Best-Kept South Texas Secret

I’m sitting here in Harlingen, Texas at the Harlingen Airport while people rush to their flight around me and I’m thinking about how much the world needs to know about the best-kept secret in Texas!

I visited The Valley, the furthest South in Texas you can go before you reach Mexico, on April 6th weekend this past Spring. Let me tell you why I adore this place, why you have to visit, and all the surprisingly unknown treasures of this area.

My friends, Lolly & Lars, have always told me about how great The Valley was since I was young, but we never got to visit or explore the area much, until now. This weekend she flew me out for a quick girls’ getaway.  By the way, Lolly is a TREASURE TROVE of information on The Valley and I keep begging her to start a blog! (Update: SHE DID! I’ll give you all her info down below.) In the meantime, let me tell you just how charming, fun and INEXPENSIVE this little destination truly is!

HOW TO GET THERE

Lolly flew me down via Southwest Airlines, but you can also drive the 10-12 hours from DFW, depending on how fast you drive! I’ve made that road trip plenty of times with my family as we would vacation in Veracruz, Mexico every year. It’s a straight shot down I-35 S to US-77 coming from Dallas and there are plenty of cool stops all along the way, you can even detour through Austin and San Antonio, Texas if you wanted to.

Back to the flight, Southwest was in-and-out per the usual. The staff is always attentive and passionate, their free snacks and drinks are a nice touch, and the warm smiles from the staff and passengers make you feel all the more welcome. The flight I was on had a quick drop off in Austin and those going on to Harlingen were able to stay on the plane, which was so nice. All of the passengers staying on were able to move up to the front and secure our new positions before the newcomers came aboard. The remaining hour flight went by so smoothly and in the blink of an eye, we were in Harlingen, Texas.

If you’re ever looking to go to a legit Texas beach, the closest airport to South Padre Island is Harlingen so you’ll want to fly into that airport.  There are direct flights that go back and forth but they usually travel at night and from what I could tell, most of them had a 1-hour layover. No biggie.

P.S. You will fall in love with The Valley’s adorable international airport. It’s so tropical and homey. It’s small, too…in and out!

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For all you visual learners out there, I made this map to give you an idea of where everything is in conjunction with the airport:

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WHERE I STAYED

I stayed in Port Isabel since Lolly has a darling condo there. It’s spectacular and nestled right in the heart of Port Isabel. We walked to our favorite little breakfast spot, Isabel’s Cafe. Ohhhhh man, as big as yo face, breakfast burritos between $2.50-$4.00 along with other delicious Mexican specialties no more than $7.00. Isabel’s is a MUST and a family could eat there every day and not break the bank at all.

Although the weather was a little dreary that weekend, it was still so nice to be on the coast. It rained a couple of times but other than that, we enjoyed the days without the hot sun beating down on us. Here’s a view from the outdoor patio:

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The best part about our Port Isabel location is that we are only a short drive away from SPI and can literally be on the beach in less than 10 minutes, causeway included.

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND AKA SPI

Again, the days were a bit cloudy but as you can see in my selfie, the sun made an appearance and blessed us with her beautiful rays!! 

SPI’s beach is stunning and the city keeps it trash free and immaculate. The sand is soft, the water is warm, and you can just order just about anything food or drink related from anywhere right on the beach. #convenience

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Of course, we ordered beach food and guess what it was…img_1334

NomNomNom. Give me allllll the shrimp this place has to offer. It is the absolute best.

Note: You can tell in the picture that Lolly has on a light jacket. If you go in April, carry one just in case the weather turns rainy. It’s not cold, but the cloudy skies mixed with rain can make you feel chilly.

WHAT I ATE

There are a few places to eat here that are a MUST. These would include: Dirty Al’s {pictured below}, Tequila Sunrise, Louie’s Backyard {all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, we’re talking crab cakes, legs, the whole nine yards!} and Blackbeards’.

For those of you that know me, you know I am a HUGE fan of Seafood, my entire family is. With my Dad being from Veracruz, a state in Mexico near the Gulf of Mexico, we were raised on yummy foods like shrimp, lobster, crab legs, oysters. You name it, we love it. However, in recent years, I break out in hives from shellfish intake. I just have to be a little more cautious now, but some things are worth a breakout. Not really, but kinda. 🙂

Confession: my diet downfall is fried food. Not the typical sweet or salty most people crave, just gimme good ol’, deep southern fried ANYTHING. If you’re in the same boat {pun intended}, SPI will be your own personal heaven. If it’s not, there are plenty of baked and pan seared seafood options just for you! I personally just couldn’t see past all the yummy fried goodness. My advice: This is not a super diet friendly place, although I did notice the island now has a Tropical Smoothie Cafe,  just eat what your heart desires while you’re there and go on a detox when you get back 😉 #Balance

Here are a few pics while at Dirty Al’s:

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These platters MELTED in my mouth and because we are right by the ocean, you can imagine how tasty and fresh the fish and shrimp are. My mouth is watering just writing this…#takemeback.

WHY I THINK THIS IS A BEST-KEPT SECRET

OK…the moment you’ve all been waiting for. SPI is incredible but what makes this trip even sweeter is the fact that you get to drive about 45 minutes to ANOTHER COUNTRY. That’s right, only 45 minutes and you’re in the great country of M E X I C O #Roots.

