Mexicali (also known informally as "Chicali") is the capital of the state of Baja California in Mexico, directly across the border from Calexico, California, United States. Its proximity to the United States has made it a very popular tourist destination, especially for day-trippers. Growing violence has curtailed that traffic, although Mexicali remains safer than other large border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez.
The municipality of Mexicali has a population of around 1.1 million people (2020), of which about 800,000 people live in the city proper. Mexicali has grown from a small border town to a modern city with a sizable middle class and an even bigger upper class. The standard of living is among the highest in Mexico. It is recognized in Mexico for its sizable investment in education and low unemployment. It is a progressive city with main industry that has gone from agricultural to industrial.
Economically, a growing middle class with disposable income has fueled Mexicali's transformation into a modern city with a vibrant culture, a characteristic that has attracted many national and international businesses which had largely ignored the city before and had turned to Tijuana. Aside from the middle class, in Mexicali you can expect to find areas filled with very rich people. Mexicali is considered among the most prosperous cities in Mexico, although US tourists can observe the level of poverty in rural villages surrounding the modern, upper-middle class enclave of Mexicali proper. The North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 that eliminated most trade restrictions between the two nations offers Mexicali an economic boom in the next decade. Mexicali is a transit point for illegal immigration into the United States, as well as a common destination for any illegal Mexican immigrants deported from the West Coast of the United States. As such, some areas are swollen with poor people with no roots in the city, who inhabit shantytowns, mainly in the outskirts of the city. Apart from these poor migrants, Mexicali is one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico. Some areas of the city reflect the significant number of wealthy people who inhabit the city, in areas such as San Pedro, Villafontana, and Col Nueva.
Mexicali's growing reputation as a cosmopolitan city is justified. Not only is the city home to many people who have migrated from within the same country, as well as some native Mexican Indians, but it boasts an important amount of Asian residents (especially Chinese), as well as Americans, Europeans, and South Americans. Informally, Mexicali natives are known as "cachanillas", after a shrub (Pluchea sericea or arrowweed) endemic to the region.
Mexicali is known mainly as a business and industry town, but has an excellent reputation for hospitality and tourism in the country.
Mexicali is known as "the city that captured the sun". Its residents frequently joke regarding its extreme heat during the summer, reaching record desert temperatures. Mexicali's primary newspapers are La Voz de la Frontera and La Cronica de Baja California. It is served by three television stations (Televisa [with 4 analog and 2 digital signals], TV Azteca [2 analog and 2 digital signals] and Canal Once) along with the television stations in the United States in the Imperial County market (NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, CW, MNTV, Univision, Telemundo, and Telefutura).
While the Mexican peso (M$) is the legal currency, US dollars are widely accepted. Mexicali observes daylight savings time (DST) and is in the Pacific Time Zone like California.
Mexicali has one of the largest Chinese communities in Mexico. Historically, it has been a predominantly Chinese town and even hosted the North American headquarters of the Kuomintang (KMT) at one point. Many old-time Chinese-Mexican natives of Mexicali have since intermarried with the local mestizos or emigrated to the United States. Tijuana, Ensenada, San Luis Rio Colorado, Culiacán, Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Tapachula also have sizable Chinese communities. Although Mexicali has had a history of Chinese immigration for about 100 years, the restaurant workers tend to be recent immigrants from Guangdong, China, who are multilingual in Taishanese (a distinct dialect of the Cantonese language), Mandarin, and Spanish. Nearly all of them are from just two cities in Guangdong, namely Taishan and Kaiping, with a small minority from neighboring Enping, Zhongshan, and Hong Kong.
The historic Chinese neighborhood is known as La Chinesca, centered on Avenida Benito Juárez, about several hundred feet to the south of the Calexico point of entry.
People in the city of Mexicali speak Spanish, as in most of Mexico. However, English is spoken at least marginally by the majority of the population. It is very easy to find someone who speaks English, and due to the city's international standing, other languages are used for business and are heard throughout the city, such as Chinese, Japanese, German and French.
