Mountainous Tecate (pop. 120,000) sits at an elevation of 514 meters (1,690 ft.) in the Sierra de Juárez, which makes for a pleasant climate year-round. The highest peak nearby is Mount Cuchumá, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border.
Protected by its geography from its industrial neighbors of Tijuana and [nodeL18996 link Mexicali]—and from the extreme climates of the Pacific coast and San Felipe Desert—Tecate is an oasis of sorts along the international border zone.
Fresh air and clean spring water led to the establishment of Tecate’s two most famous enterprises: the Tecate Brewery and Rancho La Puerta health spa. High literacy and employment rates allow many people to live in relative comfort here; however, a mass migration from states in southern mainland Mexico toward the maquiladoras in the border region poses serious growth challenges.
The population of the town has risen from 77,000 in 2000 to more than 120,000 today and is on track to reach 153,000 by 2020. By some estimates, 70 percent of the current Tecate residents were not born in the town. It is difficult to provide adequate infrastructure and public services for so many new people and even more difficult to build a sense of community and togetherness that will prevent crime. The river that flows through town is badly polluted.
Beyond the city limits, around 100 rancho resorts and numerous aquatic recreation parks offer accommodations and entertainment.
Mexican American writer Daniel Reveles (www.danielreveles.com) has written several books of short stories that take place in Tecate and poke fun at cultural differences between the Mexican and American ways of thinking. They can be an enjoyable way to get acquainted with the town.
Getting to Tecate
Tecate’s bus depot is on Avenida Juárez at Calle Rodríguez; it has a snack bar and long-distance telephone service. Autotransportes de Baja California (ABC, tel. 664/621-2668, www.abc.com.mx) has regular connections to Mexicali, Tijuana, and Ensenada.
By Car: From San Diego, take I 805 to CA 94 and follow this highway southeast for 66 kilometers to the exit for Tecate. From Arizona, pick up CA 94 from I 8 west. Plan to arrive between 5 A.M. and 1 A.M., when the border gate is open.
Be sure to buy a Mexican auto insurance policy online or at the border before you cross into Mexico. Temporary vehicle import permits (required for driving on the mainland but not in Baja), are issued 8 A.M.–4 P.M. Monday–Saturday at the customs office.
Two Baja California (Norte) state highways pass through Tecate: Mexico 2 (to Tijuana or Mexicali) and Mexico 3 (to Ensenada). The toll road (US$10) between Tijuana and Tecate, Mexico 2 D, parallels the border.
By Rail: The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum (State Hwy. 94 and Forest Gate Rd., Campo, CA, U.S. weekend tel. 619/478-9937, U.S. weekday tel. 619/465-7776, www.sdrm.org, US$43) offers a periodic rail tour to the Old Tecate Railroad Station (one-day or twilight).
By Foot: For a day trip, you can park in any number of lots on the U.S. side of the border and walk over to Tecate. A recommended strategy is to park under a street light in the Payless parking lot right across from the U.S. immigration office. The cost is US$5 per day.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition