It’s after dark on Avenida Revolucion, Tijuana’s main tourist drag, and beneath the garish neon of a late-night storefront, a mannequin in a skin-tight nurse’s outfit stands beckoning potential customers inside. Americans have been travelling to this border city for at least a century to sample its nocturnal charms. Hollywood stars mingled with mobsters here during the Prohibition era. Underage college kids came to drink themselves silly on Spring Break, before they were scared away by the violence of the local drug cartels.
Avenida Revolucion runs directly into the red light district, where other vices await, but the mannequin in the medical get-up is here to flog something a little less seedy: cut-price Viagra. There’s at least one discount pharmacy per block, selling cheap, generic medications from sleeping pills to sex aids, with – and occasionally without – a prescription. Tijuana’s biggest draw for Americans, before even the night-life, is its low-cost medical treatment: dental care, cosmetic surgery, stem-cell transplants, hip replacements and more.
Now, the city’s thriving medical tourism industry is classing up. The developers of a cluster of luxury high-rises just across the border from California intend to build a one-stop shop for visiting American patients. The 26-storey New City Medical Plaza will house facilities for doctors from a broad range of disciplines, a 140-room hotel and a food court featuring Baja California cuisine from top local restaurants. Construction has already begun on the tower, which the developers hope to open by the end of 2018.
Even if President Trump succeeds in building his infamous border wall, the complex will be clearly visible from the US side. Inside one of New City’s existing luxury residential towers, there are marble floors, private security guards, a fake miniature waterfall and a private members club on the penthouse floor, with a clear view back over the border to Downtown San Diego. Sitting in the bar at sunset, Isaac Abadi, New City’s chief executive, said travelling south for treatment should be a no-brainer for Californians.
“Here, you’ll pay a dentist 40 or 50 bucks to treat a cavity that you’d pay 200 bucks for in the US,” he said. “It’s irresponsible going to the dentist in San Diego when you can drive down here in 15 minutes and get the job done for a quarter of the price. Some people are scared of coming to Tijuana. But with this view, you feel like you’re still in San Diego!”