If you think the world is overly inhabited and there are no more undiscovered and uninhabited areas, think again.
The Baja Peninsula, including the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur, is a treasure. One that’s full of isolation and beauty. Between the desolate beaches on the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific pipeline running on the western coast, there’s something for everyone in Baja.
It’s no easy place to be though. Remote locations rarely are. That’s why you need to know these tips before heading out on your Baja California road trip.
What do you need to know before heading out the door? Read our 8 tips for visiting Baja Mexico below!
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Looking for more info on Baja? Check out all of our Baja articles and these:
- 14 Amazing Things to Do in Loreto
- The Classic Baja California Road Trip
- Top 9 Things to Do in San Felipe
- Gray Whale Watching in Baja
- 12 Fun Things to Do in Tijuana
Golden Rules of Baja Travel Safety
Get Your FMM
From a legal perspective, traveling to Mexico is quite easy for many foreigners. But there is some serious confusion about the documents, visas, and permits required. Many foreign tourists do not need a visa to visit Mexico, but they DO need a permit. This permit is known as an FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple).
If you’re coming into Mexico by land, this is a very easy thing to overlook. The border agents will not tell you about it, but it is absolutely necessary. Your presence in Mexico is illegal without it.
An FMM is free if your trip is 7 days or less, otherwise it costs around $30 USD. The immigration agent should also stamp your passport when you obtain the permit.
You can apply for an FMM at the border, but the easiest way is to begin the process online. You enter the details of your trip and pay there. Print out those documents (yes, they must be printed) and bring those with you to the border.
Once you arrive at the border crossing for your Baja California road trip, park your vehicle and enter the immigration office. Either show the documents you printed (including proof of purchase) or ask to apply and pay for an FMM.
Airline travel makes this one thoughtless. The FMM permit is usually included in the airfare purchase. It is best to have a document showing the details of your purchase; most airlines will list the purchase of FMM on the receipt. The agents in international airports will automatically finish your FMM and stamp your passport.
The FMM itself is a small piece of paper which you should keep in your passport. You might receive requests to see it when you’re down the road in Baja Mexico. If you lose it, you lose your proof of legal entry.
Do Not Drive at Night
The FMM is about playing by the rules so you don’t get into legal trouble. Avoiding driving at night is a serious personal safety issue. Barring extreme circumstances, you should avoid driving at night in Baja, Mexico.
Why is this one of the top tips for visiting Baja California?
First, there are countless animals that may come into your path on the winding roads. Even with all the light power in the world, you cannot see a cow that’s hidden behind a mountain. Fatal encounters with animals at night are not uncommon on Baja roads.
Second, the roads are tight and full of other hazards. Semi trucks who run this route often break this golden rule because they want to make fast time when leisurely travelers are off the roads. They also regularly blow out tires and leave shreds on the road.
Rocks from the mountains can tumble down and running over them will end in an immediate blowout. During the day, you can cruise in peace at your own pace and identify most hazards before you hit them. Animals are less likely to be roaming in the sun’s heat too.
Finally, as most teenagers find out, late night is when the worst things happen. Highway robbery is not a major concern in most of Baja, but driving around at 2AM is simply asking for trouble. It might be drunk drivers, it might be getting stranded in the middle of nowhere, but whatever it is, you don’t want to be on the roads at night.
Do not drive in Baja at night.
Keep Supplies Topped Off
The third and final “golden rule” for this list of tips for traveling in Baja, Mexico is to always keep your supplies topped off. This includes all vital materials: gasoline/diesel for your vehicle, propane for your stove, cash for your wallet, and water/food for your belly.
There are many stretches of desolate highway in Baja, on both sides of the coast. The sole gas station in the middle of nowhere might be out of fuel, especially in a post-COVID world where supply chain disruption in the norm.
Purified water stations and sufficient grocery stores are found in almost every major town, but between these towns are many square miles of land where water and food are not supplied. Being stranded without food and water is a recipe for serious disaster.
Keep your essential supplies topped off when traveling the Baja Peninsula.
Golden Rule Summary:
Get Your FMM Permit – Buy it before/at crossing the border and do not lose the paper itself.
Never Drive at Night – One of the most dangerous activities in Baja, and also the most unnecessary. Don’t do it!
Keep Vital Supplies Full – You never know what’s ahead. Always keep things topped off and ready for the unexpected.
More Tips for A Safe Baja Road Trip
The ocean is full of unknowns. You can’t avoid that. One thing you can take steps to avoid is getting stung by a stingray.
The Baja Peninsula, like many beach areas, has plenty of stingrays. They love to hang out near the coastline where their food supply is abundant. Their camouflage makes them almost impossible to see.
So how do you avoid them? Do the stingray shuffle.
