Mexicali (also known informally as Chicali) is a city in Baja California, Mexico. It is the capital of the state of Baja California, and is located immediately across the border from Calexico in California. While cool throughout the rest of the year, visitors can expect a very hot climate during the summer months with average high temperatures ranging from 101 ºF to 108ºF (38° to 42°C). Mexicali has a population of around 1.0 million people according to the last census, although it is believed that the number is now closer to 1.5 million. The city has grown from a small border town to a modern city with a sizable middle class and an even bigger upper class. The standard of living is the highest in Mexico. It is recognized in Mexico for its sizable investment in education and low unemployment. It is a progressive city with main industry that has gone from agricultural to industrial. Its proximity to the United States has made it a very popular tourist destination, especially for day-trippers. Recent violence has curtailed that traffic, however.


Mexicali has 14 boroughs, which are comprised of 1 city municipal seat and 13 other boroughs which are in the valley area. The city seat can be further divided by Colonias and Fraccionamientos.


Economically, a growing middle class disposable income has fueled Mexicali's transformation into a modern city with a vibrant culture, a characteristic that has attracted many national and international businesses which had largely ignored the city before and had turned to Tijuana. Aside from the middle class, in Mexicali you can expect to find areas filled with very rich people. Mexicali is considered among the most prosperous cities in Mexico, although US tourists can observe the level of poverty in rural villages surrounding the modern, upper-middle class enclave of Mexicali proper. The North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 that eliminated most trade restrictions between the two nations offers Mexicali an economic boom in the next decade. Mexicali is a transit point for illegal immigration into the United States, as well as a common destination for any illegal Mexican immigrants deported from the West Coast of the United States. As such, some areas are swollen with poor people with no roots in the city, who inhabit shantytowns, mainly in the outskirts of the city. Apart from these poor migrants, Mexicali is one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico. Some areas of the city reflect the significant number of wealthy people who inhabit the city, in areas such as San Pedro, Villafontana, and Col Nueva.

Mexicali's growing reputation as a cosmopolitan city is justified. Not only is the city home to many people who have migrated from within the same country, as well as some native Mexican Indians, but it boasts an important amount of Asian residents (especially Chinese), as well as Americans, Europeans, and South Americans. Informally, Mexicali natives are known as "Cachanillas" (similar demonyms include "Chilango" for those from Mexico City).

Mexicali is known mainly as a business and industry town, but has an excellent reputation for hospitality and tourism in the country.

Mexicali is known as "the city that captured the sun". Its residents frequently joke regarding its extreme heat during the summer, reaching record desert temperatures. Mexicali's primary newspapers are La Voz de la Frontera and La Cronica de Baja California. It is served by three television stations (Televisa [with 4 analog and 2 digital signals], TV Azteca [2 analog and 2 digital signals] and Canal Once) along with the television stations in the United States in the Imperial County market (NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, CW, MNTV, Univision, Telemundo, and Telefutura).

While the Mexican peso is the legal currency, US dollars are widely accepted. Mexicali observes daylight savings time (DST) and is in the Pacific Time Zone the same way as the USA.

Chinese community

Mexicali has one of the largest Chinese communities in Mexico. Historically, it has been a predominantly Chinese town and has even hosted the North American headquarters of the Kuomintang (KMT) at one point. Many old-time Chinese-Mexican natives of Mexicali have since intermarried with the local mestizos or emigrated to the United States. Tijuana, Ensenada, San Luis Rio Colorado, Culiacán, Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Tapachula also have sizable Chinese communities. Although Mexicali has had a history of Chinese immigration for about 100 years, the restaurant workers tend to be recent immigrants from Guangdong, mainland China, who are multilingual in Taishanese (a distinct dialect of the Cantonese language), Mandarin, and Spanish. Nearly all of them are from just two cities in Guangdong, namely Taishan and Kaiping, with a small minority from neighboring Enping, Zhongshan, and Hong Kong.

