Some History and Background
The earliest Spaniards arrived in the area not from the south but from the east and only after crossing the Sonoran Desert’s “Camino del Diablo” or Devil’s Road, accompanied by Catholic missionaries who would later evangelize the area.
Colonization led to a reduction of the native populations in the region and today, only a small community of indigenous people remains, inhabiting a small government-protected corner of the Colorado River delta near the junction of the Hardy and the Colorado, working mostly work on agricultural ejidos or fishing.
The Spanish really wanted little to do with the northeastern corner of the baja Peninsula, perceiving it as an untamable, flood-prone desert delta and abandoned the region in the late 18th century. It wouldn’t be until the 1820s that the newly formed Mexican government would reopen the Sonoran Road and restored peaceful relations with the local indigenous people.
This route became a U.S. Mail and stagecoach route in the mid 19th century with a station established at what is now Colonia Hidalgo, Mexicali in 1858. This mail route remained in use until 1877 when the Southern Pacific Railroad would eventually make the stagecoach route obsolete.
About that same time, it was discovered that the thick river sediment deposits to the east made the area prime farming land. These sediments extended far to the west of the river itself, accumulating in a shallow basin below the Sierra de Cucapá but due to the harsh climate of the region, few if any seemed willing to develop the area.
In 1888 when the Mexican federal government granted a large part of the northern Baja territory – including Mexicali – to Guillermo Andrade, with the purpose of colonizing the area on the recently created northern border with the United States. Most of the early development and population however, would concentrate in Los Algodones, to the east of Mexicali.
In 1900, the U.S. based California Development Company received permission from Mexico City to cut a canal through the delta’s Arroyo Alamo, linking the dry basin with the Colorado River. Developers named it the “Imperial Valley” and in 1903 the first 500 farmers arrived. By 1905, nearly 500 square kilometers (120,000 acres) of dry valley land were irrigated, with over 10,000 people settled on the land harvesting cotton, fruits and vegetables.
The concentration of small housing units that sprung up along the the border region was called Calexico on the U.S. side and Mexicali on the Mexican side.
Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler was one of the largest land owners in the region and in 1905 began the construction of an irrigation system for the Valley. However, instead of using Mexican labor to dig the irrigation ditches, Chandler brought in thousands of Chinese laborers and Mexicali would become permanently influenced by the Asiatic culture.
The town of Mexicali was officially created on 14 March 1903 when Manuel Vizcarra was named as the town’s first authority and Assistant Judge (juez auxiliar) and initially formed part of the sprawling municipality of Ensenada. On January 29, 1911, Mexicali was briefly “liberated” by the Liberal Party of Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Mayor Baltazar Aviléz declared Mexicali a municipality on November 4, 1914 and called for open elections for the first ayuntamiento or municipality, first headed by Francisco L. Montejano.
In the 20th century, the Colorado Riverland Company – U.S.based company – was renting Mexican land to farmers, with most of those farmers foreigners, including Chinese, East Indians and Japanese with Mexicans employed only as seasonal laborers. This situation led to an eventual agrarian conflict known as the “Asalto a las Tierras” (Assault on the Lands) in 1937 in which Mexican laborers took back the land; something that should have immediately occurred after the Mexican Revolution under Article 27 of the new Mexican Constitution.
Agricultural production in the region continued to increase during the 20th century with cotton becoming the most important crop, helping to develop the regional textile industry. In the early 1950s, the Mexicali Valley would become the biggest cotton-producing region in the country and in the 1960s, production reached more than half a million bales a year.
Currently, the Valley of Mexicali remains one of Mexico’s most productive agricultural regions with wheat, cotton and vegetables the main products and one of the world’s largest exporters of vegetables.
Factories would begin being built in the 1960s with the end of the Bracero program and Mexicali today hosts hundreds of maquiladoras (assembly plants) that support the automotive, aerospace, telecommunications, metallurgical and health industries as well as manufacturing and exporting products to various countries.
The growth has pushed Mexicali from its roots as a small border town to a modern city with a population today exceeding one million, along with a fast growing middle class and today boasts of a standard of living among the highest in Mexico. Recognized for its sizable investment in education and low unemployment, Mexicali today is a progressive city with strong business community that has been moving from agricultural to industrial.
The growing middle class with disposable income has fueled Mexicali’s transformation into a modern city with a vibrant culture and is considered among the most prosperous cities in Mexico.
Mexicali is a culturally diverse city, home to migrants from other parts of Mexico and beyond including many Asian residents (especially Chinese), as well as Americans, Europeans, and South Americans. Informally, Mexicali natives are known as “cachanillas”, after a shrub (Pluchea sericea or arrowweed) endemic to the region.
And speaking of the Chinese, Mexicali is widely considered the Chinese food capital of Mexico and has one of the largest Chinese communities in the country.
