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Travel to Mexico. It’s Easy!


Cynthia Dial

“It’s easy,” I was told of San Diego/Tijuana’s CBX (Cross Border Xpress). As a longtime San Diego area resident, my sole frame of reference was a more than decade-ago flight from this Mexican border town – preceded by an in-the-dark search for a long-term dirt parking lot in southernmost San Diego County and a taxi ride to the neighboring country’s airport.

Cynthia Dial

Even ten years later, I admit it, I was skeptical.

Fast-forward to the 2020s. Though it debuted in 2015, I only recently experienced CBX – a 390-foot-long enclosed sky bridge spanning the US/Mexican border that connects a terminal in San Diego to Tijuana International. Since then, 20 million passengers have crossed – a total I joined after easily navigating America’s only bi-national airport at one of the world’s busiest border crossings. The benefits were immediately evident – moderately crowdless, effectively convenient and comparatively cost effective (sometimes 30 to 50 percent lower fares than from other Southern California airports to the many Mexican destinations served via Tijuana).  

Upon entering the terminal, décor in shades of brilliant purple and hot pink announced the proximity to Mexico. Opened 24/7, parking was ample. And though Lot A was closest to the entrance, valeting my vehicle launched the adventure in unabashed style.

The drill. With a valid passport, boarding pass and a completed Mexican immigration form (called a FMM, this document was also required for the return), a CBX ticket was dispensed from one of the self-issuing machines at the terminal’s entrance, with on-site assistance available at every turn. Before entering the border bridge, it was necessary to scan the CBX ticket and boarding pass. When arriving to the Mexican Immigration Point at the end of the bridge, my passport, boarding pass and the completed FMM form were again requested; and from there, I proceeded as one would in any around-the-world airport – from checking luggage to passing through security. Tip: Critical to ensuring the simplicity of this departure-and-arrival-via-CBX procedure was to keep all of the above-mentioned documents together and readily accessible.    

Cynthia Dial

By mid-morning I was within the Mexican state of Nayarit, located between the mountains of Sierra Madre Occidental and the Pacific Ocean. Though comparatively small in contrast to its 31 sister states, Nayarit was geographically diverse – 200 miles of coastline, massive mountains, active volcanoes, freshwater lagoons, plunging waterfalls, beach villages and colonial towns – some of which I sampled, all of which appealed.

Cynthia Dial

Jala. Perfectly reflective of yesteryear, the center of this sleepy, slow-paced community was reached after navigating orange-tree-lined cobblestone streets past a variety of ‘sometimes open’ mom-and-pop shops to its focal point, Our Lady of the Assumption Basilica.

Across an adjacent cobbled street from the massive Gothic-and-Roman style church –constructed with pink, green and yellow quarry stones – stood my home for the night, Nukari Quinta Boutique hotel. Self-described as “deeply rooted in its surroundings,” it offered 17 suites fronted by colorful tiles and columned archways that surrounded the center courtyard. Set within an 18th century colonial mansion, the hotel was reflective of assorted accouterments of the past.

Cynthia Dial

Complemented by the Nadira Spa, its ancient healing traditions – from hot stone therapy with obsidian volcanic glass to a four-handed Shirodhara massage – were enhanced by a hot tub/cold plunge finish. The boutique property’s piece de resistance, however, was its rooftop restaurant, which overlooked the cathedral grounds and featured Mexican epicureanism at its best.

Cynthia Dial

Located at the base of the Ceboruco Volcano, 7,480 feet above sea level, a visit from Jala was as easy as following Calle Hidalgo from the main town square to the promontory’s top. Considered one of the country’s significant natural attractions, evidence of the volcano’s “active” designation (last eruption: 1870) was found at a midway stopping point. Identified by colorful, over-sized block letters of its name – C-E-B-O-R-U-C-O – from there it was possible to view steam streaming from its vents. Tip: Take care when nearing the condensation as the temp unexpectedly increased exponentially.

Cynthia Dial

Traveling from Jala toward the opposite direction revealed another phenomenon – El Salto Waterfall, a 100-foot-high cascade down a cliffside into a shallow pool. Reached at the end of an easy path after negotiating a suspension bridge, balancing from rock to rock across a creek and encountering a herd of wild horses, it was a 20-minute walk to the falls for unlimited minutes of swim.

Cynthia Dial

San Francisco. After an hour-and-a-half drive toward the coast – initially past fields of agave and eventually along a road dotted with yellow-and-black roadway signs warning of jaguars – the unassuming Bohemian village known affectionately by its nickname, San Pancho, was near. Surrounded by mountains, lush jungle and the coastline of Riviera Nayarit, a stroll along its main street, Avenida Tercer Mundo (translation: Third World Avenue), revealed treasures of a laid-back Mexican town, coupled with the typical tourist lures of boutiques, beaches and bars. There, it was possible to dine on freshly caught seafood and drink from a newly sliced coconut with the option of an added shot of gin or rum – all from side-by-side beachfront restaurants, La Perla and Las Palmas.

Cynthia Dial

Sayulita – Though a mere 10 minutes away, San Pancho’s neighbor to the south was a bit more – a bit more known, a bit more lively, a bit more crowded. Described by many as a hippie-chic surf town, it attracted free-spirited travelers, avid surfers and wellness enthusiasts. And it offered almost everything exclusive to a hip Mexican beach town – from a strong surf and seasonal humpback whale watching to Boho smart fashion. Like most, I headed to Sayulita Plaza in the heart of town for its collection of vendors (many featuring Huichol intricate beadwork) and walked along Calle Marlin toward the sea where I dined with multitudes at beachfront Don Pedro, known for its fresh, three-tiered seafood tower. Tip: To experience back-in-the-day’s Sayulita, one should venture from this well-worn tourist path onto the town’s side streets in discovery of lesser known, equally tasty eateries interspersed with inexpensive shopping.

Cynthia Dial

Riviera Nayarit. On the opposite end of the accommodation spectrum was Hotel Vidanta. It was massive – precisely a 20-minute drive (I timed it) from the highway turn-off onto the property, followed by a golf cart transfer for delivery to the entry door of Grand Luxxe (one of Vidanta’s five hotels). A AAA Five-Diamond property of more than 2,500 acres, it offered 15 outdoor pools, three golf courses, 30+ restaurants (bars and cafes), multiple music venues, wellness spas, a half-mile private beach, the world’s first beach resort gondola which connected the resort with BON Luxury Theme Park (a one-of-a-kind amusement center) and more – all linked by a network of carts and shuttles.


Maria Hasse

Verdict. The connection from the San Diego/Tijuana border to the interior of Mexico – its distinctive Old World offerings and 21st-century enhancements – proved seamless.

In the words of my state’s former governor, “I’ll be back.”

And in my own words, “It was easy.”


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