Traveling from Tijuana to Mexicali is pretty straightforward. The two cities sit 115 miles apart (185 km). Travel time is about 2.5-3.5 hours. This guide explains how to travel from Tijuana to Mexicali, step-by-step.
There are two ways to make this trip. You can take the bus or you can drive yourself. It is also possible to fly. This guide outlines routes, costs, travel times, distances, departure times, transit station locations, how to book tickets, safety, and more. Hopefully, this guide makes your trip from Tijuana to Mexicali a bit smoother and easier.
Table of Contents:
This guide is divided into two sections:
About the Trip from Tijuana to Mexicali
Mexicali sits 115 miles or 185 km east of Tijuana, in the state of Baja California. The city sits on the US-Mexico border, just across from Calexico, California. The trip from Tijuana to Mexicali takes 2.5-3.5 hours depending on traffic, the mode of transport you choose, and the route you take.
Tijuana and Mexicali are connected by two well-maintained highways. This route is frequently traveled due to the significance of the two cities. Tijuana is the largest city and Mexicali is the capital of the state of Baja California. Tijuana and Mexicali are also the two largest cities in the Baja Peninsula.
Because both Tijuana and Mexicali sit right on the border, it is possible to travel between the cities on either the U.S. side or Mexican side. On the Mexican side of the border, there are two roads: Highway 2D and Highway 2. Highway 2D is a toll road (cuota). Highway 2 is a free road (via libre). On the US side, there are a number of routes you can take including interstate 8 or highways 94 and 98.
Mexicali is the capital of the state of Baja California. It has a population of around 1 million, making it the second most populous city in the state after Tijuana. The city sits in a valley. The climate is hot and arid. Mexicali’s economy is based on agriculture and industry. Many international companies have factories in and around the city.
Mexicali is becoming a popular tourist destination. Visitors cross the border to enjoy the city’s restaurants, bars, clubs, taco stands, and souvenir shops. It is also a popular destination for medical tourism in Mexico. You’ll find many doctors, dentists, and pharmacies in the city. Mexicali is also known for its Chinatown neighborhood called La Chinesca, where around 15,000 people of Chinese descent live. Here, you’ll find a number of Chinese restaurants and shops. You’ll also see some Chinese style architecture.
How to Take the Bus from Tijuana to Mexicali
The bus is the easiest and most affordable way to travel between Tijuana and Mexicali. Buses to Mexicali depart about every hour all day long.
Multiple bus companies offer service between Tijuana and Mexicali. Bus companies include ABC Bus, Autobuses Elite, TAP, Chihuahuenses, Autobuses del Evora, ACN, Aguacaliente, Futura Select, and more.
Before booking your ticket, you’ll need to check to see where the bus departs from. Most Mexicali-bound buses depart from Tijuana’s main station. The main bus station in Tijuana is called Central de Autobuses de Tijuana. This station is located outside of the city center in the southeast section of the city. Chances are, you’ll have to take a taxi or Uber to get here. There are also several company-specific bus stations located throughout the city.
Tijuana to Mexicali Bus Departure Times
From Tijuana central bus station, buses to Mexicali depart at least every hour between 4:00 AM and 11:00 PM. For most of the day, there are Mexicali bound buses departing every half hour. These services are operated by different companies.
ABC bus offers the following departure times: 5:00, 6:30, 7:00, 8:30, 9:00, 10:30, 11:00, 12:30, 13:00, 14:30, 15:00, 16:30, 17:00, 18:30, 19:00, 20:30, 21:00, 23:00.
Grupo Estrella Blanca companies (Elite, Aguascalientes, Chihuahense, and Futura Select) offer the following departure times: 2:00 4:00, 6:00, 6:30, 7:30, 8:00, 9:30, 10:00, 11:30, 11:45, 12:00, 13:30, 14:00, 15:30, 16:00, 16:15, 17:30, 17:45, 18:00, 18:45, 19:30, 20:00, 21:00, 21:15, 21:30, 22:00, 23:30.
If you miss the 11:30 PM bus, you’ll have to wait until 2:00 AM. If you miss the 2:00 AM bus, you’ll have to wait until 4:00 AM.
It’s important to note that bus times and frequency can change at any time without notice. Before heading to the station, check the schedule online. You can check the ABC bus schedule here. You can check the Estrella Blanca bus schedule here. When inputting your origin, choose the ‘Tijuana Central’ option. Choose the ‘Mexicali Central’ option for your destination.
