Do you love driving desert highways under an endless blue skies? Do you prefer off the beaten path small town travel? If so, the sister communities of Douglas, AZ, USA and Agua Prieta, SON, México are an excellent place for a quiet desert get away. Here are 4 Good Reasons why you should visit sister cities Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, SON.
Located in the southeastern corner of Southern Arizona, and the northeastern corner of Sonora, the border towns of Douglas and Agua Prieta are excellent places to experience down home desert border culture. Douglas, on the Arizona side of the border, is a small town with a population of approximately 15,000. Sister community Agua Prieta on the Mexican side of the border is a large town with approximately 77,250 residents. If you are visiting from the United States, most likely you will stay in Douglas and cross the border for day trips into Agua Prieta.
Buddy and I traveled to Douglas and Agua Prieta more times than we can count! This is because I often work in Douglas and Agua Prieta and I bring Buddy with me. We are happy to share our 4 good reasons why you should visit this border community.
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4 Good Reasons why you should visit sister cities Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, SON
1. The food
Both Douglas and Agua Prieta have really great food! From delicious breakfasts to Sonora’s signature dishes, these sister communities offer a culinary delight!
But don’t take it from me! When I asked born and raised aguapretense (resident of Agua Prieta) Ammi what visitors should do in her home community, and she said “Creo que no se pueden perder la gastronomía sonorense. Es muy importante que pureban los dogos de Sonora, dogos sonorenses, que los van a encontrar en qualquier plaza y en cada esquina de Agua Prieta.” || Visitors cannot miss out on Sonoran-style gastronomy. It is very important to try the Sonoran hot dogs, which you will find in any plaza and on any corner of Agua Prieta.
Sonoran hot dogs – yum! Let’s start there!
Sonoran Hot Dogs
A signature dish of Sonora is the famous Sonoran Hot Dog! And if you don’t have any dietary restrictions, you cannot visit to Sonora and not try a Sonoran Hot Dog.
What is a Sonoran Hot Dog?
A Sonoran Hot Dog is a grilled hotdog wrapped in bacon and served on pan virginia de Sonora topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, pico de gallo, mayo, and mustard. They. Are. So. Good!
The best place for a Sonoran hot dog is on Agua Prieta’s main plaza – Plaza Plan. Food trucks and puestos surrounding the plaza open in the evenings around 6pm. If you go earlier in the day, the food stands are closed, and the plaza is quiet.
Protip: Bring cash, preferably pesos but they do take dollars, to buy your Sonoran hot dog.
Hot dogs on the plaza are one place I take guests to eat when visiting the border towns. But the plaza doesn’t just have hotdogs. Local born and raised aguapretense Isis América says about Plaza Plan “La Plaza Plan de Agua Prieta. Deberían venir a conocer a los puestecitos que temenos. Hay elotes, duros y unos verduros bien preparados como aguacate.” || Agua Prieta’s Plaza Plan. You should come and visit our local food stalls. There is corn, duros (a snack made of puffed wheat) well prepared with vegetables like avocado.
Gracias, América! Two votes for eating at the plaza! With lots of food options at Agua Prieta’s Plaza Plan, there is something for everyone.
And here is a fun Agua Prieta sign at the plaza that is great for photos. Ammi filmed this week’s Movement Postcard duet with me and América at Plaza Plan. América also happens to be a dance artist. Check out her solo Movement Postcard here.
Back to Ammi for the next recommendation. “Es muy importante también al carne asada. Restaurantes que recomiendo, los que siempre vamos, Mago.” || Another important dish is carne asada. A restaurant that I recommend is the one we always visit, Mago.
The Mexican state of Sonora is known for its carne asada. Carne asada burritos, carne asada tacos, carne asada, quesadilla con carne, caramelos – yum! You name it, they have it! The top restaurant to try Sonora’s carne asada is at Asadero El Mago located at Calle 6 Avenida 8 No.800 Colonia, Centro, 84200 Agua Prieta, Son, Mexico.
They have great carne asada and a nice variety of tacos, burritos, and other specialties. Be aware that the burros are big! And that an order of penca de nopal asada means that you will be served a plate of large, grilled cactus leaf, not nopalitos! El Mago’s also serves delicious Micheladas and Cheladas made with your favorite Mexican beer. A Chelada with a plate of carne asada tacos is a great way to end the day!
