Mexico

Route Mexiko

Travel Infos

Altogether, we were on the road throughout Mexico for three and a half months and 5,700 miles (9,172km). In the following, we want to share a few tips for an individual trip through Mexico in your own vehicle.

Visa

Upon entry into Mexico, you get a six-month residence permit, and it is important to get the so-called tourist ticket at the “Imigracion”. Be sure to keep this ticket in a good place because you have to hand it in when you leave the country. You have to pay a tourist tax of MX 295 upon entry, and be sure to save the receipt. Otherwise, the fee has to be paid again upon leaving Mexico.

Health insurance

We signed a contract for family insurance for our entire trip with STA-Travel, which had the best price-quality ratio in comparison to other companies. You should be especially careful not to have high deductibles.

Vehicle

Vehicle importation to Mexico is very simple. We didn’t import our vehicle until the ferry terminal in Pichilingue (La Paz) since we had no desire to do this in Tijuana. For importation, you must present your vehicle registration document and international licensing of the vehicle at the Banjercito window and follow the directions from the nice lady. Motor homes are allowed to stay in the country for ten years, without any security deposit, but a handling fee of about MX 620 is due.

Our BREMACH did not attract as much attention in Mexico as in the USA. In Mexico, lots of pick-ups are driven around with self-made superstructures which have quite a resemblance to our vehicle. We have decorated our Bremach with lots of designs made by colorful stickers in order to look a bit friendlier. This, along with the big inscription “Alemania“ at the front and the rear, caused lots of interesting reactions among people along the way. In contrast to questions in the USA, which were mostly about our vehicle, the Mexicans were especially interested in who we were and where we had come from and were going to.

The supply of materials for the vehicle (oil, grease, etc.) in Mexico is good, and there is a good selection all over. Oil for diesel motors is somewhat more difficult to get, but it can be found in bigger shops at the latest. Since oil is very expensive, it is worthwhile to buy it ahead in the USA. Diesel filters and oil filters should best be brought from home to assure the quality you want. In Mexico, you have to take what you get. With the tires, too, you should inform yourself about availability and price in Mexico. Metric tools can actually not be bought, and the availability of spare parts depends on the manufacturer. In Mexico, U.S. cars (Ford, Dodge, etc.) are very common, as are also VW repair shops.

Mexican repair shops are inconspicuous and often only old garages in a backyard. By asking around, you can find a good mechanic quickly. True wonders are achieved through improvisation and at an amazingly reasonable price. We had our cabin painted and diverse smaller repairs done. The mechanic worked a total of three full days on our car, and, in the end, it wasn’t any more expensive than an oil change at an authorized Audi dealer. The gas station network is very dense, and getting Diesel is no problem. Gas stations are not far apart, except in Baja California. During our trip, the liter cost about MX 12.20, which corresponds to about 0.75 Euro per liter or US$ 4 per gallon.

Driving

Traffic in Mexico is a bit different than what we are used to in Europe. A lot of traffic rules are considered optional, and people drive based on feeling. Especially speed limits and bans on passing are ignored to the greatest possible extent. Even a double straight no passing line or narrow, blind curves cannot prevent the Mexicans from passing at high speed. Accordingly, you see a lot of crosses along the edge of the streets. Fortunately, we weren’t involved in any accidents. Other traffic rules, such as no parking areas, are rigorously penalized. You have to learn what is allowed and what isn’t by watching the locals- You should drive defensively and reckon with all sorts of things on the streets, like animals, children, people selling items, or construction workers. Even bike riders on the highways are no rarity. In the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas in the south, “donation collectors” and vendors often stand on the street and block it by stretching a line across it. We have heard that it is advisable to buy a little something or to throw some change into the cup in order to avoid any problems. It’s best to see it as a little “toll” for the people who live there.

