Known for years as the definitive booze-soaked border town, Tijuana is a city of contradictions, a window into the soul of modern Mexico. American day-trippers have been coming here in significant numbers since the 1950s, but visits crashed 90 percent between 2005 and 2009, and the main commercial drag, Avenida Revolución, or La Revo, is a shadow of its former raucous self. Escalating drug-related violence of the kind portrayed in Traffic (2000) and La Linea (2008) – largely shot in Tijuana – led to US government travel warnings in 2008 that devastated the cross-border tourist trade.
Tijuana’s real problem, though, is one of perception. Founded in 1889, the city has grown to have a population of almost two million, and despite its often shabby appearance, the region’s duty-free status and its legion of maquiladores (assembly plants) have helped make Tijuana one of the richest cities in Mexico. The reality is that beautification schemes and police crackdowns have left central Tijuana safer and smarter than ever before, and lurid stories of drug violence and kidnappings are highly exaggerated and rarely affect tourist areas (at least during the day). The tackiness, pushy vendors and painted donkeys are still there, but downtown is flooded with police and has become largely free of the violence. The city is fast developing a dynamic arts scene, and enterprising newcomers have breathed life into the city’s restaurant industry, using cultural institutions like Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) as a breeding ground for home-grown artistic and cultural movements. In the Zona Río, beyond the areas where most tourists venture, you’ll find sophisticated restaurants, clubs and modern concrete and glass buildings, offering the best glimpse of Tijuana’s other life – one that has more in common with San Diego than the adult-themed carnival atmosphere of La Revo. And the food is fabulous – Tijuana excels at tasty tacos and can claim some of the best burritos in Mexico.Read More