Is Tijuana safe to visit in 2020? – The ultimate guide to one of Mexico’s most misunderstood cities & 10 reasons why you must visit
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Is Tijuana safe to visit in 2020? – The ultimate guide to one of Mexico’s most misunderstood cities & 10 reasons why you must visit

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When you write Tijuana in a google search you will get results like “Bloody Tijuana: a week in the life of Mexico’s murderous border city”. This city is mostly famous for its gun and drug crime, high murder rates and people who by desperate means try to cross into the US. 

Whilst these things are true to some extent, there is so much good about this lively Mexican city. In this post we answer the question ‘Is Tijuana Safe to visit?’ and give you 10 reasons to why you should visit Tijuana in 2020.

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Tijuana is a great place to start your travels in Mexico, especially if you’re coming from the US. Even though having one of the busiest and most congested border crossings in the world it’s very easy to cross. If you don’t want to stay for a few days in Tijuana (which we think you should) there are buses going straight to the airport where you can get on a low budget flight to a number of interesting destinations in Mexico. 

If you’re more interested in travelling overland there are also numerous buses that will take you down the Baja California peninsula but also to other places on mainland Mexico.

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The view of fascinating Tijuana

Tijuana was Alex’s and my first introduction to Mexico and we’re glad we decided to stop here for a few days before catching our flight to the southern tip of the peninsula. Tijuana might not look like much at first sight, but believe me, it’s an incredibly colourful place, full of life, culture, handicraft, amazing tacos, a wide craft beer scene and lots of live music.

Is Tijuana safe to visit
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Do I need a visa?

Citizens of the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most European Union countries, do not require visas to enter Mexico as tourists, as long as they are not staying for more than 180 days. Citizens of other European countries may stay for 90 days and many Non-European and Non-US citizens arriving from the US may need a visa.

Although you might not need a visa for your visit to Mexico, all visitors, regardless of nationality need a valid passport and a tourist card, FMM – Forma Migratoria Múltiple, with the exception of people only visiting the 20km, duty-free area by the US borders. In Tijuana this means that visitors who will stay for less than 72 hours or who will go on a day trip to Tijuana, either by the pedestrian crossing or driving from San Diego to Tijuana, and who won’t travel further than to nearby Ensenada won’t need to obtain a tourist card.

For visitors arriving by land to the Tijuana border crossing who will leave Mexico within 7 days there is no fee for the the tourist card (FMM). For those staying longer and up to 180 days the fee is approximately $25-30 (USD) and try to get a confirmation of the payment. We paid $30 at the San Diego/Tijuana border. If you arrive by air to Mexico the fee for the tourist card is usually included in your air fair, under “fees and surcharges.

Money

Do I need to exchange money before crossing the border?

One of the good things about crossing into Tijuana from San Diego is that you don’t have to worry about exchanging your US dollars to Pesos in the US. There are plenty of places to exchange in the city and if you’re not travelling beyond Tijuana many places will happily accept your US dollars. There are also plenty of ATMs where you can withdraw a maximum of 5,000 Mexican Pesos at a time. 

Do I need to tip?

Tipping is customary in Mexico but you don’t have to tip everywhere. In restaurants and bars people usually leave a 10-20% tip on the bill if you’re happy with the service you’ve received. You’re not expected to tip when you have street food. 

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It is customary to tip in restaurants and supermarkets

When you visit a supermarket in Mexico you will see either teenagers or retired people waiting to pack your bags by the checkout. They are not paid by the supermarkets and are generally people  who don’t have much money, don’t receive a pension and are in need of some extra cash. It’s not mandatory to tip them. As a rule of thumb we only tip them when we’re buying more than 3-5 items.

Can I pay with a debit/credit card?

Most restaurants, cafes, shops and supermarkets will accept your card and so will bigger and more set up Taquerías as well.

Best time to visit Tijuana

Alex and I visited Tijuana towards the end of November, a very good time to visit if you want to avoid big flocks of tourists and don’t like it being too hot, but still want some warmth and sunshine on you during the day. It might just be the best time to visit the best places in Tijuana.

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Take a stroll along El Malecón

The average temperature in Tijuana varies throughout the year. Laying right beneath Southern California in the US, by the beautiful Pacific coast the weather is enjoyable all year round. Although it does rain a bit during the winter months and it might flood (it did when we were there). This area scores 88% for pleasant weather compared to other tourist destinations worldwide. Well, those are some good statistics. 

