On Christmas Day we were excited to spend a little time in Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico while visiting Big Bend National Park. My husband and kids had never been to Mexico, and I hadn’t been there since a trip to Cancun over spring break in the early 1990’s. So getting to Mexico, if only for a few hours, was a fun side adventure for all of us!
Boquillas del Carmen is a very small and VERY safe community. I know there are concerns about safety in many Mexican border towns, but when we visited there we felt completely safe. It seems that the presence of the US National Park, and the dedication of the community’s residents to safety, has made this a great way for families to experience a Mexican village. (It is probably worth monitoring the safety of this community as time goes on, but as of late 2019 it was perfectly safe.)
Getting to the Border on the US Side
We drove down toward the Rio Grande Village Visitor’s Center area to the Boquillas Port of Entry. You can ask the border official there about any questions you have about the process.
If you want more details about crossing the US-Mexico border at this crossing, the National Park Service provides helpful information. Here are a few things to note about crossing the border:
- Before you go, make sure you have a valid passport with you that is not expired.
- Be sure to check the days and times that the Port of Entry is open. We ended up going on Christmas day (which was a Wednesday). It wasn’t necessarily our plan, but the Port of Entry was only open certain days of the week in the winter. You will need to make sure that you get back to the Port of Entry before closing time or you cannot cross back into the US that night.
- Certain things are not allowed to be brought back with you from Mexico into the US. Specifically, any rocks, plants, etc. are not allowed. Even if you see a painted rock in Mexico for sale (which we did), you cannot legally bring it back into the US. Boquillas del Carmen is part of a protected area in Mexico, so much like our national parks, you need to leave natural items there.
- You are able to purchase souvenirs in Boquillas del Carmen to bring back into the US. You can also purchase any items made in Mexico that are for sale at the visitor’s centers in the park. Outside of these parameters, you are cautioned against buying anything made over in Mexico that is for sale on the US side of the border, as the sales may be supporting illegal activity.
- One piece of advice: If you don’t need to bring a full backpack or bag with you on this excursion, leave it back in the US. More on why in the “Crossing Back Into the US” section below.
From the Port of Entry, we followed a clear path to the riverbank of the Rio Grande, where we rode in a row boat across the river, ferried by Boquillas International Ferry. (This site also has more information about the community.) The river here is not very wide, and when we were there it was not very brisk.
I do believe some people try to cross the Rio Grande on their own, but I would not recommend it. It would be much safer and easier to take the five minute boat ride across the river. Plus the ferry is all part of the experience!
Boquillas del Carmen
Getting to Boquillas del Carmen
The community of Boquillas del Carmen is about .75 miles from the riverbank where we were dropped off. Once on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, we had the option of getting a ride in a truck, on a burro, or to walk. We chose the option to walk. The burro would have been fun, but a couple of our family members do not enjoy riding four-legged animals.
Little did we know when we chose the walking option that one of the men would accompany us to town and show us around! Our guide’s name was Martin. Having a guide was a pleasant surprise, though I will admit that it eventually became a little awkward to know how to make our exit from him and whether we should pay or tip him. (We did.)
In Boquillas del Carmen
Since we were visiting on Christmas day, the Mexican administrative building was not open, so we did not stop in to have our passports checked and stamped.
Martin showed us the tourist information center, school, church and hospital. He took great pride in telling us about the solar panels that have been installed in town to provide power to residents, and the solar-powered street lights.
It was clear that Martin is a key player in the local economy, as is his family. His wife, daughter, and grandchildren were all selling souvenirs. They are also building a vacation cottage beside their own home. He told us with pride about how safe the community is, and how they are making efforts to grow more tourism in the area through supporting local restaurants, outfitters, tours, and the building of guest houses for rent, including one on his own property.
As much work as Martin and his fellow residents have put into making Boquillas a more vibrant community, please don’t mistake me….the people here are not prosperous. It was an eye-opening experience for our kids to see this level of poverty and how much hustle it took for people to bring in a few dollars for their family.
We did make sure to spend some money in town, which I would recommend anyone visiting Boquillas does. There are a couple different restaurants whose food smelled delicious. Unfortunately, we arrived too early to eat lunch, but we did all drink some Cokes and buy some souvenirs.
Crossing Back Into the US
Once you take the ferry back across the Rio Grande into the US, you need to head back into the Boquillas Port of Entry building.
Upon returning to the Boquillas Port of Entry from Mexico, the ranger inspected every pocket of our bags. It was pretty embarrassing when he pulled out a full box of Cheez-Its, a Taylor Swift book, and goodness knows what else out of our daughter’s backpack. It was the backpack equivalent of a clown car. As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t need to bring a backpack or big bag into Mexico, I would recommend leaving it in the US.
Once our bags were inspected, we took our passports over to the kiosks in the Port of Entry lobby. A remote border official from the El Paso Customs Office scanned our passport pictures, looked at us via camera, then called on the phone on the side of the machine to ask each of us a few basic questions. It was pretty painless.
If you’re visiting Big Bend National Park, this side trip to Boquillas del Carmen comes highly recommended by our family.
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