How Much do Tijuana to Mexicali Bus Tickets Cost
A one-way ticket from Tijuana to Mexicali usually costs 360 pesos (around $17). This is the regular fare price on most bus lines. Sometimes you can find a discount if you shop around a bit. For example, at the time of writing, Elite Bus and Aguacaliente are offering a discounted fare of 320 pesos (around $15).
The trip back to Tijuana from Mexicali costs the same 360 pesos. If you want to buy a round-trip ticket, it will cost 720 pesos or around $36.
It’s important to note that ticket prices can change at any time. You can check the price online before heading to the station on the bus company websites. They all list their prices.
Tijuana to Mexicali Bus Travel Time
The trip from Tijuana to Mexicali takes about 2.5-3 hours. The exact travel time depends on traffic and how many stops the bus makes along the way. Some bus companies make more stops than others. You can check the estimated travel time on the bus company website. Generally, the buses operate on time. Occasionally, they run a little bit late.
How to Buy a Bus Ticket from Tijuana to Mexicali
You must buy your bus ticket before you board the bus. You can buy a ticket either in person at the station or online. Most companies accept cash and cards at the station and cards online.
For this trip, I recommend you buy your ticket at the station on the day that you plan to take the trip. You don’t need to go to the station to buy your ticket days in advance. There are almost always seats available on this route. Just show up 15-20 minutes before a scheduled departure time and buy your ticket then.
When you arrive at the station, look for the sales counter of your desired bus line. Every company has its departure times and prices posted. You can pay for your ticket in cash with pesos. Most companies also accept credit and debit cards.
If you plan to travel during a holiday, buses can fill up. Particularly at popular travel times. In this case, it’s a good idea to check availability before you head to the station or book your ticket in advance.
You can check availability on most bus company websites. They’ll tell you how many seats are available on each bus. If your desired bus is filling up, you may need to book in advance to make sure you get a seat.
You can also book your bus ticket online if you prefer. You can pay with a credit card or debit card. The only drawback is that some companies require that you print your ticket. You can’t just show the ticket on your phone. Most travelers don’t have access to a printer. This makes buying a ticket online a hassle. I have also had a problem with my foreign card being declined on Mexican bus company websites. If you book online, share your experience in the comments!
How to Get to the Bus Station in Tijuana (Central de Autobuses de Tijuana)
Tijuana’s main bus station is called El Central de Autobuses de Tijuana (Tijuana central bus station). The station is located on Highway 2, in the southeastern side of the city. Here is the location on Google Maps. Most Tijuana to Mexicali buses depart from this station.
Unfortunately, Tijuana’s central bus station is not centrally located in the city. If you’re starting your trip at the border or in one of the touristy areas like downtown or Zona Rio, you’ll have to take a taxi, Uber, or public transport to the bus station.
You can catch a taxi or Uber to the bus station from anywhere in the city. It’s a 6.5 mile (9 km) ride from the border or downtown to the bus station. The ride takes about 15 minutes depending on traffic.
If you’re taking a taxi, tell the driver that you want to go to ‘el central de autobuses.’ Every driver will know where it is. The taxi ride should cost around 250-300 pesos ($12-$14).
When taking a taxi, try to take a white ‘taxi libre’ instead of a yellow cab. The white taxis usually have meters. You’ll get the best rate if the driver uses the meter. If they refuse to use the meter, find a different driver or negotiate the fare before you get in the cab. Never accept a taxi ride in Tijuana without negotiating the fare or you will get overcharged.
If you’re taking an Uber, simply input ‘central de autobuses’ as your destination. The ride will cost a bit less than the taxi fare. Probably around 200 pesos ($9.50). For more in-depth info, check out my guide to taking taxis and Uber in Tijuana.
It is also possible to take public transport to the bus station. Taxis de ruta are Tijuana’s public transportation system. These are shared colectivo minibusses that can take you anywhere in the city. They operate on set routes around Tijuana. They leave when they’re full.
You can catch a taxi de ruta to the central bus station on the corner of 2nd or 3rd street and Avenida Constitución in Zona Centro (downtown). You’ll see minibusses lined up on the street around here. I don’t know the exact fare. I believe it’s around 20 pesos (around $1).
