Driving in Mexico: 2013 safety update
I & # 39; d bet you read this article, hoping you will soon be sailing in the stark landscape and stunningly beautiful coastline of Baja California Sur. I had the opportunity to drive the coveted Baja Peninsula in January 2013: It was the ultimate road trip, or so you've probably heard. From Tecate, Mexico to Cabo San Lucas, I drove slowly throughout the peninsula. If you hurry, the whole trip of thousands of miles can be done in three days. If you would like to enjoy the unique and beautiful cities of Mulege, Loreto, La Paz and Todos Santos before you round Los Cabos & # 39; Southern Cape, I recommend at least two weeks. The topic of Cartels and Banditos is often at the center of attention when discussing a potential trip to Mexico. Fear not: When it comes to driving in Baja, these two issues should not be on your mind. However, security should be your primary focus; Driving in Baja can be potentially dangerous. However, with enough attention and understanding, your drive through Baja should be totally fun and completely stress free. There are certain things that a foreign driver in Mexico must remember to ensure a safe ride.
Drive in Baja without a car visa
First, an American does not need a car visa to drive in Baja California. In mainland Mexico, a foreign driver will have to obtain a tourist visa for his person and a separate visa for his person. Both visas have a maximum duration of six months. Getting a car visa on the mainland of Mexico can potentially involve a certain amount of paperwork. To legally drive in mainland Mexico, you & # 39; Package your passport, driver's license, title of your car, Mexican car insurance, US registration, etc. These document requirements are subject to change at any time. In Baja, however, driving a car is much simpler: After acquiring your personal tourist visa at the border, you are free to drive south as far as you wish. If you drive to Baja, I recommend crossing at the Tecate border station. Even if you have to drive 15 minutes east of San Diego extra, you will be rewarded with lightning quick customs inspections, few lines and friendly locals in this sleepy border town. Both Tijuana and Mexicali border stations often live up to their reputation as patience testers and hassles. If you detest waiting in line as much as I do, I recommend crossing in the morning before 7 p.m. 9:30; You are probably the only car passing through customs.
Preferred Baja driving routes
The route from Tecate to either Tijuana (Hwy 1) or Ensenada (Hwy 3) is easy to find when in Tecate. If you want to get around Tijuana, stay on Route 3 toward Ensenada and often follow poorly maintained Highway 3 right to Ensenada. A general and valid concern for many drivers is the overall road quality of Baja California Sur. There are certain sections of freeway 1 that are lined with holes and intertwined with barely visible peaks or speed bumps and fast-stopped construction sites. As I mentioned, freeway 3 from Tecate to Ensenada is a hard, slow drive. Like many of Baja's rural roads, parts of good and bad can vary from mile to mile. The quality of the roads is pretty good until you pass El Rosario. From El Rosario to Guerrero Negro, I highly recommend avoiding driving after dark. The roads are thin, and apart from your headlights, you have no other source to warn you about inexplicable peaks, freely roaming livestock and fearless truck drivers. These can all be valid concerns when driving in Mexico. As you travel south, after Guerrero Negro, the road runs out and your drive is without hairpin as you cross from one side of the peninsula to the other. However, the roads are becoming thinnest here and drivers will want to exercise caution in this stretch. The road loses altitude quickly within 10 kilometers of Santa Rosalia. You drive some of the windy stretches of 1400 kilometers of road. If you take care during your descent, you will be rewarded with spectacular views and your first glimpse of the Cortez Sea. But beware: Hairpin turns and bumpy roads have taken their toll for many motorists on this stretch; Memorials line the highway as mile markers on this stretch of highway.
The dangerous left hand signal from Mexico
In Baja you don't have to drive as fast as the locals. However, to ensure safety, you must understand a very important aspect of driving in Baja: Using your left turn signal often means for the driver behind you that it is safe for them to pass you. Whether signage dictates its legality (or lack thereof) is to pass by open highways in Mexico. Baja is no exception. The car being passed sends a sign to the driver behind him, signaling that it is safe to pass using his left turn signal. This small cultural difference accounts for significant damage. Just remember, if a driver is behind you and you are using your left signal, he probably assumes you are ready for him to pass.
Avoid driving at night in Baja
Whether in mainland Mexico or Baja, most locals and experienced travelers know that for many reasons you should avoid driving at night. In rural areas, you will encounter potholes and peaks that are almost invisible on the poorly lit rural highways. You & # 39; ll cavort with freely roaming livestock and truck drivers; Both tend to hike at night and possibly into your lane. And if you break down at night, many of the rural areas of Baja do not have telephone reception. Because of these reasons, I personally avoid driving the night in rural areas, keeping most of my evening runs between Todos Santos and San Jose Del Cabo. Military checkpoints dot the highway one from Tijuana to La Paz. At the last count, I went through six. As long as you do not carry illegal drugs or weapons, you should have no trouble with the federal police. Before traveling, always do your part to ensure legal protection: In this aspect, having a doctor's phone number for any prescription you take is an important precaution. Personally, I've never had a problem with checkpoints while driving in Baja. Driving in Baja is infinitely easier than taking the mainland Mexico road trip. Just remember a few important tips: You do not need a car visa to drive in Baja. Do not bring illegal weapons or drugs to Mexico and keep a prescription phone number good if you are taking any medication. Avoid driving after dark in rural areas. Take it slow and get a feel for the road, even during the day if you don't know a stretch of highway. Most importantly, the left turn signal has a very different meaning in Mexico. Remember these few facts when traveling in Baja California Sur and you will be rewarded with some of Mexico's most amazing scenery. By taking these precautions, you will certainly enjoy a safe and happy road trip.
Copyright (c) Baja Atlas 2013