RVing in Mexico raises lots of
concerns, but those who have been there say there are few
worries and unparalleled scenery. Here's a guide about how to
prepare, what to expect and how to make the most of your trip.
It was 105 degrees in the shade - and there wasn't any
shade. I was starting to see mirages: a Dairy Queen over here,
a Baskin-Robbins over there. There was nothing I could do but
stare at the chain that had broken and stuck in the crankcase
of my Harley-Davidson Electric Glide. I was in the middle of
nowhere in the Baja desert, miles south of the United States'
border, with little money and fewer prospects of finding help.
The road was
deserted. In the distance I saw an old pickup truck
approaching with two Mexican ranchers inside. They stopped.
My Spanish was worse than their English, but they
could figure out the problem. We found a large board on the
side of the road and pushed the disabled Harley up the plank
and into the bed of the truck. Not only did they take me to
the border, they took me all the way across (where they
weren't even going) to the nearest Harley dealer. They refused
to take any money for their trouble, dropped me off and wished
That happened in 1975. I put away the
motorcycle a few years ago, but still return to Baja in my RV
as often as I can.
As I travel across the country, the
question I am most often asked is the one that I find most
frustrating: "How are the banditos in Baja?" My answer is
always the same: "I don't know; I've never met one. But I've
met lots of them in the United States."
Baja has a
terrible and undeserved reputation. Bad things can happen
anywhere, but I have been traveling there for the past 28
years and have had nothing happen to me and have never met
anyone who has had anything bad happen to them. In Baja, crime
statistics are many times lower than the U.S. national
To help put your mind at ease, though, stop
at or contact the SECTUR Tourist Office, 7860 Mission Center
Court, Suite 202, San Diego, CA 92108; (800) 482-9832;
Before You Go
insurance from home will not cover you in Baja, and don't
drive without Mexican insurance. If you have an accident
without it, you may be detained in jail for awhile until the
authorities figure out what happened. Shop around for your
insurance. A daily rate is very expensive (but available), so
if you plan to stay for more than three weeks, a six-month
policy would be cheaper.
You will also need a tourist
card, if you are planning to stay for more than three days or
if you travel south of Ensenada. You can get your card when
you get your insurance at a travel club, or you can buy one as
you cross the border into Mexico. Its also possible to pick
one up in Ensenada.
Make sure your rig is in the best
possible shape before you head south. Take along a good spare
tire and take replacement filters, belts and hoses. On the
main roads, help is usually available. You can also flag down
one of the government's Green Angels' pickups that roam the
highways to assist travelers.
The best time to go is
late fall or early spring. In the summer the heat is
oppressive. In the winter it can get downright cold - not
Minnesota cold - but colder than you would expect.
Fuel, Food and Water
There's no need to worry
about fuel as you travel the main highways. You'll find plenty
of stations and most have diesel. Mexico stations do not take
credit cards. Propane is available near most large towns.
I never use the local water at campgrounds. There are
water-purification shops just about everywhere. They will run
a hose out to your RV and fill up the freshwater tanks. You
don't have to stock your RV with food before you cross the
border because you'll find modern grocery stores in most of
the bigger towns.
Credit cards are the best way to pay
when you can because you get the best exchange rates. ATMs are
found in larger towns and are the best ways to get cash.
Traveler's checks are a trusted old standby, but you can also
You'll find some nice
full-service RV parks near the border, but after that the
quality varies from one place to the next. Prices can range
from $5 for no facilities to $35 for the best full-service
parks. Make sure you test the electricity at each site before
you plug in. Many have only 15-amp house-type sockets, so
don't use your air conditioner. Some also have water and sewer
hookups. The sewer connections are usually far back in the
campsite, so make sure you have enough hose.
Trailer Life Directory is a good source for knowing where the
parks and campgrounds are and what you should expect to find
at each one.
Most of the highway is
in surprisingly good condition. Plan on at least a three-week
trip down and back. Anything shorter than that and you're
The highway is 1,060 miles long from
Tijuana to Cabo, and it's no interstate. Once you pass
Ensenada, the road becomes a narrow 18-foot-wide two-lane
road. There must not be a Spanish word for "shoulders" because
there aren't any. I would suggest a maximum speed of 55 mph.
Relax and enjoy the scenery; that's why you're here. And never
drive at night. Not only are many vehicles poorly lit, but
that's when the cows come out to dance on the road.
There is a highway tradition of putting on your left
blinker so the vehicle behind you will know it's safe to pass
when it is difficult to see the road ahead. It's a nice idea
but be very careful. Don't bet your life on it.
road signs are in Spanish, of course. The most important are:
Precaucion zona de ganado: Caution: livestock zone
Disminuya su velocidad: Reduce your speed
peligrosa: Dangerous curve
100m: Speed bumps the size of polo ponies next 100 meters
The most unnerving part of the drive are the military
checkpoints. You'll be driving out in the middle of nowhere,
round a curve and be face to face with a roadblock and
teenagers with automatic weapons. Do not panic. These are drug
checkpoints. They will ask you where you have been and where
you are going. They might also ask to check inside the RV.
It's a little scary having very young soldiers with weapons in
your rig, but after a short search you will be on your way. Do
not offer them money.
The most difficult
part of your drive south will probably be getting through
Tijuana, although crossing the actual border is not much of a
When driving through downtown Tijuana, make
sure you have a good map and navigator to help read the road
signs. If you want to stop and shop, do it on the way back
after you are more comfortable traveling in Baja. Believe me,
Tijuana is not the place to drive around in your big rig.
Head for the toll road to Ensenada. There is a free
road, but it's slower and less scenic.