Protip: It is a taco shop, seat yourself!
I second Ammi! El Mago is my favorite place to eat in Agua Prieta. When I host guests visiting the border towns, this is the first spot I take them to eat. The only thing I haven’t had on the menu are the steaks. And the desserts because I am usually too full at the end of my visit! If you are visiting Douglas, I highly recommend crossing the border to eat at Magos.
Douglas and Agua Prieta have some incredible breakfast restaurants.
In Agua Prieta, Vizio Café located at Av 6 348, INFONAVIT 1, 84269 Agua Prieta, Son, México and Casa Monarca located at Calle 4, Av. 11 y 5, 84269 Agua Prieta, Son, México serve delightful breakfasts.
In Douglas, there is El Chef located at 1057 11th St, Douglas, AZ 85607 and Maná located at 1030 19th St, Douglas, AZ 85607. Both serve delicious breakfasts as well. No matter which you chose, you will be eating well!
My favorite place for breakfast is Maná. The food is great. The coffees and other drinks are delicious! And they offer a nice variety of Mexican cookies and pastries. My favorite orders are the Jáquez and the oatmeal. At the time of writing, Maná is take out or delivery only. Unfortunately, their dine in restaurant is closed. But the do deliver to Airbnbs!
Of the two sister cities, Agua Prieta is the place to go for coffee. Beto’s Coffee located at Calle 20 756-1 avs. 7 y 8, Ejidal 1, 84259 Agua Prieta, Son. Beto’s Coffee offers coffee, tea, pastries, and beautiful frozen drinks. Beto’s Coffee also serves sandwiches in case you are looking for something to eat. This small coffee shop has a nice outdoor patio where you can relax and chat with friends.
Café Justo is a coffee shop owned by the Chiapas, Mexico based Coffee Cooperative. The coffee, grown in Salvador Urbina Chiapas, is roasted onsite at the coffee shop in Agua Prieta. This café serves desserts, coffee, and tea. You can also buy a bag of coffee beans to take home! However, they do not serve sandwiches or other food items.
I like both Beto’s Coffee and Café Justo in Agua Prieta and visited each multiple times. Both places are great. I love that both are locally owned. And I love that Café Justo also exhibits the work of local artists in the coffee shop.
Agua Prieta local América also recommends these restaurants.
Alaska Drive Inn located at Av. 12 650, INFONAVIT 1, 84269 Agua Prieta, Son., Mexico. “Alaska es un lugar aquí que es muy tradicional. Nos representa y las hamburguesas de Alaska son otro nivel.” || Alaska is a very traditional place here. They represent us (the community) and Alaska’s hamburgers are out of this world!”
La Nevería Silvia located at Calle 6 & Avenida 20, Magisterial, 84269 Agua Prieta, Son., Mexico. “La Nevería Silvia tiene muchos años aquí. Es también histórico. Nos representa como aguaprentense. Y es muy buen lugar. Es muy cómodo adentro, muy bien servicio. Siempre te hacen sentir muy bien.” || La Nevería Silvia has been here for many years. It is also historic. The nevería represents us well as Agua Prietans. And it is a very good place. It is very comfortable inside, good service. They always make you feel good.”
2. The art
Take it away Ammi!
“Bueno creo que a venir a Agua Prieta algo que se puede perder son los murales que están en la calle Internaciónal. Creo que es algo muy bonito que representa nuesta comunidad de Agua Prieta y Douglas porque son hechas por artistas de los alrededores. Y con simbolos y figuras que también representan esa area. No se lo pueden perder porque es algo muy interesante de arte y tiene la oportunidad de ver el cerco fronterizo pero transformado. No, no mas como pedazo de tierra sino como parte de nuestra comunidad pero que se convierte en algo bonito.”
Well, I think that when visiting Agua Prieta something that you cannot miss are the murals on Calle Internacional. I believe that this is something very beautiful that represents our community of Agua Prieta and Douglas because they are made by artists from around the area. And with symbols and figures that represent this area. You cannot miss them because it is very interesting art that offers the opportunity to see the border fence transformed. It is no longer just a piece of land but part of our community that becomes something beautiful.
