Tag Archives: tunnels

Narco tourism possibilities in Tijuana: Tijuana drug tunnel tours?



There is a certain stigma attached to border cities where members of major drug trafficking groups regularly intimidate police, kill each other, and occasionally leave trails of dumped body parts.

In light of travel advisories like this one, cities like Tijuana have tried unsuccessfully over the past year to convince tourists that they aren’t likely to be the target of a narco shooting.  In Mazatlan, meanwhile, some taxi drivers are finding a niche in taking tourists to (the outside of) places believed to be owned by drug traffickers and to the crime scenes of famous drug battles, according to  this story by Marc Lacey of The New York Times.

While official tourism officials here might wince at the idea, other countries are employing narco tourism: In Colombia, you can visit a ranch used by now-deceased drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. It has been converted into a theme park.

Capitalizing on the narco phenomenom can be controversial, but a fair number of tourists would probably enjoy visiting the sites of one of Tijuana’s infamous drug tunnels (or others in Tecate and Mexicali). The art museum known as Casa del Tunel – the origin of one the city’s famous cross-border tunnels –  provides only passing recognition of its past incarnation.

Tijuana Tunnel Tours could be a mobile event, or it could become an actual museum. There is a warehouse east of the Tijuana airport that was the origin of a massive and incomplete tunnel said to have been built for Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in the 1990s. This tunnel museum could include photos of other tunnels, explanations of how tunnels are found, and shovels and religious icons found at tunnel sites. Guzman, who remains at large, might be appeased with a VIP pass.

Photo of warehouse that was the entrance of a massive tunnel discovered in 1993, said to have been built by suspected trafficker Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. The last time I visited the building, it was being used by Mexican federal authorities to hold confiscated cars.

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Counting the border tunnels of 2008

drugtunnellistaOne of the things I miss about my old job as a border reporter is the opportunity to chase after border tunnels. This happened regularly, and you can read what that was like in this previous post. Before I left the The San Diego Union-Tribune in late 2007,  I pulled together a comprehensive list of cross-border tunnels found since 1999 that was posted here in this interactive map.

Curious to see what kind of tunnel activity took place in 2008, I started digging around news reports. It appears that Arizona was a hotspot for tunnels last year (where they tend to be connected to the drainage system). For more information, read this Arizona Republic report. Here is my (in?) complete list:

Jan. 16, 2008: This National Drug Intelligence Center report refers to a passageway that consisted of three short tunnel segments and a drainage system that was found in Nogales, Arizona.

April 1/2, 2008: A small,  incomplete tunnel was found that entered 14 feet into the United States near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in the San Diego area, according to this report in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

From May-August, 2008: Trying to confirm information of additional tunnels found along the Arizona border???

Sept. 1?, 2008: Mexican authorities found an incomplete tunnel equipped with air conditioning, lights and en elevator along the Mexicali-Calexio border in California.Eight men were arrested after being found with digging tools, according to this report by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

October 25,2008: Tunnel found two miles west of  Calexico, California that started in a house on the Mexican side of the border, according to this reprinted weekly Border Patrol blotter list. 

December 10, 2008: An incomplete tunnel was found that stretched about 10 feet into the United States. The small tunnel was found near the San Ysidro port of entry. It was discovered when a vehicle drove over a weak spot in the pavement, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

December, 2008: Various news reports refer to nine tunnels being found along the Arizona-Mexico border from October through December. This AP story refers to one found Dec. 29 near the Nogales port of entry. In November, U.S. authorities were investigating a possible cross-border tunnel, according to this article by the Yuma Sun that also refers to a Mexican report that confirmed a tunnel find in Arizona.

As you can see, the list isn’t complete (sorry – this isn’t my full time job anymore!)  and I don’t feel comfortable yet saying X tunnels were found along the border in 2008, but it’s a starting point.

****NOTE: Due to possible incomplete and uncorroborated information, this list should not be used as a reference tool at this time****

Photo of a tunnel found in 2007 in Tecate.

Chasing border tunnels from Tijuana to Mexicali

Chasing tips about tunnels is the kind of thing that border reporters do. After a few years of this, I developed a routine: Change into jeans and tennis shoes, grab a map, and bring a sweater in case the search drags into the night.

Typically, but not always, the tunnels would be discovered on the U.S. side. Being based out of Tijuana, my job was to find their entrance. Often times this was what the Mexican authorities were doing, too, so the process involved us – reporters, mostly Mexican – hanging around the periphery of whatever area seemed to be of interest to the investigators.  Sometimes the hunt took up to 24 hours, but it was often worth the wait. Since Mexican authorities were less strict with liability issues, this could mean a chance to poke around a recently-found tunnel (used to either smuggle people or drugs).

The last big tunnel I got to cover along the California border was the large one found December, 2007, in Tecate. It happened at the exact moment I learned my then-employer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, would be offering buyouts. My former colleague Sandra Dibble has since taken over tunnel duty, and writes this story about the latest incomplete tunnel found in Mexicali that included a hydraulic pulley. For a story by the Los Angeles Times, go here; for KPBS-San Diego, go here.

The Union-Tribune also has  an interactive map and description of border tunnels since 1990. I’m not sure it has been updated, but at the end of December, 2007, I had counted 73 tunnels found since 1990 along the California and Arizona border.

Photo: Looking up from inside the Tecate tunnel, found December, 2007