MexDFmagazine

News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.

Report from Aguascalientes

AGS sign in the Jardin de San Marcos. (Photo: Darren Popik)

AGS sign in the Jardin de San Marcos. (Photo: Darren Popik)

By Darren M. Popik

(AGUASCALIENTES, Ags.) — From the moment I passed by the sprawling new Nissan plant on the southern outskirts of this growing community of one million inhabitants, I could see that this is a city on the move.

Aguascalientes — both the city and the state — have been recognized as one of the top places to invest and to do business in Mexico, and even beyond the borders of this nation.

Certainly, Nissan appears to agree. Their existing complex in Aguascalientes (the company’s biggest outside Japan) is responsible for worldwide production of their Sentra and Versa models, with current output of around 600,000 vehicles per year.

As of this fall, Nissan will open their second plant, adding another 3,000 employees to their already hefty local payroll of 11,500. With the new facility, Nissan expects to ramp up production to one million cars per year in Aguascalientes.

Nissan's second Aguascalientes plant, nearing completion. (Photo: Darren Popik)

Nissan’s second Aguascalientes plant, nearing completion. (Photo: Darren Popik)

By the way, Nissan isn’t the only big company with a presence in this city. A number of international corporations, many of which are in IT and software, have operations here, including Dallas-based Texas Instruments, which operates a semiconductor factory here.

But Nissan’s influence on Aguascalientes has been significant — there’s a growing Japanese community in the city, comprised both of those living here, as well as those just visiting for business.

In fact, when I turned on the TV at my hotel, I discovered that NHK Japan is carried locally on cable. (And it was much more entertaining than either Mexican network.)

It’s also not uncommon to see Japanese written on signs in parks and other public places.

Some of the fine programming on NHK Japan.

Some of the fine programming on NHK Japan.

Baseball, Bullfighting, and the Fair

In case you’re wondering, the city’s name is derived from the numerous hot springs (“aguas”+”calientes” in Spanish) in the area. Its founding dates to 1575.

For Hidrocálidos, as locals are known, baseball and bullfighting rank as two of their favorite sports. (Both have dominated the coverage in the sports section of the local newspapers during my visit, while soccer was relegated to page eight, behind American football.)

It’s a city that doesn’t seem to promote itself much as a tourist destination, which I think is unfortunate, given how pleasant a community it is.

It’s got a warm, dry climate, and though it maintains its traditional roots that date back generations, it’s also clearly a modern, well-planned city. (Also, the drivers here are courteous, yielding to pedestrians — something that rarely ever happens in Mexico City.)

The one time a year when visitors do descend on the city is in April, for the Feria Nacional de San Marcos, Mexico’s national fair, which features bullfighting, concerts, and basically everything else you’d expect from a big fair.

The Plaza de Toros Monumental: Bullring and Concert Venue. (Photo: Darren Popik)

The Plaza de Toros Monumental: Bullring and Concert Venue. (Photo: Darren Popik)

But beyond the feria, I’ve seen little here to promote tourism. No maps, brochures, or tourist information booths anywhere — not at my hotel, the bus station, or even at the airport.

Despite that, it’s fun wandering through the center of town. The city has an interesting mix of historic buildings, combining some very old buildings from the city’s earlier days with more recent structures from the 1930’s and 40’s.

You'll see architecture like this in the center of Aguascalientes. (Photo: Darren Popik)

You’ll see architecture like this in the center of Aguascalientes. (Photo: Darren Popik)

On top of that, Aguascalientes has some very nice parks and plazas, all of which are well-maintained. The Jardín de San Marcos and Plaza Patria are the focal points in the center of the city.

Alongside the Plaza Patria, I discovered two streetcars which appear to be aimed at tourists. But there’s no information about schedules, cost, or where they go. Strange.

Between the two plazas is Venustiano Caranza, a street filled with historic buildings, museums, cool cafés, and a nice vibe.