The ride from downtown to the bus station will take around 20-30 minutes depending on the number of stops the bus makes. If you’re having trouble finding the correct bus, ask one of the attendants which bus is going to el central de autobuses. They’ll point you in the right direction.
Tijuana central bus station is organized, safe, and clean. There is plenty of seating inside. Restrooms are available for a fee of around 5 pesos. You’ll also find a couple of shops where you can buy snacks and drinks. There is also paid parking available next to the station. This is nice if you want to drive to Tijuana, park, and take the bus to Mexicali.
Most bus companies allow you to bring one small carry-on bag such as a day pack or purse and one large checked bag such as a backpack or suitcase. This is included in the price of the ticket. Generally, the carry-on bag can weigh up to 5 kg (about 11 lbs) and the checked bag can weigh up to 25 kg (about 55 lbs).
Size-wise, your carry-on bag must fit in the storage area above the seats, under the seat in front of you, or between your legs. Checked luggage size usually doesn’t matter unless it’s clearly oversized.
If you want to bring additional luggage or an oversized item, you’ll have to pay an extra fee. You’ll be charged based on the weight in kilos.
If you’re traveling with a large piece of luggage that you need to check, such as a backpack or suitcase, the driver or luggage attendant will tag your bag and hand you a luggage tag. They will load your bag into the luggage compartment under the bus for you. You can tip the luggage handler if you like. If you don’t have any small bills, it’s not necessary.
In my experience, luggage isn’t weighed. If your bag is particularly heavy, an attendant could weigh it. If the bag is overweight, you can be charged an extra fee. The fee is charged based on the number of kilograms that your bag weighs over the baggage weight limit. If your luggage is oversized, you could also be charged an extra fee.
Tip: When packing before your trip, try to pack all of your fragile and valuable gear in your carry-on bag. This way, you’re the only one handling it. Your gear is also less likely to get damaged or stolen when it’s in your possession.
Luggage handlers sometimes toss and stack bags. It would be easy for fragile gear to get broken if it’s in your checked bag. Valuable gear is also safer if you have it with you on the bus. I have never heard of theft occurring on this specific trip but I have heard stories of items being stolen out of bags under buses. To be safe, always keep an eye on your carry-on so somebody doesn’t walk off with it.
Seating on the bus
When you buy your ticket, you will be assigned a seat. You can request a specific seating location if you like. If you buy your ticket online, you’ll have the opportunity to choose where you want to sit.
The bus companies aren’t strict about assigned seating. If there is a vacant seat that you prefer, you can move. Oftentimes, these buses are only half full. You may have the row to yourself.
The safest seats are aisle seats in the center of the bus on the right-hand side. This way, you aren’t facing oncoming traffic. Personally, I prefer window seats while riding the bus because I enjoy looking out at the scenery.
The bus ride from Tijuana to Mexicali is somewhat scenic. You’ll pass through some interesting desert landscapes. The scenery changes from rocky brush to sandy desert to mountains to agricultural land. You’ll also pass through a couple of small towns along the way.
About the Busses
The buses that travel between Tijuana and Mexicali are modern coaches. They feature a number of amenities including reclining seats, men’s and women’s restrooms, electrical outlets, window curtains, and reading lights.
Some of the premium buses also offer entertainment systems built into the seats as well as internet. The buses also have heating and air conditioning. In my experience, the drivers often keep the bus a bit chilly. Bring a sweatshirt with you.
Arriving in Mexicali by Bus
Most buses drop you off at El Central de Autobuses de Mexicali (Mexicali central bus station). The station is located at Calz Independencia 1244, Centro Cívico, 21000 Mexicali, B.C., Mexico. This is the southern end of the Centro Civico part of the city, about 3.5 miles (5.7 km) south of the border.
The Mexicali central bus station is large, organized, and clean. There is plenty of seating inside as well as restrooms that you can use for a fee. The station offers paid Wifi. There is also a restaurant and a convenience store where you can buy snacks and drinks.
Once you arrive in Mexicali, you can catch a taxi, Uber, or public transport to your destination in the city. You’ll find taxi drivers waiting outside of the station. You can use the bus station Wifi to order an Uber if your phone’s data doesn’t work in Mexico. If you’re on a budget, you can also catch a public bus. This site can help you find the right public bus to your destination in Mexicali.
The area around Mexicali central bus station is not really walkable. The city is pretty spread out. Chances are, you’ll need to take some kind of transport to your destination.
