Baja California has been in the throes of an image crisis for much of the last decade, mostly because of increased reports of drug and cartel violence. Tourism is back on the rise, however, and with an increase in interest from the food and wine industry, it’s time to reconsider the jewels of our neighbor to the south.
A New Yorker article published in January featured Chef Javier Plascencia’s one-man crusade to redefine Tijuana’s culinary industry, and Anthony Bourdain recently filmed an episode of his show “No Reservations” in Baja’s Guadalupe Valley featuring several of the region’s wineries.
A peninsula where desert meets sea, Baja is also host to several of the West Coast’s only calving grounds for grey whales and some incredible kayaking. How much do you know about the state below, and how willing are you to explore it?
Baja California’s Secretary of Tourism, Juan Tintos Funcke said that the peak of cartel crime in the area was during 2007 and 2008, but new security measures have made Baja the tourist destination it was before.
“There hasn’t been any tourist related incidents in our state like there has been, unfortunately, in other states in Mexico,” he said.
Funcke said there are numerous measures taken to insure visitors to Baja are safe and comfortable, including bilingual police, highway services, and tourist information services available 24 hours a day.
And for those who dread the return across the border, which often takes hours, there are currently steps to remodel the border crossings. In a year, movement between Mexico and the US through border control and customs could take less than an hour.
But added conveniences are not enough to erase the nation’s problems or completely or quell tourist apprehensions.
KPCC reporter Ruxandra Guidi has often covered the tumultuous region but said it truly isn’t what many people picture. Yes, she concedes, there are valid security issues and concerns, but it is not how it was during peak crime periods in 2008. She pointed out however, that many areas of Mexico, including tourist destinations, remain under state department warning.
“It’s worth noting and remembering many, many parts of Mexico are still under the grips of drug violence.”
Nonetheless, Tijuana, she said, is not the violent, “city of vice” it has been known to be.
President of Tijuana’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Mariano Escobedo further dispelled myths about the culture and security of Baja.
“Violence, for us, is the thing of the past. We have states that are still, unfortunately, undergoing difficult times,” he said. “But to us in Tijuana and Baja California, this is something in the past.”
Escobedo continued, “Mind you, the fighting is among gangs who are dedicated to trafficking undocumented people into the US, who are trafficking drugs, but it’s fighting among themselves.”
One caller, Mark from Laguna, said he had travelled down to Baja after 9/11 and saw numerous American flags hanging in solidarity with the country after the attacks.
Funcke responded to the moment, noting the closeness that exists between Baja and the US.
“We are really one single region, there’s so much interconnection economic-wise, cultural-wise,” he said. “There’s this bonding, and it’s always been a relationship of many years between our communities here on the border. We’re really a binational region.”
How do you feel about a vacation in Baja California nowadays? Has your mind changed now than that of the past? How much do you know about the state below, and how willing are you to explore it?
Juan Tintos Funcke, Baja California’s Secretary of Tourism
Mariano Escobedo, President of Tijuana's Convention and Visitor's Bureau
Ruxandra Guidi, reporter for KPCC who has covered the border region, including in San Diego-Tijuana region, for more than 5 years