During our three-week tour of the southwestern U.S., we opted for a day trip from Los Angeles to Tijuana, one of the, supposedly, most dangerous cities in the world. Before the trip, we asked ourselves numerous questions, which we'd like to address here in case you'd like to take a trip to Mexico, too.
What exactly is Tijuana ?
From Los Angeles we went via San Diego to the border between USA and Mexico, which is only a few kilometers away from San Diego and represents a world of its own. Just across the border is the city of Tijuana, where just under 1.5 million people live. Border traffic between the U.S. and Mexico is truly enormous, and many Americans drive across the border, resulting in long waits at the border crossing.
However, there is a gigantic parking lot just outside the border where you can park all day for a few dollars. From here, it's just a short walk across a bridge to the border crossing, which can be easily done with a passport from Germany. On the return trip to the USA, however, there must be particularly strong controls and many want to leave from approx. 7:00 p.m. back to the U.S., resulting in long waits at the few border agent counters.
How dangerous is Tijuana ?
Tijuana as a city is really gigantic, which you wouldn't think at first glance. If you take Munich as an example, Tijuana is twice as big and many tourists only get to know the area directly behind the border. Tourists, especially Americans, flock here to shop on the cheap. Medications are especially popular, so the density of pharmacies just across the border is huge. Price wise the difference between the US and Mexico is gigantic, we exchanged 40 dollars, went out to eat, clothes shopping and still had money left over at the end. If you are in the area just over the border, you are, in my opinion, safe and not much will happen. The situation is different a few miles down the road!
The hinterland of Tijuana
As a tourist, however, you should avoid the hinterland of Tijuana, i.e. all the settlements some KM further behind the border, where there are hardly any tourists. Because of its proximity to the U.S. border, the city is popular with smugglers. There have been isolated cases where a couple was traveling in Tijuana away from the touristy corners and one partner was kidnapped, often the wife. The man was then forced to smuggle drugs across the border and hand them over to a partner in the U.S., then the woman was released or they had to smuggle more drugs across the border. Unobtrusive people who tend not to be checked are especially popular. The drug war is extreme especially in the border towns and people are shot on the open street. As a tourist, you notice it more in little things, like the military just across the Mexican border or the police that shows more and more presence in the darkness.
Should you visit Tijuana anyway ?
Personally, I say "yes". There are also ordinary people living in the city who rely on the tourists. The city tries everything possible to attract tourists and you can tell that you have been to Mexico once. We spent an entire day in Tijana and actually never felt unsafe. At the beginning is more skeptical because you read a lot on the internet, but in the end it was a great trip. Not to be sneezed at is also the Mexican cuisine, which is really delicious.