The historic Chinese neighborhood is known as La Chinesca, centered on Avenida Benito Juárez, about several hundred feet to the south of the Calexico point of entry.


People in the city of Mexicali speak Spanish, as it is in most of Mexico. However, English is spoken at least marginally by the majority of the population, it is very easy to find someone who speaks English, and due to its international standing, other languages are used for business and are heard throughout the city, such as Chinese, Japanese, German, and French.

Get in

By car

Mexicali is accessible from the United States through Calexico on Highway 111 (from El Centro and points north) and Highway 98 East (Yuma) and West (San Diego) via I-8.

Either park at the border and continue on foot or you drive into Mexico. Driving from the US to Mexico usually requires no stopping. Driving across the border from Mexico to the US may involve a long wait, especially during evening rush hour or on holiday weekends. Mexican insurance is required, which should be bought before your trip. Mexicali has two border crossings, Mexicali East (Newer) and Mexicali West (Traditional), both of which have a SENTRI lane.

Mexicali is the northern terminus for Mexican Highway 5 to San Felipe.

Mexicali can also be reached from Tijuana and Tecate on Mex-2. Though much of this highway is a toll road (the "Libramiento" aka Autopista), it is more scenic but will take longer than I-8 and is considered more hazardous, especially the "Rumorosa Grade". The toll either to or from Tijuana is around $14.

By foot

Many people drive to the border, park on the US side, and walk across. There are many lots available for this, which charge $4-$9 a day. While there are many taxis waiting to take you across, it's only about a five minute walk; follow the signs across.

By plane

View of the Airport

Mexicali's International Airport, "General Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada", is located 20 km east of the city and offers services to all types of flights, private and commercial. There are daily flights out of the Airport to other major cities in México. In addition, Mexicali has access to the Imperial Valley Airport, 15 miles North across the border from Mexicali which operates commercial flights to different cities in the United States.

Get around

Public transportation

Taxis are abundant in the city. You may either call for a site taxi (taxi de sitio) which are called beforehand and they can take you where you ask, or route taxis (taxi de ruta), which, like buses, have specific routes which they take.

There are also multiple public buses, which can range from old school refurbished school buses with no air circulation to brand new metrobuses with air conditioning and television screens, which are more expensive.


Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the oldest cathedral in Mexicali.

Historic sites






Other entertainment



This list is only a very small compilation of the major shopping centers in the city.

Mexicali hosts most major national store chains such as: Soriana, Comercial Mexicana, FAMSA, Milano, Bodega Aurrera, among others. Mexicali also hosts international stores and shops like: Wal-Mart (3 Locations), Costco Wholesale, Blockbuster, Office Depot, The Home Depot, Sears, Gymboree, among others.


Visitors returning to the United States are allowed to bring back a limited quantity of alcohol, around 1 liter per adult (check regulations). Most foreign liquor is priced as in the US, but Mexican liquors such as Tequila, Mescal, and Kaluha, as well as Mexican beers can be great bargains.


The selection of cuisine in Mexicali is very diverse. The Chinese contributed greatly to Mexicali cuisine with a very ample variety of dishes. Their food is as traditional to Mexicali as carne asada and it's Chinese food is labeled as the best on the country, on par with that of San Francisco, and many tourists come to taste it.

Good beer is another Mexicali tradition. World class beers have been produced in Mexicali since the early history. Today, there are small breweries that offer great varieties in terms of taste and characteristics.

However, Mexicali is not just about Chinese food, carne asada tacos, and beer. There is a wide selection of specialty restaurants-national and international. One sample the finest wines that are produced in the Mediterranean climate within Baja California. Mexicali has a large Chinese immigrant population, with many excellent choices.

Mexicali is also host to numerous international chains such as: Applebees, Starbucks Coffee, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Carl's Jr, Thrifty Ice Cream, Little Caesars, Dominos Pizza, Dairy Queen, etc.

