At the top of my list when planning the trip to Big Bend was to visit Boquillas (pronounced Bo-Key-Us), Mexico. I was intrigued by the simple border crossing and curious about the town. What was the attraction? Why did people want to cross the Rio Grande to step into Mexico? I read countless blogs and watched YouTube videos on visiting Boquillas and before I knew it I was determined to see the tiny town as soon as possible! After getting settled into the campground we headed out to find the nature trail that promised gorgeous views (especially sunsets, but don't get your hopes up because I was never in the right place at the right time for one) and to get our first glimpse of the Rio Grande.
(top left: desert cactus; top right: souvenirs brought over for sale to tourists; bottom left: part of the bend of the river for which the park is named; bottom right: Jody hanging out on the edge of the cliff...shocker!)
We met up with our campground neighbor, Stan, just before lunchtime and headed to the crossing. Once there we passed through a small border station where we were given some guidelines on "Do's and Don'ts" (I'll include those in the helpful tips at the end.) and off we went for our adventure!
There are two ways to cross the Rio Grande: Walk or take the Boquillas International Ferry at the cost of $5. We chose the ferry (of course!) and promptly rowed across the river and into Mexico by the ferry captain.
Finally! We were in Mexico and ready for the adventure. First up: choose transportation into town which is about a mile down the road. Options: rent a burro for $5 (which comes with a handy tourist guide) or walk. Although we were capable of walking, riding the burro seemed the more adventurous option so we paid the man our $5 and headed into town.
Boquillas is a town of approximately 200 people however at one time the population was over 2000. That was back in the 1900's when the principal employment came from industries relating to the production of lead, silver and fluorite ore from nearby mines. Mining ceased in 1919 and the town's population rapidly declined. By the late 1990's the population was around 300 people. And then the town took another major blow when the crossing was closed in 2002 after the tragic events of 911. The town all but disappeared as their economy is now dependent on tourism. After a long 11 years and many delays the new Boquillas Port of Entry opened. There are no customs or border agents at this office but there is a park ranger that will provide information on what you can and can't do during the trip. It may be worth noting that the office is only open Wednesday through Sunday, 8-5pm so plan accordingly!
The town includes a school, church, hospital and hotel for those visitors that don't make it back to the border office before the 5:30 closing time. The hospital is only open when the doctor is in town though!
Most of the homes in Boquillas are simple structures painted in bright, joyful colors that shine against the desert.
Solar Brings Changes to Boquillas
A lot of the homes have solar panels of their own but the town is powered primarily by a large solar farm with a battery bank warehouse that hold over 300 batteries. The introduction of solar to the tiny town is an interesting one and varies depending on who you ask. Prior to 2015 the main source of power was propane and it was used mostly to run refrigerators. The solar farm was built and put into operation at the estimated cost of $1.5 million dollars. the projected was "financed by the World Bank, designed by German technicians and installed by Bulgarian engineers, the $1.5 million solar energy system has 312 electrical panels that will provide electricity to 70 houses." (per a 2015 news article) Residents pay a small fee for their power but not to repay the cost to build. The money instead goes into a fund to replace the batteries and keep the solar farm operational.
So, if you are as ready as I was to visit this tiny town and step back into a simpler way of life, at least for the afternoon, here are some tips.
Helpful Tips for a Successful Boquillas Border Crossing:
1. Take your passport! You will check in with the Mexican Customs office when you arrive and get your passport stamped along with a Visa for the day. (at least that is what I hear. They were closed when we went so nothing happened on the Mexico side.)
2. Bring cash. The two restaurants and bar in town all gladly accept US currency so no exchange is needed.
3. Only buy souvenirs on the Mexico side and don't buy any that have any parts made from rattlesnake. (The park ranger will give you all this information before you cross.)
4. Don't buy any tobacco or alcohol to bring back. There are no customs agents to validate purchases so they are not allowed. You can, however consume all the tasty margaritas you desire while in town!
5. Upon returning to the US, you will pass back through the border office and wait your turn to speak by telephone to a customs agent who will ask "did you bring anything back from Mexico?" Answer appropriately and you get a "thank you, have a good day" from the agent and your visit is complete.
If you are feeling adventurous or would just like to experience another culture then Boquillas is the place for you!
Enjoy and, if you see my burro be sure to give him a pat on the head from me!