A few miles south of California’s manicured city of San Diego lies the foreboding and alien town of Tijuana, Mexico
The world’s most visited border town welcomes you to Mexico with a relentless jolt - leaving you gasping for breath, yet inexplicably thirsty for more.
The enormous gulf that separates Tijuana from the USA is deafeningly evident, and once across the border the smell of what is essentially a third world city hits you, as does the disorderly cry of rushing drivers yelling ‘taxi!’ You can walk to the centre of town from the border, however an ensemble of buses will take you to the main drag, Avenida Revolucion, as will the eager cabbies for around $2. Along with the San Diego Trolley that transports you from the US to its southern border, the journey to Tijuana is incredibly easy. Tijuana wants you to visit.
Around 36 million people roll into the city each year for any number of reasons; the availability of cheap prescription medicines from one of the numerous pharmacies; the culture shock; the daily greyhound racing; the souvenirs, or more likely, to make the most of the infamous nightlife that is so accessible compared with bars a few miles north.
Most visitors either transit through Tijuana or visit as part of a day (or night) trip, and there are little in the way of budget accommodations. Hostel Barnes (check the internet), offers dorm style rooms for around $14, but its location is anything but central. To balance Tijuana’s notorious mania, other’s opt for the coastal town of Rosarita, reachable form the central Camionera Bus station and certainly affording visitors a more relaxed, and dare I say it, cultural Mexican setting.
In addition to walking around the many gift stalls of Tijuana, and lining your stomach for the inevitable fiestas, the Centro Cultural is an interesting way to spend a few hours. Varied collections of historical and cultural treasures are housed within a noticeable and fantastically designed building on Avenida de los Heroes, which itself is worth a visit.
Nightlife in Tijuana is constantly changing, but every night of the week the town throbs to music of all kinds. It may not be your scene, but if there is a time when you should jump up and boogie then this is probably it, and ultimately if you are in Tijuana from dusk then what on earth did you expect?
Tijuana’s charm lays in its brashness, it unashamed and organised disarray. As with any large town there are dangers, and with such a reputation you would be well advised to avoid dark alleys. However, the town is a welcome retreat from the artificiality of southern California, with genuine, if not restless people who will give you the time of day, if you do the same. Tijuana is manic, honest, messy and at the same time contrite, but moreover, it is the kind of place where James Dean, Hunter S Thompson, and Krusty the Clown would all go for a ‘knees-up’, but probably regret it the next day.