Driving in Baja California (2023) – 23 Useful Tips
If you are thinking of Driving in Baja California Sur and Baja California, this post will come in handy. I have done it multiple times and in this post, I will share my tips.
As someone who lives in Mexico and has traveled pretty much everywhere in the country, Baja California is one of my top favorite areas to drive around.
Mind-boggling scenery, unique culture, and splendid beaches make this region of Mexico a bucket-list-worthy destination.
Driving around Baja California peninsula does present some unique challenges for visitors, though.
Worry not, though. This post is intended to provide you with 18 essential tips that will ensure you have a safe and enjoyable road trip along this awesome Mexican peninsula.
Here you´ll find the dos and don’ts that will help you have the best possible Baja driving experience.
Whether you find yourself maneuvering on narrow roads, dealing with military checkpoints, or wondering about speed limits and traffic rules, this guide will have you covered.
Tips for Driving in Baja California
1. Don’t drive at night
One of the most important tips for driving in Baja California is to avoid driving at night. Nocturnal driving is not recommended here (nor anywhere in Mexico) and there are several reasons for that.
Keep reading to find out what they are.
► Some roads are poorly lit, especially in rural areas, or around small towns, which makes it difficult to spot hazards you might come across such as animals, pedestrians, potholes, speed bumps, and unexpected curves.
► In the Baja California peninsula, it’s quite common for livestock to roam around. Don’t be surprised to see cows, donkeys, and goats in the middle of the road wandering right onto the road. Darkness and poorly lit roads multiply the chances of having an accident.
► At night, there will be fewer services and assistance available in case of an emergency or a breakdown.
► While Baja California is quite safe, there is always a risk of crime, which increases at night, especially in remote areas.
I found a clear example when I drove from San Felipe through Ensenada. It’s a beautiful winding road that crosses from the sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean, among semi-deserted hills.
There was a military checkpoint before the crossing and I asked the military guys if it was safe. It was about 12 pm. They told me, yes, it’s safe during the day. In the night there have been assaults, though.
Therefore, it is best to plan your itinerary so that you start your journey after sunrise and reach your destination before sunset.
In case you absolutely must drive at night, always stick to the main highways or toll roads (cuota).
Also, make sure your tank is full before embarking on the road, avoid stopping in unfamiliar spots and drive slowly and carefully, staying alert at all times.
Having said that, I never drive at night anywhere in Mexico and you shouldn’t do it either.
2. Watch out for “topes”
Topes (pronounced toe-pace) are speed bumps that can appear anywhere in Mexico, and Baja California is no exception.
They are meant to slow down traffic and prevent accidents, but they can also become a nuisance and a hazard for unsuspecting drivers.
Topes come in different shapes and sizes. You are likely to come across some small metal bars but also large concrete humps that are also used as crosswalks.
Sometimes they are painted or marked with signs, but other times they are not, blending in with the road, which makes them difficult to spot. You can find them near towns or intersections or randomly in the middle of nowhere.
Some are located near towns or intersections, but others are in the middle of nowhere.
Some are gentle and easy to cross, but others are steep and jarring.
If you hit a “tope” too fast, it can damage your tires, suspension, and even the undercarriage, depending on the car you’re driving.
Be on the lookout so that a simple speed bump or “tope” doesn´t ruin your vacation.
Following are a few tips to stay safe and around topes:
- Keep your eyes open for road signs that warn you of upcoming topes.
- Slow down as soon as you spot a sign or a tope.
- Follow other drivers’ leads. If you see the cars ahead of you slowing down or swerving suddenly, chances are they are avoiding a tope.
- Always be alert, especially when driving at night (hopefully you won’t do that) or when driving in bad weather (or a combination of both).
3. Drive on the right side of the road
It is very important to know that Mexicans drive on the right side of the road, just like in the US and Canada.
So don’t worry about switching lanes or adjusting your mirrors if you are coming from those countries.
