Tijuana is a bustling city in Mexico known for being the most crossed border in the world. The Mexican border city is located just south of California and is the industrial and financial center of Mexico. It is the largest city on the Baja California Peninsula and is considered a cultural metropolis and great influencer of Mexican culture. Downtown Tijuana is the main tourist area since it is filled (for eight blocks) with many shopping opportunities, street food vendors and fun experiences that are all perfect for tourists. The cost of living is relatively low in Tijuana as well, so visitors may be able to make their money stretch a little further by visiting this destination. But, is Tijuana safe to travel to for vacation?

Official Travel Advisories

Travelers should always exercise caution when in a new location, but this is especially true in Baja California State in Mexico where Tijuana is located. Baja California State is one of the most dangerous areas in Mexico because it’s a prime route for drug trafficking across the U.S. – Mexico border and is a known area where territorial disputes between battling cartels occur. The biggest risk to tourists is getting caught as an innocent bystander if violence breaks out. However, the US State Department hasn’t created a wholesale advisory against traveling to Tijuana. Instead, the department cautions travelers to avoid dangerous situations by not exploring beyond the tourist districts in Tijuana in Baja California.

Is Tijuana Safe for Tourists and Solo Travelers?

The city of Tijuana offers the full border town experience with a cultural mix that is like no other. It has a unique culinary experience that has incorporated Mexican, indigenous, as well as, American influences and gained global attention. Tijuana has many different cultural offerings like lively nightlife and an array of restaurants and bars, thus, it offers a lot to travelers since it is culturally significant. The cultural climate and safety level of Tijuana can be defined by its rich history. After the Mexican-American war (from 1846 -1848), Tijuana became an attractive destination for travelers who wanted to indulge in certain adult activities. During the American Prohibition era (1920 – 1933), due to its proximity to the American border, Tijuana became a place popular for entertainment and liquor. 

Travelers will find that Tijuana’s nightlife is still extensive. While the city has plenty of perks to offer travelers, the city has struggled with issues like drug trafficking, violent crimes and illegal immigration. As of 2023, Tijuana still ranked as one of the most violent cities in the world, with burglary, larceny and robberies being the most common crimes committed. All of these factors have contributed to the safety level of Tijuana, as well as, which areas are the safest. 

For example, while Downtown Tijuana is one of the more popular destinations, it also happens to be where more crimes are committed in the city. Instead, consider spending time in Zona Centro, Playas where the popular beaches are located, or La Mesa — an area between the beaches and Downtown. Some of the best ways to navigate the city is either by public transportation, taxi, or renting a car. Since Tijuana is a border town, driving across the U.S.-Mexico border is an option. But for those who enter by sea or air, the city buses known as “calafias” are affordable and an easy way to get between the border, the beach, and the Centro.

Taxis are also an efficient way to navigate the city. However, to avoid sticker shock, stick to the Taxi Libre cars with orange stripes that offer metered fares starting at Mex$20 with an additional Mex$20 for every mile. Alternatively, you can also rent a car or drive your own car.

Tijuana, Mexico is a nice tourism city but also has some dangerous areas. Check out where should and should not be traveled to. Pictured: Tijuana streets near sunset, with palm trees throughout the metropolitan city.

Common Scams to Be Aware Of in Tijuana

Scams targeting tourists tend to be the most common concerns travelers should be wary of. Of course, getting overcharged by taxis is always a concern with any destination. For this reason, only use taxis that rely on meters as this is the best way to avoid being overcharged.

Another common scam is known as the picture scam. With this scam, a person approaches a traveler and asks if they can take a picture using their camera. Once the tourist returns the camera, the con artist drops the camera on the floor, but blames the traveler and demands payment. To avoid this, don’t agree to do anyone any favors by taking a picture for them.

One more scam for bar goers to be wary of is people quickly becoming friends and suggesting going to a specific bar. This is a scam that has slight variations worldwide, but the end result is always the same. A massive tab is run up leaving the unsuspecting tourist to foot the bill. Avoid this fate by being the one to suggest a bar and always checking the prices before ordering drinks.

