Trip Report: Playa Balandra, Calafia Airlines, La Paz, Mexico (LAP) to Tijuana, Mexico (TIJ) & CBX Border Crossing to San Diego

To think it was a beach that kicked off my trip to Baja.  A beach.

Playa Balandra (Balandra Beach), Baja California Sur, Mexico

Yes, even though I don’t exist to while away the hours – let alone minutes – on any beach, I will gladly make concessions for naturally beautiful landscapes.   Thus, my trip to La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur state in Mexico, started with a Mexican friend sending me photos from her trip to Playa Balandra, aka the beach in the above photo.  (OK, OK, she also sent me a photo of a burrito stuffed with octopus, shrimp, oysters, chorizo, and grilled cheese…which she ate in La Paz)

After a few days of becoming a human chicharrón under the desert sun, I had to return to the US.  This time, I opted for Baja’s regional carrier Calafia Airlines, since they had a convenient flight into Tijuana (airport code TIJ), allowing easy access to San Diego, California via the CBX (Cross-Border Express) footbridge.  CBX comes with a price, but if you’ve ever waited at the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa borders during the day, you will be glad to pay for the much faster access.

Following a 25-minute Uber ride from downtown La Paz, I made it to the airport (LAP).  It’s a small terminal without jet bridges, but it can be nice to be able to make it in a few mere minutes from the curb to the gate, assuming check-in and security work in your favor.

Normally, I’d check-in online, but seeing as I had to check a bag (given the small aircraft plying the route), I made it so at the airport.  Quite seamless…though the Volaris flight next to us, yeesh.  That line went out the door.  Check-in on line when you can, folks!

One thing to mention when flying to/within/from Mexico is that you have to fill out a COVID-19 form, called Vuela Seguro.  If you’re an enemy of efficiency you will form part of the clusterf*ck at security where they ask for your QR code; do yourselves another favor, and fill this out before getting to the airport.

That guy thinks he’s on a roller coaster

One pro I’d have to say about Mexican airports is that security is usually stress-free…no pack wolves yelling at you like in the US or Europe.  La Paz was no different.

It’s not a particularly busy airport with regards to the number of flights; that said, because it’s a small terminal, you may be out of luck for a seat (some seats can’t be occupied due to COVID-19).  I was able to go into the “VIP Lounge,” but that was really to take advantage of wi-fi that didn’t expire after 30 minutes.  Due to COVID-19, the buffet part was shut, but snacks and drinks were available.  For those without access to the lounge, there are a couple of stores, and a café.

Calafia Airlines’ Embraer ERJ-145EP

Boarding was nearly on-time, and rather orderly.  As it was a short-hop, and the route was a new one for me, at check-in I had elected for a window seat.

As you might notice from the following photos, the rugged and austere gulches, plateaus, and crags were quite the spectacle:

Between Punta Coyote and La Cueva, Looking Towards Isla San Francisco and Isla San José, BCS
Tripuí, BCS

Following the short 1 hour, 55 minute flight to Tijuana, I followed signs for CBX/baggage claim.

Note: Buy your CBX ticket online to save a few bucks (TIJ offers 30 minutes of free wi-fi), but make sure you choose the right direction (either Tijuana to San Diego, or San Diego to Tijuana).

Note.2: apparently, you are only able to use CBX within two hours of your flight landing in Tijuana.

Note.3: Mexico does not have formal outbound immigration checks, similar to the US.

Once at baggage claim, you will be lining up with other passengers for CBX, which is tucked away in a corner:

CBX is in the background, in the left-hand corner

Stupidly, much of the scrum is for people who haven’t yet bought CBX tickets, as it’s only at the last-minute when employees distinguish between passengers who already have the tickets, and those who don’t.  Nevertheless, I scanned my QR code, and walked up, down, and around to get to the 20-minute line for US immigration.

Once you make it through the asinine questioning and baggage scan, you can buy a ticket for a shuttle for downtown San Diego/SAN (airport), or ride-share (back to Tijuana, where the fish tacos are boss).


Have you ever been to La Paz, and/or used CBX?

2021 Pandemic Travel, from Mexico to Mexico (with a Brief Border Crossing Guide)

During a stint in Chicago a few years ago, I found that Frontier Airlines offered some really good deals to/from Harlingen, Texas (airport code HRL), close to the Mexican border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros.   Then, from one of those cities, it’s a cheap flight to where ever else in Mexico.

