There are five things you need when driving your vehicle into Mexico for more than a few days:
1. A tourist card.
2. A passport stamp.
3. A temporary vehicle importation permit.
4. A temporary vehicle importation permit sticker to put by your rearview mirror.
5. Mexican auto insurance.
Get a fairly early start out of San Diego because the lines can be long, and the process can take some time to figure out.
You will drive through the gates and be waived straight through or pulled over to the side to have your vehicle checked and stuff inspected.
Note: You must actively hunt down your paperwork, no one will tell you, but you must get it.
But you need to obtain all the paperwork and receipts of payment to avoid very large fines at checkpoints later.
If you get waived over to have your vehicle searched there is a small immigration office on the right where you can get your tourist card and passport stamp.
But you may want to watch your stuff being torn apart and tossed out of the van.
You can take care of everything at the vehicle importation office just around the corner.
I would recommend taking care of everything at the vehicle importation office, it is less hectic, and easier to figure everything out.
After you go through the border gates follow the signs to the vehicle importation office.
Keep your eyes peeled and merge right quickly cause it comes fast. It will be your first right.
Take your next right at the round about, and your next left just after the Mc Donald’s.
The importation is at the end of that street clearly marked.
Take care of everything here at this one stop shop.
Get your tourist card first.
When getting your tourist card make sure you get enough time, we got 180 days to be safe.
And make sure they stamp your passport; we have heard that they sometimes forget.
The tourist card was 262 pesos, about $20.
For you vehicle importation you will need to make copies of your vehicles registration, your passport and your Mexican tourist card.
There is a copy machine on the premises.
Take your information to the payment line.
I think you need a credit card that matches the name on your passport and registration. The permit was 397 pesos about $30.
You must purchase Mexican auto insurance.
You can purchase insurance at many different places, in the US, Mexico, near the border or online.
We did it at the importation office.
It was very painless and government endorsed.
Make sure you purchase insurance from a reputable name.
Our insurance was around $150 for 45 days.
We had all our dogs? paper work with us.
But no one cared about the dogs crossing the border.
Now you have all five requirements and heading south down the beautiful coastline of Baja.
South of the Border
Not far south of San Diego you will find some of the most epic camping on this earth.
Bahia Concepcion, in Baja California Mexico is a must travel destination while planning your trip south of the border.
This magical spot is one that makes you question returning to work and reality—or just perhaps, this IS reality.
From Tijuana follow highway 1 south for about 600 miles.
The trip south is an easy one, there is toll road all the way to Ensenada and once you make it through the Ensenada maze the road opens up into a majestic valley.
You’ll climb a steep grade and make your way back to the coast.
Grab a meal in Colonet or Camalu, see below for more info.
Tijuana to Ensenada: 70 miles
For a leisurely paced day after the perhaps hectic confusing border crossing, traveling just 70 miles south to Ensenada makes a lot of sense.
Ensenada is a touristy town littered with bars, tiendas selling kitchy Mexican products, gringos white as the moon fresh off cruise ships, pharmacies selling Valium, Viagra, Vicoden and anything else under the sun.
It?s really touristy, but there is charm underneath it all. It is a good introduction to Mexico.
There are some great beaches near by, San Miguel being the best surf locatio near E-nada.
Check out the Desert Inn, a chain in Baja, for dog friendly accomodation. $7 fee for pets.
A good alternative to San Quintin on your way south is 4-casas surf camp and hostel about four hours past the border (or 45 minutes before San Quintin) just between Colonet and Camalu.
You’ll need to keep an eye open for the exit off the main road.
There is a sign painted on the side of a large concrete building that says Cuatro Casas.
Make a right there and head down the dirt road for about 20 minutes, you’ll see a white church off to your right, once you get near the coast take any road you find toward the south and aim for the building you see perched on a cliff (in the opposite direction of the church).
Cuatro Casas is run by my good friend Richard and is located next to a camp ground full of boats—yes, I said boats.
Stay inside the hostel at Cuatro Casas, it is funky cool with hot showers, kitchen, and comfortable beds.
Richard usually has cold beer and other goodies for sale and his wife will cook you up some great vittles for a few greenbacks.
There is a skate pool too.
The surf out front can be epic, it likes a south swell and a medium tide.
After you have got your fill head back to the main highway and head south for Guerrero Negro.
Ensenada to San Quintin (118 miles) or El Rosario (153 miles)
The turn off for Bahia de San Quintin is towards the end of the town of San Quintin located right on highway 1.
There are a few hotels down bumpy, dusty, gravely, rocky sandy road to The Bay of San Quintin.
After spending twenty minutes vibrating at three miles per hour you will probably want to just post up and stay the night. The Old Mill and Eddies landing are pretty nice spots overlooking the bay.
They are very dog friendly.
This is a good spot for guided or do it yourself fishing trips.
The Old Mill has single rooms for $32 and double rooms for $42.
The charming courtyard has black gravel and lined with cactus flower planters.
There are tables and chairs set up outside each room for drinking the Pacificos that the owner from Seattle gives you upon payment.
The signs boast about the Old Mill Restaurant attached to hotel, there are also rave reviews online.
We pulled in salivating to understand that The Old Mill Restaurant was saliva worthy but it has been a good ten years since its been open.
Eddies Landing Hotel, Restaurant, and R.V. Park right next door has a restaurant with a happy hour from 3 to 6 pm.
The margaritas were stiff and two dollars each for happy hour but that?s about all that was good about this place.
There are a few restaurants about a mile up the way that have good reputations and would be well worth the walk. If you need to use an ATM machine do so at the bank in San Quintin.
Thirty-five miles south down highway 1 you will enter the quiet charming highway town of El Rosario.
There is a hotel called the Baja Cactus with a pool, and super cheap simple clean rooms ($19).
I would just suggest skipping San Quintin all together and stopping for the night in El Rosario at Baja Cactus and having dinner at one of the restaurants in town.
Try the lobster burrito at Mama Espinosa?s.
Guerro Negro to Mulege
After hugging the Pacific coast, the highway cuts across the unforgiving arid desert where cactus, snakes and turkey vultures seem to be the only life.
Eventually, the dust pit softens and you will descend on to the Sea of Cortez , the east coast of the Baja peninsula. It is a contrast to remember.
Bahia Concepcion is just after the busy little town of Mulege.
Conception Bay has miles of crescent coves sprinkled with white sand.
The blue-green agua of the calm Sea of Cortez laps at its shores while date palms overlook jumping fish—no surf here unless a hurricane jumps into the bay.
Palapas on the beach mean fair game for camping. As a rule, it is a good idea to camp at these palapa beaches where locals run the campsites.
Expect to pay a small usage fee of a few USD per day.
Santispac, a slice of heaven, is one of the first campgrounds you will come across.
Traveling south on snaky highway 1, you can?t miss it.
Two days and one night will cost 80 pesos (about $6 USD).
Stake your spot under your palapa, cool off in the peaceful lagoon and chill the day away.
If you find yourself needing a little more action in the oasis, kayak and boat rentals are available.
You may want to spearfish or snorkel for scallops. Local vendors sell a variety of snacks (vegetables, bags of fresh raw shrimp, empanadas, and even pizza).
The Santispac campground seems safe, as it has one gated entrance from the road.
A restaurant run by an American-Mexican couple has a full bar, 15 peso draft beers, stiff margaritas, and surprisingly killer food.
A jolly bearded man who resembled Santa on summer break told us.
This isn’t the nicest camping spot in Bahia Concepcion you know.
He was right, there are amazing spots scattered all around the Bay.
But I’ll let you find them for yourself.
Be prepared to stay longer than expected.