However, if you are from the UK or other countries that drive on the left side, you will need to adjust to driving on a different side of the road which will require some adjustment and even more of your attention.
4. Get a Mexican Auto Insurance
Another thing you absolutely have to know before you drive in Mexico is that your US/Canadian/European or other foreign insurance is not valid in the country.
Before embarking on a scenic road trip in Baja California (and scenic it is), you’ll have to get insurance that’s valid in Mexico.
Driving without valid insurance is illegal in the country, and I don’t recommend doing it at all.
As for where to get auto insurance, you’ll want to purchase insurance from a reputable company that’s also recognized by the Mexican government.
There are two cases scenario if you are driving your own car from Canada or the US and if you are renting. Let’s cover them both separately.
If you are driving your own car from the US or Canada
If you are driving your own car from the US or Canada, my recommendation is Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. It is the most popular insurance as they provide the quickest and most hassle-free option for acquiring car valid insurance for driving in Mexico.
If you are renting a car in Mexico
If you’re not taking your own car, but want to rent a car in Mexico, you must get your car insurance with the car rental.
I know many of you are covered by your credit card but you still need to purchase the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) with the car rental.
I highly recommend getting the full coverage with zero deductible so that you can be sure you won’t get any surprises and have to pay thousands of dollars for a scratch.
To find the best deal I usually recommend Discover Cars. You’ll get to make your booking online while comparing prices between different companies and different cars.
Best of all, there are no hidden fees and the cars are already insured; though you should pay a bit extra to go beyond the basic insurance coverage.
Here are some reasons why I recommend Discover Cars
Just make sure you read the policy of the car rental you want to book, before booking it.
In a rush? Here is the best Car rental searching platform
When It comes to renting a car in Mexico I always recommend Discover Cars platform where you can compare prices among different car rentals and then decide which one is best for you.
What the Full Coverage Includes
I always recommend getting full coverage, and it’s what I do, always. Not every car rental can provide full coverage but DiscoverCars does and it gives me such peace of mind because I know that if anything happens I am covered. Here below is what’s included.
How does Discover Cars Insurance imply and work
You should know that if you get Discover Cars insurance instead of the one suggested by the car rental company you will need to pay a high deposit fee which is usually around 2500 to 3000 USD.
It’s only a block on your card for that amount which will be released once you return the car with zero damages.
In case of damages, the related amount will be charged and you can claim that with DiscoverCars.
Disclaimer: I recommend Discover Cars because most people are raving about it and I have never had any car issue that I had to claim a refund. So although I cannot talk by personal experience (luckily, I would say) I read thousands of positive comments that make me put trust in this company. You can read them too.
5. Fuel up your tank
Before setting out on a road trip in Baja California, it is important to fuel up your tank. Gas stations can be few and far between in some areas, especially when traveling through more remote regions.
This is especially true along the Baja Peninsula, where distances between towns can be long.
In addition, some gas stations may be out of service or may not accept credit cards, so it’s always better to be on the safe side.
If you plan your route ahead of time, set off your trip with a full tank of gas, and research the location and distance to the next gas station, you will give yourself some peace of mind and help you avoid any problems. That way, your journey will be as enjoyable as it should be.
I always fill up the tank as soon I see a gas station and my tank is only half full. I try not to let it go below half.
If you are running out of gas and you don’t see a gas station but you are in the proximity of a village, ask around as sometimes they sell gas in grocery stores or private homes.
6. Be careful with the narrow roads
Narrow roads are very common in Mexico, and Baja California has quite a few of them. These roads, along with the often chaotic traffic and the driving habits of some motorists, can make driving in Baja a bit of a challenge.
Be extra cautious when encountering these narrow roads, especially in urban areas where pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles might be sharing limited space.
Whenever possible, keep a safe distance from other vehicles, reduce your speed, and be prepared for sudden stops or changes in traffic flow at all times.
Always allow for extra time when planning your itinerary, as navigating the congested and narrow streets may take longer than you might expect.
