Want to take a Baja California road trip?! We did just that! We spent 3 months on our RV Baja road trip and it was amazing!! Below we share all of the things we did to prepare for our trip.
Always be sure to verify everything to make sure nothing has changed.
Table of Contents
- Crossing the border
- Useful Apps
- Preparing your vehicle/RV
- Essential Oils to bring with
- Toys to bring
- Electricity at RV Parks
- Grocery Shopping
- What to pack
- RV Park Reservations
- It is a 3rd World Country
- Police Presence
- The Roads
- Doctors, Dentists, Etc.
- Planning Where To Go
Getting all of your documents in order is huge. That can be the difference of crossing the border or not. These documents will either be needed at the border crossing or possibly at military checkpoints (or both), so keep them handy. Here are the documents we needed for our trip – always be sure to check the official government/border crossing sites for what you will need for your trip or situation.
Passports – Pretty much a no brainer. However, if you don’t have one or yours is expired or about to expire, it takes time to get them.
Mexican Auto Insurance – Your U.S. car insurance is no good in Mexico due to the different laws in both countries. We went with CHUBB Insurance and did a 6 month tourist auto policy on both our van an trailer. It costed us $675 for the 6 month policy on both vehicles. Print a copy of your policy and keep it with you.
Permission Letter from Lien Holder On Vehicle(s) – If you don’t own your vehicle outright, and have your title in hand, you technically need permission from the lien holder to leave the country. We got a letter from lending institution that basically said we had their permission to take the van and trailer (the same institution financed both vehicles) into Mexico.
The letter needs to be signed and notarized. As a side note, we never had to show this letter to anyone – either at the border crossing or at any checkpoints, but if we needed it, we had it.
Dog health record – First make sure your pet is up to date on their shots and you have the records showing this. Also, you need to have your pet examined within 15 days of your border crossing and show a letter from the vet saying your pet is in good health.
Birth Certificates – Along with passports, we brought our birth certificates just in case. Well, in truth, we always have that with us since we live in our trailer, but you may want to bring these (or a copy) just in case.
Marriage Certificate – We also brought our Marriage Certificate just in case.
Copy of US Car Insurance – We brought a copy of our US car insurance policy for both the van and trailer. This was in case there was any issues with the Mexican insurance and we could prove we had insurance outside the country.
Vehicle registration – This was to show we actually owned the vehicles. This was needed at the border crossing coming in to Mexico as well as on the way back into the States. Attached to our vehicle registration document was a Proof Of Ownership page that basically said we are the rightful owners of the vehicles.
We ended up making a binder that had all of these documents (or copies of) so it was all in one place and we could carry that with us in our backpack if we needed it for the day. It was very convenient and organized.
Crossing the border
When you cross the border, you’ll be given a few documents that you need to keep with you throughout your trip. Don’t lose them or you’ll never be able to return!!! Just kidding. I think. Keep them safe.
Tourist Card – You can get this beforehand or day of – just be sure to stop get it at the border crossing. You will have to park and then go in to get it. You will have to pay for it and you will have to give them a destination you are traveling to.
We said La Paz, but ended up going further south. Keep with your passports.
Temporary Import Permit (TIP) – I believe you need this for your vehicle if you are going to cross into mainland Mexico. We did not get it since Baja didn’t require it (at the time), but keep this in mind incase you cross over on the ferry in La Paz.
We crossed the border at Mexicali (Calexico on the U.S. side) and it went very smoothly. There wasn’t a long line and the patrol people were very nice and accommodating.
We stayed at an RV park that was about 30 minutes from the border in El Centro, CA and then got up early to get going the morning just to be sure we had plenty of time to cross and get to San Felipe (about 3 hours from the border).
We exchanged $800 USD into Pesos before we crossed and put half in an envelope and hid it in the RV. The rest we split between Craig and I. There were several exchange places in Calexico, where we were and you can shop around a bit for the best exchange rate.
