pay more than $5 USD and agree to the fare beforehand. Another viable option to just walk across the pedestrian walkway to the downtown area. It takes roughly 20 minutes and you’ll walk over a large bridge. However be careful if you do choose to walk. I wouldn’t walk this alone and definitely do not walk at night.

Can I Bring Stuff Back?

Visiting Tijuana, Mexico

Yep! Since the Tijuana/San Diego border is a duty free port of entry, U.S. Customs allows you can bring up to $800 worth of personal use goods back into the United States. This includes up to one liter of alcohol, if 21 or older (Guadalupe Valley fine wines anyone?!)If possible, I would recommend getting a receipt to verify the value of your purchases.

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Guide to Visiting Tijuana, Mexico

Plan on visiting Tijuana? Love to know your thoughts in the comments below! 


Tiffany created Lavender Vines as a place to share her love for Jesus and adventures from around the world. She has a slight obsession with salted caramel lattes, Japanese kimonos, and an ongoing love affair with NYC and Paris.

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