Just across the Río Bravo from Brownsville, Texas, MATAMOROS is a buzzing little town with more history than the settlements strung out to its west. What began in 1774 as a cattle-ranching colony eventually became known – with the introduction of the port of Bagdad – as “La Puerta México,” and in the nineteenth century Matamoros (along with Veracruz) became the main port of entry for foreign immigrants. At the turn of the nineteenth century, rail lines from both sides of the border were directed through Matamoros, and again the city found itself as the necessary link in the trade crossroads. Since the passage of NAFTA in 1994, Matamoros has established itself as an important point for trade, with the outskirts dominated by strip malls and factories; the Matamoros–Brownsville Metropolitan Area has a population of almost 1.2 million, and when restrictions on car imports were lifted in 2005 it became the used car capital of the world. Sadly, Mexico’s ongoing drug wars hit Matamoros in a big way in 2015, devastating local car businesses and tourism (a feud between Gulf Cartel factions, nominally based here, is blamed). Though the old centre retains some provincial charm, with a slightly run-down blend of historic buildings and cheap stores, it’s not advisable to visit Matamoros until the security situation stabilizes – check the latest situation online (UK foreign office at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice, or the US at travel.state.gov).

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