Although Mexicali has had a history of Chinese immigration for about 100 years, the restaurant workers tend to be recent immigrants from Guangdong, China, who are multilingual in Taishanese (a distinct dialect of the Cantonese language), Mandarin, and Spanish. Nearly all of them are from just two cities in Guangdong, namely Taishan and Kaiping, with a small minority from neighboring Enping, Zhongshan, and Hong Kong.
The historic Chinese neighborhood is known as La Chinesca, centered on Avenida Benito Juárez, about several hundred feet to the south of the Calexico point of entry.
Locals often joke about the hot summers, referring to their town as “the city that captured the sun,” referring to the extreme heat during summer that often parallels the record high desert temperatures of Death Valley to the north.
Mexicali is also considered the Gateway to the Sea of Cortez, including San Felipe, San Luis Gonzaga and Puertecitos to the south.
Mexicali Map – Lookup Address / Location
Things to See and Do in Mexicali
This border city is much more than just summer heat; it is a destination that is open to adventure tourism as well as offering cultural, gastronomic, rural and off-road attractions with the cultural and gastronomic sights more concentrated in the downtown area where you will find a mixture of cuisines including Chinese restaurants (recognized as the best in the country), food trucks and craft breweries, cultural and historic buildings as well as science and museum exhibits.
So here’s the short list of what to see and do while you’re here in Mexicali…
1. Sol de Niño Museum
This interactive center for science, technology, art and environment is the ideal place for a family activity day. Within its permanent exhibits is the Magic Science Complex Sustainable House, Plaza del Sol and Water and one called Living Nature, all offering a fun learning experience for the little ones and maybe some of the grownups too!
You will also find an Imax theatre rooms where you can enjoy interesting documentaries on the big screen.
Avenida Comandante Alfonso Esquer S/N Centro,
Mexicali 21010 | +52 686 900 9030
2. Pasaje del Arte
Off street area dedicated to the promotion of the creative work of local artists, encouraging their public display of urban art murals that bring the walls of this alley and plazita to life. You can view more than 15 murals, all works of local artists in addition to an art gallery and periodic art workshops for children and adults.
Come back often as the displays change frequently with ongoing art and cultural exhibitions.
Pasaje Celaya s/n, en el Centro Cívico
Mexicali, Baja California
Closed December & January
3. City Forest & Zoo (El Bosque)
Another very popular family attraction is “El Bosque” which has different attractions, such as the Museum of Natural History, the Paseo de las Culturas Prehispánicas, the botanical garden, green areas, a kids water park and a lake.
As part of the zoo you will find 25 different species of mammals, one of the largest aviaries in the northwest of the country, a crocodile and serpentarium. It’s a great place to cool off on a hot day in summer.
Open Tuesday through Sunday, from 9 AM to 5 PM Closed Monday
Calle Alvarado s/n
Col. Nueva Esperanza
Mexicali, Baja California
4. State Center of the Arts
Currently housing the largest art exhibition gallery in Mexicali, the center is funded by the Baja California state government supporting academic programs that promote artistic quality by local artists. It has become highly iconic and representative of the local art scene in the city with frequent cultural events on the calendar.
Open Monday to Saturday, from 8 AM to 8 PM; Sundays, from 11 AM to 6 PM
Calz. de los Presidentes s/n esquina con Cd. Victoria Mexicali
5. Algodones Dunes
This region of Mexico is an extremely popular destination for lovers of adventure tourism and extreme sports enthusiasts. Sandboarding is an extreme sport that first emerged in Brazil during the eighties; a waveless surf that is practiced in the dunes of fine white sand.
The dunes of Cuervitos in Los Algodones – only forty minutes from Mexicali, have the best natural conditions and topography for this sport.
Plus, it’s also the venue for international championships such as the Baja Sandboard each year during the month of March.
Carretera Lázaro Cárdenas – Los Algodones Mexicali, Baja California
6. Hardy River
Discovered in 1826 by English Navy lieutenant Sir William Hale Hardy, it is the only navigable river in the state of Baja California, making it ideal for water sports such as water skiing, wave/wake-boarding, jet skiing and kayaking, all year long.
There are also restaurants, palapas, an aerodrome, camping areas with palapas and grills along with free public areas for the use of bicycles, motorcycles and ATVs. There is a canopy tour with three suspension bridges and two zip lines.
Carretera Mexicali – San Felipe km 53.5
Mexicali, Baja California
7. Guadalupe Canyon
Lots of activities available to satisfy your adventurous spirit at this canyon located in the Sierra Cucapah mountain range: climbing, hiking, flora and fauna observation, mountain biking, visiting archaeological sites and cave paintings and even hot springs. All this and more are just waiting to be discovered at this oasis in the middle of the desert – a must not miss stop in your vacation travels to the region where you can stay overnight in camping areas with basic services. The best season to visit is between fall and spring. Carretera Fed. No. 2 km 28
Mexicali, Baja California
8. Plaza La Cachanilla
An enclosed shopping mall that is really great on hot summer days with a very nice variety of big brand name stores as well as local shops and a very nice food court.
Open 7 days a week from 8:00AM to 10:00 PM