TRAVELING IN THE BAJA
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17) Use your common sense on returning to the States. If you are traveling home after a great holiday weekend in Punta Banda, keep in mind that everyone else is too. The Border is a disaster on Sunday night. We try to come home Sunday Morning or Monday Morning to avoid the long wait at the Border. Don’t do what everyone else is doing and the Border wait can be an hour or less. If you time it when everyone else is you could wait as long as 3 hours. Another common sense suggestion is that you never joke at the Border. Think of this just like an Airport.
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1) Crossing into Mexico through the San Diego Border requires little attention. This applies to many of our mutual borders as well. Cross slowly and look for the Green Light. If you get a Green Light just stay to the left and follow the road. If you get a Red Light or you have items to declare, stay to the right and drive up to the Border Agents. If you get a Green Light stay to the left and get through this area. If you get a Red Light then proceed to the Border Agents on the rightand just tell them you are on vacation. A short examination of your car may take place then they will send you on your way. Little or no Spanish here helps get you through this area quickly if you get a red light
3) Cell Phones are a world away in these times from where they were a few years ago. If you travel out of the US regularly you know this, but you have to turn on your international features to your phone. Some are already on and some are not. With Sprint/Nextel you have to turn on your International Feature and you also have to turn on your International Voice Mail. Neither are a charge if you do not use your phone, but be aware that if you are calling the states there will be International Rates. If you have a Walkie Talkie Phone like Nextel, they work great once you have those features turned on and there are no charges. Also, most phones can call local numbers with no international charges. If you are calling your friend who is in Mexico and they have a cell phone
2) Mexican Car Insurance is necessary. Even though you maybe covered with you United States Insurance, they have interesting rules. If you get into an accident, you will not be able to leave the country until everything is settled. Not good. You can buy Mexican insurance at many stops just before you cross the Border, but you can also buy it online from the Baja Club. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t have to do this. Murphy may visit you and it won’t be good. If you are going down there all the time you may want to do what we do and buy Mexican Car Insurance for the year. This can be done through the Baja Club (see Links Below). It is cheaper than buying Insurance for four weekend trips.
* Discover Baja Travel Club / http://www.discoverbaja.com 800.727.2252
from the states too, you will need to use international calling. You must first dial 00 (The US Country Code) -1 - then full phone number including the area code. Example 00-1-760-414-1580. If someone is calling you from the states and your cell phone has the International turned on, they need only dial the number and they will reach you.
4) Recently and not so recently, I have heard horror stories about border towns. That’s what they are, Border Towns. Don’t plan a trip there, don’t stop there, and generally avoid any stay longer than a few minutes there. Your job is to get through the Border Town as soon as you can. There is no motivation for these towns to do anything except grab for every dollar they can get from visiting Americans. I have heard of kidnappings, people taken to jail (although I question the judgment of these Americans), traffic tickets, and other not so fun events. Let’s face it, I am no longer a young man. When I was young and less wise, I might go to Tijuana and be thrilled to go to bars and other such establishments. Live and
learn, it is just plain stupid. You have also heard of accidents that forced Americans to stay in Mexico. In both these cases, these people could have avoided these difficulties. Don’t go to bars in Border Towns and you will never regret the decision. Let’s face it, many people who go to Mexico do so with the idea that they can do in Mexico what they can’t in the states. Sometimes they find out they can’t. I have no sympathy for these people. Every city in America has a bad part of town. Would you go there at night and get intoxicated? No you would not. So why do Americans do this? I once followed someone who had his kids in the boat he was hauling. He would have been arrested in the states. Yet he put his kids at risk just because he was in Mexico and no one would stop him. He put his kids at the risk of their lives for a few thrills. A single pothole or bump and one of those kids could end up dead. There are two kinds of people who visit the Baja. The first go down there to enjoy the Nature, the Food, Fishing, Relaxation, and other wonderful things down there. The second are people who think this is a place to do the things they cannot in the United States. Lucky for all of us, this is the minority of the people who go down there. Plan your trips to travel through any border town in daylight. Never have in your planning the need for supplies, gas, or a meal in a Border Town and you will avoid possible pitfalls.
5) Never drive at night. You may die. This isn’t funny. It is a fact. All down Mexico One are shrines to people who have died on this road. Mexico One was not designed to be traveled at night. People who do it are risking their lives. Anyone who travels regularly down there knows this and plans their trips accordingly. All Crime, what little there is on Mexico One, happen after midnight. Why be on the road then. I have come across wild horses, cows, bulls, and even burros in the center of the road coming around turns farther south. If it were night I would have hit them. I have met and heard of many people who had friends or family that have died on this road because of accidents caused by driving this road at night. Please don’t join them.