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November is a great time to visit Tijuana

If you choose to visit Tijuana during its warmest months in July, August and September you will experience temperatures around 29-30 during the day, which wont drop below 19 at night.

The coldest month is January with an average high temperature of 12 and lows down to 6. January is also the rainiest month of the year with less than 6 rainy days in the month.

Is Tijuana safe to visit for tourists?

Tijuana was our first destination and our first impression of Mexico and we loved it. And what is not to love about Tijuana? It’s got amazingly friendly locals, an amazing food scene, lot’s of street art, craft beer and music as well as beaches. We would recommend all of you to put Tijuana on your Mexico travel itinerary. 

However! When you write Tijuana in a google search you will get results like “Bloody Tijuana: a week in the life of Mexico’s murderous border city”. This city is mostly famous for its gun- and drug-related crime, high murder rates and people who by desperate means try to cross into the US. Media, especially the US media portrays Tijuana as a very unsafe place and it seems they thrive on exaggerating and sensationalising every little negative thing that happens in Mexico. 

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Is Tijuana safe for tourists to visit?

Prior to going to Tijuana we were travelling in the US and when we told people that we were going to cross into Mexico through Tijuana and spend a few days there we received mixed reactions. Many warned us that going to Tijuana is not safe as it is a very dangerous place and not at all safe for tourists.

So we asked why. 

We were then told about the US government’s travel advisory system, where they rank places by levels, 1 being safe and 4 being very unsafe for travel. We then decided to start comparing these travel advisories with those of other governments around the world and we came to the conclusion that America’s official view of Mexico is much more fear inducing than those of, for example, the UK and Sweden. 

We spent several days in Tijuana and we won’t tell you that crime doesn’t exist there but we will tell you that it is safe for tourists. We never felt unsafe in Tijuana. We even stayed with a local outside of the “safer” touristy area of the city and still didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary. 

Crime does happen in Tijuana, and our local host told us lots of crazy stories, but he also told us to take what we see in the news with a pinch of salt. Both the US media and the US government have their own motives to put Tijuana and Mexico in a bad light. If you don’t have the opportunity to stay with and be guided by a local, like we did, and you don’t know which areas to stick to, to be absolutely safe we would recommend down-town, Zona Rio and Playas de Tijuana. 

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So, if you’re interested in visiting Tijuana but feel unsure because of what you’ve seen in the media and been told by your government, we advice you to do your own research. Read blogs by other travellers and watch vlogs on YouTube. and if you’re from the US, don’t forget to check the travel advisory about Tijuana and Mexico by other governments around the world as well to get a better perspective. 

10 reasons to visit and top things to do

1. Meet the people

Wherever we travel in the world interacting with people is one of our absolutely favourite things to do. Something we’ve learnt hitchhiking and travelling around the world in general, is that people are kind and generous everywhere. We’ve received so much love an generosity on our travels and Tijuana was no exception. 

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Checking out a local group playing tradiotional music

When we visited Tijuana we were lucky to stay with a young local man who is a friend of a friend of ours. He spoilt us rotten, invited us for lots of food, showed us the best locals spots to eat, to shop, to drink, he took us to the beach for sunset, he told us lots of stories about his city and he presented us to his friends and family. Everyone we met through our friend treated us as if they had known us for a very long time.

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Having a local to show you around is the best way to see the city

If you don’t know anyone in Tijuana like we do, there are plenty locals on Couchsurfing who would love to host you and show you their amazing city.  Don’t miss out on the opportunity to meet the people of Tijuana.

2. Go shopping

The first thing we noticed arriving in down-town Tijuana was the enormous amount of traditional Mexican made handicraft items being sold everywhere. 

At first it gave us the feeling of this area being very touristy (which it is) and we expected the prices to be very high but when we started asking about the prices it turned out most items where fairly reasonably priced, sometimes even before bargaining (which you should do).You can find anything from traditional clothing, hats, shoes, jewellery, all for very affordable prices.  

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Grab yourself some local souvenirs.

Mercado Hidalgo

Our favourite market in Tijuana is the Mercado Hidalgo which seems a bit like a farmer’s market. There’s lots of local, and sometimes organic produce, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. You will find  souvenirs, an abundance of piñatas, dried fruit and spices as well as freshly steamed tamales and tasty tacos. This is a great place to meet the locals, immerse yourself in Mexican daily life and get all of your shopping done in one place.