Similar to the mustard scam, there’s also the bird poop scam to avoid. In this scenario, rather than squirting an unsuspecting mark with mustard, white paste is used. After offering to help clean the mess, the mark is distracted — giving the con artist time to pick their pockets. Another pickpocket favorite is the “guessing game” where an individual sets up a temporary stall with three boxes encouraging passersby to guess which box has the ball. Thanks to the large crowd that forms, pickpockets have an opportunity to mine through people’s pockets for valuables.

Likewise, avoid anyone offering help at an ATM machine. Even in a tourist’s home country this would be a massive red flag. But in Tijuana, the guise is that that “helpful” individual promises to assist tourists in avoiding local bank fees. In reality, they scan the bank card so that they can drain the funds later.

How to Stay Safe in Tijuana

Travelers should avoid the eastern part of Tijuana due to drug trafficking and violence. Neighborhoods like Sánchez Taboada, Tres de Octubre and Camino Verde are places where travelers are more likely to experience dangerous situations. Tijuana is considered particularly dangerous at night for tourists. Tijuana’s non-tourist areas have the highest rate of danger, which makes it crucial for tourists to stay in metropolitan areas that are well-lit.

Travelers should stay in populated tourist areas or take precautions like not walking alone at night and showing off flashy possessions. It is recommended to take extra safeguards while traveling in Tijuana, like carrying pepper spray. While it is illegal to cross the Mexican border with pepper spray or defensive weapons (due to international aviation regulations), it is completely legal for travelers to buy pepper spray while in Mexico. If you have a smartphone or smart watch, consider sharing your location with your loved ones as well.

Another way for travelers to protect themselves is to use Apple AirTags. An AirTag is a device that tracks location, so it is commonly used to keep track of important items like luggage, wallets, or keys. Travelers can use their MacBook, Apple Watch, or other devices to discover the location of their personal belongings that have been tracked by their AirTag. This tracking device makes traveling easier since it allows travelers to have a sense of security, but could potentially be abused. There is a risk that an AirTag can be used to stalk or track tourists, as questionable individuals have been known to casually and inconspicuously drop them in a purse, or luggage or attach one to a car fender. Thankfully, Apple has implemented additional security features that discourage unwanted tracking, like Find My notifications that alert users of unknown devices traveling in one’s vicinity.

Where To Stay in Tijuana

The Zona Rio and Playas de Tijuana areas are the best places to stay and explore in Tijuana. Zona Rio is a modern neighborhood with the best shops, restaurants, and nightlife. It is considered one of the safest areas in Tijuana, Mexico and the city attracts a healthy volume of tourists yearly due to its lively atmosphere and diverse cultural experiences. 

Playas de Tijuana is the northwestern beach neighborhood of Tijuana, Mexico. This small community is centrally located near the main beach and has plenty of recreational activities for travelers to enjoy like the boardwalk or El Cielo Winery Resort. The boardwalk is a popular stop in Playas de Tijuana that provides a nice path where visitors can feel the ocean breeze. 

Best Time to Visit Tijuana

The best time to visit Tijuana tends to be between May and September. During this time period, the weather is at its most mild, and extreme rain is least likely as well. Additionally, this is an optimal time for tourism and also coincides with multiple beach or music festivals like the Tijuana Jazz and Blues Festival and Baja Beach Fest.

People Also Ask

Do I need a passport to travel to Tijuana?

Yes, you need a passport. Tijuana is a foreign country so all U.S. citizens must have either a valid passport book or card to legally enter and exit the country.

What’s the best time to cross the border from Tijuana to San Diego?

The best time to do this crossing is early morning. Ideally between 4 AM and 6 AM there are less lines and it’s faster. However, also try to avoid attempting to cross on weekends or holidays which are historically high traffic times.

Is it safe to travel to Tijuana?

While Baja California State does have a travel advisory in effect from the U.S. Department of State, this doesn’t extend to tourist destinations in the state like Tijuana. However, exercising caution and sticking to safer areas like Playas, Zona Centra and La Mesa.

Should You Travel to Tijuana?

As a tourist, people should always exercise caution and use common sense. Tijuana is a border town, which makes it an attractive option for many U.S. citizens since it sits at a convenient land crossing. While Baja California state does have a known travel advisory in effect from the U.S. Department of State, this doesn’t include tourist districts across the state like Tijuana. From lively festivals to beautiful beaches and a vibrant nightlife, there’s plenty to see and do in this Mexican city — just be smart.