Discovering the Charm and Diversity of Mexicali, Baja California

Discover the cultural diversity and unique history of Mexicali, the vibrant capital of Baja California. Find out how the city grew from a small agricultural town to a busy industrial center and how it is connected to Calexico, which is right next door.

Discovering the Charm and Diversity of Mexicali, Baja California
Mexicali, Baja California: Uncovering its Enduring Appeal and Rich Cultural Heritage. Photo: ASMERG

Baja California is a state that unites a diverse population of migrants from across the Republic, creating a unique blend of cultures that makes it a must-visit destination. Mexicali and Calexico, the state's two biggest cities, have a lot of different kinds of people and cultures. They are also locations where a lot of fascinating social events take place, which top universities in Mexico and the United States are studying.

Mexicali, the state capital, was established in the early 20th century with the development of irrigation works on the Colorado River. Today, it has a dynamic economy fueled by agriculture, commercial exchange with the United States, and industrialization. With its North American and Asian capitals, Mexicali has become a hub of economic and cultural activity and is home to the state's executive, legislative, and judicial powers.

The region known as the "Valley of Mexicali" has a rich history dating back to the 16th century. Spanish explorers Hernando de Alarcón and Melchor Díaz, and Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino, documented the area's peninsularity and the people living there, including the Cucapa ethnic group. The city of Mexicali takes its name from a combination of Mexico and California, and the nickname of its people, "cachanillas," comes from a once-common but now scarce plant in the region.

Mexicali's climate is known for its extremes, with summer temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and polar cold in winter. Nevertheless, the city is easily accessible via air and highways and serves as a point of connection between the peninsula and the rest of the country. Mexicali is the only capital city of a border state in Mexico. It is also the site of many important official events for relations with the neighboring country.

Despite its rapid urban development, Mexicali retains its youthful spirit, with no historic buildings older than a century. The downtown area is a hive of commercial and vehicular activity, which complements the city's modern and dynamic lifestyle. Mexicali is a city that works for the modern pace of life while offering visitors a unique experience that combines cultural diversity with a bustling urban vibe.


Step into the Mexicali Cathedral and journey through time to its origins. The property where the church now stands was once home to the old temple dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The decision was made to replace it with a new church dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. In 1944, the first stone of the new cathedral was laid by the presbyter José Ibarrola. Just over a year later, in December 1945, the first mass was held.

The church's modest design reflects the neocolonial style popular in the mid-20th century. While the cathedral's façade and tower are sparsely decorated, they nonetheless exude an understated charm that harkens back to a simpler time. The church was elevated to the status of a cathedral when the Diocese of Mexicali was established on October 17, 1966. Today, it stands as a proud symbol of Mexicali's Mexican identity, as reflected in its dedication and the use of neocolonial decorative motifs. Don't miss the chance to experience the cultural heart of this vibrant city.

Vicente Guerrero Park

Vicente Guerrero Park is a must-see destination when visiting Mexicali, especially in October when the city's temperature is milder. This park is one of the largest green spaces in the city and hosts the Fiestas del Sol, the city's oldest and most famous festival. Since 2001, this festival has been held on land left by the canalization of the New River. Visitors can enjoy verbenas, palenque, mechanical games, and concerts of popular music, among other things.

State Theater

The State Theater is a must-visit venue for anyone interested in cultural events. You'll have the opportunity to enjoy performances produced by local artists as well as groups from other regions of the country and the United States. The theater showcases a wide range of productions, from timeless classics to contemporary plays that tackle social issues specific to the border region.

Run by the Baja California Institute of Culture, the theater also has a literary café that regularly hosts events such as book presentations, cultural round tables, and talks on art and literature. You can also browse through a diverse collection of books by local and national authors at the on-site bookstore. You can find the State Theater in the beautiful Vicente Guerrero Park, which is a popular location for weekend artistic festivals.