Selling corn by Reynosa’s main bus station, Mexico

Yes, why not escape those sultry winters for which Illinois is so famous?

Now, some might say those Mexican border cities don’t have the greatest reputation for safety.  The same could be said about many US cities.  Those two sentences don’t cancel each other out, but I also don’t wander around sporting ostentatious jewelry, Mamiya cameras, or Señor Frog’s apparel.

Having already become familiar with crossing from Reynosa to Hidalgo/McAllen multiple times, and then once from Matamoros to Brownsville, I felt comfortable testing the Texas border again last month, after having been in Mexico for a few weeks.

Even more amusing?  My destination*: Mexico, Missouri.

Now, to address the elephant in the room, as of January 26th, 2021, all international flights landing in the US require passengers to show negative COVID-19 test results, with few exceptions.  However, land borders are exempt from this.  I booked my ticket to Mexico before this was announced, and only ever book one-ways.

After a pleasant and delicious part-business/part-leisure trip to Mexico, it came time to say “hasta la próxima,” or until next time.  First stop, Reynosa, via Mexico City.

The new Reynosa terminal had just opened a few days prior, and it was certainly a world of difference from the older claustrophobic structure.  I guess it comes down to business people visiting maquiladoras, or mostly tariff- and duty-free factories, often near the US border.   From leaving the plane to hopping in a 280 peso taxi (pre-paid; I asked for a receipt, but they didn’t “have” any) to the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge. it took all of 30 minutes.  Not bad.

Once you’re deposited at the pedestrian bridge, you will find a number of dentists and pharmacies, extant primarily for Texans scouting cheaper prices.  It’s a bit grimy, though, and food options weren’t plentiful.  Though, I did manage to score some tasty parting steak tacos:

Found on Calle Zaragoza, I think this order of six tacos cost less than 50 pesos!

I grant you that hygiene practices were a little suspect, but I will be damned if I wasn’t going to get one more Mexican meal before leaving to fast-foodsville.

Once you’re ready to cross to Texas, you can amble up the white gently-inclining wheelchair/luggage-accessible pedestrian bridge in the plaza.  Note: you will need to have a 5 peso coin (or I think 25 cents) to exit Mexico, although they do not have any exit formalities other than a turnstile.

Having done this trip a few times, I can’t estimate how long it would take to cross.  The average wait time for me was ~45 minutes, but you may want to take into consideration customs officers taking lunch breaks, weekends, holidays, etc.

Once on the Texas side – called Hidalgo – there’s…not much.  Duty free shops, comida corrida (fast food), shady taxis, and vans.  Luckily, Lyft operates in the area, and can whisk you away to the nearest large city, McAllen, and its convenient airport (airport code MFE):

Earlier, I said that my destination was Mexico, Missouri.  That’s partially true.  I was visiting family in the St. Louis-area, and wanted to drive around a bit, looking for really local bbq.  Noticing Mexico on the map, I made it so.

Going from this…

to this…

You might ask, why would you ever want to leave the southerly Mexico for this one?

Well, I have prepared a rejoinder, just for you: “I don’t know.”

I’d rather be in Reynosa

You see, there was talk of a giant tater tot stuffed with barbecue at one restaurant, and the fallback across the street sounded just as good.  Alas, due to a combination of the pandemic, and restaurants not updating their search engine details, no bbq for me.  And to throw salt in the wound, the best edible I could find in the area (i.e. that was open) was a sweet peanut corn flake snack from a chain store:

Taco, eat your heart out:(

The moral of the story? Crossing the Mexico-US land border = piece of cake, visiting Mexico, Missouri = better to go when it doesn’t look like the rapture just took place.

Relics of the Future (Hong Kong, August 2003)

The first time I visited Hong Kong, I was in awe of the countless apartment complexes juxtaposed on the subtropical hills, the myriad roads that could easily double as parts of Manhattan’s Canal Street, and a health form asking me if I had a fever, cough, or other common ailments.

What?!

That’s right, the time was August 2003, when the SARS pandemic was still on every Hong Konger’s mind, even while case numbers were decreasing.

Although SARS did reach Ontario, Canada, it was mostly focused on China – where it originated, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.  However, given that it was much less contagious, all I recall regarding plans to prevent its spread was a temperature check at Hong Kong’s airport, that flimsy health form, and some prescient leaflets at hotels and restaurants dotting the metropolis:

See anything familiar?  What’s it like eating out – if that’s still possible – in your area?