Juarez, (Spanish: Ciudad Juárez) is the most populous city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua and located in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. Juarez borders El Paso, Texas and it’s here that the Rio Grande River separates Mexico and United States borders.
Juarez is located in mainland Mexico and known to be the home to the Mexican vaquero (cowboy) culture. During the 1990’s Juarez gained a reputation as a violent city and the perception hasn’t shifted much. So, is Juarez safe to visit in 2019? The bottom line is yes, but there are a few things you need to know.
Is Juarez Safe to Visit? Exploring this Mexico Border Town Next to El Paso, TX
Juarez – El Paso History
It’s impossible to talk about the history of Juarez, Mexico without also talking about the history of El Paso, Texas. As I mentioned above, the Rio Grande River separates the Mexico–United States border and there are many facts that are very interesting about how the two cities were formed and the role this river played in forming each town:
- Four decades before the Mayflower reached Plymouth Rock, a dozen missionaries led by a Franciscan friar and a Spanish army captain set out on horseback from a Chihuahua village, determined to find the river that was said to lie to the north.
- The expedition went on to find the Rio Grande (Spanish: Rio Bravo). They also found a low pass between the sharp peaks of the Franklin Mountains and the Mexican Sierras, a natural gateway to the north. This pass was later named El Paso del Norte by the missionaries who used it on their way to colonize Juarez and what is now the southwestern United States.
- For the next 100 years, the border-defining river, the Rio Grande would meander, flood and retreat.
- What we know as El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico were once two villages that sprung from a 17th-century settlement but not located in two countries.
- There was a border conflict over about 600 acres on the Mexico–United States border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. It was caused by a shift in the Rio Grande.
- In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made the Rio Grande the boundary between Mexico and the United States and the two parts of town suddenly found themselves villages in different countries.
- In 1850, the historic name El Paso became the sole possession of the little railroad town on the north side of the river, located at the western tip of Texas.
- On September 16, 1888, El Paso del Norte was renamed Ciudad Juárez, in honor of Benito Juarez, Mexico’s Indian Abraham Lincoln and leader of the liberal revolution.
Safety When Traveling in Juarez (or anywhere)
You should not have much to worry about as long as you follow common sense. I personally wouldn’t walk around certain parts of New York, Chicago or Detroit or any big city for that matter at night alone.
I have to be honest. I researched Juarez before I decided to cross the border. I’ve heard the stories about the violence and admit that I was a little worried. On the flip side, I live in San Diego. Tijuana, Mexico is our neighbor. So, I am no stranger to living in a U.S. border city. Tijuana, like Juarez, went through some bad years, but both cities have worked hard to bring safety and tourism back to their towns.
Like most cities, the right parts of Juarez are friendly and safe. If you stay in the busy areas it should be both safe and an enjoyable visit.
A few recommendations for a safe visit to Juarez:
- Don’t travel alone.
- Don’t display obvious wealth (expensive jewelry for example).
- Visit during daylight hours.
- Stick to busy areas.
- If you’re traveling to out-of-the-way places in Juarez take an Uber.
- Brush up on your Spanish.
- Staying clear of any illegal activity, particularly involving drug purchase/smuggling (hopefully this one is an obvious good choice because neither American nor Mexican prisons are very enticing places to spend a vacation).
To be fair to Juarez, Mexico, most of the above are practices I would use in most major U.S. cities. If you avoid venturing out alone into suspicious areas of the town, particularly after dark, you should be safe in this quaint border town.
What Does Wikipedia Say About Safety in Juarez?
In past years, criminal activity in Juarez, as well as the city and state of Chihuahua, in general, was extremely high and something to worry about, but not anymore.
Most of the past violence in Juarez is directly related to illegal drug trafficking. However, the city has been able to turn this around remarkably fast since 2011. Massive purges of corrupt officials took place as well as direct and decisive actions by the federal government to catch and imprison high-level criminals by bringing the Mexican army into the city. Juarez is safe. it is safer than many U.S. cities, especially for tourists.
My Personal Experience Visiting Juarez
Living in San Diego, which borders Tijuana, Mexico I was very excited to see the similarities and differences to Juarez. Tijuana was founded as a city in 1889, just one year after Juarez, but the cities are distinctly different.
I found that Juarez, was a more traditional Mexican town, with a center square and park. It also felt much smaller than Tijuana and less metropolitan. It is said that Juarez is the most traditional of the border town in Mexico.
I visited Juarez in a group and with a local, which I know can make a big difference. I have to say, at no point did I feel unsafe or worried. I truly enjoyed my visit to Juarez and would visit again.
Juarez is just across the border from El Paso, Texas. It is very simple and quick to cross the border and before you know it you’ll find street vendors, markets, restaurants, bars and if you are lucky you might even run into a group of zoot-suited dancers.
Crossing by Foot:
You can Uber to the border, or park about a block away from the crossing on S. Santa Fe Street. Parking runs about $4. You can cross via a bridge on S. El Paso Street that turns into Avenido Benito Juarez after you cross into Juarez. It takes about 10 minutes to walk across.
