We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment. ~ Hilaire Belloc
Traveling Baja Mexico
With our first adventure South of Border under our belt, we thought we'd put together a page to list a few of the things we learned while traveling through this beautiful area.
We're not trying to replace Mike and Terri Church's Traveler's Guide to Camping Mexico's Baja, which most call the Baja Bible. We're just passing along a few pieces of info that we learned in our 6 weeks in Baja.
First and foremost, we'd recommend that anyone who is going to travel into Mexico, have their RV and any vehicle you plan on bringing in tip-top shape. These roads are some of the worst we've ever seen, and any vehicle that is not in perfect shape is just asking for trouble.
Our 25' travel trailer was fine for the rough roads, but we think the ideal way to travel in this country would be with a Slide-In Truck Camper. Many of the beautiful sights are on some rough roads and a Class A motorhome or anything larger than a small travel trailer will limit you to where you can get to.
Even with our small camper, there is just no way to pull off the road when you see the breath taking boulder fields around Catavina, or one of the many magnificent vistas when coming over a mountain top, or being able to get back to those secluded beaches along the Pacific Coast. But with a 4-wheel drive truck and a slide-in, we think you could just about reach every part of the Baja Peninsula.
The weather is nice enough and you'll be outside 90% of the time, that the small living quarters of a slide-in would be suitable for an extended stay. Not like the winter in the States where those cold nights and chilly days leave you feeling cramped when you're holed up in those small spaces.
Even though I normally hate tent camping for any length of time because of the dampness of it, the weather we experienced while in Baja for the months of March and April, would make even that type of camping tolerable. This would also make setting up camp on many of the beaches a breeze and would allow even a lighter mode of travel for better fuel mileage. For those two months, we experienced daily temperatures in the 70's and 80's, with some days getting up into the 90's, but there was almost always a nice breeze to cool you off.
Most nights we fought for the blankets when the temperatures would drop down into the upper 50's. But this makes for fantastic sleeping weather. The only places we found it too hot, was in the middle of the Peninsula (Ciudad Constitución) where you don't have the ocean breezes to keep you cool. Then again, who wants to camp here except for just passing through?
Travel Tips for Baja
* Take It Slow - Don't plan on getting anywhere fast! The roads are bad, and the locals drive like crazy lunatics. If there is one thing we would stress over and over, it would be to take it slow, and don't plan on logging too many miles in a single day.
Do not Drive at Night! Almost all of Baja is open range and the cattle migrate towards the roads at night for the warmth. Only one night did we drive after dark and we saw numerous cattle along the edge of the road side!
* Mexican Insurance - You need to have a separate insurance policy for any vehicle you bring into Mexico. Don't risk being caught without insurance, and most American Companies will only cover the first 20-50 miles across the border.
* Fuel - There are only Pemex gas stations in Baja. The government owns them all so the prices should be regulated. Make sure you know they don't accept Credit Cards. Cash Only!
We heard tons of rumors about scams at the pump, but had no problems what so ever! We just made sure the attendant knew we were watching as every station is full serve. I just always stood beside him making small talk or watching what he was doing.
Another thing to remember if you need Diesel is the color of their diesel pumps are Black not Green. In the United States every station lets you know which pump to go to with the color of the pump. Diesel is always green in the USA. Not here, it's Black. Green means they have Gasoline. If you have a brand new diesel, Mexico doesn't have Low-Sulfur Diesel yet.
If you use Gasoline, not every station has premium and many of the stations run out of fuel at various times. Plan on bringing a few fuel cans and keeping them full. You'll have numerous sections of road where you might go for 300 miles or more with no stations in between.
We kept 3, 6-gallon fuel cans with us at all times just incase we ran into any stations that were out of fuel. A few times we would pull into a station that would be out of Gas, but all still had diesel. Remember that not all stations have diesel to begin with just like in the states.
* Cash vs. Credit Card - Credit Cards are seldom accepted unless in big cities like Cabo, La Paz or a few of the other growing towns. Plan on having plenty of cash on hand.
* Travelers Checks - We were told to bring travelers checks down with us but few places would accept them. Unless you go to the bank and get them exchanged for Peso's, you'll be stuck with money you cant use. Remember when you do go to the bank to exchange them, you need to have your passport with you.
* Pesos - The best thing to do is exchange your currency for Pesos as soon as possible. If you try and spend your American or Canadian Dollar, no one will give you the exchange rate, so you're just wasting money.
Find a bank and exchange your American or Canadian Money for Pesos which are much easier to use anyway. This way there is no confusion in trying to figure out how much you owe the cashier for your six-pack.