Douglas and Agua Prieta are communities rich in visual and the performing arts. And again, I agree with Ammi! The best place to see the community’s artistic soul is on the border fence.
The Mexican side of the border wall in Agua Prieta is adorned with many colorful murals that stretch East from the Aduana (Customs). Between the colorful border wall and mural lined Calle Internacional, there is a sidewalk and an occasional tree. There are also benches and playground equipment along the wall. And the original obelisks marking the U.S./Mexico border.
It seems as if the area was designed for pedestrians to walk along the fence and admire the murals. However, since there isn’t any parking in the area, most visitors experience the murals from the comfort of their cars.
Douglas also has a thriving arts scene. Two notable places to catch some incredible visual art both happen to be located on G Avenue. The first is the BAC Gallery. BAC stands for Border Art Corridor, a local arts organization that runs a small gallery next to the historic Grand Theatre. The second is a mural of the binational region located on a building next to the gazebo on G Avenue.
3. The history
The sister communities of Douglas and Agua Prieta are steeped in history. From mining, the railroad, to Agua Prieta’s role in the Mexican Revolution, there is much to uncover in these towns.
For places to experience history, Douglas is the town of choice. The first stop is the Historic Gadsden Hotel. Founded in 1907, the hotel itself is a historical wonder! The Gadsden hotel lobby exudes the elegance of a posh society of a time passed. Featuring a grand white Italian marble staircase, a wall-to-wall stained-glass mural of Douglas’ Chihuahuan desert, and pink marble columns, the hotel is a sight to behold! Visitors can see old phone booths and guests can use the hotel’s original manually operated elevator.
Inside the Gadsden Hotel is a museum highlighting the history of Douglas. In the museum you can find an exhibition about the men and women of Douglas who served in the U.S. armed forces from WWI through today. As well as historical artifacts from the hotel like the Gadsden’s original 1929 telephone switch board. If you encounter Douglas local Ginny Jordan at the museum, you are in for a real treat! The former Douglas tourism director has deep knowledge about the history of the region. And can answer any questions you may have.
The legend of Pancho Villa
Another area of note in the Gadsden Hotel is the seventh step on the grand marble staircase. Legend has it that during the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa rode his horse up to the top of the Gadsden’s staircase, chipping a step along the way. When visiting, look for the chip on the seventh step.
Other historical areas of note are the Douglas-Williams House, Cochise County Historical society, and the Border Air Museum.
Buddy and I stayed at the Gadsden Hotel only once a few years ago. We loved the historical photos in the rooms. And had fun looking for the looked for the chip on the seventh step. Buddy loved the historic hotel. He said the lobby looked like the staircase from the Titanic. Every time I work in Douglas, he asks me if I am staying in that hotel. The answer is usually no. I have also visited the museum a few times and chatted with the incredible Ginny Jordan.
About Agua Prieta Ammi says “Creo que el centro de Agua Prieta tiene mucha historia. Pueden pasar caminando a ver los alrededores y el arte que está en las calles.” || The center of Agua Prieta has a lot of history. You can walk around, look at the surroundings, and see the street art.
4. The location
Douglas and Agua Prieta are located near other Southern Arizona tourist sites including Bisbee and Tombstone (yes, Tombstone. The one from the movie!). It is a 30-minute drive from Douglas to Bisbee, AZ and a little less than an hour drive from Douglas to Tombstone, AZ. Tucson is approximately 2 hours away.
Because of its proximity to nearby tourist destinations, Douglas makes a great base to explore the area. For visitors looking for a quiet place to rest while taking day trips to and from Bisbee or Tombstone, Douglas is a great option! Especially during Tombstone’s Wyatt Earp Days or Helldorado Days when hotels in Tombstone fill up.
During one of our trips back from Douglas, Buddy and I stopped in Tombstone for a few hours. We walked around, explored the sites, and Buddy shot a cowboy six gun at the Iron Shooting Gallery. It was a nice pit stop and a fun way to spend the day before heading home.
Where to stay
If you are visiting Douglas, AZ, these are three places where you might want to stay.
- The Gadsden Hotel. This historic hotel is already on the list of things to see. Stay onsite for a truly immersive historic experience.