You might want to
make your first stop at Rosarito. The main attraction is the
four-mile beach and the Rosarito Beach Hotel, which has been
famous since the 1920s. The nearby Oasis Resort is one of the
most expensive and nicest RV parks in all of Mexico. While in
the area, stop at Puerto Nuevo, Baja's lobster capital. There
are more than 30 restaurants in this little town - an entire
village dedicated to eating.
The toll road south
follows the beautiful coastline all the way to Ensenada. With
about 300,000 residents, Ensenada is Baja's
third-most-populated town and one of the most pleasant to
visit. Hussong's Cantina is a must stop for a cold drink. It's
one of Baja's most famous landmarks and is advertised as "the
bar that built a town."
Back on the main highway, we
head south of Ensenada and into the Santo Tomas Valley, which
looks nothing like the Baja we imagined. This is a prime
agricultural area with vineyards and commercially grown
cactus. Near San Quintin, head west on a dirt road to the Old
Mill Trailer Park. The old mill is from a failed 1890's
English land-development scheme. You will find remains of the
old mill, pier and cemetery, plus excellent bird-watching,
fishing and a nice restaurant. If you have a tow vehicle, you
can head inland on a dirt road for a trip to Parque Nacional
San Pedro Martir, which looks more like Northern California
than Baja. Heading up into the pine forest, you will enjoy
great views of the desert below and Picacho Diablo, which at
10,150 feet is the highest mountain in all of Baja.
Heading south again on the main highway, we stop in El
Rosario. Mama Espinosa's has been famous for years for its
lobster burritos, so make sure you stop in. Be sure to top off
with fuel at the 24-hour station because this is the start of
the infamous gas gap. There will be no fuel available for the
next 195 miles.
Here is where many people believe the
"real" Baja begins. The plant life and desert scenery is some
of the most unusual found anywhere in the world. The Catavina
boulder fields are sometimes called the "devil's bowling
Guerrero Negro marks the north/south border of
Baja. The town has little to offer the tourist. Most of the
residents work for ESSA, one of the world's largest salt
producers. Visitors might not stop here at all if it weren't
one of the best whale-watching spots on earth. Each winter
thousands of gray whales migrate to the lagoons near here to
have their calves in safety. Malarrimo RV Park is the best
place for one-stop shopping. In addition to the park, there is
a great restaurant and the best whale-watching tours in the
Heading inland, we stop in San Ignacio, home to
one of the most impressive mission churches in Baja. It was
built in 1782 and is largely in its original condition. Next
to the church is a rock-art museum that features examples of
the cave paintings done in the surrounding hills. The town is
built around lagoons and is famous for its date-palm trees.
Visit the Rice and Beans Oasis for a nice RV park with an
Heading east to the Sea of
Cortez, the highway reaches the coast near the town of Santa
Rosalia, a working-man's town with a unique character. This
important seaport was founded in 1885 when copper mines lured
workers from Japan and China. The place is known for its
French colonial architecture, a church built by Alexander
Eiffel (better known for his tower in Paris) and the best
bakery in Baja. Keep your rig outside of town and walk in to
Further south is one of my favorite towns:
Mulege. Founded in 1705 as a Jesuit mission, it's known as the
"oasis in the desert." The river is one of the few freshwater
streams that flows year-round, and the abundant supply of
water brings many species of birds into the area. The Orchard
is the best RV park for birders. There are good fishing and
diving opportunities as well.
The Sierra de Guadeloupe
Mountains contain the largest number of known prehistoric
mural sites in Baja. The Hotel Serenidad has a small RV park
A few miles south of Mulege, the Bahia de
Concepcion is considered by many to be the ultimate Baja
destination. Thirty miles long and only three miles wide at
the mouth, the crystal-clear turquoise bay is the most idyllic
seashore on the entire peninsula. There are no full hookups,
but the scenery makes up for the inconvenience. Most beach
spots cost about $5 per night and there are many from which to
The area is a world-class kayak destination
and the clamming is excellent. EcoMundo rents kayaks if you
Didn't bring your own.
The highway next heads to
Loreto. Founded in 1697, it's the first European settlement in
the Californias, begun more than 300 years ago. A museum in
town gives you some insight into the missionary life. Loreto
Shores Villas and RV Park is a large park with plenty of room
for big rigs.
Heading west, we come to Puerto San
Carlos, a Baja surprise that many travelers pass right by.
They will miss a unique marine environment that looks a lot
like the Florida Keys. Magdalena Bay's mangroves and estuaries
provide habitat to many species of birds and marine life. The
inshore fishing and windsurfing is excellent. There is also
whale watching in season. RV Park Nancy is the place to stay
The capital city of La Paz is the next stop.
Many travelers, including Mexicans, say this is their favorite
city in all of Baja. In addition to a beautiful beachfront
walkway, La Paz is famous for scuba diving. It's not uncommon
to dive with friendly giant manta rays and sea lions. This is
a good place to pick up supplies or hard-to-find parts. This
is where you can catch a ferry to the mainland city of
Mazatlan. The Casa Blanca RV Park in town actually has some
After La Paz, the highway splits on its
way to Cabo. If you go west, you can visit Todos Santos, which
has excellent shopping, restaurants and is considered an
artists' colony. The nearby San Pedrito RV Park has beautiful
beachfront camping and electric hookups, a rarity in Baja.
Head east at the split and you come to Los Barriles,
which offers some of the best fishing in Baja. The deep water
starts just offshore. Martin Verdugo's Beach Resort is a
popular camping spot near the beach with 30-amp outlets.
Our final stop is Cabo San Lucas, which has lots of
tourists and aggressive salespeople hassling you as you walk
down the street. If you are ready to rock, shop, fish, golf
and eat, then this place is for you. Vagabundos Del Mar RV
Park is the place to stay here.
Well, we've made it.
We're at land's end, as far south as you can drive. There is
only one thing left to do: Get in the RV and drive all the way
back home. It'll be a great trip.