Cachanilla Plaza

Cachanilla Plaza is a top shopping destination in Mexicali, offering a world-class shopping experience. The mall's cutting-edge design is equipped with air conditioning, making it a perfect escape from the city's scorching heat. The shopping center boasts an extensive range of stores, offering a variety of local and imported products, often at lower prices compared to other cities that are not in a free trade zone.

The mall also features entertainment areas where visitors can enjoy artistic performances and comfortable movie theaters. A highlight of Cachanilla Plaza is the Plaza de la Comida, where foodies can find everything from Mexican snacks to international cuts of meat, hamburgers, and even traditional Chinese cuisine.

La Chinesca

In the late 1800s, a wave of immigrants arrived in Mexicali seeking a better life. Among them were the Chinese, who quickly became a dominant group in the valley. By the end of the 1910s, there were approximately ten thousand Chinese in the region. They worked tirelessly, clearing land and planting crops, and were a key part of the city's growth. Despite the extreme climate and daily sacrifices, they established businesses and traced the roads that shaped the city's character.

Thanks to the support of a Chinese businessman from San Francisco, the Chinese established a thriving neighborhood in Mexicali, known as La Chinesca. This vibrant area is packed with fruit stores, restaurants, stores, cabarets, and even a movie theater. It's easy to get lost in the lively atmosphere and experiences the unique blend of cultures.

Don't miss the opportunity to experience the Chinese New Year celebration in Mexicali. The streets of La Chinesca and downtown Mexicali come alive with floats, rockets, paper dragons, dancers, and jugglers. This colorful event takes place between January and April and celebrates the Oriental heritage that's so deeply rooted in this part of the city.

La Chinesca is also famous for its delicious Chinese food. More than thirty restaurants specialize in this cuisine, and some even sell the ingredients used in traditional regional dishes. Come and savor the flavors of this melting pot of cultures and discover the history and charm of La Chinesca in Mexicali.

City Forest

Discover the beautiful flora and fauna of Baja California at Bosque de la Ciudad, a 34-hectare urban forest. Visitors can explore the park's artificial lake and small botanical museum, which showcases a variety of plant species unique to the area. The Bosque de la Ciudad is home to free-roaming animals and stuffed specimens of regional wildlife, providing an ideal opportunity to get up close and personal with the wild nature of the peninsula. Whether you're a nature lover or simply looking for a peaceful escape from the city, Bosque de la Ciudad is the perfect destination for a relaxing day in Mexicali.

Autonomous University of Baja California

The Autonomous University of Baja California is one of Mexico's most prestigious universities. Founded on February 27, 1957, it was established to cater to a growing population of young people seeking higher education in Baja California.

The university's rector's office is located in the former Government Palace, a historic building constructed in 1918 by General Esteban Cant, the former governor of the Northern District. The renowned artist Coronado Ortega created and painted the Baja California mural in 1974, and the palace has two levels, an interior patio, and all of these features.

The UABC has four modern campuses, including one on Benito Juárez Boulevard at the corner of Calzada Independencia in Mexicali, another in Mesa de Otay in Tijuana, a third one at kilometer 103 of the Tijuana-Ensenada highway, and finally, the one in Tecate, which features a University Extension Center.

Aside from offering quality education and preparing professionals, the UABC also hosts a range of cultural events open to the public, such as art exhibitions, film screenings, and theater performances. In February, there is the university book fair and the Baja Prog International Festival, which is a music event for progressive music. In April, there is the Binational Contemporary Dance Encounter.

University Museum

The museum is divided into two distinct areas: the conference room and the museum of regional history. The main building houses a variety of temporary exhibits featuring national and international works of Mexican and Baja California art and culture. It also has displays about the environment, like ones about the desert, cave paintings, bighorn sheep, the Colorado River ecosystem, and the native people who live there.

In addition, the museum boasts ten additional rooms, each with a unique theme. The Geology Room offers an in-depth look at the geological characteristics of the San Andres fault, a fundamental feature of the national territory. Meanwhile, the Paleontology Room features a stunning collection of fossil remains, including those of an imperial mammoth. Other rooms delve into the fascinating worlds of fauna, archeology, and ethnography, with a special focus on the Kiliwa, K'miai, Pai-Pai, Cochimí, and Cucapa indigenous cultures.