* Cell Phones and Calling Cards - We have Verizon Cell Phones and were told that we would have a signal the entire time we were in Mexico but would be charged international rates which would equal to anywhere from $1 per minute to $4 per minute.
Thank God we never needed to use them in case of an emergency because we never once got a signal. We were in one spot with another couple while she sat talking on her AT&T phone while my Verizon phone said Service Unavailable. So don't plan on having cell phone coverage in Baja if you use Verizon.
To use a calling card, you must use Telmex cards which can be bought at most convenience stores in many of the towns and villages. At first we were unable to get our AT&T calling cards to work, but Luke Porter sent me an email and said this
"The numbers I use for my AT&T card to call from Mexico are
01-800-288-2872 or 001-800-462-4240. No typos there.
Once we tried the number Luke gave us, everything worked fine. Thanks Luke!
* Internet Coverage - Normally in the United States we use a Broadband Card to stay connected. We were told by our provider we would be charged $.99 per minute to use it in Mexico.
We had so much trouble sending emails while in Baja, we ended up starting a Google Gmail account because our normal email wouldn't work. The only reason we found this out was after sitting in an internet cafe in Mulegé talking about how nothing would work, a fellow American said he was having the same trouble and went to Gmail.
One thing to remember is most places have fast download speeds, but turtle slow upload speeds.
* Specialty Items - Anything that is a specialty item, make sure to bring it with you. I was surprised at the limited availability of just about any RV accessories South of the Border. I don't think we saw any stores where we could have bought a sewer hose, awning parts, jack stands or any item to repair anything that might break.
It's not like in the States where you have a RV Shop around every corner incase you forgot anything. Baja is for an experienced RVer who already has many of the kinks of RVing under their belt. It's not the place to take your brand new RV to to see how you like it.
We did get this email from Chuck after we had mentioned our limited findings on RV Supplies.
Pat and Cindy, Chuck here from
Center in San Jose Del Cabo , as a fellow Michigander, I would like
to let you know that we have the largest stock of repair parts for RV's
in Mexico and if you are still in Los Cabos and if there is anything you
two need for your trailer to make your trip go smother, please let me
know. If you are in San Jose just stop by and say hi.
Chuck Schmuck from Howell, Michigan
* Bring an Extra Sewer Hose. We normally carry a 20' hose and a 5' hose. We use our 5' hose for when we are just pulling up to the dump station, and the 20' hose for when we're camped with full hook-ups.
What we found in Baja was most campgrounds that had full hook-ups had their sewer taps behind the camper. This means you have to have enough hose to make it a few feet behind your camper. Like I said, you wont find a place to buy more hose once you're down here, so it's best to make sure you have plenty of sewer hose.
* Electrical Surge Protector and proper connectors to make the switch between 15amp to 30amp and if you have a 50amp coach, then make sure you have the proper connections to step down. We didn't have one for our first trip, but next time we come down, I'd make sure to buy one of the Line Conditioners like an Autoformer or one of the Electrical Surge Guards. Most of the Campgrounds only offered 15amp services and the power was very dim and erratic
* Voltage Tester - This is a good tool to have in any RV, but is mandatory in Mexico. One campground we stayed in had such low power, that we just decided to not hook up and pay for the site with no amenities. The voltage would jump from red to green non-stop and we didn't want to risk having anything surged, so we just chose not to plug in.
* Window Awnings or Window Covers. To find a campsite with shade is next to impossible in Mexico, and I cant imagine how hot the camper would have been if we hadn't had the window covers made before we left for the trip. Check out Best RV for great Window Covers.
* Solar Panels or a Wind Turbine and a good set of Deep-Cell batteries. The best campsites are going to be without hook-ups. We camped on Playa Santispac for a week and never had to run our generator due to the power of the sun. There wasn't a cloud in the sky from sun up to sun down and our batteries were never low on power.
I only wish we had a Wind Turbine to generate power from the daily winds that would blow off the ocean. There was never a day that we didn't have a nice breeze that we could have been using to our advantage. If there was ever a place where Solar Panels and Turbines make since, it's Baja Mexico.
* Tires - A good set of tires on anything you bring. This is probably one of the most important items you should have. We cant stress enough how rough the roads are. Luckily for us, we went without incident for 6 weeks.
But we spoke with one guy who said he had 5 flats in 600 miles! He went through a full set of tires and was waiting for another shipment before he could leave. I don't know if he was that overloaded, but all of them were complete blowouts and not something that could just be patched.
