Tijuana's Zona Norte is adjacent to the tourist zone in the Zona Centro, to the north, and just south of the border. This zone is primarily residential and also includes the local red-light district. Prostitution is legal in this zone and very visible.
A police station in the middle of the red light district and the presence of numerous police on foot make the area reasonably safe, though if you wander into one of the many secluded pedestrian alleys you might never wander out again. Acting touristy in this zone will attract predators.
From San Diego, cross the San Ysidro border, and walk toward the arch: The arch is located at Revolucion and First Street, officially known as Calle Artículo 123. Keep walking west toward Constitucion, and you will find yourself in the Zona Norte. Stay very alert to anyone following you on this route as many muggings occur on First Street.
Turn right (north) on Constitucion, and the next street (not the alley to your left) will be Calle Coahuila, where most of the major attractions of the neighborhood can be found. The alley is Callejon Coahuila and is where most of the street prostitutes are. They are referred to locally as Paraditas. The vast majority of the paraditas are recent arrivals from the southeastern states of Puebla and Veracruz, with a few from Cuba. Many are single mothers who used to be factory workers. The usual rate to have sex with these girls is 200 Mexican pesos (sometimes 150 pesos, especially for locals) for a 20-minute session, with rooms costing 40-70 Mexican pesos.
Alternately, take a taxi, which is especially recommended if you are unfamiliar with the area or are travelling after dark.
The primary purpose of most visits to the Zona Norte involves prostitution. The three primary establishments for this are:
- Adelita Bar - On the south side of Calle Coahuila between the streets Constitucion and Niños Heroes. More commonly referred to as Adelitas, is one of Tijuana's oldest clubs.
- Hong Kong Bar - On the south side of Calle Coahuila, several doors west of Adelita Bar. Newly remodeled, and probably closest in style to an "American style" strip club in the Zona Norte.
- Chicago Club - On the east side of Avenida Constitucion, just north of Calle Coahuila. This club generally sees quite a bit of action after 8pm.
- NB Elite Men's Spa, a premium massage parlour which looks completely unassuming, offers private rooms and ultimate comfort in a truly upscale environment; Via Rapida Poniente #4246, Plaza Jardin, Zona Rio, Tijuana. Approximately 2 blocks northwest of the Plaza Rio Mall and CECUT (Tijuana's Cultural Center).
- New Body Gentlemen's Club, Tijuana's premium nude bar with a full bar and massage parlour featuring private VIP rooms and high security; this local favorite is on the corner of Calle Octava (8th street) and Av. Miguel F Martinez, just 3 blocks west of Av. Revolucion.
- Hong Kong Tijuana, a relatively new addition to Zona Norte, is one of the busiest strip joints in Tijuana; on Calle Coahuila near Av. Ninos Heroes.
- Mermaids, this longer-running gentlemen's club looks more like a bar inside but there is a small central stage with a dance pole for dancers. Mermaids is a great hybrid serving up a mix of the bar experience with the feel of an intimate gentlemen´s club. The bar is located in the very middle of Calle Coahuila, next to the Oxxo convenience store.
Some of these clubs have a significant number of women working there who are available for companionship and conversation if you purchase them a drink -- at approximately twice the price of a normal drink, and for which they receive a commission from the bar. It is generally not difficult to find English-speaking ladies and waiters at these clubs.
Minor bars of note include:
- Tropical Bar, Las Chavelas, Mermaids, New York,on Calle Coahuila.
- La Valentina, La Carrita, Karlas Place,on Callejon Coahuila.
- Delicias Bar on Avenida Constitucion.
- Malquerida at the corner of Constitucion and Callejon Coahuila. Malquerida has a live band playing rock music four nights a week.
Bars to avoid include:
- Playboy XXX half a block south of Coahuila. They have staff positioned on Coahuila to lure you off the main street into their bar, with promises of the best hot young girls, but when you get there it's sorely disappointing, and they will try to rip you off.
These minor bars all also have "drink companions" (known as ficheras in Spanish) available, but they are much less likely to speak English than those at the major bars in this neighborhood. Some waiters may not speak much English beyond what they need to take drink orders.
With the exception of Hong Kong Bar and Delicias Bar, the bars also have a dance floor available (often the stage, when no exotic dance show is in progress) where the women will dance with customers for a small tip. Hong Kong's major attraction (besides the ladies themselves) is that they regularly have shows where two ladies perform lesbian acts while covered in shaving cream. Occasionally there will also be a show where a male audience member is brought onto the stage where two ladies perform sex acts on him.
There are many etremely cheap hotels in the Zona Norte, with rooms for $15-$20 a night not unheard of, though these places are as filthy as you would expect. Do not expect anything left in your room will be there when you return. Bringing your own bedsheets is probably a wise move if you are a picky.
- Cascadas 2000, which has entrances both on Calle Coahuila and Callejon Coahuila (the alley behind), both entrances near the corner with Avenida Niños Heroes. The major hotel in the center of the Zona Norte, it has rooms that are quite safe and clean, and many of the prostitutes who work in the Zona Norte rent rooms here by the week or by the month.
- Rizo de Oro, entrance on Calle Coahuila next to the Tropical Bar, similar to Cascadas 2000 but slightly cheaper. Run by the same management as Cascadas.
- Hotel Hacienda de Santiago, at the corner of Calle Coahuila and Avenida Revolucion. For somewhat more money ($30 to 40), one could stay here. These rooms are "Holiday Inn" quality and are very comfortable for the area, and most rooms also include kitchens as well.
- Plaza de Oro Hotel,, Revolucion Avenue, 1 block below the Arch, is safe and clean for $35 per night.
- Hotel London, between 5th and 6th Streets, for $25 per night.
In both of these two the staff are polite and trustworthy, and you can leave your things behind the counter when you check out, and pick them up hours later when ready to leave.
- Hotel Jerez Suites off Coahuila on Mutualismo #450, Tel: 664-685-4951. $15-$25 a night.
- Hotel Acapulco (South side of Coahuila between Ave Revolucion and Ave Constitucion). You can sleep good in here with an earplugs on if possible with all the noise from Ave Coahuila. Play cards with the desk clerk ($10 a hand) or chat (or other things) with Carla from Acalpulco all night. $15 - $20.
- Hotel Santa Cecilia on Calle Artículo 123 near Avenida Revolución.
Petty crimes such as muggings and pickpocketing can happen in Zona Norte, even during the day, so it is best if you are with someone else. And while drug violence is often not targeted at tourist, it is still better to be alert. You may unknowingly walk into the cross-fire of rival drug cartels, but this is less likely in Zona Norte than in other, seedier parts of town. Because of significant police presence, Zona Norte can actually be a safer part of town than others, with respect to violent crime, as long as you stay on the major thoroughfares and avoid the alleyways north of Calle Coahuila.
At night, however, tourists are highly discouraged from venturing off of Calle Coahuila and the Coahuila Alley to other parts of the neighbourhood. Much of this area is very deserted at night, and you can be an easy target for criminals or police corruption.
One simple rule of thumb is, if you are a man, to try to avoid direct eye contact with a local tough guy or young man. By "letting" him stare you down by averting your gaze you are less likely to bring about some macho confrontation, especially if the other fellow is drunk. If you are there to have fun, focus on the fun, and avoid proving your manhood to some local.
Always carry some identification with you (such as a driver's license) because the police will ask you for it if they stop and search you.
Do not walk on Baja California Street on the 'Zona Norte' if you can avoid it. If you must do so, be very careful as it is full of drug sellers.
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