Sea of Cortez - Los BarrilesThere is a small learning curve associated with RVing Mexico, but after you experience it once, I can guarantee, it will ruin you for wintering anywhere else.
by Paul Beddows
A quick clarification, in my article last month on the paperwork required to take an RV into Mexico, I only mentioned as a passing reference, Baja & Northern Sonora. I need to stress that vehicle permits are not required for anywhere in Baja or in Northern Sonora State, north of Guyamas. These areas are known as the "Hassle Free" zones. Anywhere else in Mexico, the vehicle permit rules apply. You also do not require a tourist card for Baja, north of Ensenada, for 72 hour or less visits, nor in many border areas of Sonora State, like Rocky Point.
I strongly recommend a copy of Mike and Terri Churches’ Mexico Camping book. Experienced Mexico RV'ers consider this book their Bible. The latest edition is now three (3) years old and although some campgrounds have closed while others have opened, it is still an invaluable resource. You generally do not need reservations, but some campgrounds are very popular and there are exceptions. You should plan your driving so that you reach an RV park before dark. In a pinch you can often stay in a Pemex gas station, but avoid dark isolated corners. If the station has a security guard, pay him $10 to keep an eye on you. Boondocking is not a good idea unless you are in a large group. If you are planning to travel down the Baja, you might want to check out the schedules of the many caravan companies and avoid ending up in an RV park they may have filled.
The first timer should probably try to stay on toll highways as much as possible. They are pricey, but safe and fast. The cost is offset by Mexico's cheaper fuel prices. Do not drive at night and watch out for speed bumps, known as "topes", on the regular highways. They can easily damage your rig and can often be hard to spot. Ultra low sulfur diesel is still not available, so if you have a 2008 or later diesel, you probably do not want to venture too far south. A few tanks of regular diesel won't hurt, but more than that can be a problem. You certainly do not want to tell your dealer the truck has been in Mexico.
The other ongoing issue is "mordida", or bribing of police officers. It is illegal, but you will surely encounter it. I have three strategies to deal with it. First, pretend you have no Spanish and avoid handing over your license if possible, within reason. Quite often they will become frustrated and let you go. If they speak English, tell them how much you love Mexico and its people. In fact, do it copiously. Most Mexicans are very proud of their country and I have used this tactic successfully on two occasions to make them feel guilty about giving me a ticket. If all else fails, offer to follow them to the police station to pay the ticket, but in a small town with narrow streets this can be risky if
you have a large RV. You could try asking them to pay the ticket for you. It will end up in their pocket, but your conscience is clear. Never try to bribe Federales, they are pretty honest and you may well find yourself in big trouble. Mordida is still common with municipal police and transit police. Always try to play it straight whenever possible, and do not get upset. If you have to pay a fine just write it off as part of the vacation expense. Any fine over $50, by the way, is excessive.
If you are unfortunate enough to have an accident, your first call should be to your insurance company. Do not admit anything until you have a Mexican lawyer. They will provide one. Do not move the vehicle, but do take photos. It is a very good idea to have a cell phone. Check out AT&T GoPhone, which can be purchased at Wal-Mart in the US along with a pre-loaded card. Rates in Mexico are 25 cents a minute and you can be reached via a US number. Another option is a "pay as you go" Mexican cell. These are relatively inexpensive. TelCel probably has the widest coverage.
There is a small learning curve associated with RVing Mexico, but after you experience it once, I can guarantee, it will ruin you for wintering anywhere else.
If you have any questions, I will attempt to answer them if you email me firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also try posting them on www.mexicorvforums/forum or at www.rv.net/forum.
Paul Beddows is former President of the North American Truck Camper Owners Association and lives in Abbotsford, B.C in summer and Mexico in winter.