Nogales, Mexico, in the state of Sonora, is a modern factory and produce-shipping center, but it’s also a very popular tourist destination. It’s easy to get there: Just walk across the international border in downtown Nogales, Arizona, after parking at one of the many pay lots (about $4 per day) near the port of entry.
There’s a tourist area of about a square mile just south of the border, with restaurants, curio shops and, if you want, drugstores.
You can drive into Mexico, but the lines of cars driving north into the United States are long and slow. If you need a ride there are cabs everywhere and the drivers speak English; they, like everyone else who deals with tourists, take U.S. cash.
In recent years more and more merchants in Nogales’s tourist district are competing for fewer and fewer tourist dollars due to the economy, gas prices, and much publicized violence, making a slow, fun stroll along the narrow streets and souvenir-crowded shops an impossibility. Everybody puts on the hard sell these days, and the last time I was in Nogales to buy a bottle or two of Oaxacan mescal I was accosted at every step and begged repeatedly to have a look at this or that shop, all of which contain similar if not identical items.
There’s lots of leather and silver, Mexican handicrafts, Day of the Dead items, ceramics, Mexican vanilla, and cheap booze, but if you’re not willing to deal with the incessant barking of the sometimes desperate merchants, you may want to avoid shopping here.
But if you’ve never been to Mexico, this is an easy and generally safe way to do so. There are farmacias on every block, and dentist and doctor offices everywhere, and their services are offered for a fraction of the price of their American counterparts. Most of them have barkers standing outside, calling you to come in and spend your dollars.
The main north–south street is Obregon, two blocks west of the border-crossing station. Popular restaurants include La Roca, east of the railroad tracks in downtown; El Toro, a steak house about two miles south of the border on Lopez Mateos; and La Palapa, a no-frills seafood place about a mile and a half south on Lopez Mateos.
The Oasis has an outdoor balcony overlooking where two main thoroughfares, Lopez Mateos and Obregon, merge—reminiscent of Times Square, but much smaller. Sit there, enjoy shrimp in a warm cheese sauce, and 7watch the traffic. And yes, you can drink the water, but most restaurants will put a water bottle on your table to encourage you to buy it in a bottle.
© Tim Hull from Moon Tucson, 1st Edition