getting to Tijuana from Los Angeles
March 19, 2009 1:06 AM   Subscribe

Is there a good way to get from Los Angeles to Tijuana directly? Greyhound seems to run several direct buses a day, but I wasn't sure if there was another option (direct - so Amtrak isn't an option). I also have never taken Greyhound on the west coast (used to a lot on the east coast), so I'd appreciate knowing people's experiences!

Also, how long can I expect the journey to take with the wait in customs (and how long will it take on the way back?)
posted by waylaid to Travel & Transportation around Tijuana, Mexico (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not direct, but if you can get to the Santa Fe Station in San Diego, Volaris Air offers a shuttle bus to the Tijuana Airport for about 15 dollars.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:16 AM on March 19, 2009

Oh, and as for how long it takes, it's hit or miss. The Mexican customs agents press a button and a light turns on. If it's green, as it was in our case, your bus breezes right through and is at the TJ airport in about 20 minutes. I'm not sure how long it takes if the light comes up red.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:38 AM on March 19, 2009

In addition to Greyhound, there are several Mexican bus lines that offer direct service to Tijuana. The problem is many of the lines are old school and don't have much of a online presence. Many of these leave from Santa Ana, not LA. Others do leave from LA. The driver and ticket agents will default to Spanish but many speak the English (or you hold up the money for the trip and say "Tijuana" and they'll give you the ticket). You may want to just go with Greyhound since it more familiar. I'm pretty sure your Greyhound experience in the East has prepared you for the Southern California experience.

If you're going to the city of Tijuana (not the airport), you might want to think about hopping off the bus in San Ysidro right near the border and walk across and then take a taxi to your ultimate destination. Or the buses can go along to the central bus station or airport in Tijuana. Walking into Mexico is pretty quick and there isn't really a stop for customs. Every time I go through they aren't even using the "stoplight" method (red = you need to get your bags rifled through, green = go through without stopping). In most cases, unless you have something to declare it can be faster than the traffic. If you hit the border at the wrong time, there can be traffic clogging things up before you get to the Mexican customs. For the most part, it depends on your destination in Tijuana though. If I were going to the Airport, I'd just sit in the bus rather than getting a taxi (for one thing it would cost more, for another dealing with baggage on the walk would be a hassle).

Coming back to the US is a little more complicated. The buses have a special lane on the US side, but is can still take time if there are a lot of people/cars/buses in line. Once your get to the office, everyone gets off the bus and goes into to talk to a customers/immigrations officer. You have a special a line and after you pass muster you get back on the bus. Best case scenario, you're on your way after a 30 minute delay, worst case it could take much longer. Note that the pedestrian line at the San Ysidro crossing is often long and many bus/shuttle companies will offer rides for $5US to people waiting in line in their buses so pedestrians can skip the sometimes 2hr+ lines.

If you are going to be reentering the US after a holiday weekend, allow extra time and many Green Card holding Mexicans may be coming back to the US. Also lots of people live in Tijuana and work in San Diego so mornings can be crowded. The bus lines that make the run daily will build the time into their schedule (along with traffic in LA/OC and San Diego). Still if you're catching a flight on either end of the journey, allow extra time.

Don't forget that US citizens now require proof of identity and citizenship when you enter the US over land now. The easiest way to satisfy this is a passport. But they will also accept your driver's license and birth certificate. If you forget the ID they'll still let you it will delay your trip substantially while they verify your citizenship. I think in July a passport will be mandatory.
posted by birdherder at 8:00 AM on March 19, 2009

I know you're looking for a direct route, but I'll just say -- taking the SD trolley from Santa Fe Station is extremely easy and fast. From there, you just walk across the border to the Mexican side. On my two trips there, there were *no* customs checks or even anyone working in the building. I was a little shocked to exit the winding staircase on the other side and realize that I was already in Mexico. It was almost too easy.

Coming back, expect a long line and passport checks all around.
posted by the jam at 9:02 AM on March 19, 2009

FWIW, on the way back, your bus might be stopped on the highway between San Diego and LA for 'random' passport checks, even though the bus didn't originate in TJ. This has happened to me twice on Greyhound on that route. They ask for your passport if you're not white-looking. No other traffic was stopped, so it wasn't like this was any kind of roadblock or manhunt--it seemed targetted at the bus.
posted by Beardman at 9:59 AM on March 19, 2009

Response by poster: I actually found that the quickest way was still the Tijuana trolley from the border. Since it leaves every 15 minutes, it is a straight shot (45 minutes downtown) to San Diego. I was also taking a train north. Since the trolley stops at the Amtrak station, this was a great idea.
posted by waylaid at 10:24 PM on June 8, 2009

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