6) Bring your own Water. We bring cases of pints of standard grocery store drinking water. Remember, most water in Mexico is not for drinking, but rather for cleaning, bathing, and other non-consumable uses. Most water is not potable. Do not cook with it, do not make coffee with it, do not brush your teeth with it, and avoid drinking it. Use the water you bring for all of these uses. They do sell purified water in most stores and if you stay with the name brands you will be fine. As far as the restaurants they use good water for ice so that is fine, but do not drink water
in a glass. Better restaurants usually serve it from a bottle. The longer the trip the more you need to bring. This can require good planning if you are bringing a dog. During the heat of summer our dog goes through six pints a day (he is a big dog +100 Pounds).
7) You will not find salty snacks in Mexico unless they were designed to burn the inside of your mouth. Bring your favorites like nuts, chips, and crackers. We are however very fond of their Queso (Cheese) Potato Chips. If you like it hot enjoy. Their tortilla chips are better than the states so feel free to experiment.
8) Lunchmeats and assorted cheeses are also difficult to find. Unless you go to a grocery store in Ensenada, you will never find lunchmeat or non-Mexican cheese. In addition, the quality of their sliced meats and cheeses are very low compared to the US. We tend to bring these items, but don’t be afraid to try their cheese. Their cheeses are great. The problem is that the variety is rare. Queso Fresco is a really great quesadilla cheese and their hard version of that is great for a topping (like hard Parmesan). You won't find any Cheddar, Gouda, Swiss, etc.
9) Soda pop is readily available, but may taste a little different then you are used too. Non-Mexican Wine and non-Mexican beer is not readily available, so you should bring that as well if you do not like their beer. Another note is that liquor stores that are Red and White carry Tecate and Dos Equis. Stores that are Blue and White carry Pacifico and Corona. This is true in the entire Baja.
10) Dogs are welcome more places then not. Be bold and bring your dog anywhere with you and you will probably be surprised. If you frequent a place and your dog is well behaved he will be as welcome as you are. Don’t forget he or she adds to the bill if you buy him a quesadilla and believe me if you don’t, after he has tasted it, you will get a very sour look. In my case he will probably want to bite me. The law says that you must first get a “Health Certificate” on your dog before you can travel into Mexico. This Certificate must be done within 10 days of travel to Mexico. The average Vet uses this as a profit center. They charge up to $50.00 for this Certificate. If you shop around, you can get this for as low as $15.00. Remember, this is so you can get your dog back into the States. The idea is that they will ask you for this Certificate when you try and come home. The threat is that you will not be able to bring your dog home. In all the trips we have made in the last ten years, no Border Patrol Agents have ever asked us for this paperwork. You should also have your dogs Vaccination records as well. This we have only been asked for twice and they did not even take it from me. The Border Agent said “just wanted to make sure you had it”. Keep in mind that dogs in Mexico are small. Our dog is very large and unlikely a Mexican Dog. We believe that this is the reason they have never asked. Get this certificate before you go to Mexico if you are unsure and want to comply with the law. If you do not have a certificate you can always get one in the many Mexican Veterinarian’s on the route to the border. You will probably never be asked for this certificate, but make sure you have your vaccination records. You are more likely to be asked questions if you have a small Mexican type breed. There are those that try to rescue Mexican dogs so the Border Agents are looking for it.
11) Visas are not needed for this trip unless you are going over an hour south of Ensenada. In that case you will come to a military stop where they could (but rarely do) ask you for your visa. Visas are required on Mexico One roughly one hour drive south of Ensenada or for stays exceeding 72 hours. However; no one gets one for vacations in the Ensenada area since no one checks them until you are about an hour south of there. On the other side of the Baja Visa’s are required south of San Felipe. The easiest place to get your Visa is at the Baja Club. The contact info for the Baja Club will be at the bottom of these pages. You can also get one in Tijuana just past the border. If you don’t use the Baja Club you just pull to the right when entering the Mexican Border and ask them where to go for a Visa and they will help you.
12) Pemex is the gas station of Mexico. They are generally clean, professional, and have clean restrooms. We have stopped in them up and down the Baja and they are pretty much the same. The only difference is that the older ones are much smaller than the newer ones. You will find that gas prices are usually about one third off of ours. During the recent gas crisis when gas got over $4.00 US, Pemex was around $2.60 per gallon. The gas prices are state run and they are always trying to keep domestic prices as low as they can. You will always pay less than the states. You will want to put Magna into your car. That is our
equivalent of unleaded gas. Keep in mind that most of these gas stations close no later than 10:00 PM, but that is OK because you were listening when I told you not to drive at night.