They were only able to give it to us in big bills (500 peso notes). It’s definitely useful to have smaller denominations for propinas (tips) and other smaller cost items. You can do that by stopping at a gas station once in Mexico.
Be sure to contact your bank about going to Mexico so your card works at the ATM when abroad. We actually did this when we were in Mexico because Craig’s card got denied when trying to withdraw cash.
Also contact your credit card company and turn your international travel setting on. This is also to avoid getting denied when using your card. Also, be sure your card doesn’t have any fees associated to international travel. It is actually beneficial to use a card because they give you the best exchange rate for each billing cycle.
We were pleasantly surprised how many places you can use a card. But there are also a lot of places you can’t and you need to have Pesos. We recommend always having a couple $100 US dollars in Pesos with you at all times.
To be honest I am totally a Google person. Why would I buy a book when I can just Google it? In Baja you aren’t going to find everything on the internet so having a good book is a great idea.
Also internet is spotty (see below), so we didn’t want to rely on that while trying to find our destination. We got the following books before heading to Baja Mexico.
Traveler’s Guide to Camping Mexico’s Baja – Amazing camping book that had incredible detail and was super accurate. It helped us find a great camping spot all throughout the Baja California peninsula.
Order your Camping Guide here – https://amzn.to/2JRuxeK
Moon Baja Traveler’s Guide – This book was way more helpful than I expected for finding things to do at the places we visited, restaurants to try, etc. It offered great choices for all of that and never disappointed.
Order your Moon Baja Traveler’s Guide here – https://amzn.to/2Ky3KVX
Baja Legends – It was fun to go to a location and the read some of the unique or unusual things that happened there. This book had some fun, interesting and wild Baja stories.
Order your Baja Legends here: http://amzn.to/2HQsVB
National Geographic Maps – We never had to actually use these, but still think it would be a good idea to have them just in case. As I said before, internet is spotty so Google Maps doesn’t always work. There are actually 2 maps – one for Baja California and one for Baja California Sur. The link below is to the pack that contains both.
Order your NatGeo Baja Maps here – https://amzn.to/2HPaBN6
Google Translate – This was super useful and helped our terrible Spanish. Craig can speak Spanish decently, but still needed help quite a bit of the time. The features of this app are pretty awesome including dictation and even picture translation.
Google Maps – Helpful when navigating Baja Mexico.
DuoLingo – This is a good one to learn Spanish. It’s free and can be addicting. Our daughter Melia really enjoyed it.
Preparing your vehicle/RV
Be sure to get a full service and inspection on your vehicle before you cross the border. You want your vehicle to be in tip top shape when heading into Baja.
Along with that, I recommend you bring the following items because they may be hard to find for your vehicle in Mexico.
- Gas Can
- Fresh Water Jug
- Couple Quarts of Oil for your car
- Spare belts
- Oil filter
- fuel filter
- Grease and grease gun
- Air pump
- Spare tire or 2 (2 would be best)
- Car Jack
- Tire Iron
All that said, mechanics are basically wizards in Mexico. They can fix pretty much anything and can do it without all the necessary parts. So if you do have trouble, they can fix it, but it’s always best to avoid situations like that. You wouldn’t want to ruin a great day of viewing the cave paintings in Catavina and breaking down in the middle of the national park.
Essential Oils to bring with
Digestive Zen – It is Mexico, so your tummy is bound to hurt from time to time.
Order your Digestive Zen here – https://amzn.to/2rl72E3
Lavender – This is a good all around one to have on hand for multiple things.
Order your lavender here – https://amzn.to/2rlRajE
Ylang Ylang – This is great for sunburn or you just want to put restorative oils on your skin after being in the sun and ocean so much.
Order your Ylang Ylang here – https://amzn.to/2HONEWg
Frankincense – This is our go to oil because it is so versatile and it smells great.
Order your Frankincense here – https://amzn.to/2w7hNyF
Fractionated coconut oil – necessary to dilute the oils to apply them on your skin.
Order your coconut oil here – https://amzn.to/2HPcb1u
We have heard that you can’t bring food across the border, but we did and did not have any issues. After that I wish I had brought more :). In any case just be aware if you buy food to bring there is a chance they will make you throw it all away.