Returning from Mexicali to Tijuana by Bus
You can easily buy a ticket back to Tijuana at the Mexicali central bus station. If you know your return date, you could buy your ticket when you arrive at the station. Otherwise, you’ll want to arrive 15-20 minutes early on your departure day to buy a ticket. If you bought a return ticket in Tijuana, you can just show up at the station and check in a few minutes before your departure.
It’s usually not necessary to buy this ticket in advance unless you’re traveling on a holiday. The buses rarely fill up.
Buses to Tijuana depart at least every hour. Oftentimes even more frequently. Consider checking the schedules before you leave the station. They’re posted at each company’s ticket kiosk. You can also check the schedules for most companies online.
When you arrive back at the Tijuana central bus station, you’ll have to catch a taxi, Uber, or taxi de ruta back to your destination in Tijuana. You’ll find taxis and taxis de ruta outside of the station.
Is it Safe to Take the Bus from Tijuana to Mexicali?
Yes. The bus trip from Tijuana to Mexicali is safe. The bus companies are professional and the drivers drive safely. The buses are in good mechanical condition. Most are like new.
The bus route is also secure. You’ll stay on a major highway between the largest city and the capital of the state. The road is heavily policed, well-traveled, and in good condition. Dozens of buses travel this route every day without any issues.
If you’re catching a bus after dark, it’s best not to walk to the station or around outside of the station too much. At night Tijuana becomes a bit more dangerous. There is a risk of getting pickpocketed or mugged if you’re out wandering around alone.
The same is true in Mexicali. If you arrive after dark avoid walking around outside of the station. This is particularly important if you’re unfamiliar with the city.
To stay safe, just catch a taxi, public bus, or Uber to and from the stations in both cities. Mexicali is safer than Tijuana but it’s not the safest city on earth. Exercise caution while walking around. Particularly after dark. I was pickpocketed in Tijuana while wandering around one night.
For more info, check out my guide: Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams.
Driving from Tijuana to Mexicali
You can easily drive your own vehicle from Tijuana to Mexicali. Many travelers prefer this option because it gives you more freedom. You’ll have your own transportation in Mexico. You won’t have to rely on taxis or public transport. This is nice because Mexicali isn’t really a walkable city. It’s pretty spread out.
Because Tijuana and Mexicali sit on the border, it’s possible to drive between the two cities on either the U.S. side or the Mexican side of the border. The optimal route depends on where you’re starting your trip and the time of day you’re making the drive.
How to Drive from Tijuana to Mexicali
On the Mexican side of the border, Tijuana and Mexicali are connected by two roads: Highway 2D and Highway 2. Highway 2D is a toll road (cuota). Highway 2 is a free road (via libre). The toll road runs parallel to the free road along most of the route.
Highway 2D is smooth, fast, and incredibly well maintained. Traffic is usually pretty light. Highway 2 is safe and generally well-maintained but a bit slower. It passes through several towns where you’ll have to slow down. It also has some potholes here and there. Traffic is also heavier.
Most visitors take Highway 2D. To get on Highway 2D from the border, merge right onto Avenida Vía Rápida after exiting the border area. Follow this road along the Tijuana River. Take the exit marked Tecate La Presa. This leads you to Avenida Vía Rápida Alamar Sur. Continue following the road along the Tijuana River and turn left on Blvd. Lic. Héctor Terán Terán. Follow this road and merge right onto Highway 2D. The highway will take you all the way to Mexicali. It’s a good idea to use a GPS if possible. The roads can be a bit confusing. Signage is poor. Here is a map of the route:
How Much is the Toll to Drive from Tijuana to Mexicali?
The current toll to drive from Tijuana to Mexicali is around 260 pesos (around $13). You’ll pass through three toll booths while driving from Tijuana to Mexicali:
- The first toll booth is located between Tijuana and Tecate. It costs 127 pesos (around $6.40).
- The second toll booth is located at El Hongo. It costs 93 pesos (around $4.70).
- The third toll booth is located at la Rumorosa. It costs 40 pesos (around $2.00).
The above toll prices are for a standard-sized car. If you’re riding a motorcycle or driving a motorhome, the price will be different. You must pay the tolls in pesos or US dollars. At each toll booth, you must pay in one currency. For example, if the toll is 40 pesos, you can’t pay with $1 and the rest in pesos.
