Baja California is one of those places that might not be on your radar but definitely should be. Margaritas, tacos, beach camping, warmer winters…starting to sound kind of perfect, no!?
We decided that February 2020 was our month to finally see this beautiful peninsula for ourselves. We traveled down the eastern side with stops in San Felipe, Puertecitos, Guerrero Negro, Mulegé, and Gonzaga Bay. To no one’s surprise, it definitely sparked our desire to make it all the way down to Cabo San Lucas next time.
We’ve posted a few videos to our YouTube channel sharing our experiences in this amazing place – the towns we visited, the campsites, and all the activities we did. Be sure to check them out! For this post however, we wanted to share some insights and tips to help you prepare for road-tripping Baja!
Just for the record, our blog is an attempt to provide helpful information based our personal experiences in Baja. We are not claiming to be an authority on the subject and we’ve provided links in the information below that we found to be helpful in our own research.
THINGS WE’LL COVER IN THIS POST
Crossing the Border:
- Choosing a Crossing
CROSSING THE BORDER:
At the time of this writing, there are three documents for US Citizens to present at the border when driving from the United States into Baja.
- Your Passport – it’s a good idea to make sure your passport won’t expire for at least 6 months beyond the end of your travel dates
- FMM Tourist Card – you can fill out and purchase it online from the Mexican government, one for each member of your group. Be sure to print the FMM form (sign it before arriving at the International Border) and print your receipt to prove payment. You will present both the signed FMM and the receipt at the border
- Current Vehicle Registration – Your vehicle should be registered in your name and registration should be current. Border agents will compare the VIN on the registration card to the VIN placard in your vehicle. If you’re taking a rental vehicle across the border, check with your rental company on what documents you should have.
It is also required for you to have, at minimum, Vehicle Liability Insurance purchased from a Mexican insurance provider. If you are towing, you will need insurance on the vehicle you’re driving and the vehicle you’re towing. Here is a great resource with much more information on this topic.
As of December 2019 and at the time of this writing, pets are no longer required to have a health certificate from a veterinarian prior to traveling as long your pet is healthy and not recovering from ‘illness, parasites, or displaying fresh wounds’. However, it is always a good idea to carry proof of current vaccinations. Your pet may be inspected at the border. Be sure to check the USDA for current info or any updates and changes to the rules. It’s also a great idea to make sure your pet is up to date on their flea/tick medication as there are many stray dogs in Baja that are likely to have fleas.
CHOOSING A BORDER CROSSING
We entered Baja at the Mexicali II border crossing (GPS 32.673734, -115.388089) – this is about 30 minutes from El Centro, CA. This border crossing was busy but could easily accommodate large RVs. This was an ideal location if you plan to travel the eastern side of the peninsula because it will easily put you on Highway 5 via large, well-maintained roads.
When we left Baja we chose the border crossing at Los Algodones (aka Andrade Port of Entry) because it was more on our post-Baja travel path. We would not use this border crossing again while RVing. The roads between Highway 5 and Los Algodones are small, narrow, and riddled with unavoidable pot holes. Additionally, the line for the border crossing winds through town on narrow roads not meant for large vehicles, further compounded by a final tight right turn into the border check area. We made it with our truck and 25’ trailer but just barely! It took us about 2 hours to cross the border at Los Algodones. If you’re able, we recommend crossing the border on weekdays, at off hours to try and avoid the lines. It’s always a good idea to check current wait times here.
There are a number of items that you are restricted from taking across the border as well as limitations of the amounts of alcohol you may carry, whether you are entering Baja or re-entering the United States.
For information on restricted items brought into Baja, check the list here. You’ll see items such as fresh cheeses, raw shellfish, soil, raw leather products, etc. People over the age of 18 may bring up to three liters of liquor or beer and up to six liters of wine. Additionally, it is illegal to bring guns and ammunition across the border.
When you return to the United States, there are a number of food items that are prohibited – some fresh produce items (such as avocados, mangoes and grapefruit) or meats (such as pork) and more. You can learn more about US re-entry restrictions here.
CELL SERVICE & INTERNET:
We purchased a TELCEL sim card online before we went across the border. We have unlocked Android phones and we activated one card while still in the US before we entered Baja. When we used all the data on that sim card, we were able to add to it from the TELCEL website.