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Photo by  our friends over at Tasting Travels

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You´ll find beautiful Piñatas like these everywhere in Mexico

El Popo Market

Along the main tourist strip, Avenida Revolución, lies another market, El Popo Market. It’s both an indoor and outdoor market. It’s a colourful market where locals sell anything from dried fruit and nuts to fresh cheeses. Like everywhere else in Tijuana you will also find a lot of local handicraft, like handmade pottery and even skeletons dressed as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Pasaje Rodriguez

This little covered alley is mostly famous for it’s street art but you’ll also find many small little stands where locals sell books, records, jewellery, clothes and art. The shopping and the vibe here is very different to that you’ll find in other markets in Tijuana. It’s a trendier, hipper and newer area and you’ll find the shopkeepers to be younger and much more laid-back in their approach. 

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Find unique handicraft in Pasaje Rodriguez

3. Indulge in amazing street art

This little covered alley is mostly famous for it’s street art but you’ll also find many small little stands where locals sell books, records, jewellery, clothes and art. The shopping and the vibe here is very different to that you’ll find in other markets in Tijuana. It’s a trendier, hipper and newer area and you’ll find the shopkeepers to be younger and much more laid-back in their approach. 

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There is street art like this on every corner in Tijuana

4. Stroll along El Malecón and have a picnic on the beach

When you’re in Tijuana don’t forget to head to the beaches. Yes, Tijuana has beaches and one of the nicest things to do there is to stroll along the board walk, or El Malecón as it’s called in Spanish. Locals love coming here, enjoying a picnic on the beach with family and friends, or just walking along El Malecón. 

It’s a pretty hip area with many shops selling goods by local artisans and you will also find more of Tijuana’s incredible street art here, which we mentioned earlier. 

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One of the nicest things in Tijuana is to stroll along El Malecón

Just like in down-town Tijuana there is no lack of food on El Malecón. There are street food vendors and all kinds of restaurants and bars offering fish tacos and cold beers for a reasonable price. 

5. Visit The Friendship Park and the US wall

Going for a stroll along el Malecón was definitely one of the highlights during our time in Tijuana but it was also an emotionally heavy place to visit. Right at the most northern part of the beach is El Parque de la Amistad (the Friendship Park) and a tall fence extending into the sea. 

This is the wall dividing Mexico from the USA. If you’ve ever heard stories of family members meeting up by the wall in order to see each other and speak to each other, this is where it takes place.

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Where the border meets the sea

This isn’t something that happen on a daily bases though and there are actually two fences with about 10 metres between them with US guards patrolling up and down on quad bikes. 

On the US side of the wall there’s a big empty beach and a big park which people don’t have access to except for on Saturdays and Sundays between 10 a.m. And 2 p.m. On these days the US government opens the fence on the US side and allows a maximum of 10 people at a time, to meet with their families for a maximum of 30 minutes (this time limit was enforced in 2018).

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Standing next to the famous US/Mexico wall felt a bit strange

Separated by the fence on the Mexican side all they can´t hug, but just gently touch each other with their finger tips through the holes of the mesh fence. It´s absolutely heartbreaking. Some families who live close to the border visit the wall and their loved ones every weekend, whilst others travel far and see their family members for the first time in a decade or more. 

6. Enjoy the sunset by the beach

If you’re visiting las Playas de Tijuana in the afternoon, why not stay for the sunset? The beach and the Malecón are perfect spots to watch incredible sunsets any time of the year in Tijuana. There´s nothing as magical as seeing the sun drop behind the horizon and to soon after give you a spectacular and colourful light show for free, illuminating the sky in yellows and reds. 

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Beautiful sunsets by the sad wall that divides Mexico and The US
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There's nothing as magical as watching the sun drop below the Pacific Ocean at Playas Tijuana

7. Eat amazing food

There’s no shortage of places to eat in Tijuana. The city is considered by many (including us) to be the “taco mecca” of the world. We´ve even heard that many Americans cross the border just to have lunch in Tijuana. That´s crazy! As a matter of fact , there are orginised food and shopping tours taking American tourists across the border and into Tijuana just to enjoy some shopping and food, especially tacos. 

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Try an incredible taco al pastor

So why are the tacos of Tijuana so good? As far as we can see, it it’s location. People from all over Mexico come to Tijuana to try to cross the border to the US and with them they bring their regional taco traditions and ingredients. In the last two decades the food scene has exploded in Tijuana as many young chefs have started to put a more modern twist to their tacos and other traditional Mexican dishes. Today, Tijuana is home to a number of Michelin Star restaurants.

Where to eat?

Local Taco Stands
Taco Vendors in Tijuana set up stands from trucks all over the city or operate out of small shops. It is said that no Mexican lives further than 400 metres from a Taquería or Taco Stand (in the cities) and in Tijuana they probably live even closer. 

