DescriptionNote: For current information about safety/security issues in Nogales, refer to the U.S. State Department website (travel.state.gov).
The border city of Nogales (noh-GAH-lehs) is sometimes referred to as Ambos Nogales (“both Nogales”) in recognition of the sister city of Nogales, Ariz. on the other side of the international boundary fence. Established in 1882, the city is not only significantly larger than its U.S. counterpart but also retains a strong sense of Mexican identity.
The gateway into northwestern mainland Mexico and points south is primarily a day visit for tourists. A tourist permit is not needed for in-town stays of less than 72 hours, but proof of citizenship is required.
Mexican and U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices are open 24 hours daily. For southbound motorists, the official immigration checkpoint is 21 kilometers (13 miles) south of Nogales on Mex. 15. You can obtain a tourist permit here if you don't already have one, and must present a federal temporary vehicle importation permit or an “Only Sonora” temporary vehicle importation permit (if you intend to stay within the state of Sonora) and accompanying windshield sticker.
A vehicle permit is not required for travel to the following destinations in the state of Sonora: Rocky Point (Puerto Peñasco), Guaymas, San Carlos, Bahía Kino and other locations west of Mex. 15, as well as cities along Mex. 15 (Magdalena, Santa Ana, Hermosillo). An “Only Sonora” permit is required if driving within Sonora east of Mex. 15 as well as south of Empalme (about 350 miles south of the U.S. border). The permit can be obtained at Banjercito offices in Agua Prieta (opposite Douglas, Ariz.), Cananea (southwest of Agua Prieta on Mex. 2) and Empalme (on Mex. 15 at Km marker 98, just south of the Guaymas bypass).
From Tucson, I-19 south ends at Nogales, Ariz.; signs point the way to the border crossing. Mex. 15 begins at the border, but the downtown Nogales crossing passes through the most congested part of the city. Motorists intending to bypass Nogales for points south can save time by using the international truck crossing, known as the Mariposa crossing; take exit 4 off I-19, then proceed west on SR 189 (Mariposa Road), following signs that say “Border Truck Route” and “International Border.” This route reconnects with Mex. 15 south of Nogales at the 21-kilometer (13-mile) immigration checkpoint. The charge at the toll booth approximately 6 miles south of the border is about $2 (U.S.).
If you're driving through downtown Nogales back to the United States, watch for the sign that says “Linea International”; follow the directions for the road that leads to the border crossing.
Since almost all of the tourist-oriented shopping is within easy walking distance of the border, it is recommended that day visitors park on the Arizona side and head into Mexico on foot. From the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, 123 W. Kino Park Way (just off the intersection of Grand Avenue and US 82) in Nogales, Ariz., it's about a 1.5-mile drive south to a series of guarded lots; all-day parking fees average about $8, and cash is expected. The turnstiles to Mexico are at the foot of the Port of Entry.
Shops and vendor stalls catering to tourists are concentrated along north-south Avenida Obregón. They sell pottery, baskets, fabrics, ceramics, leather goods, glassware, carved pine furniture, rugs, jewelry and more. Most business is conducted in English, bargaining is acceptable and even expected, and American currency is preferred. More exclusive establishments have fixed prices and carry crafts and gift items from all over Mexico. When buying at stalls or from street vendors, always check for quality.
Along with shopping, Nogales offers such standard tourist experiences as having your picture taken astride a donkey and listening to mariachi bands. And like other Mexican border cities, it's a place to get prescriptions filled at a cost that is often far less than stateside.