In the past six months, we've had the opportunity to visit two Mexican border tours - Piedras Negras, Coahuila, just south of Eagle Pass, TX, and Tijuana, Baja California, just south of San Diego. Though the two share certain similarities in types of food and shopping, they are vastly different in other areas.
See the Similarities and Differences Between Tijuana and Piedras Negras, Mexico
While in Piedras, every single meal we ate was fantastic. From tacos to steak, the cuisine was delectable. The service was also exemplary, many of the restaurants offered outdoor seating, and the vibe at most of them was relaxing and modern.
In fact, the jicama tacos we ate in Piedras were the inspiration for the jicama stuffed jalapeno tacos and the jicama Asian chicken tacos I later made at home.
Though we did find some decent guacamole, the ceviche we ordered at one restaurant came out raw and we had a terrible time sending it back. We also found that many of the restaurants had extremely loud live mariachi music.
Because it is, on the whole, less touristy, Piedras Negras offers fewer open-air markets than Tijuana. However, the market there has a wide variety of items, with an assortment of souvenir, clothing, and home decor options.
Tijuana has, by far, more souvenir shops, particularly along Avenida Revolucion, but many stores carry the exact same items, which they sell for vastly different prices. The trick is to take the time to shop around, asking for prices, and then to remember which one of the very similar storefronts and booths offered the best price. Tijuana also offers similar clothing and home decor options that the shops in Piedras carry, though the prices seem to be a bit higher.
Cleanliness & Safety
Piedras Negras is definitely in Mexico. Once we crossed the border, we could tell a difference in the overall quality of the roads and in the way that people drive. But for a Mexican city, it was fairly clean, and we never felt unsafe, even when we were walking around down random streets. We did not stay out terribly late, although we did have dinner out one night and didn't get back to the hotel till after dark. The city felt just as safe then as it did during the day. Our hotel felt safe and clean, and we would gladly stay there again! Our vehicle was never broken into. We did not drink the water, but to be fair, we rarely drink tap water in large cities in the U.S.
We were warned repeatedly, both by San Diego natives and by Tijuana natives to be very careful after dark. Tijuana is known for its party culture, and, according to those who live there, bad things can still happen to tourists who are not careful, especially at night. We were in Tijuana only for a day trip, from late morning to late afternoon, so I cannot speak to the truth of the warnings. But to us, Tijuana seemed overall a bit dirtier, a bit rougher around the edges, and a bit sketchier than Piedras Negras.
Art & Culture
We visited the Plaza de las Culturas in Piedras Negras, which has a number of statues for various famous people, as well as information about the Mayan and Aztec cultures. The pyramid in the center with the reflecting pool on one end made for some great pictures.
Tijuana also has a Cultural Plaza, but we did not have time to visit it. We did not visit any museums in either Piedras Negras or Tijuana, but it appears that Tijuana has several museums, whereas Piedras has one or maybe two. Overall, it seems that Tijuana has more going on in terms of culture and fine art. With over 1.8 million residents, compared to the 245,000 inhabitants of the greater Piedras Negras metropolitan area, Tijuana really should have more going on.
Piedras Negras is much less touristy and more laid back than Tijuana, and it feels more like authentic Mexico. It is on the border, though, so you'll find a higher percentage of English-speakers than you would find further into Mexico, making it the best of both worlds for someone who does not speak Spanish.
Tijuana feels entirely geared toward American tourists, especially within the open air market and along Revolution Ave. Restaurant hosts aggressively invite tourists into their restaurants, making it feel a bit like Ocean Drive, Miami Beach.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Piedras Negras. We are eagerly awaiting the next time we can make our way down there. With Tijuana, we have mixed feelings. We wouldn't turn down the opportunity to go again, but we probably would not go out of our way to go again either.
Have you been to these cities? What are your thoughts?
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