The Billboards Finally Got Us

You’ve seen them, right? Hundreds of billboards between the VA/NC border and FL/GA border that say things like “You never sausage a place!” or “Virgin Sturgeon. Also unused bagels.” Well, after dozens of trips on I-95, the South of the Border billboards finally got us. We decided we just had to go once and see what it was all about.

Getting there is easy. Head toward the NC/SC state line. Coming from North Carolina, it seems you can take either exit. Either take Exit 1B and make a left or take Exit 1A and make a right. From South Carolina, there’s just one exit. Take Exit 1 and turn right.

Overall, our impression of South of the Border is that it needs some TLC. Cracking/chipping paint, signs with bulbs out, abandoned buildings, and permanently closed attractions were everywhere.

South of the Border Mysteries

We came here to satisfy our curiosity. After seeing the giant sombrero from the road time after time, we wanted to see for ourselves what it was like at South of the Border. Unfortunately, I think we’re leaving with more questions than answers. The campground was less than half full. The restaurant was essentially empty, except for us. As was the indoor pool. Most of the stores as well as the reptile lagoon only had one or two other groups visit while we were there. When we went exploring (either on foot or in the car), we found multiple empty buildings. How does this place stay afloat?

Where We Stayed

Camp Pedro RV Park
Dillon, SC
September 15 – 17, 2023
Site 157

The campground office is on the left. Turn on the road just before the gas station. (If you plan to stay there, I’d recommend looking at a map before you go.)

The campground is fine. It’s nothing special, but it’s not bad either. It is perfectly acceptable as a place to stop overnight, but in our opinion, it isn’t nice enough to be the destination. Because almost everything is paved, the most scenic spot is actually the campground.

We were in the front part of the campground. Our site had an empty field in front of us, but to our left was the main road, gas station, etc. The back part of the campground has more trees and is much prettier. I didn’t think to get a photo of the area we were in, but here’s a look at the prettier part of the campground.

Campground Pros

  • Plenty of trash cans
  • Mostly empty, so it was pretty quiet
  • We didn’t use the bathhouse while we were there, but we looked inside. They weren’t fancy, but they were clean each time we looked.

Campground Cons

  • Noise – Our site was right at the front, and as the crow flies, we were only about 0.25 miles from I-95, so we definitely noticed the road noise. I think it wasn’t quite as bad at sites at the back of the campground (about 0.5 miles from I-95). There are train tracks nearby. We didn’t hear a train often, but we knew the tracks were there.
  • Sad playgrounds – Aside from being small, they needed some TLC. I think a good pressure wash would have gone a long way. There was also a good bit of rust and chipped paint. There were several large animal statues (found throughout South of the Border), but they were also in bad shape. All of the paint on the camel was chipping, and the rhinoceros had a hole in it.
Playground at the front of the campground
Playground at the back of the campground

While we were there, we saw several sites with trailers and dirt bikes. The campground appears to be a popular place for those interested in motocross. South of the Border has an MX/SX training facility, complete with trainers. We saw several sites that had trailers, dirt bikes, and more. You can access their track (at least one) directly from the campground through a special gate. There’s even a designated area, complete with several pressure washers, for washing off one’s dirt bike.

A Note About Maintenance

There was a small structure with a roof over some electrical equipment next to our site. We noticed several yellowjacket nests under the roof when we arrived. We left them alone, and they left us alone. However, Corona later found a nest under our picnic table, and she did not leave them alone. She was under the picnic table and made a very unhappy noise. When I looked down, she was opening and closing her mouth and moving her tongue, so we think one of them stung her. Fortunately, she was fine, but I appreciate it when campgrounds stay on top of those kinds of things.

What We Did

Indoor Pool

The pool is in a dome that’s attached to the hotel. The glass ceiling and all the windows really let in the light, so it was nice and warm in there.

Like so many things around here, the pool looks like it hasn’t been maintained or updated since the 80s. I was surprised when I looked at this photo we took — the area looks worse in person. The vents (the circle on the left side of the photo) were covered in something…mold, dirt, I don’t know. But they weren’t clean. I saw a picture of the pool in a brochure…it looks nothing like that now. The photo must have been taken at least 10 years ago. There’s something that looks like it used to be a bar (the circle on the right side of the photo), but it clearly hasn’t been used in years. Everything around here is showing its age.

Pedro’s Mexico Shop West

This was an experience. There’s so much to look at here, from small knick-knacks to high-priced items. Mugs, bags, hats, t-shirts, back scratchers (several varieties), salt + pepper shakers, handpainted sinks, pottery (trash cans, planters, wall decorations, etc.), and so much more! This would be a great place to look if you were trying to put together a costume. There’s a section with hats from around the world. They even had the most beautiful pizza oven I’ve ever seen!

This pizza oven could be yours for only $3,000.
Reptile Lagoon

I have mixed feelings about this place. Tickets were $8/adult. I would have liked to see some improvements to the alligator and caiman enclosures. Granted, I don’t know much about the needs of reptiles and amphibians, and I know nothing about the enrichment they offer here, but their enclosures were kind of sad — usually just dirt or sand and a place to swim. One turtle’s tank was awful — gravel on the bottom and one floating log. Most of the snakes’ enclosures seemed reasonable, but there were a few I thought were too small.

I was impressed with the variety of snake species. There were a lot of species I don’t think I’ve seen before. I won’t bore you with the names of them all, but here are a few photos.

Brazilian rainbow boa
Western green mamba

They did make at least some effort for education. The room with the snake enclosure has large posters with information about conservation, reptiles, and amphibians.

Pedro’s Pantry East

It’s not a complete grocery store, but has a variety of basic things, including dog and cat food, toilet paper, beverages, snacks, etc.

South of the Border Travel Tip

Keep some cash with you, as many stores won’t accept credit cards for purchases less than $10. The arcade appears to be entirely cash only.

The Sombrero Tower

The ground floor is an arcade. There’s a glass elevator to the top. Tickets are $4/person for the elevator. There are stairs, but it didn’t look like you were allowed to take the stairs. Perhaps they’re just there for emergencies? Anyway, the view from the top was pretty impressive. It was interesting to see it like this, especially after our driving tour of the area earlier in the day.

Where We Ate

Pedro’s Ice Cream Fiesta

This was inexpensive ice cream, and it tasted just like that. A single scoop was only $2.50, so I guess you get what you pay for. Cones, cups, and milkshakes.

Sombrero Restaurant

The Sombrero Restaurant was unexpected (in a good way). Not a paint chip in sight; the air vents were clean; the booths and chairs looked new. It appeared to be the one place at South of the Border that was maintained or recently renovated. For the most part, we had the place to ourselves. That’s right, we were the only table in the hour or so we were there. When we checked in at the campground, we got a coupon for 20% off, so we thought we’d give it a try. We got mozzarella sticks, a cheeseburger, and grilled chicken. I wouldn’t call it fine dining, but the food was much better than I expected.

If you’re ever in the area and need a place to spend the night, check out South of the Border. It won’t be boring.

Happy travels!

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