Arm yourself with a bit of patience, so traffic doesn’t ruin your carefree mood, and even try to live it up as yet one more experience.
7. Be careful with the winding roads
The roads in Baja California can be winding in most parts, offering spectacular sceneries and you will be tempted to just admire and enjoy the landscapes.
Make sure you stop the car if you want to do that.
You never know what’s coming up. It can be a goat a cow or a donkey, or other drivers that are distracted too. So keep your focus on the road.
8. Be mindful of military checkpoints
When driving on Baja California´s main highways, it’s common to encounter military checkpoints along the way.
These checkpoints which are typically staffed by courteous and professional elements, are present to maintain security and help combat drug and arms trafficking.
If you come across a military checkpoint, remain calm and follow the instructions given by the officers.
You may be asked to present identification, vehicle registration, and possibly proof of insurance. Always keep these documents handy to minimize delays and ensure a smooth passage through the checkpoint.
For my first time in Baja, I was asked to bring a basket of tortillas from one checkpoint to another. I found it awkward and kindly refused. You never know and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
9. Bring supplies and essentials
A road trip in Baja California can be an unforgettable experience, but it’s necessary to be well-prepared. Make sure to bring the following supplies and essentials for a safe and pleasant journey:
- Valid passport and identification: Crossing the border requires proper documentation, so make sure your passport and ID are up to date.
- Vehicle registration and insurance: Keep proof of registration and Mexican auto insurance handy. Remember that it’s illegal to travel to Mexico without valid insurance.
- Water and non-perishable food: Stay hydrated and energized with enough provisions for the trip. I highly recommend that you carry your drinking water in insulated and reusable bottles.
- First aid kit: Accidents happen, so be prepared with band-aids, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any required prescription medications.
- Shovel and traction board: If you plan on doing some off-road traveling, these will be very helpful in case your vehicle gets stuck in sand or mud. Again, hopefully, you won´t need to use them, but it´s better to be over-prepared than sorry.
- Tire deflator and a portable air compressor – A tire deflator and a portable air compressor will also come in handy because you need to reduce your tire pressure when traveling offroad; you can use a tire deflator for that. Afterward, you’ll be able to refill your tires using the compressor. I don’t recommend it if you don’t have a 4-wheel drive car, though.
- Dash Camera – a dash camera will always come in handy for insurance purposes or anything that can happen while on the road.
- Maps: Even if you have offline maps, it’s always a good idea to carry a physical map as a backup.
- Clothing layers, sun protection, and hygiene items: Baja weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers of clothing to adjust to temperature fluctuations. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat are also essential items to protect yourself from the intense sun. You might also want to carry toiletries and personal hygiene items on the road.
- Cellphone car charger and a power bank: They will help you keep your devices charged during those long trips.
- Emergency contacts: whenever you’re traveling in Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter, always have a list of emergency numbers. Include local authorities and your home country’s consulate.
- Entertainment: Bring books, games, or portable devices to keep you entertained during downtime or rest stops.
10. Bring cash in Pesos
Although credit and debit cards are widely accepted in many places, it’s essential to have cash on hand, preferably in Mexican Pesos, when visiting Mexico.
Small towns and rural areas sometimes have limited access to ATMs or card payment facilities, so carrying cash ensures you can pay for whatever you need, be it gas, food, and accommodations.
As mentioned previously, some street vendors, local businesses, and markets operate on a cash-only basis, so having pesos at hand will allow you to fully experience and support the local economy.
Even when businesses do accept payments in USD/EUR/GBP/etc., exchange rates are pretty bad and you’ll end up paying 10-20% more.
Exchanging money before your trip or at the border is always advisable to get the best exchange rates and avoid inconveniences.
11. Don’t drink and drive
While it’s natural to want to have fun and let loose on vacation, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, remember that safety should always be your top priority.
Drinking and driving are not only illegal but it is a dangerous combination that put your and other people’s lives at risk.
