A few miles south of San Diego lies Tijuana, a favorite weekend getaway for Americans. Some Californians have even taken to living in Tijuana permanently to escape their state’s rising housing costs. However, life in Tijuana has changed drastically over the last few years as conflicts between rival drug cartels have caused the city’s murder rate to skyrocket. The situation presents a new set of risks for those wanting to visit the ever-popular tourist trap.
In 2018, over 2,000 homicides were reported in Tijuana, an increase from the 1,647 homicides reported in 2017. Authorities attribute the bloodshed to warring drug cartels. The Sinaloa Cartel, formerly led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman arrived in Tijuana about 12 years ago and launched a campaign to usurp the resident Arellano Felix Cartel. The fighting has raged ever since, with visitors and locals alike getting caught in the crossfire. In November of last year, two San Diego teenagers and a friend from Tijuana were found dead in an apartment bathroom. The teens had driven to Ensenada for a barbeque and never returned. Authorities said they had been stripped and tortured before being shot execution-style. Police later announced that they had arrested three suspects in connection with the killings, but did not issue any further statements. The situation in Tijuana has intensified with the arrival of a migrant caravan from Honduras intent on entering the US. The migrants arrived in December but their entrance into the US was blocked by border patrol agents. The Trump administration, implementing a practice called “metering,” agreed to only allow a few migrants into the country per day, and the remaining migrants set up a temporary camp while each waited for their chance to cross the border. Later that month, three of the migrants were killed in an apparent robbery attempt when they left the camp to visit a sports arena near the center of the city. It would seem that no one is safe from the violence that plagues Tijuana.
Still, tourism is booming. Tijuana’s vibrant nightlife continues to attract visitors who are looking for a bit of excitement and willing to navigate the risks. Some nightclubs in the city have even started offering limousine rides to and from the border, as a means of ensuring the safety of their customers and, of course, the future of their business. Local authorities continue to mitigate the violence as best they can, but the warring continues, with no end in sight.
JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself.