Bargains Galore!

More than 14 million people cross the border into Baja each year just to shop – most of them savvy Californians who recognize Baja as the bargain bonanza that it is. Savings in some categories can run as high as 90% compared with similar stateside merchandise.

But, even without the lure of great savings, shopping south of the border is just plain fun, mostly because it isn't anything like the mall. Vibrant flower sellers and silly, zebra-striped donkeys turn street corners into a carnival. Bargaining can be a blast - as long as you know what you're doing. And a frosty midday margarita seems to be an instant cure for tired feet. Here's what keeps bringing the bargain hunters back!

Baja's Best Buys
For sheer volume, leather tops the list of Baja buys. Jackets, boots, briefcases, belts, handbags, wallets and virtually all other quality leather items run about half of stateside prices. Designer leather rip-offs offer outrageous savings as well. Home furnishings are excellent deals, as are fine arts and crafts. The same colorful, unusual and exotic Mexican artisan works, handmade furniture and home decorations seen stateside in expensive decorator or import shops can run one-third to one-half of U.S. prices.

Those oh-so-expensive prescriptions are sold mostly over the counter in Mexico and - from Prozac to Premarin, Renova to anti-anxiety Ativan - most are 30% to 40% less when you buy across the border.

Other can't-be-beat buys throughout the border area are sterling silver; duty-free imports from Europe including name-brand cosmetics and perfumes; high-quality pottery and gardenware; woven ware (from baskets and blankets to handmade hammocks and Zapotec rugs); and, of course, booze.

Where to head first
For quality, variety and accessibility, Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada are Baja's best shop stops, located five minutes, 20 minutes and 60 minutes, respectively, from the California border at San Ysidro.

Tijuana's Avenida Revolucion is a 10-minute stroll or a five-minute cab ride from the border. There you'll find an overwhelming eight-block strip of stores, stalls, arcades and underground passageways filled with bargains from all around the globe.

All of Rosarito's excellent shopping locations can be found along Boulevard Benito Juarez, the laid-back beach resort's main street. Shops at the north, center and south areas of town are walkable in clusters, and free street parking is easy to find everywhere. The Rosarito Beach Hotel's shopping arcade, located at the south end of town, has numerous high-quality shops and art galleries.

The city's large mercado, with almost 100 stalls, is just a short stroll up the main street, beginning next to the El Nido restaurant. Immediately south of town you'll find a miracle mile of pottery, gardenware, Guadalajara-cement statues and fountains, curios and rug and blanket weavers in an interesting mix of roadside shops.

Rosarito's main street is also, by far, the best place on the entire 1,000-mile Baja peninsula to buy Mexican furniture. Southwestern, pigskin, wrought-iron, hacienda, willow, hand-carved and hand-painted furniture, plus custom pieces, are all made locally. The selection is great, and specialty shops dot both sides of the street for the full length of the city.

As Mexico's fastest-growing cruise port, Ensenada's merchandise selection is extensive. To accommodate cruise-ship passengers on regular two- or three-hour layovers, shopping is conveniently concentrated along a single street, Boulevard Lopez Mateos. Located just a block from the waterfront, this eight-block shoppers' strip runs between Avenida Ruiz at the north end of town to Avenida Castillo near the riverbed.

Several of Tijuana's top stores have Ensenada branches on Boulevard Lopez Mateos. The block between El Rey Sol restaurant and the Hotel Cortez (Avenidas Blancarte and Alvarado) is the most upscale, with large duty-free stores, designer rip-off specialty shops and exclusive sterling and pewter stores.

Before you go
Most tourist-area shops are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m, seven days a week, in Tijuana and Ensenada, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Rosarito. Some Rosarito shops close on Tuesdays during the winter off-season.

Detailed information about Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada can be obtained from the following Baja tourist offices:

Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau:
011-52-66-831405, -840537 or 840481 or (888)775-2417

Rosarito Convention and Visitors Bureau:
011-52-661-20396 or (800)962-2252


Ensenada State Tourism Office:
011-52-617-23022 or (800)310-9687

Baja California State Tourism Office:
011-52-66-346330, 346918 or 346574

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