De la Feria, the pedestrian street with endless offers of cheap beer. One liter for $2. (Photo: Darren Popik)

De la Feria, the pedestrian street with endless offers of cheap beer. One liter, $2. (Photo: Darren Popik)

Then there’s the nearby pedestrian street, De La Feria, which is lined with bars and cantinas, all of which try to tempt you with low prices on beer. It’s a lively place in the evenings.

And when you’re out for a stroll here at night, you ought to do what the other locals do — dine on street food.

On either end of the street (though especially by the church), the crowds head to the numerous street food stands, feasting on tacos, hot dogs, and hamburgers.

Definitely recommended.

The church at the Jardin de San Marcos. (Photo: Darren Popik)

The church on the west side of the Jardin de San Marcos. (Photo: Darren Popik)

A Safe Community

Newly released stats from Mexico’s statistical agency, INEGI, show that the state of Aguascalientes is a relatively calm place. They had one of the lowest murder rates in the country in 2012, at just 4 per 100,000 residents. This compares to the national rate of 22 per 100,000. (Only Yucatán had a lower per capita rate than Aguascalientes.)

(Side Note: Interestingly enough, this federal agency, INEGI, is actually headquartered right here in Aguascalientes.)

Public Transportation

This is the one area that stands out that Aguascalientes needs to improve. Local bus service is not great. All buses have route numbers on the front, but they give no indication as to where they’re actually going. So unless you know the system, good luck figuring it out.

Typical city bus in Ags. (Photo: Darren Popik)

Typical city bus in Ags. (Photo: Darren Popik)

There are no transit maps (though to be fair, this is typical of most Mexican cities), and the city’s own website does not mention the existence of public transit service.

Plus, the buses are old and uncomfortable. They need modernizing, something more in keeping with the standards one would expect in a growing, modern city.

This brings me to the related issue of getting to and from the city’s airport.

Aeropuerto Internacional de Aguascalientes (AGU). Photo: Darren Popik

Aeropuerto Internacional de Aguascalientes (AGU). Photo: Darren Popik

As best as I can tell, the only way in or out is by taxi. Do any buses go there? Who knows. Airport taxis operate on a flat rate basis — you’ll pay $200 pesos to the center of town.

But Hidrocálidos do have a decent level of service at the Aeropuerto Internacional de Aguascalientes (AGU). Nationally, it’s service to Mexico City, Tijuana, and Cancun, while internationally, there are non-stop flights to Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston.

And as a final word to budget-minded travelers (or those who just like meeting other travelers, as I do), keep in mind that the city has no hostels. Evidence suggests that there used to be one, but it seems to be out of business since perhaps 2010. (And don’t be fooled if you find a place called the Hostel Posada. It’s a bar, not a hostel.)

Monumento al Encierro, by Jorge de la Peña Beltrán. (Photo: Darren Popik)

Monumento al Encierro, by Jorge de la Peña Beltrán. (Photo: Darren Popik)

Worth the Visit

All in all, I found Aguascalientes to be a city that really does have a lot to offer.

One of my favorite moments occurred at the Fiesta Americana hotel, where when walking past at 8 pm, I discovered — by accident — that as the hotel’s clock tower bells began to ring, so too did an amusing little show.

Out of the clock emerged a plastic bullfighter and bull, the bull going in circles around the bullfighter with his red cape.

The Fiesta Americana's "cuckoo" clock, featuring bullfighter and bull. (Photo: Darren Popik)

The Fiesta Americana’s “cuckoo” clock, featuring bullfighter and bull. (Photo: Darren Popik)

It’s the best cuckoo clock I’ve ever seen. And a darn fine testament to the city’s bullfighting tradition. (Video below.)

And it was a fun way to close my experience in this very nice little city in north-central Mexico.

Twitter: @darrenchannel

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This entry was posted on August 1, 2013 by in Business/Industry, Travel / Transportation and tagged , , , , , .
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