I brought 9 packs of frozen organic ground beef and cheese. I really wish I would have brought more like the organic cereal the kids eat, almond milk coffee creamer (only found this at a couple places in Baja. . .), wine (down south there were lots of types up north not so much), and cider beer (only found this in a couple places) to name a few.
Obviously if you are going to stay for an extended period time you can’t bring food for the whole time. So I would recommend thinking about things you really want to have with you and if you are OK with the fact that you might have to throw it away then buy it before you leave.
If there are specific toiletries you want or need, I would recommend bringing them. We were able to find the things we needed but they weren’t the brand I wanted usually and sometimes it was hard to find. I would pack things like extra contacts, contact solution, vitamins, etc. Really anything like that that could potentially cause a problem if you don’t have it.
Obviously people who live here have figured out how to find the things they need and you can too, but if you are just going to be road tripping down for a few weeks or month I say bring what you need so you don’t have to worry about finding it.
Another tip is that we couldn’t find any lip balm that had a higher SPF than 15. Our lips were taking a beating in the sun, so try to find some heavy duty stuff and bring it.
Toys to bring
Baja is a great place to have some outdoor fun. The terrain is great for off-roading and it’s surrounded by ocean. You need to bring some toys to really enjoy this great peninsula.
Kayak – There are tons of places to kayak around Baja.
We have a Sea Eagle inflatable, which is easy to store, and setup and great to use – https://amzn.to/2KAGZ3B
Paddle Boards – Just like kayaking, SUP’ing is a must do in Baja.
We have the Body Glove Performer 11 (inflatable) – https://amzn.to/2JRdglI
Fishing Poles – Fishing is fantastic in the Sea of Cortez and no license is required when fishing from the shore.
Surf Boards – Pretty much the whole Pacific side is a surfer’s paradise.
These beginner boards are great – https://amzn.to/2IboFQl
Boogie Boards – There are a ton of great boogie boarding spots in the Pacific Ocean, like in Todos Santos or Los Cabos.
So much fun for the kids – https://amzn.to/2rlgo1T
Bikes – we don’t think you need them unless you are into mountain biking. We brought our kids bikes and they stayed on the bike rack pretty much the whole time.
Dry Bag – great to have for when you are kayaking or out on a boat. Keeps your wallet/phone dry.
We have the Tiny Big Adventure bags – https://amzn.to/2Ky4g6s
You can rent all of these at most places so if you don’t have the room or don’t want to deal with it then don’t bring them. Just note if you plan to go all the way down through Baja California Sur, there are lots of opportunities to use all of these toys along the way! Also, this is a great way to get near the amazing marine life in Baja like manta rays, sea lions, and even doing some gray whale whale watching!
It is true that the water in Mexico doesn’t agree with our bodies. There are a couple of things you can do about this.
When you go out to eat, either say no ice or ask if the ice is purified – more and more restaurants are doing this. The taco or street food stands – not so much.
Don’t eat the lettuce and be really careful with all vegetables that they are watering and the water is getting absorbed into them.
It is going to happen – your tummy will hurt – at some point either you will get water into your system even if you are being really careful or a piece of seafood might set you off. So either rip the bandaid off early and just eat the vegetables and let your body deal with or be very on top of it (but honestly even if you are I still think it will sneak in somewhere).
Once you have a few bad days of tummy cramps and go the bathroom about 10 times your body usually adjusts and then you are good to go.
Even with that being said still don’t drink the water straight from the tap. For that visit the multiple water purification places where you pay less then $1 US dollar for 5 gallons of water. And always ask for bottled water at the restaurants. We used a 5 gallon jug for water from Scepter as well as getting 3 garafones from the grocery store to have one hand.
For your RV fresh water tank, you have a couple options – 1 you can pour the purified water from the 5 gallon jugs into your tank (if possible).
