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CROSS OVER THE RIO GRANDE TO BOQUILLAS
If you visit Big Bend National Park, crossing the Rio Grande River to the Mexican village of Boquillas is a must. What it’s like to row across the Rio Grande, catch a ride into town, and enjoy an afternoon in old Mexico.
When we started thinking about visiting Big Bend in Texas, I started to research areas of the park and places we might want to visit while there. I was really surprised to find that there is a Mexico border crossing right there in the park.
Crossing over to Boquillas is a rite of passage for anyone who plans to visit the park; it really is. You can’t go to Big Bend and not cross over the Rio Grande River.
Even though we only spent part of the day in old Mexico, just that small amount of time really stirred something in me. It stirred something in Dan too.
With all the changes that have come our way over the last few months, I think it’s safe to say we’re ready for whatever comes next, especially if that whatever makes an impact. Cliché as that may sound, it is what it is.
But back to Boquillas, one of the best places to visit in Mexico, in my opinion. Obviously, if you’re reading this post, you want to know all the things!
WHERE IS THE BOQUILLAS CROSSING?
The Boquillas Port of Entry is located on the southeastern side of the park, a little closer to where we were camping in Big Bend National Park. While you can drive up to the entry point, you can only cross over on foot (or by rowboat).
We parked our car and then went inside the Port of Entry with a few other visitors.
Inside, the Border Patrol agents/park rangers gave us a run down on what we could expect, places to visit in Boquillas, where to buy flour tortillas, and where to get the best margaritas. They also warned us not to buy from illegal sellers on this side of the river.
Then they gave us a small list of things we were forbidden to bring back across with us, including any type of natural resource, alcohol (an exception is made for Mexican vanilla), and tobacco.
After that we left the building and made our way down to the river where we caught a rowboat ride across. Some visitors choose to cross on foot when the river is low enough.
But I will tell you this… Boquillas’ main industry is tourism. Paying $5/person roundtrip for a rowboat ride and then $5/person roundtrip for a ride into town is their bread and butter.
I’m all about pinching pennies when we travel, but this is one occasion I really recommend you experience everything, and in turn, support a small village of people who live just across the border.
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO CROSS THE RIO GRANDE RIVER
When we got to the river, it wasn’t long before we were greeted by a man in a rowboat, who was ready to take us across. He sang a little as he rowed us across the river.
As we set foot in Mexico, we paid what we owed for our ride and chose between a pickup truck, burros, or horses. Of course, we chose to ride the burros for the most authentic experience; Jaden was dying to ride a burro into town.
It was another 3/4 mile into the village of Boquillas, so we saddled up in what could quite possibly be the smallest saddles known to man and took off on our ride into town, Zeke riding along in his baby carrier backpack on Dan’s back.
Furmen (and I hope I’m spelling his name correctly) was our guide, and he walked behind, slapping our burros, talking to them, leading them from behind.
Bells tinkling all along the way, they seemed to know right where to go; I’m sure they’ve traveled this road thousands of times over.
Once we arrived at the edge of town, we left the burros to rest and made our way up the hill, past a small grocery store, and into town to the immigration station in the only modern building that exists.
We got our passports stamped, answered why we were visiting Mexico, and off we went to explore.
WHERE TO EAT IN BOQUILLAS
It was really hot the day we visited; in fact, it was about a 123° heat index.
The first thing we did upon arrival into town, after getting our passports checked, was pick a restaurant and sit down to rest and eat.
There are two restaurants in Boquillas to choose from:
- José Falcon’s
- and Boquillas Restaurant
Furmen said he prefers Boquillas Restaurant, so off we went (next time we may visit both).
The food was ah-mazing. They offered Cabrito Tacos (goat meat), Cheese Enchiladas, and Chicken Tamales. We ordered a variety and shared between us so everyone could try everything.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had goat meat, but I would totally eat those tacos again… They were awesome.
Along with our food, they served a small bowl of salsa, and I wish I could have brought that salsa home with me (or at least the recipe). Coupled with the tamales, it was pure perfection.
While we ate, an elderly man strummed a guitar and serenaded us as we began to take in our surroundings.
There were lots of other visitors, and everyone was so relaxed just taking it all in, enjoying the atmosphere and conversation.
EXPLORE BOQUILLAS, ONE OF THE BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN MEXICO
When we left the restaurant, we walked across to José Falcon’s to catch a beautiful view of the Rio Grande.
José Falcon’s is also a great place to buy souvenirs, including big bottles of vanilla extract, on your way out of town.
We walked up the main street of town, which is really the main area to explore. As we traveled on, we went inside their small Catholic church. We caught a glimpse of covered gardens and the local school, even an ambulance.
