Ciudad Juarez, once plagued by drug gangs and violence, is now safer than many American cities and even welcomed Pope Francis.
Today, Ciudad Juarez is safer than many American cities, including Baltimore and New Orleans. The 7,500 Mexican soldiers who were once deployed to reinforce the police have returned to barracks.
And on Wednesday, Ciudad Juarez and played host to Pope Francis, who said Mass on the banks of the Rio Grande. Thousands crossed the border from the United States to see the Pope.
The the city is reviving: it’s a symbol of what can be done. There is no other place in the world that has managed to turn itself around so quickly.”
Juarez is a large Mexican city located in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. While you are in Mexico, you are nowhere near the tropical Mexico with beautiful beaches and Aztec and Mayan culture many people expect. Juarez is home to the Mexican vaquero (cowboy) culture and you will be more likely to encounter people resembling cowboys than any other vision of a Mexican one might have. However, Juarez is rich in the northern culture of Mexico, and most travelers will find this more charming and realistic than the culture they experience at many other locales that are not off the beaten path in Mexico.
However, special attention must be paid to criminal activity in Juarez, as well as the city and state of Chihuahua in general; there have been recent revelations of police corruption in the area, some incidents quite violent in nature as they pertain to the border area's prevalence in illegal drug and/or human trafficking. Also, visitors, especially females, should be aware of the sexual violence/murder rate amongst the female populace; since 1993, perhaps earlier, hundreds of women, most of them underpaid workers at sweatshops known as "maquildoras," have been killed by persons unknown, their bodies found beaten, raped, tortured and murdered in and around Juarez. As most of the victims are local women, they are deemed by their killers and indeed quite often by those investigating their deaths to be disposable.
Foreign visitors should not have much to worry about as long as they follow common sense; if you avoid venturing out alone into suspicious areas of town, particularly after dark, making obvious your personal wealth to strangers, and staying well clear of any illegal activity, particularly involving drug purchase/smuggling, you should be fine. Just remember that Mexican police are notoriously lacking in concern for those whose activities are considered "high-risk." The US Border Patrol can also be quite mercurial about these matters, and neither American nor Mexican prisons are very enticing places to spend one's vacation.
Juarez experienced over 1600 murders in 2008, 3010 in 2009, and 3100 in 2010 (out of a population of 1,500,000). While many of the victims have been connected with drug trafficking, the random nature of this violence makes caution necessary.
There is a public bus system in Juarez; however, it is not very easy to use and is often overlooked by tourists. In general, buses have their final destination on a board in the front window. They make frequent stops, and often run in close succession to one another; if you miss a bus, another of the same route is likely to appear in a matter of minutes. Many routes continue to run overnight, if you have no choice but to use them, exercise extreme caution on buses at night and buses that go into poorly policed barrios of the city (especially to the west and south). In recent weeks, buses have been targeted in attacks, mainly aimed to collect protection money for route operators.
Taxis are abundant and inexpensive, but always ask for the ride fee and if possible ask two different drivers to get the best fare. Taxis are not metered, and initial fares may be given based on one's perceived ability to pay (a tourist or wealthier Mexican may be quoted a higher fare). However, most sites of touristic interest in Juarez can be reached by walking in the historic center. Upon arrival in Juarez, it is likely that most foreigners will received by a plethora of taxi drivers offering to drive them to the market. While the market cannot be seen from the border crossing, it is a relatively short walk: after crossing the Santa Fe street bridge, walk down Avenida Juarez to 16 de Septiembre, turn left and then walk about seven blocks (street blocks are much smaller in Juarez than in neighboring El Paso).
Driving in Juarez, while less chaotic than in Mexico City, is not recommended for a casual visitor. While the lack of high-speed freeways means many accidents that happen in the central parts of the city are relatively minor, fender benders in Mexico may involve frustrating red tape. If you drive in Juarez, make sure you have Mexican automobile insurance as not having Mexican insurance may result in criminal charges and a visit to jail.
Most larger businesses have parking lots with attendants that will ask for a nominal fee (25 US cents, or two to three pesos). Watch where you park; cars that are illegally parked on streets may have their license plates removed by a transit cop. The idea is to ensure you will pay the fine before leaving the country (and your plates should be returned after doing so). If this happens to you, the ticket should indicate where to pay your fine, should you chose to do so (you should be able to re-enter the United States in any event, but you may face some added complications with a missing plate).
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — They killed him in his home in front of his children. At the funeral days later, they returned for further revenge, opening fire and killing the man’s oldest daughter as friends and family watched in horror.
These are Nicolas Chavez’s memories of his hometown of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where his uncle and cousin were fatally shot after encounters with local criminals. Chavez’s brother eventually met the same end when he was killed in a restaurant.
But times apparently have changed in Juárez. After years of violence and a reputation as the drug war capital of the world, residents here are determined to start a new chapter and win back business investors and tourists who abandoned the city amid waves of brutal killings. The declining homicide rate and coats of new paint splashed across downtown have done little so far to convince Americans and Mexicans that the battle-hardened border city on the U.S.’ southern edge is safe to visit or do business in. With Pope Francis arriving in Juárez Wednesday after a tour of Mexico where he called for an end to narco-related violence, this city known as the birthplace of the Margarita cocktail is anxious to use its moment in the international spotlight to persuade the world that it is once again open for business.
“The people live a little more in peace,” said Chavez, 54, owner of the Casa de Huespedes Del Pinar, a downtown hotel that, like many businesses here, depends on border tourism. “People come here with so much fear even though all that is behind us.”
Where the Rio Grande meets the arid landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert, more than 3.6 million passenger vehicles and 300,000 commercial vehicles cross into Juárez from El Paso, Texas, every year. The impoverished border town is the largest city in the state of Chihuahua and the fifth-largest city in all of Mexico. The combined metropolitan area of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso is home to more than 2.6 million people and is the second-largest community on the U.S.–Mexico border. Last year, the Ciudad Juárez crossing was the No. 1 border port for passenger traffic, with nearly 5.3 million visitors in September 2015.
City Hall launched in April its "Juárez is Waiting for You” tourism campaign with the help of a $400 million federal program to strengthen social structures and civil society. At the same time, international manufacturers have built up their presence in Juárez. Lear, a Michigan-based Fortune 500 company that builds automotive seating and electrical distribution systems, provides jobs to more than 14,300 people in Juárez. Delphi, a British manufacturer of automotive parts, employs 12,500 locals. In all, 40,000 jobs were created last year in a city of 1.3 million residents, said Omar Saucedo Macías, director general of Desarrollo Económico de Ciudad Juárez, a nonprofit association made up of local business leaders aimed at improving the quality of the city.
“It’s a major transformation,” said Saucedo Macías. “In the past, Juárez would bring people from southern Mexico to meet production goals, but last year when we saw this increase in production, we started competing with central Mexico for workers. A lot of the people who moved to El Paso to escape the violence are moving back to Juárez. It is a city transformed.”