While winters are pleasantly mild, visitors can expect a very hot climate during the summer months with average high temperatures ranging from 101 ºF to 108ºF (38° to 42°C). Rainfall and clouds are scarce throughout the year.
Either park at the border and continue on foot or you drive into Mexico. Driving from the US to Mexico usually requires no stopping. Driving across the border from Mexico to the US may involve a long wait, especially during evening rush hour or on holiday weekends. Mexican insurance is required, which should be bought before your trip. Mexicali has two border crossings, Mexicali East (Newer) and Mexicali West (Traditional), both of which have a SENTRI lane.
Mexicali is the northern terminus for Mexican Highway 5 to San Felipe.
Mexicali can also be reached from Tijuana and Tecate on Mex-2. Though much of this highway is a toll road (the "Libramiento" aka Autopista), it is more scenic but will take longer than I-8 and is considered more hazardous, especially the "Rumorosa Grade". The toll either to or from Tijuana is around $14.
Many people drive to the border, park on the US side, and walk across. There are many lots available for this, which charge US$4-9 a day. While there are many taxis waiting to take you across, it's only about a five minute walk; follow the signs across.
- 1 Mexicali's International Airport (MXL IATA General Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada) (located 20 km east of the city). It offers services to all types of flights, private and commercial. There are daily flights from other major cities in México.
In addition, Mexicali has access to the Imperial Valley Airport, 15 miles North across the border from Mexicali which operates commercial flights to different cities in the United States.
Taxis are abundant in the city. You may either call for a site taxi (taxi de sitio) which are called beforehand and they can take you where you ask, or route taxis (taxi de ruta), which, like buses, have specific routes which they take.
There are also multiple public buses, which can range from old school refurbished school buses with no air circulation to brand new metrobuses with air conditioning and television screens, which are more expensive.
- The Asociación China de Mexicali (中華會館), located on Avenida Benito Juárez near the intersection with Altamirano, is one of Mexicali's primary and oldest Chinese associations. Upstairs, there are portraits of dozens of Chinese immigrants who have lived in Mexicali. There are also murals celebrating Mexicali's Chinese heritage, dragon costumes for use during festivals, and numerous classrooms. It is often locked and closed during weekdays, but usually open on weekend mornings.
- 1 Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Catedral de Ntra. Sra. de Guadalupe), José María Morelos 192. Mexicali's oldest cathedral.
- Museo Interactivo Sol del Niño - Scientific and Interactive Museum fun for children and adults. Interactive Science, Technology, Arts and Environment Center.
- Plaza de Toros Calafia - Bullring with frequent bullfights with toreros from around Latin America and Spain.
- Bosque y Zoologico de la Ciudad - Mexicali's biggest park along with its city zoo.
- Parque Vicente Guerrero - Mexicali's second biggest park with lake.
- Centro Estatal de las Artes - State Art Center: see art exhibitions, musical concertos and recitals among other things.
- Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura - City Art Center: see art exhibitions, musical concertos and recitals among other things.
- Teatro del Estado - The states theater with many shows throughout the year.
- UABC Museo - The University of Baja California's Museum with exhibits throughout the year.
- Casa de la Cultura - Mexicali's Culture House, with interactive art workshops and exhibitions.
- Salon de la Fama - Mexicali's Hall of Fame, with notable figures from throughout the city and state.
- Bellas Artes - Where Mexicali's fine arts groups are located.
- Juventud 2000 Sport Center - Mexicali's newest and most modern park.
- Centro Cívico - Home to Baja California's state legislature, governor's palace, and state supreme court, as well as the Mexicali city hall (ayuntamiento). Brief tours of the Baja California legislature's chambers are available upon request (ask for the public/media relations spokesperson to give you a tour).
- Morelos Dam You can admire the town and its surroundings from this beautiful natural setting. The dam was inaugurated on September 23, 1950 and has a capacity of 230 m³/sec and has a height of 42.10 m and covers 175,000 acres.
