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boquillas mexico

Boquillas Mexico – Next to Big Bend but a World Away

Inside Big Bend National Park is an international border crossing to a tiny village known as Boquillas, Mexico.  That’s right I said inside the National Park!  Isolated in the biosphere know as Maderas del Carmen, with mountains on one side and the Rio Grande River and US border on the other, this tiny town needs you to visit so they can survive.  And for us, when we’re this close to Mexico we need to cross over for some spicy food and cold cervesas.
boquillas Mexico

We consider ourselves pretty well traveled throughout Mexico; from the metropolitan Mexico City to the artistic San Miguel de Allende, to the small surfing community of Sayulita and even the tiny fishing village of Puerto Morelos.  Throughout all of our Mexico travels we’ve never visited a town quite like Boquillas, or a border crossing so unique.

boquillas Mexico

boquillas Mexico

To get to the border we pass through a National Park building where they give us a quick heads up on what we can and cannot bring from Mexico into the US, and they warn us not to arrive later than 5:30pm as the border closes early.  A short walk down to the river and we pay a man $5 (per person) for a round trip boat ride across the Rio Grande (you can swim across for free if you’d prefer).  There we are offered a guide and we’re given three options to get to the town:  Walk, ride a mule, or ride in a truck.  Of course the mule and the truck cost money so we walked (and honestly walking is quicker and easier on your butt than riding a mule).  A quick check-in with customs and we’re free to roam about.

boquillas Mexico

boquillas Mexico

boquillas mexico

Normally Nikki and I prefer to explore on our own, but I asked our guide if he’d show us around (BTW – he only spoke a little English, and luckily I speak a little Spanish, so we were able to communicate fairly well).  We got the scoop on the town: visiting the brand new hospital, the $10 per night hotel (with free breakfast) should one decide to stay the night, the hot springs (even better than the hot springs on the US side), and of course the tiny Catholic church.

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

Then our guide showed us his home and introduced us to his mom who was waiting to use the phone.  The house was extremely basic inside but he had the town’s only satellite phone: if you need to make a call this is your guy…or should I say the only guy!  I noticed the little solar controller on the wall, and a small solar panel outside the house and asked if the phone was solar powered.  This is where the story gets interesting:

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

In the late 1980’s the town had an agreement with Big Bend N.P. to run a set of power lines across the Rio Grande.  The government of Mexico agreed to pay for the cost of the power lines and the materials for the telephone poles if the townspeople would donate their time to build it.  Once it was all built and the switch was about to be flipped to give the people of Boquillas electricity the program was shut down.  Apparently there is a peregrine falcon that only lives in the east rim of the Chisos Mountains, so the Sierra Club lobbied the National Park system to remove the power lines over the river in order to keep the falcons from getting electrocuted should they attempt to fly into the live lines.  Here comes the good news:

After years living off some small solar panels, propane, and a few generators the town finally has worked out a new plan to give them clean power.  The Mexican government is going to build a giant solar array and install a battery bank at no charge to the town.  The electricity will run through the existing poles and lines that were erected nearly 30 years ago.  The townspeople will pay a small fee to receive their electricity, but the money is not to pay back the government, it will be placed into a COOP account to pay for new (average lifespan of the batteries is estimated at 5-6 years) or additional batteries as needed.

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

There are 2 main restaurants in town, we ended up at the Falcon (it’s the one on the right as you’re coming into town).  The Red Chile Enchiladas with Oaxaca cheese hit the spot and the ice cold beer (from an old propane fridge) was a nice escape from the desert heat.  Of course no Mexican meal would be complete without some pickled jalapenos, salsa and totopos.

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

Grand total for 3 beers, two enchilada plates, tostadas, chips, salsa, and jalapenos: $19 + $4 tip.  The best part of the meal was chatting with the owner, his English was nearly perfect and we talked all about the electricity issues, the Sierra Club, the Mexican government giving so much to this tiny tourist town, his sister that lives in Cancun and their most recent and most exciting news:

If you think the electricity issue of the 80’s was bad, this tiny town was almost removed from the map after 9/11.  Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the US this border crossing was closed.  At the time there were nearly 300 people living in Boquillas, most in the tourism hospitality industry.  As you can imagine the town was devastated, businesses collapsed and people were forced to leave as there was no longer any work, and no guarantee when the US would open the border back up.  Jump forward to April 2013.  The border crossing re-opens and people begin to move back to Boquillas (just over 200 people live here now).  The Mexican government wants this little tourist village to succeed so they sent supplies to repair the homes and new paint to freshen up the remodeled town.  The government built a brand new hospital, a new school and has plans to open up a new plaza in 2014 which is currently under construction.

