Journeys Sout​h

Get way Off the beaten path in Latin America, the US Southwest, and beyond

Baja Mexico

Baja Mexico consists of the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. Baja California is famous for Tijuana, while Baja California Sur is famous for Cabo San Lucas.

People from all over the world fly into Baja California Sur to visit Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Not as many people still visit Tijuana and its neighboring cities because of the fear of crime. When done the right way, Tijuana and the whole state of Baja California can be an exciting trip that is well worth the visit. 

Ensenada by Bus

By K. Mennem. Originally featured in the San Diego Reader.

Many travelers still want to visit Baja California, but are concerned with safety or even bored with Tijuana day trips. A great alternative is to skip Tijuana and head to Ensenada for a weekend stay. The travel to get there is cheap, safe and easy.

There are never waiting lines to cross into Mexico at San Ysidro by foot. Mexico police will at times check luggage on the way in, typically looking for weapons or cash. Once you cross into Mexico, you’ll notice the line of people waiting to cross into the U.S.
Following the pedestrian path towards the main commerce district, the first thing you will see is tourist junk and taxis. Keep walking straight for another block; you’re headed to the Plaza Viva. You will soon see a McDonald’s to your left-hand side about a block ahead.

Once you get to the McDonald’s, make a left, which is south. You’ll walk less than a block and make the next right. Once you make the right, the bus station is on your right hand side about 20 meters ahead. This bus station, the ABC station, only goes to Ensenada. The buses for Ensenada leave every 15 minutes. This past June, I bought a ticket for $134 pesos, which is slightly over $10 USD. You can pay in dollars or pesos.

The bus will pull within feet of the station, so you cannot miss your bus. The ticketing staff will write the number of your bus on it. At busy times you will be given a seat number.

Take a minute to buy a snack from a street vendor before you board the 90-minute ride. Bathrooms are on every bus, just make sure you are only taking a number one. Toilet paper is left off of these buses for this reason.

When boarding the bus, if you have not been given a seat number, sit on the far right side so you can see the coastline during the ride. The ride will take you through the western portion of Tijuana, the edge of Playas de Tijuana, and pass Rosarito. If you are able to get a view, you will see all the beach towns and some struggling resort areas. Ensenada will appear in a little less than an hour and a half if you miss traffic.

Once in Ensenada, a few riders will likely have worked out a deal to be dropped off at personal stops. The best bet is to ride to the bus station and not get off early. At this point you can get a taxi to any part of the city or area.

Calle Primera is the best area if you want to grab a beer, cheap tacos or grab souvenirs. The area is safe, but heading to your hotel by 10 p.m. will ensure safety from potential pickpockets and such if you are out drinking.

In my recent trip to Ensenada I stayed at the Hotel Coral & Marina. I highly recommend it if you can book early and online, which typically gives you a discounted price. I booked a junior suite for $114 per night in June. If you are fine without the swimming pools, view and bars, cheaper hotels are easy to find.

When ready to leave the city, just ask for the bus station. There will be more choices of destinations here, so get the ABC bus to Tijuana. It leaves every 30 minutes. Once back in Tijuana, you can follow the path back to the border. You can easily get a taxi if you do not want to haul your bags.

The line into the U.S. can get quite long – if you can’t put up with the wait, catch a taxi to the Otay Mesa crossing. It will cost you around 15 dollars. (Sometimes you can negotiate less.) This line is always shorter, but can still take up to 45 minutes at times.

To make things quicker for crossing into the U.S., have your documents ready. If you are not a frequent crosser, you will likely be in the typical pedestrian line. Take off your sunglasses and be friendly with Border Patrol agents when they ask you questions. Throw your bag through the luggage scanner and you will likely be on your way.

If you withstood the lines at San Ysidro (the western port of entry), there will be taxis everywhere and the San Diego trolley is within feet.

If you went for the shorter lines at Otay Mesa (the eastern port of entry), walk about a block north and there will be a taxi stand to take you away.


Tijuana is a huge border city and there are lots of places worth checking out. Most will likely hear about Avenida Revolución, the main tourist drag. The avenue has had its ups and downs over the years, but is still worth seeing once and a good starting point for your trip to TJ. You can negotiate a taxi once you cross into Mexico from the San Ysidro crossing, or you can make the 1.2 mile walk to the West.

