Updated December 17, 2010Should you or shouldn't you cross the border into Nogales, Mexico? We were surprised by the ease of crossing the border and what was to be found on the other side.
Drug Violence Update
A year or so ago a State Department warning said Nogales was among several Mexican border cities that "have recently experienced public shootouts during daily hours." Currently the Department of State has asked that embassy families leave the cities on the Mexican border towns, especially. This doesn't mean you shouldn't go, it does mean that if you are concerned it's good to check with the State Department, U.S. Border Patrol or local tourism officials before planning your border crossing.
Where is Nogales, Mexico?
If you follow Interstate 19 south of Tucson, Arizona, you will end right at the border from Nogales, Arizona to Nogales, Sonora. According to the Sonora, Mexico Tourism website, Nogales is named after a ranch that achieved world-wide fame during the colonial period and was located southeast of the present city of Nogales, Sonora. The city of Nogales arose spontaneously near the point at which the American transcontinental railroad connected the railroad of Sonora, a project completed in 1882.
Will there Be Guards?
You may have heard news stories that portrayed the border between Arizona and Mexico as some kind of war zone or no-man’s land. When I headed south to Nogales, Arizona, visions of National Guard troops and vigilantes danced in my mind. Had the border become a place to avoid? I was headed to find out. I was easily enticed by a day of shopping and dinner at a well-known Mexican restaurant in Nogales, Sonora and reassurances from a local woman that all would be well.
Walking Across the Border to Mexico
I was joined by a representative from the local Santa Cruz County, Arizona tourism council who shops in Nogales so often and attends so many meetings in Nogales that she knows many shopkeepers by name. We drove down Highway 19 and took the “International Border” exit. In no time at all, we saw many signs for parking lots on the American side. None of them charged over $5 and all expected cash. My friend said that the car and it’s contents would be safe. We paid the fee and headed toward the border… a very brief walk.
What I noticed as I approached the border was the absence of armed troops or guards. Across the street there were a few men in white shirts, apparently U.S. Border Partrol. They looked anything but militant. In fact it was a busy shopping day with families crossing from Nogales, Sonora into the U.S. to stock up on supplies. Women with baby strollers were returning back into Mexico with their purchases and joined us at the border turnstiles. Walking into Mexico was simple. No one asked for our identification. No one even eyed us, it seemed.
We’re Not in Arizona Any More
Once we walked through the passageway and headed out into the streets, we knew we were in Mexico. Rows of pharmacies and crowded little shops lined the broken sidewalks. Friendly vendors invited us in for shopping. But we passed these shops quite quickly and headed deeper into the Nogales downtown shopping area. My friend showed me a great passageway off a main street. It was brilliant with color and was a fantastic place to shop. There was pottery, paper flowers, punched tin stars, copperware, knock-off purses, straw hats and more. We headed in one shop and out the other. They were joined in the back by another set of passageways.