Crossing by Car:
If you drive into Juarez, buy car insurance that covers Mexico. When you cross, you’ll be going through Mexican checkpoint. Most likely, they will wave you through. They might stop and ask a question or two, or possibly ask you to pull over for a quick inspection to make sure you aren’t bringing anything illegal or commercial goods for sale.
What you Need to Know:
- When you crossing back to the United States, you’ll need to pay four pesos to leave Mexico.
- Bring your passport with you, or if you have one, a Global Entry card.
What to do in Juarez
Visit Historic Downtown
This historic downtown of Juarez is Plaza de Armas and encompasses a city park, the first mission built and their beautiful cathedral. This is the center of the city for locals, especially on Sunday when they come to church, enjoy the cultural performances and savor the delicious foods being sold by vendors.
Mision de Guadalupe & Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral
Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Mission church is the oldest surviving church between Chihuahua City and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mision de Guadalupe was the first building erected in El Paso del Norte, now known as Juarez.
In 1659, when the mission was built, it was located on the other side of the Rio Grande, which makes for some interesting conversation when chatting with the locals. Mision de Guadalupe is part of the Mission Trail and it is said that this was the first mission built on this trail and all missions on the Chihuahua trail including Las Cruces and El Paso were modeled after this.
Ciudad Juárez annually honors December 8th, when the city was founded. On that date in 1659, Fray García built his first mission, a modest little church, which later became the charming and beautiful Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
Next door to the mission, you’ll find Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Ciudad Juárez).
Matachines Dance in Juarez
Every Sunday at 11 am you will find a traditional dance performance at the Centro Municipal de las Artes. The building is located on the street behind the cathedral. The production during my visit focused on the Mexican Revolution and included 20 dances performed by the Ballet Folklorico de Ciudad Juarez. It was a wonderfully choreographed performance with set and costume changes.
Viva Mexico Show
This show runs Thursday through Saturday and includes singing, dancing, mariachi and horses with rope tricks. The ticket also includes dinner.
The show is high quality and showcases music and culture from different regions of Mexico. Arrive at 7:30 for the 9:30 show and order dinner right away so you can have time to enjoy dinner before the lights go off and the show begins. Some of the favorites for dinner are Tampiquena de arrachera and the Flautas.
Visit the Kentucky Club
Juarez’s most famous bar is the Kentucky Club. Founded in 1920 the World Famous Kentucky Bar & Grill was opened two years into U.S. prohibition. At that time, the Kentucky Club was considered one of the finest bars in town. You’ll find great memorabilia and wonderful photos including a number of celebrities including the likes of John Wayne and Steve McQueen.
The Kentucky Club is also one of several bars that claim to have invented the margarita. I can’t verify if this is true, but I did some research and wrote an article about the Mystery of the Margarita! There are many stories and theories about where and when the Margarita was first made, but I’ll let you be the final judge!
Regardless, if you are looking for a peek into the past and a great margarita, the Kentucky Club is a must!
Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion en La Frontera)
The Museum of the Revolution tells the story of the Mexican Revolution as it happened at the border between El Paso and Juarez from the end of 19th century to 1911 with the Battle (Toma in Spanish) of Ciudad Juárez.
This was a turbulent chapter of history not only Juarez but all of Mexico and one that transformed Mexican society.
The museum guides visitors through pre-revolutionary Mexico, the 10-year Mexican Revolution war and the aftermath that still affects Mexico. Most exhibits are in both Spanish and English and this was one of my favorite things in Juarez.
My favorite part of the museum was the photographer exhibit, which focused on the photographers who documented the war. This museum will be a fascinating stop for any history or photography buff.
Juan Gabriel’s Home
Juan Gabriel grew up in Juarez and was a Mexican singer, songwriter, and actor. In 2015, Billboard listed Gabriel among his list of the 30 most influential Latino artists in history and is considered to have redefined the concept of romantic Latin pop music. After his death in 2016, his ashes were laid to rest at his home in Ciudad Juárez.
Visit La Equis (The X)
The X sculpture is a 200-foot-tall art installation designed by Mexican sculptor Enrique Carbajal González. The sculpture sits on the south bank of the Rio Grande in the Plaza de la Mexicanidad, a public square that includes grassy areas, an acoustical shell, and an outdoor theater.
The Sculpture is an Aztec religious symbol and the two towers intersect in an “X” shape represents the merging of two cultures in Mexico: the indigenous Aztecs and the Spanish.
Juárez City Market (Spanish: Mercado)
Located at Agustin Melgar Street and Avenida 16th de Septiembre, the market is a fun, traditional Mexican market geared mostly to tourists. The two-story building is loaded with an endless array of velvet paintings, plaster of Paris statues, jewelry, and other standard-issue Mexican souvenirs.
You’ll also find nice ceramics, glassware, tin mirrors, talavera dishes and pottery. It is the places you should go to if you plan on buying Mexican handicrafts. The people are very friendly, and many speak English. If you have never been to a market in Mexico, know that there is a degree os hecticness. This is just part of Mexican culture and it’s like that all over Mexico.
