If you are heading south from San Diego, Tijuana is a necessary
evil (unless you invest 40 more miles of driving and cross the
border at Tecate). The best (and quickest) route is to take
U.S. I-5 or I-805 south to the border crossings.
Highways I-5 and I-850 merge just north of the border crossing.
Prior to the merge point there are several exits for San Ysidro - this
is where you should take care of insurance and money exchange,
if you haven't already done so. Getting Mexican insurance on
your vehicle is a must! (See the Auto Insurance Page for
Exchanging US dollars for pesos is not required, but it's a
smart way to save money (exchanges made along the highway
usually result in a very poor exchange rate for the tourist).
Warning: Don't use an exchange house ("Casa de Cambio") that
charges a commission!
There are two border crossings to choose from: San Ysidro and
Otay Mesa. Here are some of the pros and cons as I see it (other
experienced Baja travelers will certainly have differing views).
I almost always use the San Ysidro crossing as I find it more
convenient to the toll road, my usual route south.
|Drive to the Toll Road
||Shorter, less driving
with stoplights, etc..
|Greater distance, with lots
of stoplights, etc..
|Drive to the Free Road
||About the same for both crossings. Lots
of stoplights, etc..
|Ease of crossing
||Often very crowded.
||Much less crowded.
||Right on the way.
||Must drive about four extra
miles to San Ysidro and back.
|Obtaining Tourist Card
||Probably equally good. Migración office at
|Hours of operation
||6 AM to 10 PM
The Mexican Customs inspection at Tijuana uses the same system
as implemented at the Mexican airports - a random selection
indicated by a red and green lights. I assume a
small computer is making the random selection. If you get a
green light there will be no inspection. If you get a red
light, you will be shunted off to the right for an
RVs: Note that all RVs get inspected. This is
one case where the random selection process gets turned off!
San Ysidro Border Crossing:
Note: The initial section of this route is new in 2004!
Otay Mesa Border Crossing:
After crossing into Mexico, and while still next to the inspection
area, position yourself in the second lane from the right (the
right-most lane will shortly veer off to connect to local
After the right-most lane turns off to a local street
you'll automatically be in the right-most lane as the road crosses a flood
Shortly after crossing the flood channel, traffic will
enter from the right -- quickly merge into this new lane and follow it as an
exit to the right opens up.
There are signs pointing to Ensenada and Ensenada Cuota - Scenic Road
(the toll road). This curving exit drops you into a merge with
Calle Internacional, where you are now merging into the "fast
Best to go slow and let the other drivers honk at you. If you
miss a turn, keep in mind that the general idea is to parallel
the border fence west towards the ocean until the road ("Calle
Internacional") bears to the left and merges with a major
highway heading west - this highway shortly becomes the Ensenada
If you haven't taken care of the Mexican insurance and any money
exchange, follow I-5 or I-805 down to San Ysidro to take care of
those matters - then return north (I-805 a bit shorter) to pick
up California Route 905.
From either I-5 or I-805 take California Route 905 east - there
are signs directing you to the border crossing. You'll pass a
large airport (Brown Field) on your left, and then eventually
turn south to the border.
Once you've crossed the border, you have two choices (in a
general sense): drive the city streets to the area of the San
Ysidro crossing (not recommended) or drive city streets to the circuit
road around Tijuana - look for signs for Libramiento. You
generally bear to the west and drop down a hill to a crowded
area. Continue on the main street southwest (Blvd. Lazaro
Cardenas) - this will merge into the circuit road. Finally,
you'll reach the San Ysidro route several miles west of that crossing.
Continue on to the toll road.
Note: In August of 2007, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
still shows the hours of operation at Otay Mesa as
6AM to 10PM
However, other reports indicate that the crossing is now open 24
hours, 7 days a week. I can't vouch for either claim.