Many travelers still want to visit Baja California, but are concerned with safety or even bored with Tijuana day trips. A great alternative is to skip Tijuana and head to Ensenada for a weekend stay. The travel to get there is cheap, safe and easy.
There are never waiting lines to cross into Mexico at San Ysidro by foot. Mexico police will at times check luggage on the way in, typically looking for weapons or cash. Once you cross into Mexico, you’ll notice the line of people waiting to cross into the U.S.
Following the pedestrian path towards the main commerce district, the first thing you will see is tourist junk and taxis. Keep walking straight for another block; you’re headed to the Plaza Viva. You will soon see a McDonald’s to your left-hand side about a block ahead.
Once you get to the McDonald’s, make a left, which is south. You’ll walk less than a block and make the next right. Once you make the right, the bus station is on your right hand side about 20 meters ahead. This bus station, the ABC station, only goes to Ensenada. The buses for Ensenada leave every 15 minutes. This past June, I bought a ticket for $134 pesos, which is slightly over $10 USD. You can pay in dollars or pesos.
The bus will pull within feet of the station, so you cannot miss your bus. The ticketing staff will write the number of your bus on it. At busy times you will be given a seat number.
Take a minute to buy a snack from a street vendor before you board the 90-minute ride. Bathrooms are on every bus, just make sure you are only taking a number one. Toilet paper is left off of these buses for this reason.
When boarding the bus, if you have not been given a seat number, sit on the far right side so you can see the coastline during the ride. The ride will take you through the western portion of Tijuana, the edge of Playas de Tijuana, and pass Rosarito. If you are able to get a view, you will see all the beach towns and some struggling resort areas. Ensenada will appear in a little less than an hour and a half if you miss traffic.
Once in Ensenada, a few riders will likely have worked out a deal to be dropped off at personal stops. The best bet is to ride to the bus station and not get off early. At this point you can get a taxi to any part of the city or area.
Calle Primera is the best area if you want to grab a beer, cheap tacos or grab souvenirs. The area is safe, but heading to your hotel by 10 p.m. will ensure safety from potential pickpockets and such if you are out drinking.
In my recent trip to Ensenada I stayed at the Hotel Coral & Marina. I highly recommend it if you can book early and online, which typically gives you a discounted price. I booked a junior suite for $114 per night in June. If you are fine without the swimming pools, view and bars, cheaper hotels are easy to find.
When ready to leave the city, just ask for the bus station. There will be more choices of destinations here, so get the ABC bus to Tijuana. It leaves every 30 minutes. Once back in Tijuana, you can follow the path back to the border. You can easily get a taxi if you do not want to haul your bags.
The line into the U.S. can get quite long – if you can’t put up with the wait, catch a taxi to the Otay Mesa crossing. It will cost you around 15 dollars. (Sometimes you can negotiate less.) This line is always shorter, but can still take up to 45 minutes at times.
To make things quicker for crossing into the U.S., have your documents ready. If you are not a frequent crosser, you will likely be in the typical pedestrian line. Take off your sunglasses and be friendly with Border Patrol agents when they ask you questions. Throw your bag through the luggage scanner and you will likely be on your way.
If you withstood the lines at San Ysidro (the western port of entry), there will be taxis everywhere and the San Diego trolley is within feet.
If you went for the shorter lines at Otay Mesa (the eastern port of entry), walk about a block north and there will be a taxi stand to take you away.