Enjoy the local nightlife, indulge in the delicious Mexican cuisine, and taste the incredible beverages that Baja California has to offer, but always arrange for a designated driver, taxi, or rideshare service to get you back to your accommodations safely.
Be responsible, and never drink and drive, whether you’re in Mexico or anywhere else in the world.
12. Download maps offline
One of the challenges you’ll encounter while driving in Baja California is that you will not always have reliable internet access on the road.
Therefore, it is a good idea to download offline maps before hitting the road, whether you are exploring the scenic coastline, the rugged mountains, or the various charming towns.
This way, you can ensure you don´t get lost or miss out on any attractions.
Using offline maps, you’ll be able to use your phone’s GPS and navigation features without using/needing any mobile data.
You can search for places, get directions, and see your location on the map even when you are offline.
The most popular app to save maps offline is Google Maps. You’ll be able to select the regions you want saved offline, and, afterward, you’ll be able to navigate them without needing any internet connectivity.
13. Don’t park on painted roads
A lot of visitors get confused by the painted curbs in Mexico. Rest easy, though, as here as the guidelines to make you a pro on painted curbs in Mexican streets.
- Red curbs mean strict no-parking zones, reserved only for emergency vehicles. Parking your car here is a surefire way to get yourself a fine and your car towed.
- Yellow curbs usually mean that’s for taxi.
- Blue curbs are pretty rare, and they are reserved for disabled parking.
- White: anybody can park.
Also, remember not to park in front of driveways, as doing so can also get your car towed, not to mention the anger of the people that live or work there.
14. Save the Green Angels Emergency Number
The Green Angels (Angeles Verdes) is a government-funded crew that patrols major highways throughout Mexico in distinct green trucks, offering assistance to travelers in need.
They will help you with minor mechanical problems, flat tires, gas shortages, or directions.
They will also call a tow truck or an ambulance if needed, which pretty much explains their name.
The Green Angels crews are friendly and bilingual, too. They can be reached by dialing 078 – their emergency number.
Be sure to save the Green Angels number on your phone or write it down on a piece of paper that you can keep somewhere handy in your vehicle.
15. Always wear your seatbelt
While exploring the beautiful landscapes of Baja California, it’s always important to prioritize safety along with the excitement of your road trip, as you would do anywhere else.
One of the easiest yet most effective ways to do that is by always wearing your seatbelt.
Seatbelts significantly reduce the risk of injury in the event of an accident. They are also a legal requirement in Mexico.
So, buckle up and enjoy the amazing adventures of your Mexican vacation while keeping yourself and your companions safe.
16. Learn some Spanish to understand the Mexican road signs
If you are driving in Baja California, you will encounter many road signs in Spanish that will be unfamiliar to you.
While some of them follow international standards and use symbols rather than words, others require some basic knowledge of Spanish to be able to understand them.
For that reason, I recommend you spend some time learning some Spanish words used on road signs.
Here are some common road signs in Mexico and their translations that you may find useful for your road trip.
- Alto: Stop. This sign is usually red and octagonal, similar to the stop sign in the US and Canada. You must come to a complete stop and give way to other traffic before proceeding.
- Ceda el paso: Yield to passing traffic. This sign is usually red and white and triangular. You must slow down and let other traffic pass before entering the intersection or merging with the main road.
- No estacionarse: No parking. This sign is usually red and rectangular, similar to the no parking sign in the US and Canada. You might also see a shorter version of this sign with a black E and a red prohibited sign. You must not park your vehicle in this area or you may be fined or towed.
- Velocidad máxima: Maximum speed. This sign indicates the maximum speed allowed on this road in kilometers per hour (km/h). For example, if the sign says “Velocidad máxima 80”, it means the speed limit is 80 km/h, which is about 50 mph. There are also shorter versions of this sign which will just state the speed limit like “80 km/h”.
Zona escolar: School zone. This sign is usually yellow and rectangular, similar to the warning sign in the US and Canada.