Or you use the water from the hose at the RV parks (again not to drink) to fill your tanks and add a tablespoon or more of bleach to kill off the bacteria. (Our is a 30 gallon water tank and we used about 2 tablespoons of bleach). We then used this water to wash dishes, hands, brush teeth. We did not drink it, instead we only drank the purified water as well as filtering it through our Berkey water filter. We highly recommend the Travel Berkey for your trip.
Water is something to be aware of and to figure out when you get there. We had no issues finding water purification places in every place we went. But just like with gas and money be sure to load up your water before you are heading to your next destination just in case they don’t have a water purification place or they are closed . . .
We travel with our whole trailer tank filled – 30 gallons and 4 5-gallon jugs in our van that were filled.
Electricity at RV Parks
Some of parks have electricity, but it doesn’t mean you want to use it. . . We have a surge protector and it was showing the electric was 130-136 volts. Since 120v is normal and our surge protector would only allow up to 132v before cutting power to the rig, we were left without electric quite a few times.
There were plenty of people with no surge protector and they said they just blew a few light bulbs out . . . up to you what you want to do. We didn’t want to fry anything in the trailer, so we were extra careful.
There were a couple times we just totally unplugged and used our portable solar panel – like the time there was a mis-wiring at the campground pedestal which was giving our trailer hot skin . . .
Also note that 30amp campgrounds are few and far between so don’t count on always or if at all being able to run your AC. Most campgrounds have a typical household 15amp outlet. So be sure to bring your adapters like these – https://amzn.to/2KAI8rV
There were plenty of people down here who made do with a generator when they were boondocking or who just drove down to one RV park and stayed there the whole time. But our recommendation is if you want to give yourself more freedom down here, then get a solar setup.
In most of the cities we were in, we found a laundry service for a really reasonable price. Like they would wash and fold 2 loads of laundry for like $10. I could get use to that!
You just drop off your laundry and then come back to pick it up when they tell you to. Pretty sweet!
Some RV parks will have a washer and MAYBE a dryer – a lot of the time you can wash in a washer for a fee but then have to hang your clothes to dry.
My advice – wear the same clothes multiple days in a row before washing. Believe me no one in Mexico is going to care.
And if you need something washed and aren’t where there is a washing machine you may be hand washing your clothes.
Don’t expect to find what you are use to in the US. You have to get a little creative. Or just eat the same things a lot. Or go out to eat a lot – I like this option :).
I think the hardest thing to get use to is the basics not being there. Like most of their milk is in boxes on the shelf or you can’t find a bag of spinach. And coffee creamer is never cold and never almond milk creamer. Plus the brands are different and they are all in Spanish . . .
Like with anything it is part of the journey and part of the experience and try to embrace it and figure out how to make it work. Picky kids included . . .
The amazing thing is there are lots of roadside stands with fresh strawberries and oranges for really cheap. Or the tortilla place where you can go to get hot fresh made tortillas right in front of your eyes. We noticed the further south we got the more of these options we saw. And yum the fresh squeezed orange juice is so good!
Another adjustment is there are not a lot of big box stores and you can’t order Amazon in 2 days – more like 2 weeks if you are lucky and there is a whole process of delivering it to someone in San Diego who then has to drive it down . . . in other words it isn’t happening.
That being said buy what you need before you get here. And if something gets broken or stops working either figure out how to fix it or learn to live without. When you get to San Jose Del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, there is a Walmart and some larger stores like Home Depot – but you will not find any of these anywhere else in Baja.
What to pack
It is sunny almost every day – especially the further south you get. So be prepared for it. That was one of the things we loved the most about Baja, but we got fried a few times.
Bring Sun Glasses, Shorts, Tank tops, T-shirts and flip flops. However, it is also a desert, so it gets cool at night which is great. So have a few pairs of pants, sweatshirts and a jacket.
When we started out in San Felipe there were multiple times that Craig wore is winter hat. That was in February. So just be prepared that you do want to bring a little bit of everything just in case you need it.
