Tijuana, Ensenada, Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, Guadalupe Valley. Just a few of the Baja, Mexico destinations which used to be easy and popular day trips from San Diego. In the space of a few years major changes completely changed tourism near the border. The first was increased security at the border by the Department of Homeland Security. The pool of available tourists was dramatically lowered by requiring passports to cross into the USA from Mexico as roughly 1/3rd of Americans hold a passport (though growing). This increased security also lead to an increase in border wait times. Instead of spending an hour or perhaps two at the worst waiting at the border, there began to be an increase in three and four hour waits. The second major impact to cross border tourism was an outburst of drug war related violence. Though mostly targeted towards narcos and those working with them, this bloody war spilled over in several cases and fed fear and general distrust of Tijuana and other border cities.
Though the narco violence subsided in this area years ago, memories take much longer to dissipate. Given time things are starting to turn around. Without the corruption of short term (and usually debauched) cash along Revolución, Tijuana and others have looked inward to reinvent themselves. This change over the last few years has lead to them becoming a bit of a destination for foodies and culture lovers – attracting the like of Bourdain and others to explore the new Baja.
We used to visit the coast of Baja (Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, and occasionally Guadalupe or even further south like Bahia de los Angeles) on a regular basis, going down for lunch and shopping before returning for the day. With the border waits we had fallen out of the habit some time ago and had yet to pick it back up again – We finally got around to visiting one of our old standards with family on Sunday, lunch in Puerto Nuevo. The toll road was washed out so we spent time on the free road driving down. I was pleasantly surprised to see that much of the route was four lanes wide and in excellent shape. The shops along the road were in mixed shape – some still seeming to be going strong, others didn’t seem to have made it through the drought. We spoke with a few shopkeepers who said business had been slowly picking up and they were hopeful for the future. I think we will be picking our habit back up – Baja offers some excellent opportunities for day trips.