It is possible to take the toll road only part of the way to save on tolls. For example, you could drive on highway 2 from Tijuana to Tecate. From there, you could pick up highway 2D from Tecate to Mexicali. There are several places along the route where the highways intersect. This could save you a few dollars.
It’s difficult to drive all the way from Tijuana to Mexicali without paying any tolls. The reason is that you must cross the Sierra de Juárez Mountains to travel between the two cities. This section is called La Rumorosa. It is a somewhat treacherous section of mountainous road.
The main road passing over the mountains is highway 2D. You’ll have to pay a toll to travel across La Rumorosa on highway 2D. Shortly after crossing the mountain range, you can get back on the free highway 2 and continue the rest of the way into Mexicali on the free road.
It is possible to bypass all tolls. In order to do this, you would have to turn off in the town of La Rumorosa before the toll booth. There is a hard pack dirt road that runs near the toll road through the mountains. I believe this is the road that was used before highway 2D was built.
You would only want to attempt this drive if you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle and recovery equipment and know what you’re doing. For more info on this route, check out this thread on Baja Nomad Forum. I’ve never driven this route but it looks like an adventure if you’re into off-road driving.
If you plan to drive between Tijuana and Mexicali frequently, you can get an IAVE pass (Identificacion Automatics Vehicular or Automatic Vehicle Identification). This pass allows you to use special fast lanes at the toll booths and pay automatically. For more info, check out this guide.
How to drive from Tijuana to Mexicali on the U.S. Side of the border
To drive from Tijuana to Mexicali on the U.S. side of the border, first you’ll have to cross the border from Tijuana into San Ysidro, California. From there, you’ll need to travel east to Calexico, California. There, you can cross back into Mexico. Mexicali sits just across the border from Calexico.
On the US side of the border, there are a number of routes you can take between the San Diego area and Calexico. The fastest route is to take Interstate 8.
From San Ysidro, get on I-805 north. Next, catch Highway 54 East. Merge onto Highway 125 North. From there, merge onto I-8 East. Continue on I-8 until you reach Highway 98 East. This road will take you to Calexico. From Calexico, cross the border into Mexicali. There are no tolls on this route. Here is a map of the route.
Once you arrive in Calexico, you can drive across the border into Mexicali. If you don’t want to drive in Mexico, you can park your vehicle on the U.S. side of the border and walk across at the pedestrian crossing. There are a number of border parking lots near the crossing where you can pay to park. Mexicali sits right on the border. You can easily walk to the historic center from the border or take a taxi, Uber, or public transport to anywhere in the city.
How Long Does It Take to Drive from Tijuana to Mexicali?
The drive time between Tijuana and Mexicali depends on which route you take. The fastest route between the two cities is highway 2D. This drive takes around 2:40. If you avoid tolls and take highway 2 for most of the way, the drive takes around 3:30. These travel times assume traffic is light. If you’re traveling during rush hour, expect the drive to take 20-30 minutes longer.
The drive takes longer when you take Highway 2 because the road often has only one lane in each direction while highway 2D has two lanes in each direction. Highway 2 also passes through more towns where you’ll have to slow down. Highway 2 also has a few narrow and rough sections. These slowdowns add to the travel time. You can maintain a higher average speed on highway 2D.
If you cross from Tijuana into the U.S. and drive from San Diego to Calexico then cross to Mexicali, the drive could take anywhere from 2-4 hours. Exactly how long the drive will take depends on how long you have to wait at the border. The wait time at the border depends on the time of day and whether or not you have a SENTRI or NEXUS card. If you have to wait in the regular line, it could take 1-2+ hours just to cross the border. If you can use the SENTRI lane, you can usually cross in less than 15 minutes.
After you cross the border, the drive from San Ysidro to Calexico takes bout 2 hours and 15 minutes. You can check border wait times here. On average, it will take you around 3.5 hours to drive from Tijuana to Mexicali by traveling on the U.S. side of the border. With a SENTRI pass, you could make the drive in around 2:30.
If you’re starting your trip in the San Diego area, the drive to Mexicali takes around 2 hours. It’s around 40 minutes faster to drive from San Diego to Calexico and cross into Mexicali rather than driving to Tijuana and then driving to Mexicali. It’s faster because the route is more direct and you avoid Tijuana traffic.
What is the driving distance between Tijuana and Mexicali?