- Sierra de Juarez Cañón Tajo, crowned by the “Trono Blanco”—the highest monolith in Mexico with a height of 1970 feet - provides majestic panoramic views and is visited by premiere mountaineers from around the world. It is ideal for rock-climbing, hiking, rappelling, canoeing, and panoramic photography. There are also the Laguna Hanson and the Cañón de Llanos, sites that offer a place for a variety of activities including kayaking, hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, and spelunking.
- Vallecitos Here the past meets the present in an extensive display of prehistoric rock carvings and cave paintings, such as the famous “Diablito” (Winter Solstice). This place is also excellent for hiking, a photography expedition, and spotting a variety of flora and fauna.
- Hardy River Everything necessary for freshwater fishing and small game hunting, as well as being the ideal site for kayaking in tranquil waters, hiking, panoramic photography, and birdwatching. Ideal for families, groups or individuals who enjoy the scenic outdoors.
- Arroyo Hondo Pool, kiddy pool, sand volleyball court, basketball court, soccer field, children's playground, barbeque pits. Restaurant- bar with billiards, karaoke, space for events; bathrooms with showers. Lifeguard, security. Capacity for 1,500 persons. Open year round.
- Sand Dunes Beautiful sand dunes that are the ideal place for riding motorcycles, ATVS, and sand buggy's.
- Laguna Salada and La Rumorosa The highway coming down into the Mexicali Valley is an impressive drive. It is a steep 900 m (3000 ft) drop on a new and well-designed highway. Two places unique in all the world that offer spectacular panoramas of natural beauty. Besides being ideal places for flying on a delta winged or a hang glider, cycling and off-road racing are also popular here.
- San Felipe San Felipe is the closet beach to Mexicali, offering access to other beaches like Puertecitos and sites of extraordinary beauty, including the unique Valley of the Giants, where huge and imposing sahuaro (saguaro) cactus greet all visitors and it has shops, restaurants, and bars.
- Los Algodones During the winter season (October thru March), this picturesque small town (population 14,000) greets a considerable number of visitors known as "snow birds", who come from the northern United States and Canada. Los Algodones is known for its ample variety of shops, Mexican folk art, laboratories and excellent medical and dental services which constitute the town’s main attraction.
- Aguilas de Mexicali Go and see Mexicali's own baseball team in the Estadio Casas Geo.
- Soles de Mexicali Come and see Mexicali's renowned basketball team.
- Golf Club de Golf Campestre has an 18-hole course that features huge fairways, adorned by water hazards and sand traps that lead to excellent, quick greens, themselves often surrounded by more water and sand traps. During the year, major tournaments are held here, such as the Cotton Tournament in March, the City of Mexicali and Maquiladora Tournament's in April, the Father and Son Tournament in June, as well as the Bishops's and IAMSA Tournament's in November.
- Racing Adrenaline junkies won't want to miss the tremendously entertaining off-road ATV races. Displaying their skills, experienced drivers race their machines at high speeds, roaring across the terrain, offering a grand spectacle for the crowds.
- Hunting An extensive variety of birds and mammals such as the White Winged Dove, Huilota Dove, Cerceta, Black Branta, Goose, Pheasant, Duck, Quail, Black Tail Hare, Rabbit, Coyote, Wild Cat and Puma will put the skill of any hunter to the test. In the Valle de Mexicali, the season begins at the end of August and ends in February.
- Fishing Freshwater: The municipality offers exciting places for fishing adventures. In addition to canals, there are prime spots like Laguna Bogard, Rio Hardy, El Caimán, la Ciénega de Santa Clara, and el Bosque de la Ciudad, where you can participate in important tournaments all year long. A few of the species you will find while fishing are Lobina, Bagre, Carpa, and Tilapia. Saltwater: The coastline of San Felipe and spots like Roca Consag, Barco Hundido, Los Carros, Punta Estrella and Percebú, are well known fishig areas in addition to fishing out on the open sea. Catch-and-release tournaments allow fishing for shallow-water species as well as trophy-fish like Pez Vela, Marlin Dorado, and Jurel, among others.
Expos and shows
- Fiestas del Sol Known as the biggest fair in the region, the Fiestas del Sol run from the end of September through mid-October. Practically all of Mexicali gathers together during this time for music and celebration, participating in popular dances while enjoying commercial, agricultural, and industrial expositions, carnival rides, regional food, and shows from national and international artists.
- Baja Prog An international festival of progressive rock that brings together the most famous groups of this musical genre during the month of March.
- Agrobaja Considered the largest and most important agricultural exposition on the northern Mexican border, held in March.
- Bol Bol Boliche - 21st century bowling with a club feel.
- Caliente Sport Book
- Cinepolis Movie Theaters (Centro Civico, San Pedro, Galerias, Nuevo Mexicali)
- Cinemark Movie Theater
- Cinemastar Movie Theater
- IMAX Theater
- Live Mexican music (norteño and mariachi) can be requested from bands for hire at the Plaza Mariachi on Avenida Zuazua, located in the southern part of the La Chinesca area. Norteño bands (2-4 people, consisting of at least an accordion and bajo sexto) generally charge M$50 per song. Most of the musicians are recent migrants from Los Mochis and Culiacán in the north-central coastal state of Sinaloa. A banda sinaloense group can be found at the intersection of Zuazua & Altamirano during most evenings. All of the groups can play narcocorridos (drug ballads) as well as famous rancheras by Ramón Ayala.
- Musicales y Joyeria "Iris", ☏ . José Gerardo Zamora. Av. Reforma #406 Zona Centro Mexicali B.C.
- Banda de Música Regional de Guamúchil Sinaloa, ☏ . Victor Cervantes. Zuazua y Altamirano #586.
- UABC Mexicali is the largest and oldest campus of Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC). It hosts
- The Asociacón China de Mexicali (中華會館) offers Mandarin Chinese lessons for both adults and children. Weekly Saturday morning classes are held for local Chinese children, who are taught Mandarin Chinese instead of the Spanish and Cantonese that they normally speak among themselves.
This list is only a very small compilation of the major shopping centers in the city.
- Plaza la Cachanilla Shops such as boutiques, hair salons, jewelry stores, Chinese-themed stores, food court, Coppel Stores, Ley Stores, Sears Department Stores, etc.
- Plaza Nuevo Mexicali Shops such as clothing, boutiques, cellular phones, funishings, and food court.
- Plaza Fiesta Restaurants, jewelry stores and flagship store Sanborns.
- Plaza Juventud 2000
- Plaza San Pedro
- Plaza Centenario
- Centro Comercial Lienzo
- Plaza Cataviña
- Galerias del Valle
- Plaza Mundo Divertido
- ABSA - A Chinese store offering Chinese groceries, utensils, and newspapers. Located on Bulevar Mateos near the intersection with Avenida Benito Juárez (look for Chinese-style architecture and green roofs).
Mexicali hosts most major national store chains such as: Soriana, Comercial Mexicana, FAMSA, Milano, Bodega Aurrera, among others. Mexicali also hosts international stores and shops like: Wal-Mart (3 Locations), Costco Wholesale, Blockbuster, Office Depot, The Home Depot, Sears, Gymboree, among others.
Visitors returning to the United States who are 21 or older are allowed to bring back a limited quantity of alcohol, around 1 liter per adult (check regulations). Most foreign liquor is priced as in the US, but Mexican liquors such as Tequila, Mescal, and Kaluha, as well as Mexican beers can be great bargains.
The selection of cuisine in Mexicali is very diverse. The Chinese contributed greatly to Mexicali cuisine with a very ample variety of dishes. Their food is as traditional to Mexicali as carne asada and its Chinese food is labeled as the best on the country, on par with that of San Francisco, and many tourists come to taste it.
Good beer is another Mexicali tradition. World class beers have been produced in Mexicali since the early history. Today, there are small breweries that offer great varieties in terms of taste and characteristics.
However, Mexicali is not just about Chinese food, carne asada tacos, and beer. There is a wide selection of specialty restaurants-national and international. One sample the finest wines that are produced in the Mediterranean climate within Baja California. Mexicali has a large Chinese immigrant population, with many excellent choices.
Mexicali is also host to numerous international chains such as: Applebees, Starbucks Coffee, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Carl's Jr, Thrifty Ice Cream, Little Caesars, Dominos Pizza, and Dairy Queen.
The following lists of restaurants are only a few of the many located in the city
Mexicali's numerous Chinese (more specifically, Cantonese) restaurants can be found in all areas of the city, but are especially concentrated in the historic La Chinesca (Chinatown) neighborhood. Many Chinese restaurants can also be found just across the international border in Calexico.
- Victoria 龍珠酒家
- Restaurant No. 8 捌號酒家 - Open 24 hours
- Lung Kong 龍崗酒家
- Nueva Asia 亞洲酒家
- Shang Hai 上海酒家
- Dong Cheng 東城酒家
- China House
- El Rincon de Panchito
- Golden China
- Chiangs China Bistro
- Golden Inn
- La Jolla
- Nuevo Mandarin (near Mexico & Reforma)
- Bon Apetit
- Casino de Mexicali
- Chalet Restaurant
- El Acueducto
- La Cava
- Las Villas
- Pampas do Brasil
- La Carniceria
- Trattoria La Piazza
- Original Tony's
- Asian Sushi Restaurante
- Sakura Restaurant
- Sushi Barra
- Villafontana Sushi
- Yummi Kuu
- Restaurant Las Campanas.
- Restaurant La Plazita.
- Cenaduria Selecta.
- Fonda de Mexicali.
- Restaurant Los Arcos
- El Centenario
- Mariscos Tijuana
- Mariscos Laguna Azul
- Mariscos Veracruz
Nightclubs in Mexicali tend to open and close throughout the year due to them becoming duds. Therefore, this list may not be the most updated of the best light life clubs.
- Boom Boom
- Red Lion
- Uni Irish Pub
- La Salita
- Los Barriles
The following venues are located around the intersection of México & Reforma, near the main cathedral.
- La Conga - Live norteño bands playing mostly narcocorridos
- Miau Miau - Table dancing
- Hotel La Chinesca, Avenida Benito Juárez, between Mateos and Altamirano. Located in the historic La Chinesca area in downtown. Rate: M$250/night for 1 bed. M$50 deposit required. The hotel is owned by Dr. Enrique Auyon Tam, a Chinese-Mexican physician who runs a clinic next to the hotel.
- Hotel Samil, Blvd. Lázaro Cárdenas #1486
- Hotel Villa del Sol, Blvd. López Mateos y Fuerza Aérea #133
- Motel Aeropuerto, Carretera Mexicali Ledón km. 7.5
- Motel Alves, Carretera Mexicali - Tijuana km. 1
- Motel El Moro, Blvd. Aeropuerto 3598
- Motel Liz, Carretera a San Felipe km. 1.5
- Hotel Kennedy Calle Morelos 415-Altos
- Hotel Mexico Av. Lerdo 476, Zona Centro
- Hotel Azteca de Oro, Calle de la Industria 600
- Hotel Cosmos Posada, Calz. Justo Sierra #1943
- 1 Hotel Del Norte, Ave. Francisco I. Madero 205, ☏ . Located 70 m (230 feet) from the border crossing.
- Hotel Hacienda del Rio, Blvd. Lopez Mateos Y Fresnillo # 101
- Hotel Posada del Sol, Calle Calafia 400
- Hotel Posada Inn, Blvd. Lopez Mateos y Torneros # 939
- Hotel Regis, Blvd. Benito Juarez 2150
- 2 Hotel Lucerna, Blvd. Benito Juárez 2151, ☏ .
- Araiza Hotel and Convention Center, Blvd. Benito Juarez 2220
- Calafia Hotel and Convention Center, Calzada Justo Sierra 1495
- Fiesta Inn Calz. Adolfo López Mateos No. 1029
- 3 Hotel City Express Mexicali, Blvd. Benito Juarez #1342, ☏ .
