Travel in NE Mexico, life in far S Texas

My son is relocating to Harlingen Texas, approximately 10-20 miles north of the Mexican border, near Brownsvill/Matamoros.

As a young guy, I imagine at some point he will be curious to see what is “over the border.” Do any of you have any experience/information as to what he can/should see/do, and what he should stay away from? Just from what I am unable to avoid on the news, I almost get the impression that you cross the border there are heads rolling in the streets. But it is a VERY long border, Mexico is a very big country, and I have not been paying attention.

While we’re on the topic, I’d be happy to hear anything you can tell me about life way down in the tip of Texas.


As far as exploring into Matamoros, he will be able to get a more accurate read from the locals once he’s down there. Matamoros has had its share of scary stuff, but there are also smaller towns (Nuevo Progreso) that are probably safer and just as interesting.

As for living in the RGV (Rio Grande Valley), let’s just say it’s different. Different from the rest of Texas, different from the rest of the country. I’m not saying that’s good or bad (because there are elements of both); just **very **different.

There is a lot of beautiful and unique wildlife and vegetation; some absolutely wonderful folks; lots of good food; decent beaches. He also will want to check out traveling “up” the Valley to McAllen/Edinburg, and all of the small towns in between.

He will need to get used to the idea that he’s a long way from anything outside of the Valley; it’s about 2 hours by car, across the King Ranch, to get from Harlingen to the next “major” town north (which would be Kingsville, approx 20,000 people).

Like any new experience, as long as he goes into it with and open mind and a willingness to try new things, he’ll do fine.

Matamoros is not the safest place in the world. I second the idea that Nuevo Progreso is probably a better idea. Stay the heck out of Nuevo Laredo. Honestly, after a trip or two across the border it’s not that exciting though. If your son carries a gun at all, make sure he never ever forgets and brings his weapon across the border–not that it’s likely, but also make sure not to have ammo or shell casings in the vehicle.

It is a whole 'nother world on its own slower schedule. Land is pretty cheap as is housing. South Padre Island is fun when not full of tourists.

The food is out of this world good. Nearly any taqueria is amazing although one can’t be too squeamish as even if you order identifiable meat (like fajita meat), it’s likely some tripa or sweetbreads are mixed in there. Make sure he tries El Pato. I still don’t understand why those have not made their way to mid or northern Texas. If he hunts, the dove hunting is amazing.

I don’t know where you live, but Southwest (by far my favorite airline) flies out of Harlingen. There are decent American flights in and out of McAllen. Oh, and if he ever intends to get injured and file a lawsuit, he is likely to score big. Ah, Valley justice… :slight_smile:

The wife and I figure we now have a destination for a long weekend this winter!

I’ve read a bit about the birding and other natural riches in the area. And the food sounds tremendous.

Re: Mexico - as a parent, I’m thinking about what kinds of trouble a 23 year old might get himself into. He’s a pretty safe sort, tho, so I expect him to not take any outrageous risks. One thing I saw that made sense said to walk across the border and take a taxi - instead of risking carjacking.

He is quite an accomplished marksman, tho right now all of his guns are black powder and a .22. Living in Texas, I would be surprised if he does not amass quite an armory. I’ll remind him to be smart about the border.

Maybe these stories don’t show up in newspapers around the country, but they appear with regularity around here–the following ones since the first of this year. I wouldn’t set foot anywhere in Mexico these days. Yeah, you might be okay, but IMHO it’s not worth the risk. Note the number in the last headline: the death toll in the Mexico drug wars is now over 50,000.

The first one is dated today. 49 Bodies Left on Mexico Highway
14 mutilated bodies found in Mexican border city

7 mutilated bodies found in Nuevo Laredo
Police find 6 mutilated bodies in central Mexico

2 bodies left at Mexico mall; drug toll at 47,500

Not to sound alarmist, it is a crapshoot when considering going to MX these days.
I have been going to the interior since 1984, spent a year working in Mex City/Puebla and used to routinely work at maquiladoras from Juarez to Matamoros for several years as a supplier, all before the unimaginable changes that have occurred.

We drove from TN to the interior back in December 2010, and were very fortunate as things got crazy dangerous right around that time in the states we were involved in—Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi and Veracruz. Have not been back since and will not allow my wife and granddaughter to fly to Tampico to visit her family due to the unpredictability. I do recall hearing that a touristy restaurant on a main boulevard in Matamoros had been shot up when we passed through in Dec 2010.
Here is wishing for the good ol’ days when one only had to deal with corrupt police, pseudo-police, incompetent government administration…

South TX is different. I have lived many different times/years in North TX and the Houston area but can say that South TX is like another state as one could say the same about the East/North/West/Panhandle areas.
If he is so inclined, tell him to learn Spanish, NOT Spanglish, as South TX inhabitants tend to bastardize Spanish (no offense intended).

…and a case of the runs…
Seriously: what he said. I have friends with relatives in Mexico and they don’t go there for holidays anymore. Tourist areas are no safer than anywhere else.

I second learning Spanish. If he wants to go to Mexico tell him to learn Spanish and talk, in Spanish, to some of the Mexican-Americans in his area for more specific advice. Anything we say will be hopelessly outdated by the time he’s planning his trip. Matamoros isn’t as bad as Nuevo Laredo or, God forbid, Juarez, but that could change by the time he gets the itch to cross the border.

In fact, I’d give him this bit of fatherly advice. “Don’t go until you can speak Spanish and your Mexican-American friends who taught you say it’s a good idea.”

Not only will he get a lot more out of the experience if he speaks Spanish, but he’ll be much safer because he can read the cues of those around him better and communicate with any authorities or others he encounters.

Aside from that, I only have one other bit of advice for someone living in the valley. Become a fruitivore! The produce from the valley is fantastic. Fresh squeezed orange juice, sweet mangos, enormous watermelons, pineapples, the list goes on and on. If he’s got any sort of land available, start a garden. The valley has near tropical growing conditions and you can get amazing yields with tiny amounts of effort. It’s one of the things I like most about that part of Texas and our all too infrequent visits. I think we ate half a 25lb bag of oranges in the car on the way back last time. I know it didn’t last a week at the house.


Saw him for his graduation yesterday. When I raised the topic, suggesting he take precautions when going across the border, he said something along the lines of having “no interest to travel to a war zone.” So it is already on his radar.

And good news about the fruit - his favorite!

Man, is there anything more boring than a graduation ceremony? About 2/3 of the names and 2 hrs in, we gave in to his pleas and bugged outta there. We’re already working on our youngest to see if we can avoid attending hers next year…

The last time I drove across the border was about 5 years ago. We stayed in Rio Bravo, which is about 50 miles west of Matamoros. The moment you cross the river, you step back in time at least 30 years. The people were good people. The living conditions were poor. Local government was believed to be corrupt. Money definitely talks. Given the current state of the drug wars, I don’t think I’d go back.