The city we headed to is Nuevo Progreso. To get to this little gem of a town, I recommend typing “Nuevo Progreso Crossing” into Google Maps and follow the directions for the Progreso International Bridge.

Once you get close, you will see a parking lot on your right. You’ll be able to park there and walk a short 2 minutes across the bridge {like the man I captured below}. To cross the border you’ll pay 50 cents {yes, actual coins}, and VIVA MEXICO!!!

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Nuevo Progreso, Tamaulipas, Mexico

Now the real fun begins! And don’t worry, it won’t break the bank. You can enjoy things like $12 US pedicures, deeeeeeeeply discounted massages, chiropractic work, dental work {I had my teeth cleaned last time and it was literally $25 US}, and of course, T A C O S…

Ya’ll already know I was posting to my Insta story non stop!!
@charitysantibanez

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These taco plates were all of $4 US. Ahhhhhhhmazing! The service is really great too, since they thrive on tourist’s business. The US dollar goes so far in Mexico, these businesses want American customers for that reason and I felt so rich while I was there. I also felt like I was blessing these people just trying to make a living here. 🙂 One of the best parts is, you don’t have to exchange your currency. They accept US cash and larger stores such as dental offices, doctor offices, and supermarkets accept credit and debit cards. So don’t worry about having to fiddle with exchange rates and all that. Another HUGE plus!

Next stop, the nail salon. I don’t remember the exact name of the place, but look for the girls in the purple smocks. These ladies are amazing at what they do and wear 6-inch heels while doing it! 🙂 They will hook you up with a wonderful, relaxing pedi that’ll only set ya back 12 buckaroos! Hello!!!!! You can even enjoy a margarita while you’re getting pampered. I passed, but a lot of people seemed to enjoy them 😉

On the back wall of the salon, there was a display where they had Louis Vuitton, YSL, Burberry and other designer purses for sale. I actually bought a knockoff Chanel bag that looked vintage for only $60! Compared to $3,000, that’s pretty incredible. Of course, it’s not real but hey, I can get the look for thousands less and it’s a gorgeous bag. Thank you, Progreso 😉 Just another one of the many things I adore about this place.

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After receiving our fresh, feet fades, it was time to shop! I typically try to find cute trendy jewelry, little gifts for my niece and nephew, Mexican candy, hammocks, reusable Frida Kahlo bags, serape’s AKA Mexican Blankets, you know, nandy pandy stuff. Don’t think you have to go far to shop, the streets you are walking are rows and rows of vendors selling all items from Ray Ban sunglasses, watches, hats, toys, you name it, they have it and if they don’t, Julio down the street DOES!

Here’s a street view of what the shops look like. I love how authentic Nuevo Progreso is and that I can get those Mexican vibes without having to travel deep into the country.

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Of course, we had a photo shoot to end a wonderful and tiring day of eating, shopping and enjoying the Mexican country.

All in all, it was a perfect, relaxing, and fun day and you can tell in this pic as we were getting ready to cross the border! I walked across donning my new Serape {perfect for picnics, concerts or covering up during rain which is what I was doing here} and my Frida Kahlo bag {perfect for reusable anything}! Mexican, much? I loved every minute of it. 

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As you can see, this destination truly is one of the best-kept secrets in Texas. If you didn’t know about this hidden treasure before, I’m glad I was able to introduce you to it and that you book your next trip here. It’s amazing how inexpensive and culturally invigorating is it to travel here. I see myself traveling here quite a bit when Raymond and I have kiddos and we want to share the rich, Mexican culture with them without having to travel so far into Mexico. I know they will love it and enjoy all it has to offer.

Safety Tip: Although Progreso is a safe, kid-friendly place by day, it is Mexico and that means at night, it gets a little crazy. My tip is to leave by 3 or 4:00 PM. We arrived there around 10 AM that morning so we had PLENTY of time to do everything we needed to do in 6 hours. You’re not walking far at all. I don’t even remember walking in even 1/2 a mile past the border. Everything is conveniently located as soon as you cross.

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As promised: My friend, Lolly is seriously a GURU when it comes to the Valley. So much so, that she started her very own blog, KissYoMama Travel Blog. Follow her and I promise she will keep you entertained and fascinated by not only the Valley, but her many travel adventures including a trip to Cape Cod, Africa she took last year-WOW!!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kissyomamatravelblog/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kissyomamatravelblog/

Website: https://kissyomama.blog/

I hope you enjoyed this one of many travel blogs. I plan to do a lot this year after we traveled sooooo much last year. There are too many good trips not to share them all with you. That is my goal. I still have Europe to finish for you. However, I will say, Texas has always been my favorite place to explore. I mean, hello, we are a ginormous state and we have so much to offer our residents. Explore it all and don’t forget to #NeverStopExploring.

Much Love, Loves!

Charity

P.S I have some crazy, exciting news coming your way. 2018 will be the best year yet. We are only 6 months through and we’ve got a lot of weeks to go, places to go; people to meet, love on and care for! Let’s make those sweet memories one day at a time! 😉

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