Located about 40 miles from Mission, TX, Nuevo Progreso is a popular tourist destination in Mexico. Not because of its beautiful scenery or beaches but because this tiny border town draws tourists for its artistry, good food, pharmacies and 180 dental offices.
We questioned whether being adventurous in crossing the border was worth what we thought might be a potential risk. In doing some research I discovered that before 9/11, two million pedestrians crossed the international bridge into Nuevo Progreso every year. Afterwards things changed, and security concerns and growing drug violence played a role in a drop in tourism. In 2010 the number of tourists dropped by 40 percent in the midst of media reports about drug violence in Mexico. Today, numbers are back up with about 1.5 million pedestrians safely crossing the bridge annually for business or pleasure. Reassuring were other conversations we had with other resident winter Texans who make frequent trips to this popular spot. The general recommendation was that crossing the border into nearby Reynosa was not advised, but Nuevo Progreso was no problem and also supported foot traffic.
Crossing into Mexico on foot isn’t something new for us. Many years ago in our younger days on a business trip for Motorola we ventured into Tijuana from San Diego, CA on a weekend with two other co-workers. While we were making our decision to go or not go, we reminisced about the panic we felt as we went through the turn styles – what if we couldn’t get back in? Although the panic quickly passed, it was still a little disconcerting. Just spending a few hours walking around was quite the experience. And needless to say, we had no problem returning to the good ol’ US of A.
Of course taking a vehicle across the border just for a few hours was not worth the trouble, instead we would park the car on the US side in the parking lot (all day parking is only $2) adjacent to the international bridge. Passports were the only items we needed, not for entry into Mexico but mandatory to return to the States.
Well, if safety was a concern to anyone, you certainly wouldn’t know it. Being the week between Christmas and New Year, it sure was busy with pedestrians and cars were backed up at the Customs gate waiting to head into Mexico. Glad we were walking!
Joining dozens of other people, we walked across the international bridge, stopping halfway across to take a photo of a large plaque marking the actual border between America and Mexico. At the turnstiles, we dropped in our 25¢ each, then stopped at the duty free shop where we perused the offerings (primarily perfume, liquor, cigarettes). A $7 bottle of Kahlua was tempting as it seemed like a good deal but we decided against buying anything.
We knew beforehand that many Americans cross the border to have dental work done or to buy pharmaceuticals, but we weren’t prepared for what we saw. Every other storefront seemed to be a dental office with signs advertising implants, root canals, crowns, cleanings and any other dental procedure you could name. Pharmacies were also a dime a dozen. Aggressive street peddlers tried to hustle visitors to have some type of dental procedure performed, to purchase drugs or to even have botox treatments.
We’ve read blog posts about having dentistry done across the border and know that it is a lot cheaper, probably about 1/3 or less of the cost of those same services in the US. Whether here in the US or in Mexico or any other country for that matter, there are good and bad dentists and you can have a good or bad experience. Obviously you have to do your homework and research the dental clinic or a particular dentist. We met several folks who come here regularly for dental work, some even flying in. Rob said he would consider it but me, no thank you!
As far as pharmaceuticals are concerned, you can pretty much buy any drugs except for controlled substances without a prescription. However, you might need to produce a prescription when you cross the border back into the US. Once again anyone thinking of doing this needs to do so with caution and must do their research. Counterfeit drugs are always a possibility too. Although many drugs may be manufactured by the same company that provides them to US buyers, there are weaker regulations in Mexico. But, as shown in the photo the cost is exceptionally low, for example a 120 day supply of over the counter Omeprazole (Prilosec) was just $5 – the US equivalent (Sam’s or Costco) would cost about $45.
Souvenir shops and sidewalk stands had offerings of Mexican handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, leather goods, blankets, and sunglasses at what seemed to be reasonable prices. We politely declined the street peddlers trying to entice us with haircuts, massages and facials and chuckled as we walked by a limpiabota (shoe shiner) who offered to shine Rob’s shoes. Guess he didn’t notice that Rob was wearing sneakers.
Finally tired and getting hungry, we started thinking about lunch and decided to eat at Arturo’s which had luncheon specials for $6.95 and a buy one Margarita, get one free special. Nice decor! Once seated, the usual chips and salsa were served. Our choice for lunch was the “Salsa Verde” Pork, tender pork strips in a light tomatillo sauce, served with rice and beans and of course, a Margarita. I know, I know, photos of Mexican food certainly don’t look very appealing, do they?. Food was delicious and service was very attentive and excellent.
After lunch we headed back towards customs. Oh, oh, it’s going to take awhile – there was a very long line of people (and an even longer line of cars). While waiting we started a conversation with an elderly couple (she was 90) who visit Nuevo Progresso at least once a month to buy their pharmaceuticals and/or go for dental work. They have been doing this for years without any problems or issues. I think we waited about 45 minutes before we finally made it through Customs. Despite the wait, it was easy peasy, just showed our passports, answered a question about what we had purchased, then we were back in the USA!
Interesting and enjoyable day! A few more trips to the park for more bird watching, then it was time to head for our next destination. More about that in our net post!