13) Military Stops are a regular part of deep excursions into the Baja. I know these scare most Americans. This is one of the things that stop most Americans from going deeper into the Baja. We appreciate these stops for that very reason. OK we understand you fear the first or second time you go through one of these stops because we were nervous on our first few stops as well. Let’s face it they are looking for the same thing at each stop. You cannot bring guns or ammunition into Mexico you have been warned. If you do you after being warned by these pages and by the signs on the way to the border before you enter
Mexico you are in for a rude awakening. The second thing they are looking for is drugs. Ditto. If you are traveling to Baja Sur from Baja Norte they are also looking for fruit. If you have none of the above this is just a little delay in your travels. I have never spent more than ten minutes being fully searched at one of these stops. Keep in mind we have gone through these stops so many times I cannot count them. Know this, if you have a gun, ammunition, or drugs in your car you will go to jail. Gee this is so much different than the states. Most of the people that will stop you, search you, are just like you were between the ages of 18 and 21. They were drafted and they are doing their duty. Sometimes in the middle of the desert, stuck in a camp in the middle of a mountain, and many other remote locations. Many times our heart reaches out to those that are in the middle of nowhere especially in the middle of the desert. We have handed out sodas, dog bones for their dogs (Baja Sur if they have them), and Frisbees for something to do while they are out there. Many of them are at college age and speak English and even those that do not speak a little. I have lifted dumb bells with them (I know I carry to much weight when I travel but I do not care), I have had my dog do tricks to impress them, and in general if you are friendly and not afraid you are out of there quickly. Now I am going to give away a great secret to traveling in Baja Norte. This works all the way to Baja Sur (The southern state of the Baja). As you pull into a Military check point, do not just roll your window down, roll the window down in the back seat as well. If your dog is back there and he hangs his head out the window, they will probably just wave you through. It is pretty universal in Baja Norte that they are afraid of dogs. This does not work as well in Baja Sur (south of Guerro Negro). In Baja Sur they will ask your dogs name. Apparently they are not as afraid of dogs as the north. Not speaking Spanish is a plus at most stops because the more difficult the communication the more easily you are out of there. Remember be confident and friendly. The key to these stops is not to be guilty. This is deadly serious if you are breaking their laws and no big deal if you are not.
14) Don’t worry about communicating in the Baja. You will be surprised how many Mexicans speak a little English. Even if you don’t speak any Spanish you will get by. This applies to all of the Baja from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. If the person you are talking to does not, keep trying with others and you will be rewarded. I still recommend the following travel companion. Speedy Spanish is a phrase book that will insure you can communicate anywhere. Click on the "Look Inside" for more information.
15) Cash is king in the Baja. Don’t go down there thinking you can go to the bank and use the ATM. Only the largest cities have them and they are consistently out of cash! Only the largest businesses or in the largest cities can you use your credit card and no they won’t take your check. There is no need to exchange your
US Dollars for pesos since everyone takes American dollars. It is wise, however, to keep in mind the exchange rate. If it is ten pesos to a dollar everyone does the math in their heads. If the exchange rate is eleven to one, you will find many people still using the ten to one ratio. If the exchange rate is an odd number you are better off paying in pesos. The range for the last several years is between 10-13 pesos to a dollar. There are many cambio’s (Money Exchange Companies) on the way down the Baja. Ensenada has several on the main road heading south. Exchange your Dollars for Pesos if the Pesos are 12 – 1 or greater and you will save money on your trip. Keep in mind you do not want to do this in a bank. They charge high rates for this exchange.
16) There are a couple of radio stations in San Diego that play Mexican Tourism commercials. It is sad that these commercials welcome us down to the Baja while reminding the very unwise of us not to do in Mexico what you would not do in the States. One of the locals in the Punta Banda once told me that many Americans leave their brains at the Border. When one of the members of your party land in a Mexican jail, it can really ruin a Baja trip. Remember, you are our ambassador to Mexico while you are there. Think of this as a responsibility to the rest of us who will come down after you. Tip fairly, be friendly, and act responsibly and you will never have problems in the Baja. I think this covers it and I recommend you see to it that all members of your party act accordingly.
They have no sense of humor about bomb jokes. We had a guest at our house that crossed the border in two cars. The first car went right through while the second car pulled up to a border agent. The man and his son where asked for their citizenship and the son answered “Is this a good time to tell someone that you are kidnapping me?”. Three hours later, they were released. Crossing the border is a serious matter in our current times. With the threat of terrorism to the United States an ongoing thing, I suggest you take this seriously and keep your answers short and sweet with these Border Agents and you will go right through. Remember that you need your US Passports now or a few other choices listed on the site below. We suggest you get your Passport if you do not have one, since this is what they want. Get one for every member of your party including kids. If you have questions on what you need to cross the border, go to the US Custom web site.

http://www.getyouhome.gov/

In this guide we tried to help you through decades of discovery to make your trip to the Baja less exploratory and more enjoyable. These rules apply to most of the Baja. If you pay heed to them your trip will be far less complicated. If you find another truism that is not listed here please contact us with it to help future Baja Guests. Thanks.