If you take highway 2D, the distance between Tijuana and Mexicali is about 114 miles (184 km). The distance is slightly longer if you take highway 2 and avoid tolls. If you travel through the United States, the distance is around 134 miles (216 km.) The distance from San Diego to Mexicali is 123 miles (198 km).
Is it Safe to Drive from Tijuana to Mexicali?
Yes. The drive from Tijuana to Mexicali is safe. Both highways 2 and 2D are well-maintained and frequently traveled. After all, these are the two main roads between the largest city and the capital of the state of Baja California. If you break down, you’re never far from service. These roads are also heavily policed. You’re unlikely to encounter any crime during your drive.
There is one dangerous section of the highway where you’ll have to exercise caution. That is La Rumorosa. This road passes over the Sierra de Juárez Mountains. It was originally completed in 1917. Currently, there are two lanes going in each direction on this section of road.
There are a number of features that make this road dangerous to drive. The road has some steep grades and switchbacks that you’ll have to navigate carefully.
The weather can also make the drive dangerous. There are often strong winds in this area. Due to the elevation, it can even snow on the road during the winter.
You also have to look out for other drivers. People who are in a hurry try to drive this road too fast and cause accidents. This is one of the more dangerous roads in Mexico. Accidents are common here.
To stay safe while driving La Rumorosa, leave yourself plenty of distance between other cars. Follow the speed limit. Use engine braking while descending to help control your speed. If the weather is poor, turn on your headlights. If there is a more experienced driver in your group, let them drive this section.
It’s best to avoid making the drive from Tijuana to Mexicali at night. Particularly if you’ve never made this drive before. There are a number of reasons for this. Parts of the road are not well-lit. There are also curvy and steep sections on La Rumorosa. These can be tricky at night. Truck drivers can pass closely and aggressively. Occasionally pedestrians walk on the road. In some sections, you have to keep an eye out for livestock. You will pass through some agricultural land near Mexicali. It is also easier to get lost at night while driving through Tijuana and Mexicali. Sometimes signage isn’t clear in the cities. GPS can help. Try to make the drive during the day if possible. If you have to drive at night, be careful.
Another risk to be aware of is police corruption. This is a problem in both Tijuana and Mexicali. It’s not uncommon for an officer to pull tourists over, accuse them of committing a crime or traffic infraction, then offer to settle the matter in cash. In other words, they ask for a bribe. For example, the officer may tell you that you were speeding or that you weren’t wearing your seatbelt and then tell you that the fine is $100 and that you need to pay there and then in cash.
It’s best to avoid paying bribes whenever possible. If you get pulled over by the police, avoid paying a bribe by asking for a paper citation or by asking to pay at the police station. In most cases, they’ll either let you go or give you a written citation.
If you end up having to pay, you can usually negotiate the fine down to 500-1000 pesos ($25-$50). You can reduce your risk of getting stopped by a corrupt officer by obeying all traffic laws. For more info, check out my guide to police corruption in Tijuana.
Insurance for Driving from Tijuana to Mexicali
If you plan to drive your own vehicle to Mexicali, you’ll want to purchase temporary Mexican auto insurance before your trip. This way, you’re covered if you’re involved in an accident. This is important because your regular insurance probably won’t cover you while you’re in Mexico.
You can purchase temporary insurance online or at a kiosk near the border. Your regular insurance provider may also offer temporary Mexican auto insurance. Give them a call to find out. For example, Geico offers it.
On average, temporary Mexican auto insurance costs around $20 per day. Check out this guide for more info.
Toll Road Insurance
One major benefit of taking the toll road is that insurance is included with the price of the toll. This gives you some extra coverage in case you’re involved in an accident while driving on the toll road.
If you are in an accident while driving on a toll road and you are at fault, this insurance covers damage to the road, damage to other vehicles, and medical payments. It does not cover damage to your vehicle if you’re at fault.
If you are involved in an accident and you’re not at fault, the insurance will cover damage to your vehicle and medical payments. Damage to glass or tires will only be covered if it is caused by poor road maintenance.
Your toll receipt is proof that you have paid to use the toll road. You’ll need the receipt to file a claim. Be sure to keep it somewhere safe.
You still need to buy temporary Mexican auto insurance, even if you plan to drive on the toll roads. Toll road insurance is limited in what it covers. It also does not cover you while you’re not driving on the toll roads.