Casa Adobe Museum
The Mexican Revolution was headquartered in Ciudad Juarez, on the border between Texas, New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua for a portion of the war. During this time, it was headquartered in an adobe house, which has been reconstructed and made into the Casa Adobe Museum.
The museum sits on the border and you’ll also find one of the 276 monuments marking the international border, as it extends from El Paso, Texas/Juárez to San Diego/ Tijuana. I’m standing with one foot in Mexico and one foot in the United States in the below photo.
The historian/docent is at the museum from 10am-3pm (check the Facebook page because this could be subject to change). The Museum is outside of town, but well worth a visit.
Where to eat in Juarez
Flor de Nogal
Oscar Herrera, head chef and owner is creating delicious food with an ever-changing menu based on his farm’s ingredients. The quality of the service is exceptional, but of course, it’s always ultimately about the food.
Chef Herrera makes homemade bread that is cooked in a woodfire oven and served with homemade butter, pesto basil with pecans from his farm and sea salt from Baja California. This is what you’ll experience before you have the chance to order from the small, but seasonal menu.
Entrees include fresh fish of the day, rack of lamb, and twists on some Mexican favorites.
It takes a little bit of a drive to find the hacienda, as it’s outside of the main historic district, so you’d need to drive or take an Uber. But, it is well worth the excursion and a dinner you will long remember!
More Food Options
For the best burritos in town you’ll want to head to Burritos el Centenario. For a great plate of tacos, you’ll want to visit The Kentucky Club. El Tragadero is very family friendly and another great option for tacos as well as juicy steaks and best Mexican beans in North America. They also make handmade corn tortillas in the restaurant.
The Beer Garden is the place to go for imported, handmade and regional beer. Toscanna has the best pizza in town and for the best ice cream in town head to La Michoacana.
Note: many of the restaurants don’t have websites, so look on Trip Advisor or search for them on Facebook for hours and reviews.
With most border towns I have visited in Mexico, I have had not had any issues with street food. This being said, always ask if the water is purified. Eat from street vendors that have long lines (that are popular). You can always ask a local for recommendations as well.
It’s worth the effort, because like so many countries around the world, street food can be the most delicious!
Where to Stay in Juarez
The Holiday Inn Express in Juarez, is just 5 minutes drive from the border and a 10-minute walk from the US consulate. This is a great option if you plan to do an overnight in Juarez.
Learn About Juarez’s Part in the Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, ended dictatorship in Mexico and established a constitutional republic. A number of groups, led by revolutionaries including Francisco Madero, Pascual Orozco, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, participated in the long conflict. The revolution gave rise to Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata as revolutionary heroes of the poor.
The Mexican Revolution started and ended in Juarez. Major battles of the Mexican Revolution were plotted in El Paso and fought in Juárez. When warfare broke out in the streets Juarez in 1911 it is documented that bleachers were set up in El Paso, where people watched the fighting.
The armed struggle, which lasted from 1910 to 1920, transformed Mexican society and sparked a massive migration of Mexicans to the United States that remade the demographics of cities in the American Southwest.
The war also spurred new movements in art, literature, journalism, photography and radical notions of land reform that spread across Latin America. resulted in a boom in journalism, with reporters covering the violence and political unrest of the day. It also led to photojournalists, like British-born Jimmy Hare, coming to Mexico to experiment with the latest camera technology to capture scenes of war.
Learn More About the Mexican Revolution
WHEN TO VISIT JUAREZ
Average temperatures in Juarez vary drastically. Considering humidity, temperatures feel very nice much of the year, but hot in the summer and cold in the winter with a very low chance of rain or snow throughout the year. The busiest month for tourism in Juarez, Mexico is June, followed by May and January.
If you enjoyed this article about the Is Juarez Safe to Visit? Exploring a Mexico Border Town you’ll also love Wine & Dine: A Perfect Day in Mexico Wine Country of Valle de Guadalupe.
Traveling To Juarez Soon? Here are a few tips:
What to Bring for a Trip to Juarez
- Get the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Mexico
- Bring a good quality mirrorless camera for getting shots of the beautiful cathedral and town. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- Juarez can be very hot, so make sure to bring Neutrogena Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45
- A great cross body travel bag. Cross body bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
- Don’t forget sunglasses for the beautiful sunny days. A.J. Morgan Unisex Sunglasses are a great choice and very affordable!
Looking for more about Juarez? Check out fellow blogger, Gary House’s article Visiting Juárez Mexico for a Great Day of Food, Fun and History
Read More About Mexico
- Valle de Guadalupe Travel Guide
- Lunch at Rancho la Puerta: Dining at one of the Best Spa’s in the World
- Celebrating The Queen’s of Baja’s Culinary Landscape
- Valle de Guadalupe Food and Wine: Casa de Piedra and Conchas de Piedra
This trip was hosted by Juarez Tourism and I was a guest at many of the above locations, but as always, all opinions are my own!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.