It indicates that you are entering a school zone where children may be present. Shorter versions of this sign will just indicate pedestrians with a bag crossing the road.
17. Don’t text and drive
Texting and driving is an extremely dangerous habit that not only puts your life in danger but also the lives of others on the road, as well as those traveling with you.
As I’ve mentioned, traffic in Mexico can sometimes be quite chaotic. The distractions caused by texting make it less likely that you´ll react to sudden changes in traffic or road conditions.
When driving through Baja California, or anywhere else in Mexico (or the world, actually), it is advisable to put your phone on “do-not-disturb” mode so you don’t get distracted by notifications and texts.
Make a conscious and responsible decision to drive safely and to keep your full attention on the road. Your notifications can always wait.
18. Mind the speed limits
Speed limits across Mexico can vary a lot. It’s important to keep the limits in mind so you have a safe and pleasant experience.
You will find the speed limit signs on the road but here below you can find some examples.
❗️ In parking lots and residential areas, the speed limit is 10 km/h (6 mph).
❗️Streets with no posted speed limits have a default limit of 60 km/h (37 mph).
❗️ Urban arterial roads, such as ejes, calzadas, beltways, and freeways, have speed limits ranging from 60 to 80 km/h (37-50 mph).
❗️Avenues with no posted speed limit have a limit of 80 km/h (50 mph).
❗️Rural two-lane roads have speed limits between 70 and 90 km/h (43-56 mph), while two-lane highways have a limit of 90 km/h (56 mph).
❗️Inside cities, major highways have limits between 90 and 100 km/h (56-62 mph).
❗️Approaching or leaving towns or cities, major highways have a limit of 100 km/h (62 mph).
❗️The maximum speed limit on any Mexican highway is 110 km/h (68 mph), although enforcement generally begins at speeds above 130 km/h (81 mph).
19. Stay connected to the internet in Baja California during a road trip
U.S. SIM Card
If you’re traveling to Mexico and want to stay connected, you’ll need to check with your carrier to see if your U.S. SIM card will work there.
However, despite the ease of use, I don’t recommend this option because using a U.S. SIM card in Mexico can be much more expensive than using a local SIM card.
Local SIM Card
Using a local SIM card during your trip would be my recommendation. Also, in my experience, Telcel is the best option among all the carriers in Mexico, as it offers the best packages and coverage throughout the country.
You can get a Telcel SIM card for about 10 USD, with data included for the whole month, which is way cheaper than any roaming service.
You can buy their SIM card online, at the airport, or at a convenience store.
I use the 300 MXN data package Amigo Sin Limite which lasts a month and offers 8 GB of data service. You can top it up at every OXXO or similar Convenience store or online on the Telcel.com website
Starlink is a satellite internet service that provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet in remote and rural locations across the globe.
The service has been available in Mexico since June 2021, when it received permission from federal telecommunications authorities to operate in the country.
If you’re already a Starlink subscriber, the good news for you, the company also offers portability and roaming options for customers who want to travel with their service within Mexico or other countries where Starlink operates.
The advantage is that Starlink offers much higher speeds than any other option on this list with no data caps.
Starlink is mainly suitable for those traveling by van.
Public wifi is widely available across Mexico, especially in touristy areas. You can find wifi hotspots in airports, coffee shops, restaurants, parks, hotels, and more.
However, I don’t recommend this option for a few reasons.
Since you’re reading this article, you’ll be needing internet access on the go, which public wifi doesn’t provide.
You’ll constantly need to plan ahead, and you won’t have easy access during emergencies.
Also, public wifi in Mexico is not always reliable or fast. Depending on the location, time of day, and the number of users connected to a particular hotspot, you may experience slow speeds, interruptions, or limited bandwidth.
Consider using one of the other options I’ve listed so as to avoid those issues.
20. Do not throw objects or trash out of your vehicle
It goes without saying that civilized behavior is necessary to respect others and the environment. Unfortunately, I have seen many time people throwing staff from the car window which is extremely rude and disrespectful. Please don’t do it.
