Cabbing from San Diego airport to Ensenada?
April 16, 2015 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Mexico Border Crossing: please explain to me, an East Coaster, the viability of taking a cab from the San Diego airport, rolling my suitcase across the border, and taking a Mexican cab to Ensenada. It sounds insane to me, but people from Arizona insist this is a fine way to travel.

My husband and I are attending a wedding in Ensenada that is mainly populated by people from Arizona who own cars and will be driving them across the border. There is a group of people from NYC and Philly who are also attending, and the question of how we will get across the border has yielded some interesting results. It's expensive/difficult to rent an American car and then get international car insurance to drive it across the border, so the wedding party has suggested that we get cabs from the SD airport to the Tijuana border, get out and go through customs, and then get a Mexican cab to the wedding destination in Ensenada.

To me, this sounds bonkers (and expensive, and like a recipe for exploitative cab drivers, and possibly dangerous), but I also never lived close to the Mexican border and am not a seasoned border-hopper and am maybe over-thinking this.

Our other alternative is to rent a bus from the only bus company that travels across the border. If we did, the driver would pick up all the out-of-towners at the SD airport and take us there. Though I feel like this is obviously an ideal solution, the bus company's reviews are very shady and apparently they have history of not showing up at all, potentially putting us back at square one. Also, if anyone's flight is delayed or cancelled, they're SOL too.

Any thoughts from experienced Arizona-to-Baja vacationers are appreciated.
posted by Viola to Travel & Transportation around Ensenada, Mexico (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Many years ago we drove from SoCal into Tijuana against better advice. At some point we came across a dark intersection. My friend drove us very carefully through it. Turns out there was a hidden stop sign and a waiting cop, looking for suckers like us.

The Tijuana cop pulled us over and started yelling at us in Spanish, which regretfully only one of us understood, and only barely. Then the cop said "blow me." We looked at each other aghast — what wicked corruption was this? But he repeated himself, louder: "Blow me!" We figured out that he wanted to smell the driver's breath for alcohol. A small exhalation was met with "BLOW ME HARDER!"

The cop was rather surprised that we hadn't been drinking. Still, he extorted us to the tune of about $80, which was a lot of money back then for college students. So the cab idea sounds good to me.
posted by exogenous at 6:27 AM on April 16, 2015

San Diego's trolley system is an excellent way to get around and I highly suggest you take it (the blue line) to the last stop at the border: San Ysidro. Print out a trolley map and you'll see where the blue line ends at San Ysidro. From the trolley stop at San Ysidro, it is easy to simply walk across the border. People are nice, and friendly. Mexicans are wonderful folk. Many if not most speak English. Just ask along the way if you're unsure of the where to walk. There are signs, but hey, this is Mexico, and it's not completely obvious. You'll see a few guards posted here and there, but customs for the most part doesn't exist going into the border. Coming back is another story altogether. (Brace yourself. I highly suggest against border crossing on the weekend and that you allocate at least three hours to cross back into the U.S. The line is long. Bring a magazine. There are places to get water, coffee and ice cream, and endless vendors of chikle (gum in Spanish?), which is what I usually do to pass the time in line…chew gum.)

After you cross the border and you're on the Mexican side, you'll go up and over an outdoor bridge, and at the base of that bridge will be a parking lot full of taxis and friendly drivers (most of whom speak English), who can take you to your destination. I am going to guess that the somewhat convoluted walk entry into Mexico is about 3/4 of a mile.

The only hitch is that you can't get access to the trolley directly at the airport because of the way the airport runways are laid out. But I do know the nearest trolley stop is very close. I don't fly into San Diego, so I'm not sure how you get from the airport to the nearest trolley stop, but people do it all the time.

