This past Memorial Day weekend, four of my girlfriend’s and I drove down to Baja California for some bonding, good food, and adventure. We stayed at an incredible Airbnb in Rosarito but also took a day trip to Ensenada to explore, as Rosarito was supposed to be rainy and cold. Yesterday, Memorial Day, we left town around 11 to head back home.
We spent six hours at the Tijuana-Mexican border (aka the San Ysidro Border) waiting to get back to San Diego.
The San Ysidro Border is the busiest land border in the entire world, so we weren’t too surprised. Although towards the end of the ride, we started to get on each other’s nerves, it wasn’t too bad. We took turns walking out and stretching our legs, playing games, and telling stories.
For those of you who might find yourself at the Tijuana, Mexico border, or are simply curious about the process, I wanted to highlight some things you should expect and things that might make it a little easier.
Street Food And Entertainment At The San Ysidro Border
First things first, you’re going to see a lot of people walking around selling food, medicine, weird trinkets, toys, and everything in between. For food, people will sell traditional Mexican foods and drinks like burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, fresh juice, fruit, and all the Mexican snacks that you would find in a 7-Eleven.
Quite frankly, I would be skeptical about almost all of the non-packaged food. If it weren’t for the many recommendations from friends and family, I probably wouldn’t have had the churros. But let me just say, those churros were bomb.
Of all the foods to get in line at the border, churros are the safest. Just make sure you rip the first one open to check if the center is fully cooked. If not, try to get your money back or give up in defeat. The churros are pretty damn good, and you can usually get them for only 20 pesos, roughly a dollar.
You’ll also see a ton of entertainers walking through the cars. I personally saw a ton of little kids juggling on each other’s shoulders, a Shrek impersonator, and some dancers. If you’re going to actively watch them or take a photo, you should give them some money, even if it’s only 10 pesos.
Don’t Buy The Puppies
You’ll also see people walking around with little puppies in their arms, looking to sell them. The puppies are only a week or two old, often tired from dehydration and staying in the sun all day. They likely aren’t living in the best situations either, and a lot of them look hungry and miserable.
But as adorable as these puppies can be, you have to be careful. Besides the fact that almost all of those puppies have worms, it’s not the best idea to support this immoral industry. I suggest passing up on buying or “rescuing” these little doggies and adopting one from a shelter near you.
Check Out The Market
Towards the end of the border, you’ll find a very busy market. It’s nice to get out of your car and walk ahead to explore it. There are courtyard cafes, food stalls selling deserts and whole meals, the obvious tourist stores filled with tacky painted decor, and even a duty-free shop. At the most, it would take fifteen minutes to get to it from your car, if you’re parked in the back.
You should take shifts with your friends and spend time exploring, grabbing snacks, and maybe even buying some nice but inexpensive Mexican tequila at the duty free. You can bring up to a liter of alcohol per person and $800 total worth of purchases from the duty-free.
Know Where The Bathrooms Are
You have to know that you will absolutely have to use the bathroom while in line for the border, especially if you’re waiting for five hours like I was. Obviously, you should go to the bathroom before you even get in the car. But you can also find at least two bathrooms in the market that I mentioned above.
The first one always have a long line and isn’t the cleanest. But the one a little further down the road, only an extra minute of walking, has seven stalls and a lady constantly cleaning it. They also provide a ton of toilet paper, which is surprising in Mexico. You’ll have to pay 50 cents of ten pesos to use the bathrooms.
Some people skate by the border in only two hours but only long weekends like Memorial Day, you’re likely going to spend at least four hours waiting in line. To kill time, my friends and I downloaded Ellen’s Heads Up app, took those walking breaks that I mentioned, and just hung out and chatted. A few of us even got a few hours of reading squeezed in.
There are some lanes that go faster than others, so figure out ahead of time if you’ll be able to make it to any of them. It can save you hours of waiting.
Also, you absolutely need to have the proper identification to get through the border. If you do not have your American passport, you will not get through, no exceptions. A driver’s license or ID is not enough. If you lose your passport, visit the American Embassy of Tijuana.
Crossing the San Ysidro border to San Diego doesn’t have to be a nightmare waiting game. It can definitely be entertaining and a great opportunity to bond with your family and friends!