The following lists of restaurants are only a few of the many located in the city


Mexicali's numerous Chinese (more specifically, Cantonese) restaurants can be found in all areas of the city, but are especially concentrated in the historic La Chinesca (Chinatown) neighborhood. Many Chinese restaurants can also be found just across the international border in Calexico.







Nightclubs in Mexicali tend to open and close throughout the year due to them becoming duds. Therefore, this list may not be the most updated of the best light life clubs.

The following venues are located around the intersection of México & Reforma, near the main cathedral.



Mid range


Stay safe

While Mexicali has saved itself from the severity and degree of violence along the US-Mexico border and the insecurity is not as big as that of Tijuana, there is still potential for it to become dangerous, along with the violence that a regular metro city has such as petty theft, violence, and gang related incidents. The emergency number is 066. Avoid giving out money to beggars and homeless people standing in the street or along sidewalks and avoid buying things off the street to avoid trouble later.

Do not buy illegal drugs to avoid becoming part of the ongoing violence. Overstocking yourself with prescription drugs will also warrant getting checked. While partying and clubbing in Mexico is all in good fun and allright, keep in mind that you will not get away with it because it is Mexico. You probably will get caught and kept a special eye on because you are an American, even if you look Latino.

If you do anything unlawful, even if you are underage, you will spend time in prison. You do not get preferential treatment because you are an American citizen. While there is no need to have to hide the fact that you are an American, the flamboyant and flagrant exposition of self-thought superiority is not welcome, in good taste, or tolerated, like anywhere else in the world. Keep in mind that Mexico uses kilometers and not miles, and speed limits are much slower than in the United States.

Please do not try to bribe the Mexican police officers, even if they are hinting at it. If you try to bribe, you will go to prison. Driving while using a cellphone or a radio without a handsfree device is illegal in the state of Baja California and it will get you ticketed. Trying to bargain prices will sometimes help, but in most places in Mexicali today it is not practiced and such behavior will be ignored.

Do not be caught with any type of weapon in Mexico. This can include a small pocket knife, or even ammunition or bullet casings. American motorists have been jailed for driving into Mexico with spent ammunition casings in their car trunk.

In the unlikely event of a major earthquake, duck and cover and stay where you are during the shaking, then go outside once the shaking stops. Buildings and other structures are unlikely to collapse. Your largest threats come from breaking windows and falling objects such as ceiling tiles and bookshelves. Try to get under a table, desk, or doorjam to reduce your exposure to these threats. You are more likely to be injured if you try to run during the shaking.

Stay healthy

While the city's restaurants are registered by the Health Department and clean water is available city-wide, eating at roadside taco shops and drinking tap water is discouraged because one that is not used to this will probably get food poisoning. Avoid any foods you are not used to. Bottled water, gasified and pure, is available widely and you are encouraged to drink of it.

If you need emergency medical treatment, it is preferred that you attend a private hospital and call 066, attending a public hospital or a Seguro Social hospital will be futile, as they are only for registered Mexican citizens and have problems getting medical attention there. There are drugstores and private medical and dental clinics throughout the city.

A prescription from a licensed doctor in Mexico is needed to fill prescription drugs in any pharmacy in Baja California. These can be acquired at some pharmacies through their on-location doctor.


The country code for Mexico is +52, and the area code for the Mexicali Metropolitan area is 686. Phone numbers have 7 digits (XXX-XX-XX) and cellular phone numbers are dialed using access code 044, the area code, and the number (044-686-XXX-XXXX). Your mobile carrier will work if they have an agreement with either Telcel, Illusacel, Telefonica (Movistar), or Nextel. They may also work in the areas close to the international border with American carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

Most hotels (all of the High-end) have high-speed internet access and are wi-fi enabled. This is the same for shopping malls and coffee shops. You may also find hot-spots at college and university campuses throughout the city.

Go next

Routes through Mexicali

Tijuana Tecate  W  E  San Luis Rio Colorado Jct N S
Calexico becomes  N  S  Jct W San Felipe

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, September 07, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.