21. Always maintain your distance from the car in front of you
It may happen that the car in front of you needs to stop abruptly for many reasons. In order to avoid any accident, make sure you keep a good distance, unless you are trying to overtake.
Please make sure you do it only when it’s super safe and you have a clear view of the opposite lane.
22. If you encounter an aggressive driver, leave immediately
In case of bumping into an aggressive driver don’t engage in any discussion. Just avoid them and leave immediately. You can report them to the authorities, or to the nearest traffic officer.
23. If you are asked for a bribe by an officer do the following
If you are feeling that you have been disrespected or bribed by a police officer, make sure you write down the details including the officer’s name, description of the uniform, and patrol vehicle number.
You can then report it to the nearest police station or your car rental. They are not usually very explicit when they ask for bribes, but if I feel that it’s happening I usually just ask them to give me the ticket.
This is why the dash camera comes in handy but you could record the conversation by phone and you are in the right to do so.
24. Learn about the 4 Stops in La Paz
The vibrant city of La Paz, the Capital of Baja California Sur, has an awkward way to control traffic, with 4 stops placed at every crossroads without traffic lights.
So how to behave if everybody has a stop sign? who has the right to proceed?
Here is the answer. Every Driver must make a complete stop. Then allow the first car that arrives to drive through first. After you make a complete stop, you will have to wait your turn.
When you find yellow lines painted on the street corners from one side to the other, you must yield to pedestrians.
Parking in La Paz
As for Parking in La Paz, you need to follow the trim colors:
🔴 No Parking
🟡 Taxis Only
🟢 Clients Only
🔵 Disabled Only
Some of the roads don’t have the proper signage. Please take the necessary precautions, verifying the direction of the traffic and the proper STOP SIGNS.
Disclaimer – Although these are the best practice I can think of, to reduce the risk of incidents and stressful experiences, I cannot in any way guarantee that everything would go flawlessly. When traveling things can happen for many reasons. I hope that these tips will help reduce stress and any risk of misshappenings.
Camping during a road trip in Baja California
Beach camping is a fantastic way to experience the beautiful coastline of Baja California and immerse yourself in the gorgeous natural surroundings.
Baja features a number of secluded, pristine beaches suitable for camping, offering the opportunity of sleeping under the stars and waking up to the sound of crashing waves.
Some of them provide free camping, while others may require a small fee.
Always check out local regulations to be sure that you’re camping in designated areas. When camping on the beach, please practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out all your trash to preserve the environment for future generations.
For those traveling in recreational vehicles (RVs), Baja California offers a variety of RV parks to accommodate you.
These parks often feature amenities such as electricity, water, and sewer hookups, as well as showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities.
Some RV parks offer additional features such as swimming pools, Wi-Fi, and on-site restaurants or convenience stores.
Be sure to book your spot in advance, especially during peak season, to secure your preferred location.
A simple online search will provide you with a list of RV parks in Baja, along with their features and contact information.
You can use IOverlander app which is great to find good spots and also road dangers.
If you’re aiming for a more structured camping experience, this option is for you. Paid campgrounds often offer a range of amenities, such as restrooms, showers, picnic tables, fire pits, and even Wi-Fi access in some cases.
Many paid campgrounds are located in or near popular attractions, making them a convenient base for exploring the region.
Well-known paid campgrounds in Baja California include a few that are located right on Bahia de Los Angeles, Bahía Concepción, San Ignacio, and La Paz.
Just as in RV parks, prices for paid campgrounds vary, so it’s a good idea to research and book in advance to ensure availability while getting the best deal.
Driving in Baja California safety
Is it safe to drive in Baja California Norte?
Yes, it is safe to drive in Baja California Norte. This region is generally known for its well-maintained roads and overall safety for travelers.
Thousands of tourists take road trips in Baja California Norte every year without incidents.
However, it is important to take some basic safety precautions (which I’ve covered in the tips above).
Is it safe to drive in Baja California Sur?
