MAP: How to Beat the Four-Hour US-Mexico Border Wait at San Ysidro on a Sunday (A Tijuana Sí! Special)

Categories: Tijuana Sí!

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We've reached a tipping point in Baja tourism; people have finally started to discover that Baja is there, it's safe, and it's chock full of things to do. Unfortunately, this means that the lines to cross back are longer than ever. People over at Baja Nomad have reported four-, five- and even six-hour crossing times as CBP works feverishly to add more capacity to the world's busiest border checkpoint and as the U.S. issues heightened security directives due to people who want to blow us up.

It will get better, and soon; the ongoing project, which also involved moving the Mexico-bound checkpoint a third of a mile to the west, will result in a maximum capacity of 64 cars at a time at San Ysidro when they're done, but unfortunately during construction, the lines just keep getting longer and longer. It's the sort of thing that could cause even the hardiest Baja traveler to stay NOB (that's North of the Border).

This week, Tijuana Sí! is going to take a break from food and drink coverage and talk about how to get across the border in the most expeditious way possible. This information was correct and current as of the date of publication, but there's construction everywhere and they have switched which side the Ready Lanes are on more than once. That is to say, your mileage--or kilometrage--may vary.

PREDICTING YOUR TIME

Customs and Border Patrol updates the estimated border wait times on their website once an hour. My experience has been that once the wait ticks over the 2-hour mark, it tends to be a half-hour off. Telnor has a site with live-streaming cameras, but no wait times. Here are the mobile sites:

San Ysidro: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250401
Otay Mesa: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250601
Tecate: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250501
Calexico West: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250302
Calexico East: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250301
Telnor: http://www.telnor.com/betagaritas
If you don't have mobile data roaming in Mexico or don't want to use it, you can call an automated line at each border crossing. Data is updated once an hour (usually) and is given first in English, then in Spanish. The Calexico recording is done with a computer and is very hard to understand with any but the highest quality cell signal.
San Ysidro: +1 (619) 690-8999
Otay Mesa: +1 (619) 671-8999
Tecate: +1 (619) 938-8300, press 1, then press 1
Calexico (both crossings): +1 (760) 768-2383
In addition, Telnor has Spanish-only recordings that tend to be updated a little more frequently. It's extremely rapid Spanish and the audio can be fritzy, so only call if you speak Spanish fluently. There's no recording for Tecate.
Tijuana (both crossings): +52 (664) 700-7000
Mexicali (both crossings): +52 (686) 700-7000
Note that driving time from the San Ysidro line to the Otay Mesa line is 20-30 minutes; from the San Ysidro line to Tecate is nearly an hour; from Otay Mesa to Tecate is about 30 minutes. Driving time between Calexico West and Calexico East is about 15 minutes.

SAN YSIDRO READY LANES

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If you have an RFID card--a passport card, a resident alien (green) card, a border crosser's card (or laser visa), an enhanced driver's license from Washington, Michigan, New York or Vermont (with a flag on it), or any kind of trusted traveler card (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST), you can use the Ready Lanes, which are much quicker; you flash your card at the sign that says "POINT CARD HERE", and by the time you get to the booth, the CBP officer has all of your information. It doesn't sound like it would save much time, but waits are rarely more than two hours for the Ready Lane.

If all you have is a passport book--even one with the little RFID symbol on it--you can't use Ready Lane.

To get to the Ready Lane from downtown Tijuana, head south on Revolución and make a left on 10th/Juan Sarabia, which will change names to Ave. Independencia at the first traffic circle. At the third traffic circle, which features a statue of a man holding a feather pen, make a left (go three quarters of the way around), then follow signs for the Ready Lane.


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26 comments
Ricardo Carlos
Ricardo Carlos

or leave your car on the US side and get a taxi in Mex

Ricardo Carlos
Ricardo Carlos

Get the Sentri, Ive used it in San Luis RC and Mexicali and it's the best thing ever!

Arcelia Ramos de Rivera
Arcelia Ramos de Rivera

I moved from riverside ca to Tijuana and I absolutely LOVE it here! I don't want to go to the states! This place has changed so much and the tourism is back!

Augusto Conde
Augusto Conde

The entire system is confusing and dehumanizing. Tried walking over this summer after flying in to Tijuana to make a connection in San Diego, will never do it again.

Hannah Fontannah
Hannah Fontannah

Thanks. I'll check it out the next time I go to Comic Con.

Ask a Mexican
Ask a Mexican

If you haven't been to Tijuana since the early 1990s, I suggest you return—you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Hannah Fontannah
Hannah Fontannah

Is Tijuana safe for American tourists? There have been tons of kidnappings lately, most of them targeting tourists. Should we take the risk? Seriously, how bad is it these days? Other things that make me want to stay away: 1. The water isn't safe. No proper water treatment facilities, severe diareah if you drink the water, which includes ice cubes for your drinks or even water used to rinse salad fixing in restaurants. 2. Lack of health enforcement in restaurants means a game of Russian roulette every time you step foot in a Tijuana restaurant. You might get food poisoning, you could end up with a dog taco. Nobody cares. 3. Streets are dirty and smelly. The last time I went (early 90's) there were dead dogs in the streets and nobody seem to care.. 4. The sewer system can't handle toilet paper - signs everywhere telling people not to flush their toilet paper. Overall, Tijuana is pretty crappy. You'd think that they would spend billions to draw in tourists from San Diego and LA, but they don't. Tijuana should have the best of everything. What's going on here? Why don't the locals take pride in their city? Why can't Tijuana be the next big tourist attraction with nice beaches, shopping malls, theme parks, zoos - you know, the things people expect in San Diego and LA. It can be done, why isn't it?

