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Juarez Walking Tours is an historical and cultural adventure to a city that was founded in 1659. Juarez has frequently played important roles in Mexican history, and was the de facto capital of Mexico on two occasions.Before there was Vegas, there was Juarez. Juarez was the original Sin City, with gambling, prostitution, show girls, and twenty-four hour bars. Juarez is tamer, now. The gambling is being revived through the operation of casinos, but for now, none are downtown. Prostitution has slipped behind closed doors, like in any big city. The show girls have disappeared, and the bars keep reasonable hours, though there is currently a push in the state capital to go back to continuous service. Many of the spaces just over the bridge on Avenida Juarez, which locals used to call the Strip, have gone over to pharmacies and optometrists. But Juarez is still worth a day-trip for an intrepid traveler.
Some people say that Juarez is the best part of El Paso.
Prohibition was an unintended boon for our sister city. Americans from all over the United States visited Juarez to enjoy legal alcohol. The nightlife infrastructure built in the twenties and thirties buoyed Juarez’ entertainment industry well into the seventies. In the nineties, the city voted to enact closing hours on bars and nightclubs that previously were open 24/7, reducing the perception of Juarez as an “anything goes” kind of town. The War on Drugs throttled casual tourism, as did the United States’ new passport requirement for re-entry in the wake of 9/11. The negative economic effects of these government policies were compounded by the bad press generated by successive waves of violence. Today, though the violence has largely disappeared, Juarez is a shadow of its former self. But it’s coming back.
But Juarez still retains some its former glory. The world renowned Kentucky Club is still serving the original margarita, and a number of new bars are opening. Shuttered storefronts are cautiously reopening. And though the City Market hasn’t been revived, a traditional market still offers more than you could wish for.
Through all the years of ignominy, the city somehow retained a pulse, and Juarez is once again becoming a legitimate tourist destination.
How to Get There
Walking across the Santa Fe Street bridge from downtown El Paso is the most hassle-free way to get to Juarez. There are a number of attractions within walking distance, including the Kentucky Club and Mariachi Bar. If all you want to do is dip your toe into Mexico, you don’t really need a guide. Since the Troubles abated in 2012, downtown Juarez is relatively safe.
As of this writing, the pedestrian toll for the bridge is fifty cents to go to Mexico, and twentty-five cents to return. A passport is helpful though not absolutely required to return from Juarez, and a dedicated lane for U.S. passport holders returning from Juarez almost always reduces the wait. At present, the line for U.S. passport holders is in the middle of the Paso del Norte (Santa Fe Street) Port of Entry, but things change fast and frequently at the border.
The Mission of Guadalupe was built in 1569 under the direction of Fray Garcia de San Francisco to serve the indigenous Manso Indians. The mission became the hub of development in the region. The mission is adjacent to the city’s main cathedral, and features Moorish architectural embellishments. Hand hewn logs support the roof, and plaster statues of the saints stand elevated along the walls.
Legend holds that the hiding place of the Treasure of the Lost Padre Mine was visible from the bell tower of the mission, but that changes in the surrounding architecture now obscure the view.
Dating back to a debated 1920, the Kentucky Club claims to be the oldest bar in the El Paso/Juarez region. Marilyn Monroe stopped by the Kentucky after divorcing playwright Arthur Miller in 1961. Other notable personages to allegedly enjoy the hospitality at the Kentucky Club include Ronald Reagan, Bob Dylan, Al Capone and Jack Kerouac. The Kentucky Club is one of the last vestiges of Juarez’ glamorous past, when Juarez attracted Hollywood stars and American recording artists who came to wallow in its decadent nightlife. The Kentucky Club is also one of the places that claims to have invented the margarita. No trip to Juarez is complete without a visit to the Kentucky Club.
The Museum of the Revolution on the Border is housed in the old customs house at the intersection of Avenida Juarez and Dieciseis de Septiembre. Juarez was the decisive battleground of the Mexican Revolution and the museum features a permanent exhibit of historical artifacts from the period, including a room dedicated to Pancho Villa. The building itself, a peculiar agglomeration of nineteenth century architecture, was the first provisional home of the new government. The museum also hosts a changing array of temporary exhibits. The museum is closed Mondays.
A Juarez Walking Tour takes about two and half hours (maybe more, if we’re having fun) and costs $50 for up to three people, and $20 extra for each additional person.
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