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

boquillas mexico

A few helpful tips for an enjoyable border crossing into Boquillas Mexico:

  • You need a passport.
  • Cash is King.  There is an ATM on the US and MX side, and don’t worry about exchanging money as the US dollar is what they prefer.
  • On average only 35 people cross over each day, so don’t expect any major lines at the border.
  • The border has limited hours (currently 9am – 6pm Wednesday-Sunday) so ask a park ranger for more info before you assume you can cross.  You can also visit these sites for more info: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/border_travel.htm   and   http://discoverboquillas.wordpress.com/
  • A Mexican guide is not necessary but they will insist that you need one.  We liked our guide as he was friendly and knowledgeable.  As payment we tipped him $11 for the 2 hours he spent with us and we bought him a beer during our lunch stop.
  • Most people cross the Rio Grande on the “ferry” (a small paddle boat) however some people decide to save their $5 and swim across.  Crossing the water is a shallow knee or thigh-deep wade when the water is low, but swim with caution if the water is up; you might want to ask a ranger before attempting anything crazy.
  • Lunch at the Falcon was great but the food is simple as the nearest grocery store is a 4 hour 4×4 drive away.  The beer is cold, the tortillas are fresh and pickled jalapenos are tasty.
  • Safety was not an issue!  Everyone was friendly and when the few people approached us with trinkets for sale a simple “no gracias” sent them away without hassle (not the same can be said at many other Mexican tourist cities).
  • Bring water with you, it is hot outside, and you don’t want to drink their tap water (unless of course you have an AllClear, like we do, to kill the unsafe bacteria).  I’m sure they sell bottled water too if you forget.
  • Tipping is always appreciated so make sure you have lots of small bills with you.  From the moment you step foot on Mexican soil there’s a man greeting you with song…and yes he would like a tip if you can spare $1.  Total we spent less than $50 on the entire experience, which for a few hours in Mexico is a little pricey, but we think Boquillas is such a unique destination it’s worth every penny.
  • Purchase your knick-knacks in Boquillas; do not attempt to purchase these items on the US side as its considered contraband.  Also do NOT purchase any minerals or rocks in Mexico; it is illegal to carry them back into the National Park.  I’m pretty sure we were told no booze, drugs, guns, marijuana, etc.  Check with the rangers before you cross into Mexico for a list of items that are ok to bring across the border.
  • A fun random bit: Want to know what Boquillas was like in its hey-day?  Have a listen to Robert Earl Keen’s Gringo Honeymoon; it’s commonly thought the song is about Robert Earl Keen and his date crossing the border…it’s a fun song if you like Texas Country, and it makes me think of how crazy this town used to be on busy days.
  • Visit on a Holiday!  When we told the restaurant owner we were going to the Kentucky Derby this year his eyes lit up “We have horse races here too!”  Even though Boquillas is a tiny town of 200 they are the only town in the vicinity where you can get beer.  So on holidays the nearby ranchers, farmers, off-duty military, and the other nearby townspeople come to Boquillas to celebrate.  A favorite afternoon tradition is horse, mule, and donkey races amongst other festivities.  Needless to say: we want to come back to see that!
  • If you find yourself having way too much fun, and you miss the 5:30pm “last call” at the border crossing, never fear as there is a hotel that can accommodate you.  Get checked in as early as possible to make sure there is someone to prepare your room, then head out for drink or find your way to the hot spring…and remember you’re having an experience that very few others in the world have done.

After crossing back into the USA you are greeted by park rangers that lead you to a computer screen.  A quick scan of your passport and the phone rings, a crackling voice comes across “Are you bringing anything back from Mexico?”  Nope, I answer.  “Thank you, have a good day.”  And just like that we’re back in the states thinking about how Boquillas might be a stone’s throw away, but it’s a completely different world.  Definitely a unique National Park and Mexico experience!

Have you been to Boquillas, or some other tiny border town?  Share your favorite hidden spot in the comments below, who knows maybe you’ll convince us to stop in.

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (59)

  • john

    I have US passport but want to bring my wife (Taiwan passport) across the border. Not sure if a Taiwan passport will be a problem.