Further exploration of the museum reveals three rooms dedicated to the discovery, conquest, and colonization of Baja California, as well as three more that showcase missions, the contemporary panorama, and striking images of the region. The last room is where temporary displays are kept, so there is always something new to see.

The University Museum is an ideal place to shop for local handicrafts and a great venue for events, thanks to its conference room. Whether you're a history buff, an art enthusiast, or a nature lover, the University Museum is a must-visit attraction that offers something for everyone.

Colorado River Land Company House

The historic Colorado River Land Company House is a building steeped in the rich history of the city. Built-in 1924, this stunning property was once the headquarters of the land clearing company that owned the rights to an incredible 277,000 hectares of the Colorado River delta. The company leased the land to farmers from all around the world, including Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and American settlers.

The property's history is deeply intertwined with that of the city, as it bore witness to the arrival of pioneers, the agrarian distribution, and the cotton agriculture boom that swept through the valley. However, the property's history took a dramatic turn on January 27, 1937, during the government of General Lázaro Cárdenas, when the "land assault" occurred.

Today, the Colorado River Land Company House has been repurposed and is now home to the facilities of the local television station that broadcasts on channel 66. It's a must-see for both history and architecture fans, and it's a unique chance to learn about the fascinating past of this amazing area.

Baja California Institute of Culture

The Baja California Institute of Culture is a dynamic cultural organization founded in 1989. Housed in the former governor's house, the institute serves as the administrative headquarters for a variety of arts and culture initiatives in the region. The City Gallery, which has been renovated and expanded, is the main venue for photography, sculpture, and painting exhibitions. It is notable for hosting biennials of plastic arts, making it a must-see destination for art lovers. The institute also has a bookstore with art books and a conference room where people can learn more about Baja California's rich cultural history.

House of Culture

The House of Culture used to be the Cuauhtémoc Elementary School and was built in 1915. It was one of the first buildings made of concrete and wood in Mexicali. The building's architecture has classical features, which were common in educational buildings in North America at that time. The entrance door has a narthex, and the original windows, columns, and wooden railings are still there. Today, the municipal authorities take care of the old building. It serves as a place where people from diverse backgrounds can showcase their art. It is used to teach different forms of art, including dance, music, painting, and other artistic disciplines.

State School of Fine Arts

Immerse yourself in the artistic heritage of this dynamic center for the promotion of the arts, housed in a building with a rich history. Originally intended as the Peninsular Agricultural Bank, this stunning structure dates back to 1927 and stands as a testament to the region's agrarian roots. It was later transformed under the auspices of General Abelardo L. Rodríguez, who was governor of the Northern District at the time and went on to become President of the Republic in 1932.

The State School of Fine Arts is now a hub for creativity, where local and visiting artists showcase their works. Take in the peculiar characteristics of border art in the exhibitions presented here, particularly those by local artists. You'll find a range of art forms to explore, including paintings, sculptures, and installations. Come discover the unique blend of cultural influences that make this center a true gem of the region.

Sol del Niño Museum

The Sol del Niño Museum, opened in 1998, is a fascinating science museum located in a unique and historic building. Originally a massive cotton coring warehouse, the building was generously donated to the city by the Anderson Clayton company. The museum's main goal is to make science more accessible and enjoyable for children, and it does so through interactive exhibits that encourage children and their families to explore the worlds of physics, maths, nature, and the remarkable Baja California desert. The museum is the first of its kind in the state and offers guided tours for visitors.

IMSS Theater

Step into the world of theater at the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) Theater, a cultural landmark with a rich history. This impressive building, which was built in the early 1960s and renovated in 1997, has had a big impact on the theater scene in Baja California. The IMSS Theater hosts a variety of plays throughout the year, featuring some of the best-known works of universal dramaturgy. In addition, the theater caters to younger audiences with a selection of children's plays that are performed in the mornings and on weekends.