Boquillas Port of Entry smashes visitation records over holiday season

Gabriel Ureste Padilla transports tourists from Big Bend National Park across the Rio Grande in a rowboat to Boquillas, Mexico. The border crossing recently reopened after remaining closed for nearly two years. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

BOQUILLAS DEL CARMEN — In December of 2022, the Boquillas Port of Entry processed 2,509 visitors, the highest number on record. Boquillas is a town of about 200 people in the Mexican state of Coahuila that can only be accessed through Big Bend National Park — locals are hours away from the nearest town and depend on tourism to survive. 

As park visitation has grown, visits to Boquillas have kept up with the trend. The Boquillas Port of Entry is unique among ports on the U.S.-Mexico border in that the border can only be crossed on foot and re-entry to the United States is processed remotely. “The port is operated cooperatively by the NPS and U.S. Customs, and is a really positive thing,” said Tom VandenBerg, chief of interpretation and visitor services at Big Bend National Park. 

Unmanned customs stations are popular on the border with Canada, primarily to allow recreational boaters and visitors to international parks the opportunity to cross back and forth without immigration penalties. Before 2022, those ports were operated by videophone — folks seeking re-entry into the United States would scan their passports and call a customs agent stationed elsewhere for a brief interview. 

The Boquillas Port of Entry — until recently — used the same technology. The port was closed from March 2020 until November 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and when it reopened, remote Canadian ports were transitioning to a new system called ROAM. 

ROAM has an accompanying mobile app that frequent visitors to Boquillas — or those who want to visit during high-volume times of the year — can download to cut down their wait in line. The app allows users to scan their own passports and get approved for re-entry while they wait. “If there is an issue with ROAM, the NPS ranger will compare the traveler to the passport and confirm with the CBP officers that the subject matches the passport photo,” explained Roger Maier, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection.

Park visitation will gear up again during the busy spring break season, and VandenBerg encouraged visitors to the park to bring their passports and experience Boquillas for themselves. “It allows park visitors an amazing opportunity to visit our neighbors across the river and is an integral part of the full Big Bend experience,” he said. 

The Boquillas Port of Entry is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.