René Bruce
René Bruce

Great tips !!! I had no idea my green card can put me in the ready lanes !!! THANX!!!

hannahfontana69
hannahfontana69

Is Tijuana safe for American tourists? There have been tons of kidnappings lately, most of them targeting tourists. Should we take the risk? Seriously, how bad is it these days?


Other things that make me want to stay away:

1. The water isn't safe. No proper water treatment facilities, severe diareah if you drink the water, which includes ice cubes for your drinks or even water used to rinse salad fixing in restaurants.
2. Lack of health enforcement in restaurants means a game of Russian roulette every time you step foot in a Tijuana restaurant. You might get food poisoning, you could end up with a dog taco. Nobody cares.
3. Streets are dirty and smelly. The last time I went (early 90's) there were dead dogs in the streets and nobody seem to care..
4. The sewer system can't handle toilet paper - signs everywhere telling people not to flush their toilet paper.

Overall, Tijuana is pretty crappy. You'd think that they would spend billions to draw in tourists from San Diego and LA, but they don't. Tijuana should have the best of everything. What's going on here? Why don't the locals take pride in their city? Why can't Tijuana be the next big tourist attraction with nice beaches, shopping malls, theme parks, zoos - you know, the things people expect in San Diego and LA.

It can be done, why isn't it?


Ted Snellen
Ted Snellen

If you're coming from Ensenada or further south, take the 3 to the Tecate border. Takes you about 30 minutes out of the way, but totally worth it.

Doug Cox
Doug Cox

Just drive through the desert, nothing to stop you except that Mexico gives prison time if you enter their country illegally.

Don Hodge
Don Hodge

Leave border open , so Illegals can go back to Mexico, or elsewhere-God help us- overwhelming in Cal.

Penelope Mutschler
Penelope Mutschler

Anyone travelling with an r.v. Or by car To Mexico might like this Facebook site ...On the road in Mexico

Nora Adriana Preciado
Nora Adriana Preciado

You're right, difficult & random re SENTRI. My 15 yr old nephew was denied but whole family got theirs! Used to wait up to 5 hrs at border, ugh. Otay always quicker tho

Marco Loera
Marco Loera

This article fails to mention an app called "Border Wait" which gives you real time updates by type of lane and for pedestrians too. Users can report their actual wait times too. It also fails to mention that DHS makes it extremely difficult to obtain a SENTRI card, they can deny you for any reason...it's a privilege not a right to get one :(

Judy Gallegos
Judy Gallegos

Laura, Cristina, Alice, Veronica for future taco runs

bob_lablaw96
bob_lablaw96

@Arcelia Ramos de Rivera Please! Invite your entire family to join you there, and for them to invite all of their friends.

Tijuana, and Mejico are corrupt, filthy places filled with those that cannot make it across our border.  Take a few home with you, mija

bob_lablaw96
bob_lablaw96

@Ask a Mexican It must be better than the 90s...all of the Mexicans are here, so TJ is just a cracker bar with a foreign language.

I would not go near Mejico for any reason!  The corruption almost guarantees that an Anglo will be the victim of extortion by any and all that they encounter.  It is a third world country and will never be more until it cleans up it's act and comes into the 21st Century


Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@hannahfontana69 There have been several kidnappings, most of them targeting people in the drug industry. I'm telling you seriously, it is extremely unlikely that you will be the target of any kind of crime as a tourist. There aren't shootouts in the street, there aren't bodies swinging from bridges, there aren't random kidnappings off the street. While I'm a big burly guy, I know several women who have gone alone and nothing, not even petty street crime, has happened to them.

The rest of your post tells me you haven't been to Tijuana recently, if ever.

1. No, the tap water is not safe to drink. The issue is not water treatment—CESPT (Comisión Estatal de Servicios Públicos de Tijuana, or the State Commission of Public Services of Tijuana) has treatment facilities the equal of the United States—the issue is the degraded water lines that deliver it to homes. Everyone drinks bottled water, and I haven't ever been offered tap water in a restaurant. Ice cubes are always—always—made from bottled water. A liter of bottled water in an Oxxo of 7-Eleven costs about sixty cents.

2. No, it doesn't. You apply the same rules to restaurants in Tijuana that you do anywhere else in the world: go to busy places that have lots of food turnover. Even the street carts make sure that vegetables and fruits (like tomatoes for salsa) are cleaned in Microdyn. Restaurants that poison their customers don't stay open, which is why you go to the popular places... and any restaurant we recommend here is above reproach.

3. The streets are in disrepair, but they're not any worse than New York at this point, at least in the areas you'll go as a tourist. There are some truly shocking streets up in the hills, but there's no reason for you to go there.

4. This is extremely common even in the Midwest of the U.S., where septic tanks can't always handle large wads of toilet paper. You throw it in the basket provided. If it stinks, then you know you're in a place you don't want to be.

Tijuana does have nice beaches. They have nice shopping malls. They don't have theme parks, I'll grant you—there's the children's museum, El Trompo—but they have all these things. Tijuana has reinvented itself as a gastronomic destination, and that's what it's best at.

trendyt
trendyt

@bob_lablaw96

I am this Anglo you speak about, and have been going to Mexico for 20 years; even have a house there. Your comments are rude, and you should STFU unless you know what you are saying. It is people like you that give us Anglos a bad name, and I am sure you are scared to cross into Mexico because someone like you would be beaten because you would piss people off just by being you. Do some research and keep your racist comments to yourself. Stop polluting the world with your screwed-up thoughts.

Love,

The Cracker 

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