Baja México – Observations and Advice
When you cross the border into Mexico, all of the stresses and worries of hectic United States living evaporate, leaving you instantly refreshed and rejuvenated. Do you stay feeling so awesome after hitting your first pothole, the first American tourist that flies past you over 100mph, the first time soldiers with machine guns are digging through your car? Here is a quick recap of problems, suggestions, annoyances, and misconceptions so you know what to expect on your road trip through Baja, Mexico.
-If you drive into Mexico your car insurance is no longer valid. You can buy Mexican insurance at the border and there are several different options. Since we have an old dumpy car, we got the cheapest available plan, $6 per day which would at least keep us out of prison in the event of a fender bender. No one ever asked if we had this or not and I think a lot of travelers skip it. I wouldn’t take my chances.
-To travel south of Ensenada, tourists are supposed to get a card from immigration for $25 each. We got them but this was also probably unnecessary, as no one once looked at our passports. One soldier at a checkpoint did ask for my passport once but I told him “No tengo (I don’t have it)” and handed him my California driver’s license without a problem.
-Everyone told us to keep a $20 bill in a visible spot in the car. Apparently $20 is “the fine” if the Federales (Mexican federal police, notoriously corrupt) stop you. We were also advised to never give them your passport because to get it back you’ll have to pay much more than $20. We never had any encounters with the Federales.
-Watch out for potholes! We hit some bad ones but were lucky enough to not blow any tires. Some of the worst we spotted had to be more than a foot deep. No recovery after hitting that. Also, there are a lot of unmarked speed bumps. If you were driving the speed limit these wouldn’t be a problem. However, you won’t be driving the speed limit.
-Don’t run out of gas! Most Baja maps show you which towns have gas stations. There are some very long stretches without and you’ll need a full tank! Plan wisely, or you’ll end up stranded!
-No one drives the speed limit. If the sign said “40 km per hour” I tried not to exceed 40 miles per hour.
-People hassle you to buy tours and souvenirs, especially in Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas. Just say “No gracias,” firmly and continue like they aren’t there. If you make eye contact you will never be left alone.
-Drugs will be offered to you all the time (especially if you have dreadlocks or other hippie-ish characteristics). Rarely do tourists ever have a problem in México unless they are looking for that stuff. It’s a great way to get robbed, kidnapped, or jailed. The booze is cheap and legal! Stick with that.
-There are about eight military checkpoints (different from the Federales) along the way. Headed south we were searched at two of the checkpoints. Northward we were searched at all but one stop. We always hid our money but at times we forgot to put away the bribe $20 bill. The soldiers never took it or anything else and were always pretty polite. Just don’t bring anything into the country that you don’t want found.
-When you’re eating and drinking you should tip around 15%. Nothing is expensive so don’t get cheap on people.
-The tap water is safe to consume in some places. Ask the locals!
Mexico is a lot of fun, and actually really easy to travel in. Don’t let the scary news reports keep you away from a good time. We hope this helps!