Our travel partners we tagged along with for the first few weeks had one incident where he found a screw in his tire of his tow vehicle and was able to get it patched for only $6. But a new set of tires is not something you want to be waiting on.
* Whale Watching - If you're coming down during the months of March, plan on stopping in Guerrero Negro and going on one of the whale watching trips.
We camped at Malarrimo Campground in Guerrero Negro where you can take their own guided trip for $50 per person. The trip was outstanding and something I'll never forget. You also leave right from the campground on their bus and return back to your camper. A sack lunch is included, but they fed us Fish Sandwiches! After spending a few hours photographing whales, I was in no mood for a fish sandwich!
Plan on bringing plenty of batteries for you camera and a few Memory Cards for all the images you'll be taking.
We also took a Whale Watching Trip out of Lopez Mateos which was just as good as the one in Guerrero Negro and maybe even better. Each area you'll see different whales with different personalities. The trip out of Lopez Mateos was only $21 per person, but we drove to the boat dock, and it didn't include a lunch.
I'd recommend taking multiple trips as this is such an awesome experience I could do it every day if I could afford it.
* Day Trips - Another great day trip was a boat tour around Isla Espiritu Santo off of La Paz. This island offers so much to see and gives you a chance to snorkel with California Sea Lions. This was amazing and I'd highly recommend it! Our Gallery from this day trip can be seen here Isla Espiritu Santo Gallery
* This leads me to my next subject. An Underwater Camera. This used to be a very expensive option for a photographer, but with the new digital cameras becoming so advanced, they have plenty of options of inexpensive Point & Shoots that have underwater capabilities. With the amount of amazing underwater wildlife you'll see in Baja, this is a must for any photographer.
If you don't want to drop a bunch of money on an underwater specific camera, at least buy a Aquapac Underwater Bag which will allow you to use it both above the aquatic surface and keep your camera safe from sand, dust and anything else Mother Nature can throw at it.
* Satellite Radio - This is a must unless you enjoy Mexican music. There are no American radio stations, and only a few Mexican stations to choose from. We have a Sirius Satellite Radio and before we left I called the company to see if we needed to do anything different to get a signal while in Baja.
The operator told me I'd probably only get a signal for the first 100 miles and then they didn't offer anything farther South than that. But this is untrue. We kept the signal the entire time and never lost it at all.
I cant imagine the long drives with no radio available and would put this at the top of any Baja Road Trip. Talking with a few other travelers, they all mentioned how boring the roads would be without their satellite radio.
Photography in Baja
Baja is as close to a Photographers Paradise as I can think of. With everything from mountains, oceans, lagoons, deserts and beauty around every corner, to travel the Baja Peninsula without a good digital camera should be illegal.
There are many species of plants and animals that are only in the Baja Peninsula. To pass by them without the option of photographing them is just wrong.
Even though this was our first time South of the Border, everything we heard from people who have made the journey for many years in a row tell us "The Baja Peninsula is changing faster than they can believe, take as many pictures of it while you can!"
* Camera Housing - Remember that this is a big desert surrounded by salt water. If you own a big expensive DSLR, it might be worth the extra cost to get a waterproof bag or some sort of housing to keep the camera out of the elements.
I used a whole package of sensor swabs in the two months were were down here. Dust is a part of Baja, just make sure you come prepared.
* Waterproof Camera - We normally carry a waterproof camera, but it had broke a few weeks before we left. Huge Mistake! We had also ordered a Aquapac Underwater housing for our 30D, but they wouldn't be available till May, and we left in March.
Looking back, I should have gone to the nearest camera store before we left and picked up one of the many new Digital Waterproof Point & Shoot cameras before we crossed the border.
Any electronics are outrageously expensive in Mexico, and on numerous occasions was I kicking myself for not having an Underwater Camera. Swimming with Sea Lions, snorkeling in beautiful tropical waters, floating over schools of 1000's of sting rays.....etc. That was a stupid mistake I wont make again!
Then there is the fact that I tipped over in my kayak and dropped about $8000 worth of camera gear in the ocean. Yeah, if you come to Baja, get some waterproof gear for your cameras. Don't be an idiot like me!
* External Hard Drives - If you plan on spending an extended amount of time in Baja, plan on bringing an extra external hard drive to put your pictures on. You might not take as many pictures as we do, but it's always a good idea to back up you images on a separate hard drive other than the one on your lap top.
Memory is very inexpensive these days, so don't be foolish and risk losing anything with only keeping your cherished memories on one hard drive.
