Going to Nuevo Laredo? Rarely does anyone go to Nuevo Laredo for its own sake, but, as the busiest land port in North America, many pass through it. It is the point where the PanAmerican Highway crosses into the United States via Mexico and as such, while it may not be the destination itself, you might find yourself in Nuevo Laredo merely passing through en route to points further North or South. You might also be visiting San Antonio, Laredo, or some other South Texas town and be lured to the border to see what’s on the other side or to say you’ve been to Mexico.
If you are heading to the border only to say you’ve been to Mexico, I might recommend you cross at Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras instead of Laredo. Why? For one thing Piedras Negras is not as busy a town as Nuevo Laredo and, if it is your first time in Mexico, it might be easier to ease yourself into Mexico. The traffic queues are also a consideration, as to return to the US from Nuevo Laredo, the bridges are very often backed up with both pedestrians and cars (I will talk about this later).
There are three bridges that connect the Two Laredos for private vehicles. If you are driving, you will have the option of crossing Bridges 1, 2, or 4. If you are on foot, you will have to use Bridge 1. Bridge 2 is at the end of I-35 and connects with Blvd. Colosio in Mexico. If you are not stopping in Nuevo Laredo, or are simply not heading downtown, Bridge 2 is often the most seamless option. Bridge 1 is accessed from Downtown Laredo and will connect you directly to Downtown Nuevo Laredo. Bridge 4 is a little ways out of Laredo and crosses at Colombia, Nuevo Leon, a different state from Nuevo Laredo. While Colombia is an interesting small village, that particular bridge is a rather out of the way option if you are bound for Nuevo Laredo.
Getting into Mexico is generally pretty quick regardless of the bridge you use. All three bridges cost $3.00 to cross going into Mexico, payable in US Dollars or Mexican Pesos. You will notice a different road surface when you pass the border plaque on the bridge. Pursuant to treaty, the International Border is at the half-way point on any of the bridges, regardless of the location of the actual border as determined by the river (or land) below. If you are crossing by foot, there will often be a Mexican soldier standing at the border line. Do not take a picture- they really do not like that!
Once you clear the bridge, you will have the option to drive into one of the gated lanes for customs. Drive all the way up to the gate; it will open and will flash either a green light or red light. If it is green, just drive on- Bienvenidos a Mexico! If it is red, you will hear a short siren and you must pull into one of the inspection spots. The inspection is normally just a look in your windows and trunk. I have never been asked for my passport at this point, but I always have it at the ready just in case. Once you are cleared, welcome to Mexico.
I have, on several occasions, crossed into Laredo for no other reason but to eat lunch. Here are some of my favourite places:
- When you cross on Bridge 1 and go straight, you will be on Av. Guerrero, which is a main artery of the city. Several blocks over to the left, there is a hospital called IMSS. In front of this hospital, there are several hawkers set up in front of the hospital. All of them are pretty good (as of 2013).
- At Guerrero and Heroe de Nacataz, at night, there is a popular and established taco stand set up. Known by locals as “Tacos de Caballo.” Regardless of the name, they do not serve horse meat.
- If you are on Blvd Colosio, there is a humble little restaurant very close to Parque Viveros. Take the exit for Parque Viveros, head up to the roundabout and take the 4th exit (Calle Carranza). A few blocks down you will see Tacos el Venado on the left just before the baseball fields. Parking is on the street wherever you can find it.
- Another favourite of mine is very close to La Zona. From the entrance of La Zona, travel north along Calle Monterrey to Calle Guanajuato. There is another well established hawker at this corner across from Mariscos Los 7 Mares. This guy makes some awesome barbacoa on the weekends.
- If you are not into hole in the wall restaurants or street food, I would point you to El Rancho which is a well established restaurant serving a variety of Mexican favourites.
- While meat is pretty hard to escape in Norteña Cuisine, there is an excellent chain of vegetarian restaurants called El Nuevo Sol. The main restaurant is on Peru, but there are several others scattered around the city. The daily plated lunch special is always an excellent value or you can sample the menu for vegetarian takes on other Mexican classics.
- For eating, I’d avoid Mercado Maclovio Herrera in downtown, as it caters a bit too much to the tourists. That being said, if you are looking for tourist trinkets or margaritas, this is the place, indeed really the only place to find them.