Tacos El Franc

This popular taquería serves, hands down, the best we had in Tijuana. It’s very obvious that this is a favourite among locals as you will see it packed with people, any time of the day, indulging in delicious tacos like El Taco Pastor and El Taco Asado. These tacos are delicious all the way from the tortilla to the guacamole, so when you visit Tijuana make sure you eat here at least once.

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The best taco in Tijuana?

Caesars

We personally didn’t eat here but we think you should. Legend has it that the Caesar salad was invented here by a Italian-American man called Caesar Cardini back in 1924. This is also one of the oldest restaurants in Tijuana, which on it’s own makes it worth a visit. 

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8. Check out the craft beer scene

If you like beer Tijuana is the place to be. This city is said to be “the craft beer capital of Mexico” and we´re not surprised. It has got a booming craft beer scene and there are new breweries popping up all the time, and on top of that, Tijuana has won international awards thanks to its beers.

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Tijuana is famous for its craft beer scene

To get the best out of this growing scene head to Plaza Fiesta and you´ll find lots of different breweries and tasting rooms. There are as many as 100 local beer brands in Tijuana and the variety of flavour is wide. Why not try some chocolate or orange flavoured beer? 

Not too far from Plaza Fiesta, and still in the city centre, you´ll find BCB (Baja Craft Beer) Tasting Room. We were blown away by it´s menu. 11 pages with different kinds of beer and with the first page dedicated to craft beer only. 

9. Visit the Cultural Center of Tijuana

In one of Tijuana’s more affluent areas, Zona Rio, by the Tijuana river you’ll find Tijuana’s Cultural Center (CEUT). It’s been open since 1982 and is famous for “La Bola”, home to Tijuana’s only IMAX cinema. The centre was designed by an architect called Ramírez Vázquez and Manuel Rosen Morrison and has since become a great symbol for Tijuana.

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The Cultural Centre is now a landmark in Tijuana

What we liked most about the Cultural Centre was  the Californian Museum, “Museo de las Californias” and its exhibition on the history of Baja California. This is a great start for anyone planning a trip down the Baja peninsula

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Cultural events and live performances are common at CEUT

10. Visit the Guadalupe wineries

Have you ever heard of “Ruta del Vino” and Valle Guadalupe in Mexico? We hadn’t before planning our trip to Baja California. Who would have thought that just a short drive from Tijuana we would find a series of lush green vineyards and nearly 100 top quality wineries. For wine lovers, Mexico is currently the place to be.

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Valle Guadalupe is not only home to an abundance of great wineries with epic panoramic views of the valleys, but also fancy, top notch restaurants, stylish boutique hotels and bars. The culinary scene in the valley is maybe the best in Baja California thanks to kilometres of fertile soil where locals grow their own produce. 

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We recommend you come here with your own wheels as organised tours tend to be very pricey. It is also possible and much more economical to come here on public transport, but it’s a lot more of an effort and you might only have time to visit one of the many wineries. We were told that all the wineries in the valley are family-based, something that we really appreciate, trying to travel sustainably and spread our money locally. 

Encuentro Guadalupe

We visited Encuentro Guadalupe  for a drink and something to eat. What first caught our eye arriving at the winery were the really funky little wooden lofts on the hillside behind the restaurant. This is Hotel Endémico designed by a guy called Jorge Garcia.  

These lofts are built on little stilts to not touch the ground in order to protect the soil and the nature. But, with room rates starting at over $400/night (USD) this isn’t a place for budget travellers and is best admired from the outside rather than from the inside. 

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Enjoy a wine tasting at El Encuentro
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Why not stay here for a night?

Cuatro Cuatros

We also recommend visting Cuatro Cuatros. This winery is located at the end of a long dirt road and on the top of the hill you will find a bar overlooking the ocean, an amazing spot for sunset. Unfortunately it wasn’t open when we visited in November, which is the low season for the wineries as they don´t see as many visitors. 

Visiting Cuatro Cuatros was still a great experience. There´s a very peculiar bar resembling two ship wrecked ships and a very cosy outdoors seating area under the trees which are lit up at night. 

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The famous vineyards of Guadalupe

How to get to Tijuana

Crossing the border from San Diego

So what is the best way to visit Tijuana from San Diego? Well most people visiting Tijuana arrive from the city of San Diego in the US either by car or the pedestrian crossing. This is one of the world’s busiest and most congested border crossings and although you might experience long lines crossing by foot or by car it’s pretty straight forward.