I hope this helps. I go to TJ about once a month, and always walk across the border. Would never think of taking a cab in San Diego because the trolley system is so easy and accessible.
posted by zagyzebra at 6:32 AM on April 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

One other thing. When you take a cab back to the border from Enseanda, ask to be taken to "la linea." That means "the line" in Spanish. Make sure you specify San Ysidro. There is a second border crossing (I don't know the name of it) in Tijuana. You definitely do not want to get dropped at the wrong crossing.
posted by zagyzebra at 6:37 AM on April 16, 2015

Per zagyzebra's suggestion, you can take a cab to the train station (Santa Fe Depot), and hop on the trolley there to get to the border. The border isn't terribly far away (around 10 miles), but trolley tickets will run about $3 per person, probably a bit cheaper than taking a cab the whole way, and the trolley stop in San Ysidro is basically right at the border checkpoint. There's also a city bus from the airport to the train station, I think # 992. The train station isn't too far from the airport, maybe 1 or two miles from the terminals. From the train station, you'll have to walk a block east to catch the blue line trolley at One America Plaza.

Renting a car is probably way more hassle than you want. When I've rented a car in San Diego, I've been explicitly prohibited from taking it into Mexico. There might be a company that will allow it for an additional expense, but I imagine the cost is high, and probably in addition to having to get Mexican insurance on your own.
posted by LionIndex at 7:44 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

FYI the other crossing is called Otay Mesa and while it is a perfectly good border crossing to park and walk (there are many pay parking lots on the US side for this purpose) there's no real public transportation beyond the bus. If you did end up there, you'd have no trouble getting an Uber or whatever to come pick you up at the shopping center on the US side.

Anyway, driving across the border can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 8 hours, and that's why nobody does it if they can help it. If there's enough of you arriving in SD around the same time, you can find a charter bus or limo service in TJ to pick you up on the other side of the border crossing and take you to the wedding and back to the border, which can all be arranged in advance and you won't have to worry about the cab ordeal.

There is also the ABC Bus, which runs from Tijuana to Ensenada (only - it doesn't go anywhere else) and the depot is around the corner from the border crossing. More info and pictures of the bus station here.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:59 AM on April 16, 2015

With two other friends, I've ridden the trolley to the border, walked across and got a cab into TJ. Several hours later, cab back to the border, walk back across, trolley back into town. Heading north, the travel time was much shorter than the wait for driving. No insanity, just follow the crowd.
posted by Rash at 8:56 AM on April 16, 2015

Nthing the trolley. I was just in SD for work and getting to Mexico for a daytrip via the trolley was easy peasy and pretty intuitive. And the trolley's nice!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:08 AM on April 16, 2015

Good advice above. To add: they finished construction and opened up 25 lanes at the San Ysidro border crossing a few months ago, so it's not quite as hellish as it used to be. I've been across a half-dozen times and the longest we had to wait was an hour and a half since the re-opening.

It will cost you $8-10 to take a cab from the airport to Santa Fe Depot. It is much cheaper to take the trolley from Santa Fe Depot to the border than to take a cab to the border. The trolley is nice, the cars are almost new, well-lit, and it's not sketchy at all.

Though it's technically not required to show a passport or passport card when crossing the border back into the US, it will make your passage smoother and quicker to have one.
posted by hootenatty at 9:41 AM on April 16, 2015

"Though it's technically not required to show a passport or passport card when crossing the border back into the US, it will make your passage smoother and quicker to have one."
This hasn't been true since 2009 when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) was implemented for land (and sea). Bring your passport (or passport card)!
posted by atomicstone at 10:37 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

n-thing zagyzebra and late afternoon dreaming hotel et alia

Take the trolley, walk across the border. pick up a cab in Mexico.
Reverse the process, walking across the border into the US and then catching the trolley again

Crossing the border in a motor vehicle is a keen exercise in misery. Tijuana radio stations have traffic reports for the border crossings-- wait time ranging from 45 minutes to 3 hours. The vehicle directly in front of you that would not pass inspection in the US emitting Stygian clouds of poisonous exhaust. Just... don't.
posted by ohshenandoah at 6:48 PM on April 16, 2015

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