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  • Randy Sablich

    We were in Boguillas last week. it was hot, 111 degrees hot. At the time we went over, we believe we were the only tourists in town. I took a pickup into town, my wife road a horse!. Her horse tender and our “guide” was Esteban. He stayed with us while we walked the town, and he “helped” us. He suggested where to eat, and when we sat down, he sat on the other side of the restaurant. I asked him if he would like to eat with us and he did. He told us much about Boguillas and of his family as well. After lunch, he took us to his cousin’s houses who were selling hand embroidered towels. Of course, we bought some.
    Everyone, including the Mexican Border agent, was very friendly. We felt safe the whole time and we will go back next visit to Big Bend, but it will definitely be in the cooler weather.

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  • Melissa

    Anyone know if we can take our small dog with us? Really want to experience but hate leaving him in the RV that long.

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  • AMY

    How far of a walk is it into town after crossing the river? Have little ones that would be with us so riding a donkey or horse is not an option. thx!

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    • Ellie B.

      It’s about 3/4 of a mile……..may be a little far for little children….however….another option to burros/horses is to ride in a truck—-a pick-up truck. The truck ride is $5….just like the burro ride. If I were traveling with children…I would take the truck ride into town. No problem…everyone is very nice and extremely accommodating.

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  • Stan & Marge Gerdner

    My wife and I and another couple visited Boquillas in February, 1992, while camping at the river campground in Big Bend National Park. At that time the round trip cost was $2.00 which included your choice of a donkey or the back of a pickup to and from town {we chose the pickup). The ten year old son of the “boat man” gave us a nice tour of the town including the church and his school, which he opened with a coat hanger. We have visited Mexico legally many times since, but I guess this was our first and only illegal entry since I don’t think that it was an official entry point at that time. We did check with the Park Ranger before going and he told us that it was safe and a common event with no problems. We did enjoy the event, and the only safety factor that we encountered was the fact that the boat leaked and one of us had to bail water on the way over and back. That evening I went to the National Park camp ground store to get some milk and the boy who gave us the “city” tour was there having a big ice cream on our tip money. It was a unique experience, and I’m glad that we went. I’m not sure what the situation is now.

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  • Robert Hudson

    Wow. I was in this very town when I was 18. 23 years ago. There were 5 of us out at Bend for a week of camping and hiking. There was no official crossing, only a guy in a boat. We paid $2 a person round trip, he told us to be back before dark or we would have to wait until morning. It was a ghost town. There was 1 cafe open, but they had no beer, only tequila and the food options were limited. There was no electricity, but we found someone’s house that had a generator, and they had a refrigerator full of cans of Coors Light. $1 a can. Ha! Your story brought back memories, and helped me put a name to the town I visited so long ago. Thank you!

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  • Hi! We visited Big Bend National Park in early December. I ran into your post prior to that and really wanted to visit Boquillas because of it– unfortunately we only saw it from a distance. If you don’t mind, I’m linking this post to my own blog since you have had more experience in visiting a place where I really wanted to go.

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  • Veronica

    Hello!
    We are going to Big Bend the first week of January and have decided to do the Boquillas “adventure” on one of the days. We are camping at Rio Grande Village the night before, then doing backcountry camping the rest of the trip. How much time should we allow for Boquillas (transit/customs/short journey to lunch/eat lunch/come back)? We will need to set up our camp again that afternoon, and hope to get in some hiking that day as well!

    Thanks,
    Veronica

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  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for a lovely post! And photos! I have a question about the hot springs.. I’m going to the Big Bend in November and remember once in college I took a trip to the hot springs on the US side (though I did wade over the Rio Grande for fun!) — but was considering trying this trip out to Mexico on Sunday night and staying over there in the little $10 hotel and seeing the hot springs. You said they were better– do you have photos? How are they improved from the US side? I’d love your insight!

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  • eleanor

    Visited Bouquillos many times, stayed at the Buzzard’s Roost many times – Doris and Joe Sanchez, owners provided nightly entertainment and food. NO ELECTRICITY AT ALL. Brought many school supplies for the local school, and food and groceries to LAUCHO, truck driver. Aftter 911, everything was lost. But we had the BEST TACOS EVER at Falcon’s.!

