Laredo is one of those cities in the Southern half of the US whose parting lines to the town on the other side of the border in Mexico disappear to the point where both places almost melt into one another. Across from Laredo, separated by the Rio Grande, there is Nuevo Laredo, which is the younger yet the significantly larger one of the two cities with a population of some 374,000. Traffic between both towns is guided via four bridges across the border river. Thanks to its location, the city plays an important role for the transportation industry between both countries.
Laredo, named after a small town in northern Spain, was founded in 1755 by Don Tomas Sanchez, a Spanish lieutenant. In the course of a rebellion against the Mexican government in 1840, rebels founded the short-lived Republic of the Rio Grande and declared Laredo the capital, but only a few months later, the area returned to Mexico. In the war between the USA and Mexico, the city was occupied by Texan troops and became a part of the US in the ensuing peace treaty. A referendum among the population which aimed at returning to Mexico failed soon thereafter, resulting in large parts of the population moving across the border, where they founded Nuevo Laredo. Around the turn of the century, Laredo was one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, population numbers climbed from 123,000 in 1990 to 176,600 in 2000 and 236,100 in the 2010 census.
The close ties between the city and its southern neighbor is very obvious in both culture and demographics. More than 96% of inhabitants are Hispanics, additionally some 40% of jobs in Laredo are held by people commuting from Mexico on a daily basis. The most important festival of the year,Washington’s Birthday Celebration, taking place annually between mid-January and the end of February with countless events such as parades, shows, concerts and others, is a good opportunity for visitors to dive into the Latin-American culture. The festivities going on over weeks find their highlights in the Jamboozie, a carnival of sorts with masks and costumes at the end of January and in the Jalapeno Festival, which is all about eating extremely well-spiced food.
Laredo is home to several universities, of which the Texas A&M International with some 6800 enrolled students is the largest. In terms of economy, the city mainly benefits from international trade and goods transportation. Almost 50% of all US goods destined for Mexico cross the border here, in the other direction, some 35% of Mexican export goods leave the country via Nuevo Laredo. Being home to import and export agencies, movers, warehouses and similar service providers, Laredo benefits from the North American free trade zone NAFTA to a high degree.
Visitors enjoy the international atmosphere and the various shopping opportunities on both sides of the border. Among the sights of the town is the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum (1005 Zaragoza Street, open Tuesday through Saturday 9 am-4 pm), which can be found in one of the oldest buildings of the city. The museum collects exhibits to showcase the short history of the rebels’ Republic and also has a few rooms reconstructed to look like they did around the year 1900. Those more interested in culture than in history will find a good place to look in another historic building. In the old town hall at Market Square, visitors will now find the Laredo Center for the Arts (500 San Agustin Avenue, open Tuesday through Saturday 11 am-4 pm). This center, developed by private initiative, serves as stage for theatre and music performances, but mostly as an exhibition hall for the works of local artists. Bigger concerts, trade fairs and other events are usually taking place at Laredo Energy Arena (6700 Arena Boulevard). This multifunctional arena, opened in 2001 can hold up to 10,000 visitors and is also the home turf for the local ice hockey and football teams.
Among further buildings worth seeing is San Agustin Cathedral (214 San Bernardo Avenue) in Downtown, built in 1872 and seat of the diocese for more than 200,000 believers. The cathedral’s bell tower is the second-tallest building of the city with a height of 43 meters. The Hamilton Hotel (815 Salinas Avenue) is today being used as a residential building, has a height of 46 meters and was initially constructed in 1900 with only three stories, before nin more were added in 1923. Furthermore, in the downtown area, there a number of interesting examples for buildings constructed in Spanish Colonial architecture style.
The most popular day trip destination for both inhabitants and visitors is Lake Casa Blanca International State Park a few miles outside of the city. The lake covers an area of 680 hectares. It is popular for its fishing, but also for hiking, biking, waterskiing and boating opportunities, in addition, there are a number of picnic areas. The adjoining campground usually attracts many longterm-dwellers who are spending the winter months here. The lake, artificially created at a dam - constructed explicitly with the goal of creating an area for recreational use - has several marinas for public use.