Following a bombardment of campy billboards, a giant sombrero looms above the horizon. Nope, that’s not heatwaves coming off the asphalt of I-95 – it’s South of the Border. If the near-incessant advertisements haven’t already worked their way into your subconscious, then veer off the interstate and prepare to be amazed … or disappointed. Either way, this theme park stands as one of the most recognizable landmarks along the I-95’s interminable monotony.
The 135-acre entertainment complex is located in the Dillon County town of Hamer, a stone’s throw below the North Carolina-South Carolina state line. In 1949 businessman Alan Schafer had the idea of opening a beer stand just below the North Carolina border, giving the business its name. What sounds like a small-time operation actually was quite strategic: many of the counties over the North Carolina line did not allow in alcohol sales, making Schafer’s business a convenient location for residents from both states to grab a beer.
With business flooding the beer stand, Schafer expanded. Soon the humble beer joint became a destination for motorists looking to stretch their legs and add a little whimsy to roadtrips. The “Mexican” theme is said to have originated when Schafer went on a business trip to Mexico. According to the tale, while there he hired two Mexican men to come and work for the South of the Border Motel, which Schafer added in 1954.
Motel guests frequently referred to the men as “Pedro,” a common name in Mexico. From that point, the park had a mascot, Pedro, whose caricature image adorns billboards from Virginia to Georgia, hoping to lure travelers to its carnival rides, reptile lagoon, and a view from the 200-foot-tall sombrero tower.
The business has been accused of racism and insensitivity towards Latinos due to its depictions of Pedro, and many have called for boycotts of the park. Yet the park’s prime location on I-95 still attracts people, either out of curiosity or the need to stop and refuel after a long drive. The park has seen few updates in its 65 years of operation, leaving people to wonder if its 1950s appearance is the result of intentional nostalgia or managerial oversight.
Regardless, South of the Border is a business that has survived the times. It has received much attention as a roadside attraction and was featured on the Travel Channel and in Time Magazine, which named it one of America’s Top 50 Roadside Attractions in 2010.
Today, South of the Border seems a little past its prime, which may add to its quirky draw. The gift shops are still there, replete with a bevy of unique junk, and the amusement rides mostly work – when they’re open. A ride up the 200-foot sombrero tower costs only a dollar and provides a unique panorama of South Carolina’s favorite tourist trap.
Bubba Cameron says
Love this place, I make it a point to stop there at least once a year, I even bought a second house in near-by Dillon SC.
Stan Lebiednik says
Great campground – old, but well kept. Everything works very reasonable. Will stop again.
Sue jones says
Stayed at the campground recently. Weird stuff goes on. Scruffy men driving an old van around inside the campground looking at the people who are staying. Creepy. The bathhouses are creepy. Workers at the local stores and restaurants tell the customers that the owners treat them like slaves. One even cried to me that they did not get the hours they were promised and was asking for money. Cameras everywhere. I will not waste my time here again. Beware and watch your environment. Place gives me the creeps.
Stopped there years ago when my grandparents took us to Florida in the late 60’s. Got to finally return there 2 years ago when my wife and I were on our way to Hilton Head. Not very clean, food not very good, and the gifts are a little tacky but it was a great nostalgic visit. Hope to stop there again in October.
This place is a history icon. My mother would stop there with me and my brother when we were growing up, then I took my girls while growing up, now my daughter takes her daughter there. This is a family tradition.
This place is awesome. I always looked forward to stopping there when I was a kid, and love its history as a grown up.
I love going North & South on I95 looking for the signs. We tried counting them, but that didn’t work out too well. Does anybody know how many there are?
Loved to stop here when my late husband and I were trucking in the area!