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Meet Derrik Chinn of Turista Libre Mexico Tours in Tijuana

Today we’d like to introduce you to Derrik Chinn.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Turista Libre — “Free Tourist” in Spanish — began in 2009, two years after, I had moved from San Diego to Tijuana after relocating to the West Coast from Ohio in 2007. Our mission is to provide tailored cultural experiences that allow for a direct approximation to all that lies immediately south of the U.S.-Mexico border for outsiders as if they were locals, not tourists. The idea is to experience the many facets of Mexico less like an outsider and more like an insider. A liberated tourist, so to speak.

This is especially relevant in an anomaly such as Tijuana, which came to be known as a party-hearty tourist destination first and foremost during the years of Prohibition in the United States, from 1920 to 1933.

These days, “locals only” tours are not only common throughout the world but arguably the new wave of global tourism, too. Ironically this was never the case for Tijuana. Ever since Prohibition, the city has been branded as a place where tourists from the United States and beyond can come to do what they never could or would go back home. But nearly a century later, what was once a small ranch town on the newly established frontier has grown into what is not only one of the most populated and most diverse cities in the entire Mexican republic but home to the world’s busiest border crossing, too. An estimated 50 percent of the population of some 2 million hails from elsewhere, be it another region of Mexico or beyond, be it China, Haiti or Honduras. It’s a fascinating, complex and incomparably unique identity, but it’s so often overlooked by the majority of the outside world.

I think it was long before leaving the Midwest that San Diego’s proximity of the border awed me. I come from Cincinnati, the very edge of southern Ohio, a city that essentially straddles the line that once upon a time divided the North and the South during the Civil War. These days, it’s also often misunderstood by both the North and the South as being neither the North nor the South when in fact, just like Tijuana, it’s a beautifully bizarre blend of both worlds.

My journalism background is to thank much in part for Turista Libre coming to be and continuing to grow as it has, but none of this would have happened had it not been for my time spent as a high school exchange student in Japan. That was my first interaction with the world beyond the borders of the United States, a short but intense chapter of my life that allowed me to essentially cannonball as safely as possible into another culture with the help and love of a host family that received me and treated me as one of their own.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Anything but it’s a constant struggle, living down all the typical stereotypes, generalizations, stigmas and fears that abound regarding Tijuana, the borderlands and Mexico in general: cartel-related violence, a record-high homicide rate, kidnappings, corrupt cops, “bad hombres,” migrant caravans, potential border closings, seemingly never-ending U.S. Department of State travel warnings, so on and so forth. But if it weren’t for all these struggles, complexities and the misunderstandings that can come as a result, I doubt Turista Libre would be serving the purpose that it does. It’s more than just a tour. It’s a micro-cultural exchange experience that allows outsiders to slip out of all the stereotypical mindsets and presumptions they may have about Mexico or Tijuana and live, even if for just a few hours, a closer approximation to the true reality of life south at the border. Sometimes, a few hours is all it takes to change’s one’s mind and open one’s heart.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Turista Libre Mexico Tours – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
We offer two types of tours or “treks,” public and private, and itineraries take their inspiration from various iconic pastimes typically reserved for locals. The themes of our public treks rotate from weekend to weekend, while our private tours are completely customizable and are available any day of the week. The array of our lineup is one third gastronomic, one third cultural and seasonal, and a third political-geographical: street food, urban art, lucha libre, markets both farmers and flea, border wall history tours, progressive meals that reflects the migrant identity of Tijuana’s citizens, Chinese New Year in Mexicali, Kumeyaay cave paintings in eastern Tecate, Valle de Guadalupe wine country, Día de Los Muertos in Tijuana’s oldest cemeteries, dive bars or craft cocktail speakeasies, waterparks and baseball games, just to name a few.

And, in the spirit of the journey being the destination, our usual mode of transport is an actual operational member of Tijuana’s public transit system colloquially known as a “calafia” that we commandeer for tours, which is, ironically, a retired U.S. school bus. The ride often winds up being half the fun.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Two years ago, we launched service in Mexico City, and while adapting the Turista Libre model to a very different face of Mexico has been a challenge, given that it’s a city with more than 10 times the population that’s closer to Guatemala than it is to Tijuana, it’s also in many ways enriched all that we offer here along the border, too. So far the response has been very positive, as folks compare our tours to discovering the city with old friends that they hadn’t seen in a long while.

This year marks our 10th anniversary, so in honor of our first decade we’re expanding those “micro dose” day trips to organized, multi-day regional trips to other destinations within the country, kicking off with the 41st annual Mexico City LGBTI+ Pride march and festival in late June. It’s one of the largest Pride celebrations in all of Latin America; some 250,000 attended last year’s celebration. Turista Libre is an inclusive operation, so all identities are welcome to join us. The only requirements are an open mind, an open heart, and a valid passport.

Pricing:

  • Public treks range from $45 to $170 USD per person depending on the theme.
  • Private tour prices start at $110 USD per person for groups of two-seven, $75 USD for eight-14, and $55 USD for 15-30, but vary depending on the specifics of your customized itinerary.
  • Children 17 and younger receive a 50-percent discount off our private tour prices.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Turista Libre

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