You are currently viewing 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