Aside from eating, here are some ideas of things to do:
- Walk along the Rio Bravo. There are two parks along Blvd. Colosio that are perfect for visiting the Rio Bravo and perhaps having a picnic. Here is a video of one of my favourite spots.
Centro Cultural. Along Blvd. Colosio is a rather wonderful museum and performing arts centre known as the Centro Cultural. Here there is a permanent history museum that walks you through the age of dinosaurs up to modern day Nuevo Laredo. There are also two rooms that host temporary art exhibitions and a sculpture walk outside. The Centro Cultural also hosts some really decent events, including an annual international music festival.
- Eat some more.
- I have to bring it up- La Zona is Nuevo Laredo’s most famous attraction, but its glory days are long gone. IF you go, whether just to see it or for its various recreational activities: do not go there after dark, be extra cautious and alert to your surroundings, and be weary of those seeking to “help” you find anything. It might be prudent to bring a friend with you.
- If you feel a bit more adventurous. Travel down Mex. 2 and visit Colombia, N.L. and Hildago, Coah. I will be posting a little bit about this excursion in the coming weeks. Both are small and charming towns that are off the typical tourist path. One heads up about the Mex. 2: there is a checkpoint along the road manned by sailors and marines. They will randomly direct cars to pull over for inspection. If selected, they will take everyone out of the car as they search it and will expect to see passports. I would not recommend you subject yourself to this if you do not know Spanish.
- Markets. There are several markets in Nuevo Laredo. My favourite is open only a few days a week; it is close to Calle Los Dos Laredos (what Anahuac turns into after Calle Monterrey). If it is a market day, the roads will be packed and you will likely need to park several blocks away. If you GPS the address Sonora 6102, you will be led into the midst of it. Another really nice market is along Héroe de Nacataz close to the junction with Tamaulipas [State Road] 1. This market flanks the railroad tracks and offers hours of stalls to browse. If you GPS Calle Héroe de Nacataz 7553, it should take you to the thick of it.
- Go to the Doctor, Dentist, Pharmacy. Healthcare is far cheaper, and generally a higher quality [according to international rankings], than that in the United States. Are you due for a dental cleaning and check up? In Mexico, you can pay anywhere between $10 and $40 for a checkup and cleaning. Admittedly, I do not know the price of the clinics closest to Bridge 1, where one will be approached by clinic promoters as soon as you clear customs. Many of the clinics accept US Insurance if you have it as well as Mastercard and Visa. If you have a prescription for medicine, you can have it filled in Mexico for less than it would be in the United States. Once I had been prescribed a medicine that was running $60 in the United States… I filled it in Mexico for $11. That being said, do NOT buy a prescription drug unless you have a prescription for it as crossing back into the United States with it will be a problem. While many in the US seem to be under the impression that Mexican medical facilities are substandard or unsafe, I have never known this to be the case.
You do not tip at restaurants in Mexico as the employers are expected to pay their employees. If you go to a grocery store, you are supposed to tip the person bagging your groceries.
I should note here that almost every parking lot has at least one parking attendant. These attendants will direct you to a parking spot or help you to back out, whether you need it or not. In the busy downtown, they might help you parallel park. One is supposed to tip the attendant upon leaving for watching your car. One will typically tip only 2-3 pesos, but around Mercado Maclovio Herrera (the only touristy place left in Nuevo Laredo) the attendants might try to hassle you for more. I have been hassled for giving a guy “merely” 5 pesos, he did not know that I lived there and knew the game. Don’t pay them until you are backed out and ready to drive.
Getting back to the United States is generally always a pain. If you are crossing on foot, once again you only have the option of Bridge 1. If you went with your car, take the time to check the bridge cams in order to pick the best option before you set out. Remember when you look at the cameras, that Bridge 3 is not for private vehicles.
If you are comfortable driving a little bit further away from the border for a bit, sometimes it is worth it to drive to Colombia to cross there. It takes about 40 minutes to get to Colombia from Nuevo Laredo, and about 50% of the time that is faster than waiting in the queues of Bridges 1 or 2. The easiest way to get there is to head South (towards Monterrey) and then take a right on Blvd Aeropuerto and then continue on towards Mexico 2 towards Colombia.
On Bridges 1 and 2, you will know which side of the border you are on based on the presence of street vendors capitalizing on the queue. Before you cross the magic line, you will have no shortage of people selling food, water, candy, trinkets, music, and offering to wash your window for a few pesos.