RV Park Reservations
People will kind of laugh at you if you try to make a reservation in Baja. Instead most places are first come first serve and in most cases there is no problem getting a site. There are also a lot of free camping or boondocking places you can stay.
It’s kind of crazy that you head to a foreign country with no reservations at all, but that’s what pretty much everyone does.
We got the Baja camping book and they do an amazing job with helping you find where to stay so instead of going to much into it I am just going to recommend you buy the book.
It was funny when we would meet up with other people rving the peninsula they all had the book :).
Also note that a lot of RV parks only take cash. But at $10 a night it is doable! Some places will end up more in the $30 range but they are usually well worth it if you want good hookups and showers. A lot of them also offer weekly or monthly discounts so be sure to ask.
I think we had better coverage in Baja than we do in the US . . .There is a stretch through the middle of the peninsula where there is really no cell or internet. Be prepared for that. Other then that everywhere else we went we had coverage – unless we did a side trip to a remote spot.
We own our phones out right so we were able to go into a T-Mobile store in California to get an unlimited plan and to add the international coverage for $25 more a month. What we didn’t know but do know now is that the plan only works in Mexico for 3 months . . . then you are past your outside of the country usage.
We only stayed that long this time so we were fine. But if we are going to go longer in the future we will have to figure out what to do. Which I think means finding somewhere in Mexico to buy a plan.
With the unlimited plan we had we could use Craigs phone as a hotspot for our computers, the kids tablets, the XBox. It worked great!
For more info on this, check out our Baja Internet post.
It is a 3rd World Country
Mexico is a 3rd world country and there are times it is really evident. The homes people live in are very different than what we have in the US, garbage is all over the place, and the dogs run wild and free.
But what we found is they are the nicest people and are so welcoming. We found that walking down the street the locals were more likely to look at us and say hi than the other Americans or Canadians that were down there.
Everyone loved the kids and constantly said Hi to them. It really has a very warm and welcoming feeling down here and you just have to adjust to some of the differences but they are all worth it to be able to experience Baja, Mexico!
There are several military check points throughout Baja that you have to go through. They normally are nothing to worry about. You will be asked to let them in your RV. Just stay with them and have someone else keep an eye on what is going on around your vehicle.
In most cases they were very nice and it was an easy process. Sometimes they can be short or rude but for the most part they were nice.
Local police and Federalies are all around and they carry big guns. You get use to it. Sometimes they are driving in the back of their pickup trucks other times they are walking on the roads.
Safety is a big topic when traveling to Baja and Mexico in general. We felt totally safe the entire time we were there. Check out our post on Baja safety.
Driving in Baja is an adventure in itself. The roads are very narrow and full of potholes. We wrote a full post dedicated to this topic since it’s a lot to explain. Be sure to check out our Baja roads and driving post.
Doctors, Dentists, Etc.
You may need to see a doctor when down in Baja. Things happen. The good news is that even though you (probably) don’t have health insurance in Mexico, the prices are super affordable.
They have good doctors there that can take care of you just like in the States. Our recommendation is to talk to a local and find out who they recommend.
Regarding dentists, a lot of people come to Mexico just for that reason. Dental work down there is done at a fraction of the cost as in the States. If you need some work done, consider doing it while in Baja. They have great dentists and you’ll save a ton.
Pharmacies are interesting in Baja. You pretty much don’t need a prescription for anything and you can just go into a grocery store and get it. We got Knox a bottle of amoxicillin when he had a tooth infection for $3 at the grocery store. Crazy.
Planning Where To Go
There are so many amazing things to do in Baja from Watching (and petting) grey whales to swimming with Whale Sharks and hot springs. There are awesome small towns (like Santa Rosalía) to visit throughout the trip and plenty of day trips you can do from your location. Visit the isla espiritu santo by La Paz or stop in Guerrero Negro or San Ignacio to see the whales.
We have a whole post on 53+ things to do in Baja California!
So that’s the basics of preparing for your Baja Mexico trip. Hopefully we covered most things, but let us know in the comments if we’ve forgotten anything.
More posts on Baja and beyond:
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