THE PEOPLE OF BOQUILLAS
Barefoot kids came running out on the hot gravel road, trying to sell us hand made crafts and things they’d made. As we started to walk on, I couldn’t resist their beautiful little faces and the fact that they’d come out on that hot road in bare feet.
As soon as I set my bag down and kneeled down at their level, here came another little girl running out to me with a beaded craft. They didn’t seem to be able to understand me, and it was at that moment my old college Spanish class actually came back to me.
I wish I’d taken pictures of their sweet faces, but part of me felt a little strange about photographing someone else’s child. So I stayed in the moment, enjoying the chance to support a community that thrives on Americans crossing the border to visit their small community.
Walking back down the street, we stopped in at Amelia’s (or Maya’s) house, which was surprisingly cool inside. She led us to her kitchen, where we bought homemade flour tortillas that are so much better than any store bought tortillas you could ever buy.
All along the way were other local women selling beautiful handmade items like bags, aprons, handkerchiefs, beaded work, and more. I will, in the near future, share photos of some of the handmade items we purchased. I would love to show you how beautiful their work is.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice is that many of the items included the embroidered phrase, “No Wall.”
GETTING TO KNOW OUR NEIGHBORS ACROSS THE RIO GRANDE
Our guide, Furmen, went along with us as we explored the town; he’s lived in Boquillas for almost 50 years.
He expressed how he would rather stand out in the heat and show us around his village than have to go back to work in the mine.
When the events of 9/11 unfurled, the Boquillas Crossing was shut down for several years. This meant no tourism, and many of the residents were forced to leave.
Furmen went to work in the mine, the conditions of which I can only imagine.
Thankfully, the Mexico border crossing opened back up in 2013.
Because of that border crossing and the resourcefulness of its people in creating a thriving tourism industry, the village now has some solar electricity and a medical facility. They also have a gravity fed water system.
The nearest town to Boquillas is a 4 hour drive away on both gravel and paved road. While Boquillas may be just across the border, when put into the perspective of location within Mexico, Boquillas is a very remote village. This means it’s a very long ride to pick up supplies.
When you visit Boquillas, you support our neighbors across the border.
When you ride a burro into town (choose the burro over the truck so they don’t have to use gas), you support a neighbor.
Purchasing that handmade trinket supports a family. Eating local food supports the person behind the restaurant. Buying tortillas from Maya supports a very experienced and skilled home cook.
Visiting Boquillas supports a beautiful community.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRAVEL TO BOQUILLAS:
- Check hours of entry before you go. Hours have recently changed for summer… Visitors can now cross over Friday thru Monday from 9am to 6pm.
- You’ll need a passport both when you enter Boquillas and when you enter back into the U.S. The Border Patrol agents did tell us that kids can cross with birth certificates, as long as they’re with their parents; we just used passports since we had them.
- If you’re visiting in the summer, it’s HOT. Wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing and shoes. You can even buy a hat in Boquillas if you need a little shade.
- We carried a backpack full of water, along with our water bottles, because we weren’t sure what to expect. You can purchase bottled water in the restaurant, though.
- The village does accept U.S. money, so there’s no need to exchange currency. HOWEVER, it is better to carry smaller bills.
- Carry enough money to pay for transportation, give tips, buy food, and purchase souvenirs. Just to give you an idea of how much our lunch cost… We paid a little less than $40 for all 5 of us, and that included our drinks. The rowboat was $5/person roundtrip, and burros were the same.
- Supposedly, there are restrooms in Boquillas. I really didn’t have to go while there, so I’m not sure exactly where they are… But they do have them.
- You will likely have a guide who will be there waiting for you to go back to the river. Just take your time and enjoy your visit, even if you may feel a bit rushed at times.
- I’ve read that you can actually stay the night in Boquillas, and we hope to do that the next time we visit (which will hopefully be in the winter when it’s much, much cooler).
- Don’t be late crossing back over to the United States… If you are late, you may be staying in Mexico for a day or a few days. But hey, you’d get to experience Boquillas at night, which would honestly be really awesome.
IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO BOQUILLAS DEL CARMEN?
I’ll be honest, one of our biggest concerns with going into Mexico was safety.
However, we felt completely safe visiting Boquillas. It’s so remote and a pretty harsh environment, as well.
Supposedly, there is a nearby military base that regularly patrols the area. In my opinion (and again, this is my opinion), it’s quite possibly one of the safest places to visit in Mexico with the current climate.
I feel like there’s so much more I could say about our visit to Boquillas.
I highly encourage you to visit both Big Bend National Park and the village of Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico. It’s truly an experience like no other.
Have you been to Boquillas? Are you planning to go?