Our Mexican host Antonio picked us up in San Diego and we crossed the border by car and only had to head into immigration to fill in and pay for our tourist card (FMM). This way we avoided the lines of pedestrians and were on Mexican land before we knew it. Most people don’t have a local to pick them up in San Diego but don’t worry it’s pretty easy process to get to the border and make it over to Tijuana. 

Some people drive themselves and park at the border (US citizens) and then cross into Tijuana by foot. Another option is to take the trolley (the blue line) straight to the border from Santa Fe Depot in San Diego. It takes 40 minutes and costs only $2.50. At the border you will have to cross by foot, fill in your Tourist card (FMM) if you’re staying longer than 72 hours and grab a taxi/Uber into downtown Tijuana  or hop on a shuttle bus to the airport.

By air

You can fly to Tijuana from many different destinations around Mexico with all Mexican airlines (Aeroméxico, Volaris, Interjet, and VivaAerobus.) If you are arriving from Europe or anywhere else in the world and want to make Tijuana your first stop in Mexico, it is both quicker and more affordable to fly to either Los Angeles or San Diego in the US  rather than flying to for example Mexico City first, and then make your way over the border by foot. 

By bus

There are plenty of bus companies going to Tijuana from a number of destinations around Mexico. Long distance buses in Mexico are generally of very high standard and you will often get a huge reclining seat and a TV screen with games, series and films for you to watch during your journey. 

In our experiences these buses aren’t very affordable if you compare to other destinations around the world. We found buses in the US to be of similar prices. For us it turned out cheaper to fly all the way down to Los Cabos on the southern tip of Baja California.

How to get around

By foot

We felt completely safe walking around Tijuana during the day, but as everywhere else in the world there are areas to be avoided, especially at night. Walking is an excellent way to see the city, especially the down-town area but if you’re short on time it’s easy and fairly affordable to get around by public transport or Uber. 

Colectivo/Public transport

There are plenty of buses in Tijuana costing as little as 5 Pesos for a trip and they run between 6 a.m. and 10 p,m. It’s better to pay in exact change and you can use USD if you haven’t exchanged any money yet, although the exchange rate won’t be in your favour. 

Taxis & Uber

As in many places around the world getting a taxi can be a bit of a hassle. You often need to negotiate the price and the price won’t always be fare. We recommend Uber. It works great all over Mexico and it’s a very affordable and safe way to get around, especially if you are more than 1 traveller. 

Where to stay?

We use booking.com  when we book hostels and hotels and in Tijuana  the ones that stood out the most, in terms of good value for money and good standard, were the following places. 

Budget hotels

Hotel Guille JR offers double rooms starting at 39 USD/night. It’s in a great central location with very friendly management. All rooms include a desk, flat screen TV, air-conditioning and a private bathroom. 

Hotel Pacific offers air-conditioned double rooms with a private bathroom for 42 USD/night. Reviews say the rooms are clean and the staff very helpful. Every room features a flat screen satellite TV and a work desk. 

Mid-range hotels

For another 20 USD/night you can stay at the very famous Hotel Caesar, home to the restaurant with the same name, which apparently was where the Caesar Salad was invented. You will pay 61 USD for a double room with private bathroom.

Hostels

There aren’t many very budget friendly hostels available in Tijuana but the ones that seem to be the most popular and are recommended by other travellers are:

Lifestyle Hostel
Lifestyle Hostel is a beautiful hostel decorated with funky art and the location is perfect for those who like to stay near the beach. For 39 USD you get a double room and for as little as 15 USD/person you get a single bed in a mixed dorm.

North Hostel
Another popular hostel is North Hostel, also on the beach front. A deluxe double room is 41 USD and dorm beds start at 15 USD/person

Rooms and apartments on Airbnb

Sometimes renting rooms or whole apartments through Airbnb is more affordable. In Tijuana prices start as cheap as 17 USD for a private room but you can also get a smaller apartment for as low as 22 USD/night for two people.

Get $45 off your first booking by using this link to Airbnb.

Couchsurfing

When we visited Tijuana we stayed with a local guy who is a friend of a friend. We really recommend staying with locals around the world and Couchsurfing is a great way of doing this if you don’t have any personal contacts in the area you are travelling to. 

Tijuana has plenty of hosts on Couchsurfing who’d love to host you and show you their city. 

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We had an amazing time in Tijuana and can’t wait to go back again. We hope that this Tijuana guide has encouraged you to visit this incredible city and if you have any questions feel free to comment below.

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