Posted by SCG on 27th March 2012
by Robert Lamishaw
Bahia de los Angeles at dawn
Click on photo for larger image
Chad and I found Mexico to be an interesting place with good roads, nice people and ample security. You can read more about our trip in A Trip to Baha. We had no problems, and I highly recommend to anyone interested that they give it a try and not be dissuaded by all the negative television news reports. However, when going to any foreign country, especially Mexico, there are some things to keep in mind.
As you may know your US insurance coverage isn’t recognized in Mexico. If you are in any type of accident—your fault or not– without proof of Mexican insurance you can spend several days in jail while the authorities sort everything out, a situation to be avoided.
The simple solution is to buy special Mexican insurance from one of the many companies that offer such coverage. You can find a number of companies near the border, although I didn’t see any on the US side near Tecate, but then I had already purchased insurance on-line so I wasn’t looking. I recommend Baja Bound Insurance, as they where quick, easy and available on-line.
You can get liability only, available from the Auto Club and many other companies, but I suggest that you get full coverage, which will take care of you as well as your bike. Many of the cheaper insurance policies only cover liability. You should check with your insurance agent, but I think you’ll find that your comprehensive, med-pay, theft, etc. coverage, as well as the liability, are no good when traveling in Mexico. The good news is that it is fairly inexpensive, so don’t let the need for insurance stand in your way.
The currency in Mexico is the peso. I found the exchange rate to be about 13 pesos to the dollar. Almost everywhere you go they take credit cards or American dollars. However, I recommend you change some US dollars into pesos, it makes life much easier, and you’ll get a better exchange rate. Using credit cards at hotels and restaurants in the cities is easy, but you should check if your credit card company charges a “transaction” and/or “conversion” fee for foreign charges, and what exchange rate they are offering. I recommend you get pesos from your bank prior to leaving (probably $100 per day will do); just allow about a week for the bank to get you the foreign currency.
Gas in Mexico is a state monopoly and is sold though PEMEX, whose stations are readily available in cities and along most major highways. The quality is good and no one should have any problems using PEMEX fuel. Remember Mexico is on the metric system so fuel is sold in liters. Costs seem to be about the same as the in the US. I highly recommend that you fill up any time you’ve used half your tank. Fuel is pumped by an attendant, although they will give you the nozzle if you want, and generally you pay the attendant. Again having pesos is a great time saver and the exchange rates offered by these stations is often much less, maybe 11 pesos per dollar rather than 13.
The roads in Baja are generally in very good shape. Easily the equal of most two-lane highways in the US, so the quality of the roads should not be a concern. However, you can go from smooth, clean blacktop to pot-holed roads quickly, so don’t let your enthusiasm, and the lack of law enforcement, lull you into driving too fast or you could be in for some nasty surprises. This, of course, is true in the US as well.
Driving in Mexico
There is an unwarranted feeling that Mexican drivers are not good or safe. I didn’t find this to be the case at all. It’s true that traffic laws in Mexico are often treated more as suggestions than rules, but it’s also true that virtually all the car and truck drivers we encountered were courteous and frequently would move over to let us pass. In mountain areas drivers would signal, as if making a left turn, to tell us when the road was clear. I never found any of them to be misleading; however, you need to be sure that they aren’t signaling to make a left turn at some obscure dirt road, so always pass with caution.
While the road surface was generally good and drivers considerate, always keep in mind that you are in a foreign country. Three things that took a little adjustment on my part were: the electric signals and stop signs; inconsistent road signage; and physical markers in the road (speed humps, etc).
Let’s start with signals and stop signs. First electric signals are not always vertical, as in the US. Sometimes they are horizontal and look like streetlights. It’s easy to miss that they are there, so be careful and pay attention to what traffic is doing. The same for stop signs (“Alto”) which often seem to be placed randomly at corners, and sometimes are not easy to see.
As for road signage, again be attentive. It isn’t always consistent in where it is, and what it tells you. “Alto” (Stop) may be painted on the pavement, but may not; and the familiar octagonal red sign may be on the left, right, or across the intersection. Curves are not consistently marked, either.
There is also the issue of the “tope” or speed humps which are used to slow traffic as one enters a town, and are not always clearly marked. Generally they are marked by a series of lines that get closer together as you approach the hazard, but not always. Hitting one of these at speed can be dangerous, so when you get near a town SLOW DOWN and all will be well.
Trail Dust is a publication of happy-trail.com
In Tips on Traveling in Mexico you’ll find some specifics of traveling in Mexico, but here