Baja Mexico Reports Best Year of Tourism in Last Decade

Photo by f8grapher/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

In 2016, over 14.6 million U.S. citizens visited Baja California in Mexico, making it the destination’s most successful tourism year in the last decade. From this, Valle de Guadalupe was listed on Travel + Leisure’s 50 Best Places to Travel in 2017 and Tijuana made in on the New York Times52 Places to Go in 2017.

Among the trending industries in Baja California are a buzzing craft beer scene, a grassroots culinary movement, and the transformation of its wine region. Hotels, ranging from boutique to business, are also opening up across the region, which coincides with and improved infrastructure.

Baja California’s nearly 600 hotels have seen an increase in average occupancy by over 25 percent since 2014. To support this continued surge in tourism, the state is set to welcome at least 19 new hotels by 2019, including projects in Tijuana, Ensenada, Mexicali and Rosarito.

This spring, Tijuana’s Avenida Revolución will welcome One Bank, a boutique lifestyle hotel with nine guestrooms, an on-property mezcal lounge, Nomada coffee bar, small retail shop, nano barbershop, and a communal rooftop that will serve as a meeting place for locals and guests. Similarly, El Cielo Winery in Valle de Guadalupe will open a 58-suite hotel and conference center this summer. Other new arrivals include the opening of Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Tijuana and Ensenada, Hotel One in Mexicali, Hotel Ibis by Accord Hotels in Tijuana, and City Express Suites in Tijuana and Rosarito.

Typically known for its beaches and adventure opportunities, Baja California will be reinventing itself to include a cosmopolitan destination. While “nightlife” is still the first thing that comes to mind when thinking “Tijuana,” the city has also evolved into a hotspot for innovative culinary fare and craft beer that rivals its north-of-the-border neighbor, San Diego. The authentic gastronomic experience has lured gourmands all over for venues like Telefónica Gastropark, a commune made up of several retro food trucks, the Plaza Fiesta craft beer district, an open-air galleria with 15 craft breweries, and Baja-Med restaurants, such as El Taller and La Querencia by Chef Miguel Angel Guerro, and Mision 19 by celebrity chef Javier Plascencia. Meanwhile, Tijuana’s award-winning Culinary Arts School designed by “starchitect” Jorge Gracia, continues to teach refined and rustic Baja Med cuisine. 

Ensenada is cashing in on the Baja Med movement by showing off its prized seafood and ushering in a series of brewpubs. The seaside town is also home to the popular Ensenada Cruise Port, which will receive over 260 cruises this year and 700,000 passengers. Inland of Ensenada, the wine region of Valle de Guadalupe is now home to over 100 wineries attracting regional travelers and seasoned wine connoisseurs. Al fresco restaurants, such as Malva, Fuego, Deckman´s, Tres Gallines and Tras Lomita, are nestled into the vineyards and dirt roads lead visitors to modern masterpieces like the award-winning hotel Encuentro Guadalupe, built into the mountainside.

For travelers seeking traditional Baja, coastal towns like San Felipe and Bahía de Los Ángeles are good for taking a plunge during a shark diving adventure or sport fishing. National parks in San Quintin and Tecate offer mountainous regions and deserts for off-roading as well wildlife viewing. An another note, Mexicali is being developed as the hub for medical tourism in northern Mexico.

In early 2016, the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) bi-national airport bridge opened to provide an easy, seamless way for travelers to quickly pass from the U.S. to the Tijuana Airport (TIJ) by using a 390-foot, indoor skywalk. Travelers with tickets for flights departing from TIJ simply park or are dropped off at the secure facility on the U.S. side of the border, check-in, and walk across the bridge and over the border into the Tijuana airport up to 24 hours prior to departure. In its first year, the facility was used by close to a million travelers departing from TIJ, and the airport has seen a 37 percent increase in travelers since the previous year.

Earlier this year, The Ministry of Tourism for the State of Baja California added a new tool on its official website to assist visitors in finding updated information on road conditions, access to border crossings, local airports and weather news.

Additionally, U.S. visitors can save time returning across the border by requesting a Fast Pass from select hotels or medical tourism destinations that they patronize, allowing them to speed past standard border lines through the FastLane. Border wait times are also significantly reduced for drivers with a SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) pass, which can be applied for with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Ministry of Tourism has also introduced a tourist assistance hotline staffed with bilingual personnel.