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  • Alan Caudle

    We have did the raft trip through the canyon twice.. On the one before 911 our guide told us that a fellow guide got in trouble from growing marijuana and fled to Boquillas. The next day we visited the little town and there the banished guide was working as a waiter. We had bean tacos and cold coke in a bottle. Going across one guy paddled the boat and another guy bailed water. We paid for round trip for donkeys but walked back. Great trip. Fun day.

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  • Amanda

    Beautifully written 🙂 I was wondering how safe it would be to cross the border to explore for a day when I came across your blog. I will definitely be planning a trip at the end of this summer. You had me at “you’re having an experience that very few others in the world have done”. Sounds like the perfect place to escape for a day. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  • Steve

    I was in Boquillas in 1985. No border crossing. One restaurant, which was owned by the mayor. I spent the whole afternoon drinking beer with him. I am sure I still have photos somewhere. I will find them if you would like to see what Boquillas looked like 30 years ago. Also, I happened to be in Big Bend when the Chile Cook Off was going on in Terlingua–it was like a Red Neck Woodstock (I am dating myself!).

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  • Darsha Doran

    First, I fell in love with Big Bend on my 1977 visit. We, my mother, daughter [age 8] and I crossed the river to go to the hot springs on the Mexican side. I too have been all over Mexico and love the country. My favorite place is Alamos Sonora. It is a lovely town with friendly people, great hiking and bird watching.

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  • I included a link to this great write up on our latest post about Big Bend, Nikki and Jason. 🙂

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  • Danny Partin

    stay in Terlingua and see the ghost town while you are there,,theyve got a several nice hotels ,my favorite is the El Dorado ,,but there are also lots of home rentals for people like myself who own land on the 250,000 acre terlingua ranch and rent their second homes in the desert out for a few days to a month,,its the gateway to Big Bend and even though its tiny it has an active nightlife, the highest number per capita of musicians in Texas and headquarters for all the local guides and kayaking white water rafting etc ,,,,when you come down highway 118 from Alpine ,turn left at study butte /terlingua onto highway 170 ,,the old ghost town and bars etc are about 3 or so miles west on 170,,

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  • Paul Bartlett

    Your article said not to drink the tap water in Boquillas, but in another article elsewhere they were raving about how good the well water was in Boquillas, even better than on the USA side. Can anyone confirm for sure is the water ok or not?

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    • The best people to ask about that would be the people at the border crossing as they would have the latest info.

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  • mike

    hello…someone gave us the info to your blog/guide/boquillas…I am an artist from cape cod massachusetts…we were in marfa last year and did not have time to hike in big bend…going in late october this year…should we stay at the gage in marathon…any other area tips…we are hikers and long time mexico travelers and do not mind rough travel…but also appreciate comfortable accommodations…mike & margaret

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    • dustin

      find a place in terlingua, marathon is “close” to the park, but its at least 45-1hr drive to ranger/welcome station (hit me up if you have more ??’s)

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  • Lynne

    Hubby and I just got from Boquillas. I must admit, I thought he was crazy wanting to go to Mexico, but I went along with it. I am so glad! We at at Falcon’s – best guacamole ever! Wish I’d known they had vegetarian options too. We ate a big lunch before coming, because we assumed nothing would be veg. Anyway, we were clueless to the whole guide situation. I wish we’d known. We kinda caught on after we noticed he was just sorta hanging out while we were eating. We would have bought him a beer….but we did at least tip well in the end. I have to say, I could NOT get back on that burro for the return trip. Our friendly guide found this very amusing and just rode mine back while I led the way. Lovely trip and I wish the very very best for this small town and its lovely people. Please go – and spend your money! Oh – and BTW, I don’t know if it’s seasonal, but we were there on Feb 18, and the border closed strictly at 5pm. Maybe later during other times of year???

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  • Thank you for this very informative post! I can’t wait to visit this town.

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  • wow what an experience for sure! Sounds like a magical way to spend the day in Mexico – we dont have borders as such in Australia, there is a crossing into Western Australia which I am so keen to experience 🙂
    I so would love those hot springs!

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  • Steve

    Oh, guys, I didn’t know the crossing was open, again. Thanks so much. We went across in the mid-70’s, and had a ball. (Not a lot to do, but a lot to contemplate.) We were a little nervous at first, but it is a world away from Matamoras. Alpine is my favorite town in Texas, so I will get another chance to take that ‘ferry’ into Mexico. Didn’t need a passport then, so I guess I better get one. Thanks, again. I love your site for the RV’ing insights, but the destination really is the thing. I have my bike for ‘The Ride’, but I am in the process of readying my ‘toad’ for the road I shoulda took.