A Note About The Temporary Import Permit (TIP)
If you’re only driving from Tijuana to Mexicali, you can skip this section. You do not need a temporary import permit.
If you plan to continue your trip further into Mexico and leave the Baja Peninsula or Sonora Free Zone, you will need a temporary import permit.
This is a document that allows you to drive your foreign plated vehicle anywhere in Mexico. You’ll need to get this document before you cross into Mexico. For more info, check out my guide to the temporary import permit.
Renting a Car to Drive from Tijuana to Mexicali
If you don’t want to drive your own vehicle across the border, you can rent a vehicle and drive from Tijuana to Mexicali. All of the major rental agencies have locations in Tijuana including Enterprise, Hertz, Budget, Dollar, and Alamo. There are also some independent rental car agencies.
Renting a car in Tijuana costs around $50 per day. It is possible to do a one-way rental as well. You would need to arrange that with your rental agency in advance.
There are a few benefits to renting a car rather than driving your own. First, you won’t have to stop and park at the border to pass through immigration. You won’t have to deal with buying Mexican auto insurance. You can buy insurance from the rental agency when you rent the car. There is no risk of damaging your own vehicle on potholes or speedbumps. Your rental car will also have Mexican license plates. This can reduce your likelihood of getting pulled over by corrupt police. You’ll blend in more when you drive a vehicle with local plates.
When renting a car in Tijuana, make sure you understand all costs involved before signing the rental contract. Ask for the final price and a breakdown of costs. This is important because some car rental agencies in Mexico like to run a scam where they advertise an extremely low rate and then surprise you with a bunch of additional charges. This is a common travel scam in Mexico. If you rent from a large reputable agency, you don’t have to worry about this as much.
Returning to Tijuana to Mexicali by Car
You can drive easily back to Tijuana the way you came. Simply hop on Highway 2 in Mexicali and follow it back to Tijuana. Highway 2 runs right through Mexicali. In the city, the highway is called Blvd Lázaro Cárdenas. It intersects with Highway 5 (Blvd Lopez Mateos in Mexicali). This is a major north-south road in the city. A few miles to the west of Mexicali, Highway 2 turns into Highway 2D. This takes you over La Rumorosa.
While driving back to Tijuana, you’ll pass through the same 3 toll booths and pay the same tolls if you take Highway 2D. The drive takes 2.5-3 hours.
Flying from Tijuana to Mexicali
It is possible to fly between Tijuana and Mexicali. The problem is that there are no direct flights out of Tijuana airport. All flights have a layover somewhere. Usually either in Mexico City or Guadalajara.
This means you have to travel way out of your way to fly between the two cities. Travel time will be 6-9 hours.
For this reason, it doesn’t really make sense to fly between Tijuana and Mexicali at this time. It’s much faster to drive or take the bus. Maybe a direct flight will begin operating at some point in the future.
How to Travel From San Diego to Mexicali
If you’re starting your trip in San Diego, first you’ll have to make your way to the border and cross into Mexico. From there, you can travel to Mexicali using one of the methods outlined above. A few ways to travel from San Diego to the Border include:
- Drive to the border and park- Probably the most convenient option for most travelers is to drive to Calexico and park at one of the border parking lots. From there, you can use one of the pedestrian crossings to cross to Mexicali. There are a number of parking lots within walking distance of the border. After crossing, you can easily walk or catch a taxi, Uber, or colectivo minibus to your destination in Mexicali.
- Take the San Diego Trolley to Tijuana then take the Bus to Mexicali- To do this, you’ll catch a Blue Line trolley in downtown San Diego and ride it to the end of the line in San Ysidro. From there, you’re around a block away from the PedEast border crossing. After crossing the border, you can catch a taxi, Uber, or public transport to the Tijuana central bus station. From there, you can catch a bus to Mexicali. A one-way trolley ticket from San Diego to the border costs $2.50. If you’re not near a trolley station, you can catch a city bus and transfer to the trolley. For more info, check out my guide to taking the San Diego trolley to Tijuana.
- Take the Greyhound Bus- This is a good option if you’re starting your trip outside of the San Diego area. The bus drops you off outside of the San Ysidro trolley station. From there, you can cross into Mexico at the pedestrian crossing, take a taxi or public transport to the central bus station, and catch a bus to Mexicali. For more info, check out my guide to taking the Greyhound bus to Tijuana.