All these obstacles appear at night, too, and are unlit. In addition, it seems that a lot of Mexicans drive without lights in order to be able to see the light of approaching vehicles sooner or not to blind them. In addition, smuggler and drug gangs work along the streets at night, and there are warnings of the latent danger of assault. That’s why we never drove after 6 pm and always tried to find a place to spend the night around 4 pm. We never made any exception to this rule and had no problems. On Sunday afternoons, the traffic is very unpredictable since a lot of drunken drivers are on their way home from family celebrations, so it is best to avoid driving then and look for a nice place to spend the night.

The so-called topes are by far the greatest evil on the Mexican streets. These are speed breakers which appear especially before, in, and after towns, before curves, or just in the middle of a mile-long straight express road. There are often, but not always signs announcing them. Their construction is sometimes pretty brutal, for example, simple pipes cemented across the road. If you don’t drive over them at walking pace (!), you risk damaging your vehicle considerably – only an off-road vehicle in heavy-duty version saves you from the worst. If you should meet up with problems, there are repair shops after almost every tope, that’s clear. Topes are easily recognizable in advance when there are suddenly vendors and booths at the side of the road. The many topes limit your daily average mileage very effectively; more than about 185 miles (300km) per day when not on the expensive toll highways is hardly possible. Thanks to the topes, you can never allow your attention to wander, otherwise the vehicle makes a great leap and passengers get jolted around to the core. The toll highways in Mexico are marked with a “D“ after the street number, and some of them are very expensive. On some stretches, you pay over $14 for about 60 miles (10€/100km)! In exchange, they are (almost) free of topes.

Despite all these adventurous obstacles, driving in Mexico is surprisingly relaxing. Since a lot of vehicles without any insurance are on the road, drivers are careful to avoid any impact with another vehicle. For Mexicans, self-righteousness and knowing-it-better are completely unfamiliar character traits, and, when in doubt, everyone is very considerate of the other person. Since we have a pretty big vehicle, we were given the “right of the strongest“ at lots of crossings and were sometimes waved through or let ahead. On the highways, there is less traffic anyway, so you arrive at your destination pretty relaxed. Only the signs sometimes leave something to be desired, so you can end up passing through villages you would never had seen otherwise.

Vehicle insurance

We got the tip in the USA that the travel club “Vagabundos del Mar“ offers its members reasonable car insurance. We took out a one-year membership for US$ 35 and then got legal liability insurance valid for six months for US$ 127. We never had to make use of the policy, nor were our papers ever checked, but since about 50% of the drivers in Mexico drive around without insurance, but it is better to be insured, of course.

Eating and drinking

The Mexican cuisine is especially dominated by tacos, which are little tortillas made of corn or wheat and filled with meat or fish and spiced with various salsas. The food at food stalls is amazingly reasonable (starting at MX 4) and usually delicious. In general, eating out is very reasonable; for 200 pesos, we could feed the entire family, drinks included, with a great evening meal. We always looked for food stalls that had a lot of customers – and we never made a mistake. The food is usually never too sharp, and the spiciness depends on the different salsas. You have to be careful with them because the color often has nothing to do with the amount of spiciness. And the salsa can be very hot. Since the sauce is freshly made, the food is very healthy and tasty. We had no health problems due to the food; it is the water where you really have to watch out.
Food shopping is no problem; it is only in Baja California that there is a limited choice and rather dirty shops. In all the larger cities, there are big US-style supermarkets with a big selection. Fresh products depend on the season, and you get what is available. The freshest food is at the many markets and food stalls.

For drinking water, you should only use “agua purificada“, which is available in almost all shops in so-called “garafons“, which you pay a deposit for. We always filled the water into our canister in the shop, which was no problem. It is cheapest to buy the water in “purificadas“, which are small water stores where you can often get 20 liters for less than 10 pesos, but where you have to bring along a container.

Safety

When we left the USA, we had heard three months of scary tales about Mexico – hardly a day had gone by without someone telling us how dangerous Mexico was. Most of the negative reports about Mexico are connected with the drug war, so if you stay away from drugs, you won’t be involved in the trouble. We feel that the bad reports about Mexico in the media have harmed the country and are very unrealistic. The result is that you don’t meet up with many Americans in Mexico. There are, however, lots of nice Mexicans. We followed a few simple rules and had no problems during our trip.