- City Express Blvd. Benito Juárez No. 1342
- Hotel Colonial Blvd. Lopez Mateos 1048
- Hotel Siesta Real Calz. Justo Sierra 899
While Mexicali has saved itself from the severity and degree of violence along the US-Mexico border and the insecurity is not as big as that of Tijuana, there is still potential for it to become dangerous, along with the violence that a regular metro city has such as petty theft, violence, and gang related incidents. The emergency number is 066. Avoid giving out money to beggars and homeless people standing in the street or along sidewalks and avoid buying things off the street to avoid trouble later.
Do not buy illegal drugs to avoid becoming part of the ongoing violence. Overstocking yourself with prescription drugs will also warrant getting checked. While partying and clubbing in Mexico is all in good fun and alright, keep in mind that you will not get away with it because it is Mexico. You probably will get caught and kept a special eye on because you are an American, even if you look Latino.
If you do anything unlawful, even if you are underage, you will spend time in prison. You do not get preferential treatment because you are an American citizen. Also, keep in mind that Mexico uses kilometers and not miles, and speed limits in KPH are much slower than MPH in the United States.
Do not try to bribe the Mexican police officers, even if they are hinting at it. If you try to bribe, you will go to prison. Driving while using a cellphone or a radio without a hands free device is illegal in the state of Baja California and it will get you ticketed. Trying to bargain prices will sometimes help, but in most places in Mexicali today it is not practiced and such behavior will be ignored.
Do not be caught with any type of weapon in Mexico. This can include a small pocket knife, or even ammunition or bullet casings. American motorists have been jailed for driving into Mexico with spent ammunition casings in their car trunk.
In the unlikely event of a major earthquake, duck and cover and stay where you are during the shaking, then go outside once the shaking stops. Buildings and other structures are unlikely to collapse. Your largest threats come from breaking windows and falling objects such as ceiling tiles and bookshelves. Try to get under a table, desk, or doorjamb to reduce your exposure to these threats. You are more likely to be injured if you try to run during the shaking.
While the city's restaurants are registered by the Health Department and clean water is available city-wide, eating at roadside taco shops and drinking tap water is discouraged because one that is not used to this will probably get food poisoning. Avoid any foods you are not used to. Bottled water, carbonated and still, is available widely and you are encouraged to drink of it.
If you need emergency medical treatment, it is preferred that you attend a private hospital and call 066, attending a public hospital or a Seguro Social hospital will be futile, as they are only for registered Mexican citizens and have problems getting medical attention there. There are drugstores and private medical and dental clinics throughout the city.
A prescription from a licensed doctor in Mexico is needed to fill prescription drugs in any pharmacy in Baja California. These can be acquired at some pharmacies through their on-location doctor.
The country code for Mexico is +52, and the area code for the Mexicali Metropolitan area is 686. Phone numbers have 7 digits (XXX-XX-XX) and cellular phone numbers are dialed using access code 044, the area code, and the number (044-686-XXX-XXXX). Your mobile carrier will work if they have an agreement with either Telcel, Illusacel, Telefonica (Movistar), or Nextel. They may also work in the areas close to the international border with American carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
Most hotels (all of the High-end) have high-speed internet access and are wi-fi enabled. This is the same for shopping malls and coffee shops. You may also find hot-spots at college and university campuses throughout the city.
- Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs offers a running stream and a variety of primitive (hose-fed from local springs) hot baths and camping; the area is popular with Mexicali locals; it is located 48 km (30 miles) down a rough dirt road, 32 km (20 miles) west of town on the road to Tijuana. The area also contains a significant number of petroglyphs in nearby canyons accessible by foot.
- San Felipe is located 172 km (120 miles) south on Highway 5.
|Routes through Mexicali|
|Tijuana ← Tecate ←||W E||→ San Luis Rio Colorado → Jct N S|
|Calexico ← becomes ← ←||N S||→ Jct W → San Felipe|