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    • Glad to be the ones to let you know it is open and I am sure they would love to see you again!

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  • Eric

    I had the chance to visit Boquillas before 911. There was no checkpoint, just a guy with a little boat. We tried the mules, but they were not having it. Instead opted for the pickup and walked back after realizing it is not far at all. There was one place to eat and drink at the time and tons of people selling rocks, etc. I ended up meeting a group of guys from UNT, which is where I went to school. It defined “small world”.

    When leaving the park there was a gas station with a small diner inside. Where the turn to go to Terlingua is… anyway best chiquillas ever!!

    Thanks for sharing!!

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    • Sounds like a totally different place pre 911. I will have to stop at the gas station next time!

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  • Loved your story. Should have gone there in the spring when I was there with brother doyle. You might try batopilas in the bottom of the Copper Canyon. also Urique. Those places are great.

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    • Hey, thanks for the tip! We’ll add Batopilas to our list for the next trip that direction.

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  • After reading this post I wish we would have taken the time to cross over to Mexico when we were in Big Bend.

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  • Ted Strickland

    We used to live in an RV for seven years before we bought this house. Still miss it. This trip to Mexico sounds like a good little experience. We were used to the Work Camper experience and enjoyed the freedom of just living on the road. We will have to try this little Mexican town when we get down to Texas next. The discription of the people of the town was super. You did a lot to relax some of the fear people have of visiting Mexico. Everyone things it’s all drugs and violence. Not so. Thanks for the tale.

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    • Thanks Ted! We love Mexico and there are so many great places to visit that we feel are safe and well worth the trip. We try not to watch the news and all is good.

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  • gayle

    Get that donkey a green card and an agent. There’s a lot of working coming up for a donkey next election.

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  • Gretchen

    I want to go now!! Sounds fun!

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  • Mike McIntyre

    What a super story. It brought back memories of villages in Korea and a couple of visits to Juarez many years ago. Wonderful stuff. Thanks

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    • It’s such a unique place, we were so fortunate to be able to visit.

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  • Been to Boquillas and Pt. Roberts…these are border crossings we seek as they are so unique. Nice to read of your experience!

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    • Ahhh, yes, pt. Roberts! We did visit as well, but haven’t made the post yet. Any other really unique spots?

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  • Now this was a cool blog! Very good information about the crossing and even a better account of the small Mexican town. We’ll have to give it a try when we’re down that way again.
    Thanks to both of you for a very interesting post.

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    • Thanks Steve, it took a very long time to create this post, but the people of Boquillas were so great we just had to share.

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  • Dave L

    Spent several hours in Boquillas in 2001. No border station at that point – just get in the boat. Fun to read your update, though now I’m disappointed that I didn’t know there was a hotspring on the Mexican side. The US-side spring was pretty forgettable.

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    • The locals tried to convince us to stay the night and hit the hot spring with a 6 pack of cervesa to enjoy the beautiful stars. If we didn’t have the cats back in the RV I really think we would have done it.

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  • I’ve had many a propane chilled cerveza in the only bar in town (at least there was only one then)during all the years I backpacked in Big Bend… Thanks for the memories…

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    • Still only one “bar” John but we didn’t stay long enough to belly up for something stronger than our beer at lunch.

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  • MP Osborn

    There is always so much talk about the cartels, kidnappings etc so alot of people (myself included) are unsure about crossing the border, and i live in Texas. But after reading this and your other one on Los Algones i feel much more at ease, but still aware of my surroundings. Thx for the post.

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    • Be safe, be smart, and you too can enjoy MX…although there are plenty of unsafe spots on the border this is not one of them.

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  • Maggie Evans

    Awesome Article! I will make a point of visiting this lovely little town someday – and thanks for the very through info!

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  • connie woods

    Way cool!!

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  • jack macdonald

    Does travel into Point Roberts, WA from BC count on your survey? For us Canadians, it’s a trip to an isolated town on a foreign country! Definitely a trip to a small, quirky border town.

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    • We have been to Point Roberts and ….we will count that. It is interesting and we loved looking from one backyards country into another!

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  • Wow! Very cool and very unique experience. Experiences like this are part of why I hope to one day see some of Mexico.

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    • Thanks, best part is this one is super easy to get to…if you’re in big bend. 🙂

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