We had no problem accessing the internet over the TELCEL network using our cell phones while we were in larger towns and cities. However, there are many places throughout Baja that do not have cell service of any kind – this was often the case at those beautiful beach campsites we were so excited to try out. Since Brad needed to work his regular 9-5 job while we were there, we could only explore the remote spots on the weekend.
We came across many TELCEL stores in the larger towns so if you want to purchase a sim card after you arrive or if you are having trouble accessing the internet, you can always stop into one of those stores in Baja.
Streets and highway conditions can be a bit of a mixed bag in Baja which is a great reason to plan on only driving during the day-time. In many towns and cities you will encounter topes which are essentially large speed bumps. They’re not always painted or marked, so you’ve got to keep a careful eye out – you definitely want to go over these slowly.
You’ll also find that highway lanes can be pretty narrow with only one painted line to separate you from oncoming traffic. We know many people that have traveled Baja in large class A motorhomes but with the tight lanes it can be a bit stressful. We learned the hard way that it’s best to stick to the main routes as these roads will be better maintained (as mentioned under “Choosing a Border Crossing”). Highway 5 on the eastern side of the peninsula was recently re-paved and is a smooth and easy drive, aside from some bridge work that briefly rerouted us onto gravel by-passes. The less traveled roads are more likely to have large pot holes and non-existent shoulders.
Once we got onto Highway 1, heading from Puertecitos towards Guerrero Negro, the highway really didn’t have much of a shoulder. We just suggest making sure you are very comfortable driving in conditions like this and that you have a good sense of your rig’s size. It’s not very different from driving in narrow construction zones in the US. There is some absolutely beautiful scenery along this route and so much yet to experience in Baja as you continue south. Just pay attention, follow the speed limit, and use common sense. We also always recommend having a tire pressure monitoring system on all your RV/tow car tires so you know immediately if you are losing air and we suggest carrying a portable air compressor.
An interesting sidenote, we encountered a few semi trucks that will try to assist you with passing them by putting on their turn signal when the road is clear. Be aware that they might also just be signaling to make a left turn, so use your best judgement and always verify for yourselves that the conditions are safe to pass.
GROCERIES & FRESH PRODUCE:
It was our experience that the larger the town, the easier it was to find a nice variety of groceries. While we were in San Felipe, there was the Calimax store which was a large grocery chain with a really wide selection. We appreciated the fresh meat and cheese counter and they had great looking produce, house-made salsa and guacamole, and a bakery. As we traveled further south along the eastern coast we found smaller grocery stores with a more limited selection. It was rare that we ever came across organic produce, but it wasn’t hard to find locally caught seafood and in some smaller towns like Mulegé there were occassional farm stands with fresh produce.
Head down with an open mind and hopefully you can make do with whatever you’re able to find. We don’t normally buy corn tortillas but we found a great deal on a large fresh bag (still warm!) so for a week we ate lots of homemade tacos and mini quesadillas. It was glorious. If nothing else, there is no doubt you’ll find some incredible restaurants and food trucks too.
Before crossing into Baja, we were a bit concerned with the water situation. Tap water isn’t necessarily safe to drink and we didn’t really want to fill our fresh water tank with it. We know there are various products you can use to wash your fruit and vegetables when using tap water, and there’s bottled water for drinking, but we really wanted an eco-conscious singular solution so we ended up filling our RV tanks with reverse osmosis water! It was surprisingly easy to find these water-filling stations in each town that we went to. Oftentimes you can search on Google maps for ‘agua purificada’. In San Felipe we went to one called Distribuidora Israel and in Guerrero Negro we got RO water at Fresk Pura.
It wasn’t possible to directly fill the RV, so we used our two portable 6-gallon jugs. At this time of our visit, 12 gallons of reverse osmosis purified water was 30 pesos (or about $1.70). We would do as needed to keep water in the trailer tank for all our regular daily needs. We know of others who relied on their Berkey water filter system to filter the tap water and that seemed to work for them – so it’s really whatever you are most comfortable with!
Have you taken your RV to Baja? Drop us a comment, we’d love to hear about your experience. If you have other questions for us, we’ll do our best to help or direct you to the resources we found helpful! Cheers and happy travels.