Baja Mexico trip Winter 2015 Part 1 Crossing the border

We meet up at the Casa De Cambio

IMG_6314After days of rushing around preparing, packing, buying tires, & making repairs, we got 2 hours of sleep & left for Baja Mexico at 6am Dec 19, 2015. Brian’s cat got out & was lost for a couple of hours so we (Dave & Louise) waited for them to catch up while we had breakfast south of San Diego & tried our best to follow some very incorrect directions to the Tecate border crossing to meet Brian & Annie. (“Take 94 to end, then….”) which wasted 90 minutes & 30 miles & put Brian & Annie waiting ahead of us. Finally met up with Dan, Brian, & Annie at a Tecate CA gas station & Casa de Cambio where we exchanged our American dollars for Mexican Pesos (exchange less than US$1,000 to avoid  paperwork). This was THE best exchange rate we saw the whole trip. Got our papers stamped at border (more on that).

Louise & I did our tourist card visa paperwork in advance via the nice people at Discover Baja travel club, who mailed the Mexican car insurance and validated visas to us for a small service fee. But (if you get it exactly right, which we didn’t) it would have been just as easy to skip the service fees & get the visa ourselves in person because the payment cashier is now right next door to the visa agent. And this time we had to wait for a friend to get his visa on the spot anyway. In the past you’d have to walk several blocks into Mexico to a bank to pay the fees, then walk back with the receipt to get your visa papers stamped. But with the cashier next door, it is pretty easy now. Except for the parking part…

Remember to get your tourist visa taken care of here & now at the border, because you will need it, and there will not be another place to get it done.

Correct sequence to cross the Mexican Border into Mexico at Tecate:

When you get to the Tecate Border crossing, you are crossing into Mexico before you might think you are. As soon as you drive or walk through a huge gate you have left the USA. An open gate so wide that you may not even notice it. It is tricky because there is another more obvious gate just beyond. Do NOT park on USA side before crossing. DO make sure that everybody has their own passports immediately, before getting out of the car. You did bring your passports, right?

[ ] As you get to the border crossing driving south, look left. Just through that huge gate, there are a few diagonal parking spaces on the left side of the street. Park there. I have parked my Jeep & TearDrop trailer in one space, they are a bit long. Backing out may be a bit tricky, so get someone to spot for you if there is any traffic. Luckily this is often a quiet border crossing without much traffic.

Those couple of parking spots are the only place to park in this middle zone while you get your Mexican travel visa because at this point you are technically in Mexico (and can not go backwards to USA from here) and you are in the same security zone as the visa office, but you have not gone through Mexican customs yet. I’ve gotten this wrong several times, which is frustrating and each time it cost an extra hour or two.

[] Exit your car, & walk your paperwork, passport, a pen, and any money required to the Agent on the right side of the road. You’ll be staying in this middle security zone, as you’ve crossed out of USA, but have not gone thru Mexican border inspection yet. Keep your group together & go into the government office.

[] The Agent will give you the visa form to fill out & check your passport. If you brought pens for your group that may save you some time.
[] Walk next door to cashier to pay for your visa & get a receipt.
[] Bring receipt & visa back to agent, get entry stamps.
[] Snap a photo of your completed paperwork, just in case.
[] Back your car out of that diagonal space and
[] Carefully drive your car through Mexican border inspection, the gate, & across the border.

We did this part all wrong due to lack of sleep & some communication issues in the group. We drove across the border first, then had to find a place to park on a side street of Mexican border town, walk back through the Mexican inspection, almost to the USA side, deal with visa paperwork & payment, then walk back across the border again (3rd crossing today), continue walking to where we left the car & trailer, before hitting the road south. Very sub-optimal. It worked, but it’s not the easy way. Luckily this border wasn’t very busy or those 3 border crossings could have taken far longer.

There are several wrong ways to do this! Another wrong process (actually worse) is to park on the USA side & walk to get your Mexican visa. You may not have realized it, but you just walked across the border, and you will have to cross the border properly back into USA to get your car. There will be a slow line for that, easily an hour of vacation wasted right there.

If you are unable to get one of those perfect parking spaces, here is my recommendation; it is better to drive through the Mexican border inspection, then park your car somewhere on the Mexican side within walking distance, and walk back into the Mexican border zone to get your visa. This is faster than parking on the USA side just because the line to get into the USA is so much longer & slower and although you are walking north, you don’t have to go all the way into USA to get your Mexican travel visa. After obtaining your visa, walk back south and get your car. It is a great idea to be carrying; ID & Passport, some money, some drinking water, and a local map or GPS app that works without a cell signal. The AAA paper maps are pretty good, and I like Gaia GPS app. Louise & I always bring our FRS 2way radios so we can stay in touch no matter what.  Cellphones can be unreliable near the border & beyond, so walkie talkies may be a more reliable option.

By the way, if you are traveling south past Guerro Negro, you will need this travel visa to pass. Without it, they will send you all the way back to the USA border to get it. There is no other way, no other place to get that visa.  What was the name of that Travel Club again? :-) You will also need your car registration, so make sure to bring that.


  • ID & Passport
  • Money (for the visa)
  • Drinking water bottle
  • Local map
  • FRS 2 way radios
  • Car registration
  • Trailer registration (if any)
  • Mexican car insurance

OK! Travel visa in hand, we proceeded south to the toll road!

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We were aiming for San Felipe, but given our morning “issues” we camped far short of there at gravel pit/ moonscape just off the highway at dusk. We know enough not to drive at night. Fireball whisky was passed around. A merciful end of Day 1.

1st night camp was like old Star Trek scenery
1st night camp was like old Star Trek scenery

Day 2 Breakfast in San Felipe

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More road travel. And a military check point. I’m told that our USA taxes fund these checkpoints, they are there for our safety. Don’t be afraid, and don’t be a jerk either. 
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