Experience the Wonders of Mexico
by Lee Barnathan
Adventures South of the Border
The United States offers countless RV vacation options. But what if we want something culturally different, something romantic and alluring? Adventurous sorts might hop the border and check out the numerous Canadian sights, sounds and tastes.
The even more adventurous go south, to Mexico. “Mexico has a romance and an allure that everybody knows about in the United States,” says Larry Olsen, owner of Tracks to Adventure, an El Paso, Texas-based company that leads groups of RVers on tours around the world, including Mexico. “They’re so near yet so far and so different: different language, different culture.
“When you cross that border, you’re in a different world. That’s why people want to go.”
Indeed, Olsen says RVers might find that traveling through a different country has the same advantages as traveling here. “You’ve got everything (in the RV). You see more. Instead of flying in an airplane at 30,000 feet, you’re down there, nose to nose with the people. You see the kids along the road. You see the Mexican folkloric dances, the shopping, the culture,” he said.
Group or Solo Travel
There are two ways to travel in Mexico: as part of an organized group tour or solo. For those who fear the unknown—or those who shudder at the thought of running into crooked cops, language barriers, poor road conditions and other stereotypes you may have seen in movies or on television—a tour group is a safe way to go. If you speak Spanish, look like a native and know your RV won’t break down, making your own itinerary might suit you just fine.
If you travel as part of a tour, there are plenty of companies that run trips that leave from various near the- border destinations (the largest three are in El Paso, Texas, Gunnison, Colorado and Livingston, Texas. Camping World also offers trips through its President Club Tours).
If you’ve heard scary stories about breakdowns in the desert and RVers as victims of crime while visiting our neighbor to the south, Steve Brown of San Marcos, California, is one solo traveler who has experienced none of these headaches. He and wife Kitty, who are Camping World Goodwill Ambassadors, have made three treks into Mexico, including two that lasted at least four months, and have found the people to be polite and the roads safe—especially if you drive slowly and give the right of way to Mexicans.
“It’s a whole lot more dangerous in San Diego than Cabo San Lucas, or anywhere in Mexico, for that matter,” Brown says. “We had nothing but kindness towards American people. Their English is better than my broken Spanish. We need to be polite. We’re guests in their country.”
What to Bring and Know
Regardless of which way you travel, certain paperwork is needed to cross the border. Tour companies provide lists of everything needed; if you are going solo, here are some handy tips.
Before the Trip
■ Get a passport for every family member. Although it’s not yet required, it is recommended. Also, if you bring a pet, get its shots updated and bring the records, plus an international pet certificate.
■ Pack vehicle ownership papers and get the vehicle checked mechanically. Test for propane leaks; pack a large assortment of tools, extra filters and belts, and the vehicle maintenance book. Bring spare tires, an electrical outlet tester and a voltage tester.
■ Buy maps, guidebooks, Spanish/English dictionary, English novels, language tapes or CDs.
■ Buy medical insurance if not already covered by a health provider.
■ Purchase Mexican auto insurance. The law says you need to buy at least liability insurance, which Olsen says runs between $68 for 11 days or $210 for 45 days. Olsen also recommends collision insurance.
At the Border
■ Purchase a tourist card, which tells the government you have declared your reason for visiting Mexico. If you need to talk to any government official, you’ll need it, along with your passport. Inside Mexico
■ Once in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do. That means follow the law and use common sense. Brown suggests not driving at night because animals cross the roads and are difficult to see. Be aware that right-of-way rules differ there. Brown suggests you avoid driving over speed bumps at high speeds because it could damage the vehicle.
■ An arrest or accident in Mexico can result in difficult legal or medical situations, sometimes at great expense. According to a U.S. State Department paper, Mexican law can impose harsh penalties for violations that would be considered minor here, and U.S. citizenship does not exempt you from full prosecution under the Mexican criminal justice system. If U.S. citizens find themselves in legal trouble while visiting Mexico, they should contact the closest U.S. Consulate, U.S. Consular Agency or the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Where To Go
Thanks to its warm climate, varied terrain and ample shoreline, Mexico offers many fine RV and vacation destinations. Tour companies offer various trips to some of the most popular locations for varying lengths of time. The two most popular are to Baja California and the Copper Canyon.
Baja California is the 775-mile peninsula that stretches from Mexicali to Cabo San Lucas and from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Cortez. Much of the trip follows Highway 1, which runs the length of the peninsula.
As you meander down the peninsula, don’t miss whale watching at Scammon’s Lagoon; the scenic and historic village of Mulegé; the pristine beaches of Cabo San Lucas; a seaside walk at sunset in La Paz; the beautiful sandy beaches of Bahia Concepcion and Rosarito, and the nightlife of Ensenada. Brown says there are plenty of RV parks along Baja, and Bahia Concepcion has plenty of snorkeling and clamming in its azure waters. Loreto, meanwhile, is a great fishing destination, he says.
The Copper Canyon is on the mainland, in the state of Chihuahua. The highlight of that trip is riding a train piggyback, with your RV loaded on a flatbed rail car. The train descends slowly into the canyon, so you have time to admire the sights from inside your RV. President’s Club Tours offers a piggyback train trip through the Copper Canyon.
Exploring Mexican Cities
Any big Mexican city is also a worthwhile destination, giving you a glimpse of contemporary Mexican life as well as a taste of the heritage of this culturally-rich country. Some cities you might want to visit include Mazatlan, Cancun, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Veracruz and Oaxaca, to name just a few. If you think you’d like to venture South of the Border but aren’t quite sure you’re ready to tackle it on your own, a group tour can be a great introduction. The President’s Club Copper Canyon Tour also includes several cities on its itinerary along with less populated and natural areas. Whether you go with a group or on your own, a trip to Mexico is a highlight of many RVers’ travels. Que tengas un feliz viaje (have a good trip)!