Just like Baja California Norte, it is safe to drive in Baja California Sur. This area is popular among tourists, and the local authorities take necessary measures to maintain a secure environment for drivers.
Just make sure you follow all the tips I’ve covered above and you’ll have an awesome trip.
Are there toll roads in Baja California?
How much is the toll road in Baja Mexico?
The toll roads in Baja have varying costs depending on the location, distance covered, and the type of vehicle you´re driving.
They can go from 40 Pesos (around 2 USD) to 120 Pesos (around 6 USD).
There are toll calculators available online where you can calculate exactly how much you’ll pay in Baja California Norte and Sur.
How do I pay tolls in Baja California?
Paying tolls in Baja California is easy. You can pay using US dollars, Pesos, or a pre-paid IAVE pass card. However, in case you’re using cash, you have to pay the full toll in one currency.
I recommend using an IAVE pass card because it’ll give you access to exclusive toll lanes and discounted toll rates.
Keep in mind that this is only applicable in Baja California as in other states of Mexico toll roads are only payable by Mexican Pesos and don’t accept credit cards.
Renting a car in Baja California
Renting a car is a great option to explore the beautiful landscapes and attractions of Baja California. You can drive along the gorgeous scenic coast, and visit charming towns and villages while enjoying the freedom and flexibility of having your own vehicle.
It can also be challenging, though, with so many rental providers that it’s hard to compare them all and pick the best one of them.
For that reason, I highly recommend Discover Cars. The platform will allow you to compare prices between a whole range of providers so as to make an informed decision without having to visit 100 different websites.
Not only will you find the best prices, but there are also no extra charges on Discover Cars, so you only pay what’s mentioned on the website.
Best of all, the cars are already pre-insured so you don’t have to worry about buying insurance separately.
However, as I mentioned in the above section, I always recommend paying a little bit extra to go beyond the basic insurance package.
Border Crossing Baja California
Crossing into Baja California Sur
The Baja peninsula in Mexico is made up of Baja California (B.C.) and Baja California Sur (B.C.S), which are two different Mexican states.
A Baja California Sur road trip will first take you through Baja California if you drive into the country from the US.
Crossing the state border from Baja California to Baja California Sur is pretty much a smooth process, although you will go through the uncanny procedure of having your vehicle steam-blown for bug eradication at the checkpoint between both states.
You’ll also pay a fee of 20 pesos (a dollar USD and change).
When crossing into Baja California Sur, you’ll notice right away that the roads are better-maintained and have fewer potholes, which means you will have a smoother experience here compared to that driving in Baja California.
US/Mexico border crossing
Taking a road trip to Baja California from the US is fun and exciting, but it also means crossing the border in your car. If you’ve never done it before, there are a few things you should know.
- Insurance: Before anything else, you need to have insurance from a Mexican auto insurance company if you’re driving into the country. Without it, it’s illegal to drive in Mexico (even if you have insurance from your country).
As I have mentioned earlier, Baja Bound (https://www.bajabound.com/) is a reliable company in Mexico to get insurance out of the way.
- FMM Tourist Permit: Secondly, you will also need an FMM Tourist Permit (tourist visa) when you cross the border into Baja California. You can easily get your FMM while crossing the border. (When you fly into Mexico they have removed the FMM and you would only get a stamp in your passport)
If you plan to stay in Baja California for less than a week, you will get this visa for free. But if you’re staying longer than 7 days, a fee of 687 pesos (around 38 USD) is required for it.
- Crossing points: There are two main crossing points into Baja California from the US: San Ysidro and Calexico/Mexicali. The San Ysidro crossing leads into Tijuana and follows the western route, passing through Ensenada along the Pacific Ocean. Entering through the Calexico crossing will take you into Mexicali and put you on the eastern route, which runs adjacent to the Sea of Cortez.
The San Ysidro border is the world’s busiest crossing point, so the time it takes to cross here can vary from 30 minutes to a few hours, depending on the time of day and whether it’s a holiday or not.