* Extra Flash Cards for you camera - I cant stress enough how many pictures you'll be taking. I didn't see one place that sold memory cards while in Baja. Make sure you bring extras. How ever many you think you'll need, double it.
We went on two separate whale watching tours. On both tours, everyone on the boat including Cindy and I ran out of images available on our cameras. I filled 6 gig's worth of Compact Flash Cards on one whale tour alone. Like I said, memory is cheap, buy twice as much as you think you'll need.
* Batteries - If your camera uses anything other than AA or AAA's, make sure to bring extra. You wont find anyplace to buy additional specialty batteries. One thing we do is keep a 400watt inverter in our truck, and in between stops, we throw the batteries on the charger to make sure they are always topped off.
If your camera does use AA's or AAA's, them make sure to buy the rechargeable type and have 3 or 4 back-ups. That way if you go for a day or two between charges, you have plenty of power.
* Security - Keep you camera on you and don't leave it in your car. We only heard from twp people who said they got things stolen from them. Both said they had left their cameras in their vehicles and the windows were broken when the vehicle was left in a parking lot.
This is the same as it is in the United States. If you leave an expensive camera out in plain sight, plan on it being gone when you return. If you're visiting Baja, you're a tourist, look like one and keep your camera on you at all times.
If you don't want to carry your camera with you for some reason, then make sure that it's put away or locked in a case that cant be seen by someone walking past the vehicle.
Dogs in Baja
* Veterinarians in Baja - If you travel with dogs, make sure they are up to date on their shots before you cross the border, you wont be asked on your way down, but you might be asked for papers on your way back into USA.
Finding veterinarians isn't as hard as you'd think. Some Canadians camped beside us said they had to bring their dog to a local vet in Mulegé and had more work done than their normal vet at home would do. When they asked how much they owed for the visit and the 6 week supply of antibiotics they had received, the young American vet said "What ever they felt like donating."
While in Cabo, we took our big dog to the vet for an Ear Infection. The same visit in Michigan had cost us $130 and we had to wait for a few days for the lab results to come back. In Cabo it took a half hour while we watched the vet take the tests and look at them under a microscope where he showed us it was just a yeast infection.
Total cost with prescription was $30 for a happy dog and happier dog owners.
* Leashes - Most of the beaches allow you to let your dogs walk without leashes. Just remember that 99.99% of Mexican dogs wont be on leashes.
This is the norm here in Baja, so don't think you're going to get anywhere by complaining to the owners of these roaming dogs. If your dog isn't good around other dogs, then keep YOUR dog on a leash.
For the most part, most of the roaming dogs we came across were very friendly. They just wanted to play with our dogs and probably wondered what those goofy things were around their necks.
* Dog Food - We were told you couldn't bring Mexican bought dog food back into the United States, so we brought enough for the two months we'd be traveling through. If your dog eats a specific type of food, it would probably be wise to bring enough to make it through your stay as the choices here are limited.
Paddling in Baja
The Baja Peninsula is a paradise for those of us who like to paddle kayaks. With the Peninsula being completely surrounded with water, much of it teaming with migrating aquatic life, you're more than likely to be paddling atop giant schools of tropical fish.
Some sections are so calm you'd think you're floating atop a pane of glass. Other sections can be brutal with constant winds, pounding waves and dangerous currents.
If you plan on visiting Baja with an RV, it would be wise to load a kayak or two on top of the rig. You wont be disappointed!
Like most other areas you paddle in, early mornings and late evenings are the best times to paddle, with mid afternoon usually stirring up some fierce winds.
A sit-on-top kayak is the best bet for day trips. They're very easy to get in and out of and offer great stability on the water. They are also perfect to fish from, something you'll want to be doing every second you're out on the water.
If you don't own a kayak, there are multiple places that rent them along the peninsula, but the available options for paddling are so plentiful, you could spend the equivalent in the cost of one kayak on rental fees.
If I was planning another Baja adventure and I didn't own a kayak, I'd buy one before crossing the border and would probably buy a sit-on-top model for ease of being able to go over the side to go snorkeling.
On our first trip South of the Border in the RV, we spent over 50 days exploring the peninsula. We loved every day and cant wait for our next visit. None of this info is gospel, but it's what we thought was important to us, so we felt we'd share it with you.
Our Gallery Page is filled with different galleries from our 2 month stay in Baja. Feel free to browse through the galleries to get an idea of what to expect when you visit. If you have any questions, feel free to Contact Us and well do our best to answer them.
Earth First! We can Mine the Other Planets Later