- Drive from San Diego to Mexicali- You can drive directly from San Diego to Calexico and cross the border into Mexicali. This is a large border crossing. This is a 123 mile drive. It takes around 2 hours when traffic is light. From San Diego, you’ll take highway 94 to 125 to I-8. Turn off I-8 at the 11 south exit and follow the road straight to Mexicali.
Crossing the Border from San Ysidro to Tijuana or From Calexico to Mexicali
If you’re traveling from the U.S, you’ll have to cross the border into Mexico. After arriving at the border, follow the signs to Mexican immigration. When leaving the U.S, there is no exit procedure. You proceed straight to Mexican immigration.
If you’re entering Mexico on foot, you’ll walk down a path and into the immigration building. There are two lines at immigration. One line is for Mexican citizens and residents and the other line is for foreign visitors. If you don’t have Mexican citizenship or residency, wait in the visitor’s line.
If you’re driving across the border to Mexicali, you’ll have to stop and park at the border, go into the immigration building. When driving across, follow the signs to the declaration area. You’ll find parking there. From there, you can walk to immigration.
When you get to the front of the immigration line, a Mexican immigration official will check your passport. Both book and card-style passports are accepted. You do need a passport to travel to Mexico these days. You can no longer enter with a driver’s license or birth certificate.
In order to enter Mexico, you’ll have to fill out an FMM visitor’s permit. In most cases, the immigration official will fill the form out for you. The official will ask you some basic questions about your trip such as where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and the purpose of your trip. In some cases, you’ll fill the form out yourself. It is also possible to apply for an FMM permit online before your trip.
The FMM visitor’s permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple) is a travel document that allows citizens and residents of a number of countries to enter Mexico without a visa. It is available to passport holders from the US, Canada, EU countries, the UK, Australia, Japan, and a number of other countries. Check this list of countries to see if you’re eligible.
If you’re not eligible for an FMM permit, you’ll have to apply for a visa in advance from your nearest Mexican embassy or consulate. For more info, check out my in-depth guide to the FMM visitor’s permit.
You have to get an FMM permit even if you’re only crossing into Mexicali for the day. If you’re staying in Mexico for more than a week, you’ll have to pay the FMM fee. The current fee is 595 pesos (around $30). If you’re staying less than 7 days, there is no fee.
If you applied and paid for your FMM online, you still have to stop at the border to get your passport stamped.
Crossing Back into the U.S. After Visiting Mexicali
When returning to the U.S. from Mexicali, it’s important to remember that there will be a wait at the border. You can check the border wait times between San Ysidro and Tijuana and Calexico and Mexicali on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website here. You can check the wait times for all of the crossings including PedEast and PedWest in San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, and Calexico East and West.
The wait time depends on the time of day that you cross, the border that you use, and the mode of transport. On average, the wait is around 1-2 hours. Generally, the wait to cross on foot is a bit shorter than the wait to drive across.
To avoid having to wait too long, you can cross at odd hours such as late at night or early in the morning. During these times, the wait can be as short as 15 minutes. You can also cross at a less popular crossing such as Tecate.
Money Tip: During your trip to Mexicali, it’s best to pay for everything with pesos. Even though U.S. dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere in Tijuana and Mexicali, you’re better off paying with pesos because you’ll get a better exchange rate. When you pay in dollars, you overpay for everything.
Before crossing the border, stop at a currency exchange booth to convert some dollars to pesos. You’ll find a number of currency exchange booths in San Ysidro and Calexico. You can also convert dollars at exchange booths in Tijuana and Mexicali.
Alternatively, you could withdraw pesos from an ATM with your debit card in Tijuana or Mexicali. You can pay for some things with a credit card. Make sure you use cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Also, call your bank ahead of time to let them know you’re using your card in Mexico so they don’t flag the transactions as fraudulent.
Final Thoughts About Traveling From Tijuana to Mexicali
This is an easy trip to make. From Tijuana, you can easily catch a bus or drive to Mexicali. The 115 mile trip between the two cities takes around 2.5-3.5 hours depending on the route and mode of transport you take.
For most travelers, the bus is the most convenient option. Mexicali-bound buses depart from Tijuana’s central bus terminal at least once per hour throughout the day. You can also easily hop on Highway 2D and drive directly to Mexicali.
Have you made the trip from Tijuana to Mexicali? Share your experience in the comments below!
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