When getting in any Mexican taxi make sure to negotiate the price before you sit down.

Avenida Revolución is a tourist trap but its worth the walk through. There are always bars doing specials where you can pound some drinks. Never buy Cuban cigars here, they are all fake.

At the northern end of the street begins Zona Norte, the famous red light district. This area continues north to the border and to the west for several blocks. If you decide to walk through just to see it, try so before dark. After dark you are taking your chances if you look foreign. There are lots of sleezy motels in the area going for $25 a night. You will also run into Americans who claim they are stranded and need your help (MONEY). 

There are a number of restaurants, malls, and casinos in the area all worth checking out, but I typically recommend to make your way to Playas de Tijuana. Playas is about 6 miles straight west from Avenida Revolución. The trip is interesting as most of it is alongside the border fence. Have the taxi drop you off at the north end of the beach against the border and near the bull ring. 

From this point you can explore the bull ring, the border fence that extends into the Pacific, and the start of the Playas boardwalk. You will likely see US Border Patrol just across the fence keeping an eye on the action. The US beach is desolate, while the Tijuana side is usually packed when its warm.

Headed south along the beach there is a long strip of cafes and bars. You will notice some interesting spots owned by ex-pats mixed in with local joints.

If you have not found a good beach place to crash at you can always taxi it back into the city and stay at the Hotel Pueblo Amigo y Casino. It is near the San Ysidro border crossing and is a secure place to stay. It has a slot machine casino, sports book, restaurant, and a few bars. It is a good place to just grab some drinks and people watch late into the night. 

From the casino you can walk back to the border crossing into the US. If the line is long I recommend taking a taxi to the Otay Mesa crossing. You can usually get a taxi for under $20 and it could save you hours of standing in line. 

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo is a popular tourist area at the southern end of the Baja Peninsula. I am not going to waste a lot of time telling you about it, because it simply can be found all over the internet.

A few words of advice: try to stay as near Playa del Amor as you can. All the action is fairly close to this area. If you stay far away, you will spend a fortune in taxis.

If you are with a group, think about renting a condo. Condos are cheaper than hotels for groups and you will have a large living area. Cabo does not have a lot of all-inclusive options like other places in Mexico. 

Gambling in Tijuana

Tijuana is not really a gambling destination, at least if your looking for legal gambling, but it has a casino if you need one. Mexico has very conflicting gambling laws that tend to vary from state to state and change often. After an attack on a casino in Monterrey by a cartel that killed dozens, the federal government has tightened up its grip on the gambling industry.

You can always find a good cock fight to gamble on or a good backroom poker game in Tijuana, but if you want to play some legit gaming and avoid the street thugs head over to the Pueblo Amigo Hotel y Casino. This casino is very near the border crossing at San Ysidro (from San Diego) and has a nice hotel, bars, and restaurant all on the property. 

You may see table games in advertisements for the casino, but as of now the casino has only 500 slot machines and a sports betting area. The casino is owned by a politician who also owns the popular Tijuana Futbol Club. Opposing teams will often stay here before games. 

I recently booked a room here for $65 USD. If you prepay you get the better rate. The security is strong at the casino, so not much need to worry about crime inside the property. I played a little slots and bet on a futbol game while there. I did not see many people making money, but it is a great place to drink and people watch into the night.

Cockfighting is still legal in Tijuana, as long as it plays by the rules (you must get a government permit). The best place to catch one is going to be at a large festival. Sometimes events like the Tijuana Tequila Festival will host cockfights later in the evening. 

Police will at times raid illegal cockfights which occur in backyards of homes in the slums. Even though it would be fun to attend these, you probably should stay away.

You can actually offshore gamble on Tijuana cockfights each night through a few different websites

The owner of the casino mentioned above promotes cockfighting. If you hang out long enough at the casino you can probably get information on where to find them.

Mexico tourism up in 2014

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s revenues from international tourism totaled $11.13 billion in the January-August period, up 18.1 percent from the same period in 2013, the Tourism Secretariat said.

Foreign tourists generated revenues of $9.42 billion during the first eight months of last year, the secretariat said.

International tourist arrivals totaled 19.3 million in the January-August 2014 period, up 19 percent.

Air arrivals rose 10.3 percent to 9.3 million during the first eight months of this year, the secretariat said, citing Bank of Mexico figures.

-Spanish News Agency EFE