- The Best Western. With its free breakfast, central location, and close proximity to the border, the Best Western is a great place to stay in Douglas.
- This Incredible Airbnb. This Airbnb hosted by the very friendly and helpful David Ivan is a delight! Located in the second story of a former church, this Airbnb is a perfect place to stay in Douglas. This Airbnb is equipped with a full kitchen, fireplace, and a double and single bed. And the balcony overlooks a lush desert garden below. There is a notebook in the Airbnb that shows before and after pictures of the unit’s remodel. And David is available for recommendations of local things to see and do. He may even offer to take you on a tour of the rest of the remodeled church! This place is perfect for a long term stay or a romantic getaway.
Pro Tips: Book early! David’s place fills up fast and people book the place for months on end. And there is a dog onsite. For travelers with dog allergies, this may not be the best accommodation.
I have stayed in all three places and Buddy stayed with me at the Gadsden Hotel and the Best Western. All three are good options.
Since I have not yet stayed in a hotel in Agua Prieta, I do not have any hotel recommendations for that town. But I will update this post if anything changes!
Crossing the border
The best way to cross the border is by car. Unlike nearby Nogales, Douglas and Agua Prieta do not have walkable commercial centers immediately on either side of the border. Visitors will need to drive a bit further into each town to truly experience the community.
And unlike Nogales, it is relatively easy to drive in Agua Prieta. Here is some information for navigating both towns.
Driving in both communities is relatively simple. Both towns are designed as a grid. Agua Prieta has numbered Calles that run east to west and numbered Avenidas that run north and south. The numbers both ways begin at the Aduana de Agua Prieta (Agua Prieta Customs). Calle Internacional, which runs along the border wall is technically street zero. Numbers begin at the border and get higher the farther south you go.
Douglas has numbered streets that run east to west and lettered avenues that run north and south. Similar to Agua Prieta, Douglas’s street numbers start at the border with International Avenue as number zero. The next street north is 1st street and so on. The Avenues in Douglas are not as clear cut. There are avenues A through I and then the avenues sport other names.
Tips for driving in Douglas
The speed limits are relatively low in Douglas. Drive slowly.
Tips for driving in Agua Prieta
Some of the streets in Agua Prieta are not well labeled. Using a GPS to help get around is helpful. My GPS works just fine when I cross the border. In Agua Prieta, be prepared for dirt roads and one-way streets. And if you come to a stoplight that also has a stop sign, take the lead from the drivers around you. If you are alone, I would go with the stop light.
Driving into Agua Prieta from Douglas, follow the signs indicating the entrance for personal vehicles to cross the border. There can be long lines to cross, especially in the afternoons after school and work get out. Luckily, there is an app that you can download that will tell you how long it will take to cross the border either way.
Traveling from Agua Prieta to Douglas, head north on any Avenida west of Avenida 6 and you will hit Calle Internacional. Make a left and you are in the lane to cross back into the United States. Lines to cross back can be long. And they can also be nonexistent. It just depends on when you cross.
Protip: Yes, you need Mexican auto insurance to drive into Mexico.
What to bring
- A passport or other documentation to cross the border.
- A passport holder. I travel with my passport in a ziplock bag (so it doesn’t get wet in case something spills) inside my travel neck wallet. All of this is tucked away in my Travelon Messenger Bag that I bought for a trip to Europe.
- Sunscreen and a water bottle. Douglas and Agua Prieta in the Chihuahuan desert and it gets very hot in the summer. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day.
- Mexican Auto Insurance if you are driving across the border.
- Visit the Gadsden Hotel. You can discover the history of the area and this hotel. The hotel is in the style of the 1900s. It has beautiful architecture and history.
- Getting out of Mexico might be a hassle. Because traffic can back up at the line.
- I liked visiting Café Justo because I got to eat cake.
- I have been going to Agua Prieta with my mom since I was 10. Yea, it’s a cool place.
Ammi says “En general, Agua Prieta es una ciudad pequeña y también es una ciudad muy tranquila.” || In general, Agua Prieta is a small town and tranquil town. The same can be said about Douglas.
Have you ever visited Douglas or Agua Prieta? What is your favorite small town? Let us know in the comments below.
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