Updated for 2019
Albercas el Vergel is open and waiting for you to explore, slip, and fly. Their main attraction – the Slip N Fly features six seconds of sheer terror sliding down a 100′ long, 42′ high slide on before you are ejected off a ramp at the bottom. Not for the faint of heart, but don’t worry. There’s an ambulance parked under the slide just in case
What’s else is there to do? You can chow down on really cheap and really good Mexican food. Refresh on the well priced (and strong) adult drinks, which you might need to get your courage up for the Slip N Fly, or try their other dozen or so water slides like Medusa. This Tijuana water park is about a mile from the Otay Mesa crossing or short taxi ride from the main Tijuana border.
Even if you’re not planning to go to a water park in Tijuana, you don’t want to miss our video of Ed failing on the Slip and Fly. Heck, even play it with the sound on and listen for the audible groan as he launches into the air. You’ll be glad you did. And if you do make it to El Vergel, it just might be the best 150 pesos ($10) of fun you’ll ever have.
Turista Libre Tours to Albercas el Vergel
Our first excursion to Albercas El Vergel was part of a Turista Libre tour. We love their trips and the sheer joy exuding from its owner, Derrik Chinn. He puts on fabulous tours that are free from all the obvious cliches. Throughout the years he has persuaded me to eat crickets for Day of the Dead and enter the ring on a night of lucha libre. I had no idea what I was getting into on the Slip N Fly.
We could see the Turista Libre crew gathering in the San Ysidro plaza. They were all caucasian twenty-somethings, but what really set them apart was that they were carrying towels. We were in the right place. I hardly gave a second thought to signing the waiver. I mean, it isn’t fun unless you have to sign a waiver right?
Guns Out, Fun’s Out: Time for Tijuana Water Park
Before we knew it, we were at El Vergel – Tijuana’s premier water park. If you believe the website, it’s Southern California’s biggest and most exciting water park. I don’t know about the size, but I can’t deny the excitement.
Before we entered the park, Derrik gave us the safety speech. It went something like – these slides are old and re-assembled here (something about Ikea furniture never being the same after a move) so use your best judgment with safety and drinking. He added – Mexican laws will not allow you to sue so really be responsible for yourself. Then he closed with be safe and have fun. With that, we were set free in Tijuana’s water world.
Albercas el Vergel Overview
There were many decent water slides and some downright scary ones. Our first two rides were Medusa and Crazy Roller. Medusa is a modified burlap bag ride that has water added. You get going fast enough to catch air on the first hump.The Crazy Roller was straight out of the TV show Wipeout. It’s that rolling wheel you see people try and cross with a few safety items missing. They didn’t have the extra cushions to bounce of off, and the water was only like 2’ deep. I drew some blood on that one. Two rides in, two minor injuries.
We watched people swing of the Tarzan swing and fly over their friends into the pool. There were numerous stories of people needing stitches after getting banged up in tube slides. Like most urban legends they are caveated with “my friend saw somebody” or “I heard this happened.”
I found the slides fun, but Jenn banged her head on her first run. Jenn really likes waterslides with a tube between her and the slide. There was one tube ride at the park, but no tubes were available. Jenn didn’t ride much, but she thoroughly enjoyed the scene and her day. (pro tip, go early to rent a tube)
Riding the Slip N Fly
Slip and Fly, Slip N Fly, Slip and cry. Fly and Die. I heard them all that day. After two minor injuries on the first two rides, my buddy, Tyler, and I decided we should do the big attraction before we got too hurt. Smart right?
The lines throughout the park were all minimal. We never waited more than 10 minutes for anything. That means I was on top of the Slip and Fly before my half-life of fear kicked in. Good thing too, because it was terrifying.
The ride operator spoke good enough English to explain you want to lean back when you launch into the air, so you land nicely. It turns out I suck at that. I kept trying, but it wasn’t pretty. I could hear the crowd’s audible groans as I was sailing through the air.
At the top of the slide, I visualized my form. I could see myself flying through the air like an acrobat. As I was hitting the water, I was only thinking one thing. I need to start swimming, no matter what, so the lifeguard will not jump in after me!! To my credit – four rides and no rescues. A weaker man would have been hauled out. A smarter man might not have taken four trips.
The Tijuana Water Park Scene
El Vergel was built in 1964 by a Tijuana native, Lucio Salazar Gonzalez as a place where families gathered. It is the same way today. You could bring your own food and grill there or eat some really fantastic, local street food. Hint, the Cubano tortas with carne asada, chorizo, ham, and eggs are some of the best in the city.
You can’t bring in your own beer, but it’s available for under 1.50 a can as well as yummy and generous pina colada, fresh coconuts and frappes. There was a DJ spinning with a decent sound system creating an all-around festive atmosphere. You might come for the rides, but you’ll stay for the party.
The American theme parks business model seems to bring people in once a year and extract as much money as possible from them. El Vergel was true to its roots as a family gathering place. They wanted local families to come all throughout the summer and just hang out. Its pricing structure and vibe definitely supported that. We enjoyed hanging out with our new friends from the tour between rides, eating tortas, sharing beers and life stories in Senor Gonzalez’s park.
Limping Back From El Vergel
I pulled my hamstring on the Slip N Fly. I think it was from flailing in the air and not the landing. Another guy in our group had a little too much, too fast and he was going to hate life in the morning. Everybody had their battle scars, but they were all smiling and laughing. The mood was loose and happy. The bus rocked, and the water guns blazed back to the border. The consensus from the crowd is that they would all go again (and our buddy needed to drink a lot of water).
Stay in Tijuana for Dinner
Dinner in Tijuana is too good and too cheap to pass up. Besides, we wanted to let the borderline die down a little. We asked Derrik for a recommendation in TJ and he suggested Caesar’s. During prohibition, TJ was a hopping place as Californians flocked south to enjoy their liquor. Many restaurants and attractions sprung up along Avenida Revolution to capitalize on this market. The most famous of the bunch is Caesar’s.
Caesar Cardini was Italian as his name implies, opened the restaurant and created its signature salad. Yes, that Caesar salad. His namesake restaurant continues in Tijuana to this day making their signature dressing tableside. ( Caesar’s for their version of the original Caesar salad recipe).
Wrapping Up Our Trip to Albercas el Vergel
People are often surprised that we were willing to cross the border to Mexico, especially Tijuana. Isn’t Tijuana pretty sketchy? Is it even safe they asked? Our answer, we talk up Turista Libre and the general movement towards gentrification in Tijuana. We believe Tijuana is growing while keeping its authentic south of the border vibe. We even put together a short guide to touring Tijuana if you’re interested.
We pondered these thoughts again from our sidewalk table at Caesars. We watched locals heading out to enjoy their Saturday night, teens dangling out of limos while celebrating their Quinceaneras, and children peddling their bikes along the sidewalks. We realized then that the best part of the day was just taking in and enjoying this not so distant and foreign land.
As soon as we crossed that border, things were different. It is in these differences that you can truly find yourself. We got to see a section of Mexico made for Mexicans. If you Google Mexican Waterparks, you’ll see big dollar offerings along the Mexican Riviera. They may look cool but seem to lack authenticity.
Tijuana is what it is. It’s a relatively affluent, metropolis where people live, work and play. If you get a chance to go to Tijuana, remember that it isn’t synthesized like many mainstream vacation destinations. You’ll see a real city and real people enjoying life. Isn’t that the difference between being a traveler or merely a tourist?
2019 Albercas El Vergel Prices and Hours
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