  • Don’t drive at night.
  • Find a safe place to spend the night.
  • Before driving into remote areas, talk to the locals and ask if there could be any problems there.
  • Park in guarded parking areas in cities and don’t leave any valuables lying around openly in the vehicle.
  • At night, always store everything in the vehicle and don’t leave things (especially shoes) lying around outside.
  • For official controls on the street, only use copies, never original documents. This is legal and is recommended by the tourist police (but we were never checked).

The Mexicans were always helpful and friendly, and we never had the feeling that we had been taken advantage of. Along with all the other travelers we met along the way, we had only good experiences.
A bigger risk than criminals is presented by the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, especially along the northern Pacific coast and in some parts of the jungle. Mosquito-proof clothing, a good spray, and screens on the windows and doors are the best solution. In the flatlands around Veracruz, there are a lot of sand flies which leave behind painful bites which hurt for days. Only long clothes help against them; the sprays we had showed no effect. The use of mosquito sprays is limited anyway since the skin reacts sensitively to it after a while. We recommend long, light-colored clothing as the best solution.

Climate

We were in Baja California in September. It was sometimes (too) hot and usually didn’t cool off even at night below 86°F / 30°C. Making up for this, the ocean had very pleasant temperatures. Along the northern Pacific coast, it was hot and humid and pretty unpleasant. In the central mountainous country, the climate is great: during the day there are summery temperatures, and it cools off greatly at night. You need to have a warm jacket with you, as well as good protection from the sun. The hurricane season is between September and November, along the Atlantic as well as the Pacific. During this time, you should follow the weather reports carefully and definitely leave the coast when there is the threat of strong storms. It is always better to be away from the coast than to try to ride out a storm there. The rainy season ends at the end of November, and, after that, it is actually dry. We just had bad luck.

Traveling with children

The Mexicans are extremely fond of children. “Kids are king” and everything possible is done to assure that the family is happy. All entry fees and hotels are free for small children, and there are playgrounds, children, and distractions everywhere. Toys and clothing can be bought at all the larger stores and at the markets. It takes some getting used to that everyone wants to touch the children’s blond hair – in exchange, a nice conversation gets started and you can get valuable tips. Especially in the cities, Mexicans often speak to the parents and make them aware if their children walk a bit away since children are usually not allowed to run around freely.
You have to be especially careful at the ocean since the currents are often very strong. In the southern part of Mexico, there are a lot of clear streams and lakes which invite you for a swim. Small children (particularly girls) should always wear a swimsuit and never play around without clothes on except at remote beaches to avoid making a negative impression.

List of Campsites

Here is a map with all our campsites in Mexiko, here is a list of the individual spots along with GPS coordinates, costs und (German) comments and here you can download the gpx-file.

In Mexico, it was always important for us to have a safe place to spend the night. In cities and their suburbs, there are almost always camping sites, but you should check beforehand exactly where these are. You are not apt to find signs or other markings for them, and the locals are usually unfamiliar with them. When driving through the countryside, it is best to ask the people living in the smaller villages. They are very helpful and are glad to show you where good places are located. Parking lots in from of hotels are also good spots for spending the night and, in exchange for a little money, you can often use the pool and the sanitary facilities.
In cities, you can occasional also camp at guarded parking areas, and, if you can’t find anyplace, there are always the PEMEX gas stations, which are safe and often even have a shower for truck drivers.
In national parks or at the wide beaches in Baja, stopping or spending the night at a lovely spot along the way is no problem.

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One Thought on “Mexico

  1. Dear Robert & Carla and Kids,

    What a great blog to read. We are very interested because we (family with two young daughters) are planning our trip next year. (Canada-Argentina)

    Thanks a lot for all the relevant info!

    Where are you driving at this moment?

    regards,

    Oscar
    The Netherlands

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