You can visit the US Customs website for real-time info on current border waiting times, and cross the border during off-peak hours to avoid long waiting times. If you’re willing to take a detour, the Calexico or Tecate crossings are usually faster options.
- Temporary Import Permit (TIP): Once you’ve crossed the border, you need to decide whether to get a Temporary Import Permit. It’s a legal document that lets you import and drive foreign-plated vehicles in Mexico.
You won’t need a TIP if you’re only driving to Baja California; but if you plan on driving to other parts of Mexico, you will need this permit. It is available at the border.
What do you need to drive in Baja California?
Having your personal documents handy at all times is a good practice when driving in Baja California.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, you may encounter military checkpoints as well as other places where you might need to show some documentation.
Be sure to have the following documents available when driving in Baja:
- Driver’s License
- Vehicle Registration
- FMM Tourist Card
- Mexican Auto Insurance
- Pet Vaccination Records (if you’re bringing pets along)
Driving in Baja: Frequently Asked Questions
Is it easy to drive a car in Baja California?
Driving a car in Baja California can be a rewarding and exhilarating experience when done with some preparation and caution.
Visitors from the US and Canada will feel right at home, as you drive on the right side of the road in Mexico. Visitors from other places like the UK will need some getting used to.
You also have to be aware of the road conditions. The highways are usually well-paved, but if you go on other roads, there might be potholes and whatnot. You also need to always be on the lookout for roaming livestock.
As long as you follow the tips I’ve mentioned above, there’s no reason driving a car in Baja California will be difficult for you.
What is the speed limit in Baja California?
The speed limits across Baja California can vary greatly depending on the area you’re driving in. Read tip # 17 above titled “Mind the speed limits”.
Why not drive at night in Baja?
Driving at night in Baja is not recommended for several reasons. First of all, there are many animals such as cows, horses, goats, and dogs that wander onto the roads at night and can cause accidents.
Second, the roads are often poorly lit or not lit at all, making it hard to see potential hazards or other vehicles.
Third, while Baja California is safe, some areas may have heightened criminal activity at night or checkpoints that can pose a risk to travelers. Therefore, it is safer and more enjoyable to drive during daylight hours.
What is the best driving route in Baja?
If you’re looking for the best driving route to explore Baja on a road trip, you have two major options: the transpeninsular highway (Highway 1) that runs from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, or Highway 5 that goes from Mexicali through San Felipe along the Sea of Cortez before merging into Highway 1.
Do I need a tourist visa for Baja California?
Yes. Every non-Mexican citizen visiting the country has to obtain a properly filled Multiple Migratory Form (FMM) Tourist Permit if you come by land.
Be sure to have the form stamped at your port of entry, though; otherwise, it won´t be valid. Be sure to keep the stamped document throughout your stay, as you will need to present it when you leave the country.
If you fly to Mexico, air crews on international flights might hand out the visitor permit forms before the flight lands; although note that paper forms are being phased out.
That means that in some airports they will only stamp your passport with the date of entry.
Wrapping Up: Driving in Baja California
Driving in Baja California offers unparalleled experiences full of stunning landscapes, vibrant culture, and unforgettable adventures. There’s a lot to see while traveling along the diverse terrain of Baja on a road trip.
However, you also need to keep some important things in mind and have the necessary documents and supplies with you, in order to have a wholesome, enjoyable experience.
With the tips I have highlighted in this post, you are ready to embark on a smooth, memorable journey through the incredible Baja California. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Isabella, author, editor, and founder
A passionate traveler and photographer, in love with life and adventures, Isabella is the founder and editor of Letstraveltomexico where she shares her love for Mexico, a fascinating country that she’s proud to call home. When she’s not exploring a new place you will find Isabella in a cafe, writing on this blog, or on her other sites Boundless Roads, Mexico Cenotes and Ruins and Letstraveltocancun.com where she loves to share her travels on and off the beaten path in Mexico and around the world.