At some point in the lives of every guy’s inner circle, somebody’s going to get the idea to take a group trip to Mexico. Like Vegas, Tahoe, Park City/Aspen, this is an important and time-honored rite of passage for every group of dudes. But where the rewards are real and tempting (donkey show), the potential pitfalls (bad donkey show) should be enough to give you pause. There’s some things you need to cover to get you and your compañeros back home safely TJ-AIDS free.
Stage 1: The Plan
The way I see it, you have three options to hit the decadent wasteland below the border:
1. The Cruise
Lowest stakes, lowest impact. Cruises are like getting stuck in a nursing home at sea, but hey, at least the buffet is free. You can also gamble, buy large duty free booze and hot tub, but if you do, you will definitely end up squeezed between two middle school social studies teachers from Cleveland whose collective bulk outweighs the mass of the sun, fat rolls floating freely in the bubbles.
The cruise is pretty lame, but if you and your boys just want to gorge yourself and lay out in the sun where your only contact with Mexico is a short shore excursion to a zipline in the jungle, a couple days on the big fart tub might be the choice for you.
Just make sure to get one that stops off in Catalina or Key West before going south, because you can load up on cheap booze for the trip and the shore people don’t check the way they do at departure.
2. The Resort
The resort is like a cruise ship on land. While you’ll get a real beach, (slightly) fewer old people, and the ability to travel offsite and get in trouble at the town bars whenever you want, you’re still not going balls deep into everything the hospitality of our neighbors to the south has to offer. Plus, as bad as old people are, the resort always seems to be more overrun by loud, screechy pre-teens, and that’s much worse. Let’s skip ahead.
3. Balls Deep
This is where you want to be. “Balls Deep” involves you going over the border to Tijuana (pretty much any other place ends in you getting murdered by a cartel and raped by a Mexican hobo, in that order). You and your boys are following a dark and sacred road now, one that takes you out of the warm, nestling womb of American freedom and directly into a sweaty whirlwind of debauchery, fake Viagra, and North Korean heroin. Here’s how:
Stage 2: The Preparation
First thing you need to do is establish a crash pad. This is the foundation every man trip is built on, because you need a place that can sustain a bunch of drunk dudes with plenty of pass-out space. I humbly suggest that you Airbnb a place in San Diego, only a short distance from the border. The only downside is that you may be stuck dealing with stupidly long border crossing waits if you try to bounce at the wrong time. But for guys looking to get a big place and save money while NOT exposing themselves to Mexican lice and little bed bugs that run around in a circle loudly singing La Cucaracha, it’s by far the best option.
If you have a little more to spend, a couple luxury and boutique hotels have popped up on Avenida Revolución in the city of Tijuana itself, but for my money, these places are not made for dirty animals like you and your friends. Leave them to the gentler of heart and stagger boldly into the street.
Now, some advice: remember that you’re strangers in a strange place, and what might fly on Bar Row back home will get you into trouble in TJ. Don’t let everyone blackout at the same time (follow the sober brother rule), and try not to take drugs from random people or ask police officers to buy coke. If you can, take a Spanish speaker with you. If you aren’t friends with any Spanish speakers, do some research about which bars and areas are less likely to turn you into a conscious, unwilling kidney donor and try to keep your wits about you.
And definitely get the goods on the “safe” food carts and street vendors pre-trip, because there is nothing badass about coming within an inch of death by dehydration after 72 unbroken hours of diarrhea.
Now let’s get going.
Stage 3: The Execution
Make your way to La Revu in the heart of the city (Zona Centro), and check out the many amazing food and drink options to pre-game you for the madness ahead. Telefonica Gastro Park is a food truck staging area that supposedly won’t kill you, and has some amazing Baja fish tacos among other offerings.
And microbrews have proliferated TJ, becoming almost as common as the lions and “zebras” on every street corner. Sure, most of them taste like Modelo, but you might find something you like that’s a cut above the cat piss you’ll get for a couple pesos at a tourist bar.
Once the sun sets, you can head to the dive bars on Calle Sexta, have a fun, music/karaoke filled night out, and make it home alright.
But you’re not going for easy. You’re going to Zona Norte.
Stage 4: The Wild Part
Zona Norte is the legendary Red Light District of Tijuana, a disgusting place where anything can happen. The gateway to the seedy side of TJ opens through the Arch and onto Calle Coahuila. This is the home of the swarthiest brothels in Mexico, strip clubs, gents clubs, and donkey shows. Thrillist talks about a pretty chill bar called El Zacaz where you can buy and smoke weed with your end of night drinks but save that for the worthy few who are still standing after the night’s activities.
For now, head into the thick of things.
You have to watch your back more closely in Zona Norte than normal because there is a lot of theft and tons of drug addicts walking around. Fair warning.
A local wrote a very good guide to La Zona that you should definitely read before going here.
To summarize, La Zona is pretty rough (obviously) and is the dirty, unpredictable, stereotypical TJ you know and crave. Don’t go alone, steel yourself against the darkness and human misery you’ll witness, and don’t do anything stupid.
*Don’t drive in La Zona, take taxis.
*Don’t have sex with a prostitute. Save it for Amsterdam, where it’s clean and government sponsored.
*Don’t do drugs you don’t know the exact source of. (Good advice for any situation).
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are three places of interest to check out:
Las Valentinas is said to be the party capital of La Zona. A colorful, lively dance club where off duty prostitutes and drunken tourists mix. A good place to get faded on the cheap and dance yourself dirty.
Hong Kong is without question the wildest live sex show in the western hemisphere. Crawling with hundreds of strippers, lesbians, and foreign businessmen—this is the Tijuana of legend. It’s also the only place on this list that has a working website, so that’s a level of sophistication that puts this place far above the rest of La Zona. There are apparently some pretty good burrito carts outside too.
Adelitas is the longest running brothel in North America and is included here for historical interest. It seems like kind of a sad place that is supposedly only populated by gross American tourists. Just like you maybe, but you’d probably be better off chasing more authentic TJ rather than just going to the place everyone else goes. That’s up to you though.
If you keep it solid and stay together, you could have a lot of fun in Tijuana. Just don’t come home before 7am, because if you do, you’re doing it wrong..
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