When you walk into the ocean, keep your feet on the bottom of the sea floor. Shuffle forward into the water, maintaining contact as you go. By keeping your feet low, if you come into contact with a stingray, you’ll tap on the side of them and they’ll swim away.
If you walk normally in the water, you might stomp on top of a stingray. Then they’ll use all of their might to stab you with their barbed, venomous tail. Chances are it won’t kill you, but it’ll leave you in screaming pain for hours on end.
It seems counterintuitive. Scrape across the floor to avoid things on the floor? But it’s true. They rarely sting in an aggressive manner; it’s always defensive after getting stepped on.
Do the stingray shuffle to avoid a painful Baja Mexico experience.
Car Insurance and Import Permits
There’s a small chance your vehicle’s existing insurance policy covers Mexico, but more often than not, you need to purchase Mexican car/RV insurance for driving in Baja. Usually it’s quite affordable.
Do not travel in Baja without proper insurance. Just like other places, proper auto insurance is not only recommended, it’s required.
There’s one great part about traveling in the Baja Peninsula with your vehicle: unless you’re visiting other areas in Mexico, you do not have to obtain a special permit to drive in Baja.
If you decide to go elsewhere with your vehicle (such as taking the ferry from La Paz into mainland Mexico), then you’ll need to apply and pay for a temporary import permit (TIP). Learn more about importing a vehicle into Mexico here.
BYOT (Bring Your Own Toilet and Toilet Paper)
I absolutely love camping in Baja Mexico. But I don’t enjoy using pit toilets that are in serious need of attention. I’ve used my fair share of questionable toilets around the world, and I can tell you that some of the toilets in Baja are the absolute worst I have ever encountered.
Do yourself a favor: If you are going to do a Baja camping trip, bring your own toilet. With any luck, you’ll never have to use it. But if you end up in the wrong spot (or the best spot that happens to have terrible toilets), if will be a lifesaver.
Digging catholes isn’t a great idea in Baja. The ground can be extremely hard and it simply doesn’t have proper conditions for things to naturally decompose.
Also, toilet paper can be in short supply at some locations. It’s always wise to have a bit with you.
The border crossings and military checkpoints are part of traveling in Baja Mexico. And to be frank, they’re a much bigger talking point than concern. People just aren’t used to dealing with random searches by armed personnel.
In reality, these checkpoints are there for your safety. And as long as you’re doing things right, there isn’t much to worry about.
There’s one thing that’s certain to get you into VERY serious trouble in Mexico: firearms. It is possible for individuals to obtain permits for having a gun in Mexico, but the process is not simple. Whatever you do, do not even think about sneaking a gun into Mexico. It is one of the worst mistakes you can possibly make.
Traveling with other illicit substances, including marijuana, will also lead to many headaches, costs, and delays. The criminal justice system in Mexico is not something you want to mess around with. Leave the drugs at home.
You can find a more comprehensive list of prohibited items on this website.
Finally, you should be aware of import taxes on new goods brought into Mexico. If you are over the personal allowance (around $500 USD), then you’ll need to declare new items and pay a 16% import tax. Bring receipts to prove the purchase price. This tax does not apply to anything used.
If you play by the rules, the checkpoints are not a concern. Don’t be in a rush, understand that they are just doing their job, and try to be as accommodating as possible. You’ll be fine.
Extra Gas Cans and Car Parts
This one isn’t for everyone. There used to be a time when additional gas cans were a necessary part of traveling in Baja. That’s not really the case anymore.
For the most part, you can always find a gas station in Baja within about 200 miles of one another, at the very worst. Yes, 200 miles is a long way and that’s why the golden rule about keeping vital supplies topped off is important.
But if you want to spend days trekking away from the highway, burning fuel while crawling along the stunning coastline, then you might need additional fuel. Quite often, serious Baja rigs will install a secondary fuel tank.
We’ve traveled Baja in a vehicle with a range of about 350 miles and had some anxiety about fuel. Never got stranded because we always topped off and knew where the next station should be. But it was a concern. Now we’re lucky enough to get over 500 miles off of one tank and have zero concerns.
Auto parts stores and knowledgeable mechanics are around most towns in Baja Mexico. If you have a common vehicle (Chevy, Ford, Toyota), chances are that you’ll find what you need. On the other hand, specialized cars (Subaru, Mercedes, BMW) are much more challenging to find parts for. They’ll likely be available near the border and down south in La Paz & Los Cabos. The middle of the peninsula could be a tough time for specialized vehicles.
Also, self-sufficiency is key. Know how to change a tire. But it is wise to have an extra air filter, oil filter, fuel filter, fuses, spare tire, and whatever other parts are likely to fail on your vehicle.
This area comes with experience, but I highly recommend anyone who wants to do a serious road trip in Baja Mexico gets knowledgeable about your vehicle. Change your oil in the driveway at home. Do a brake job and find out what tools you’re missing. Try to repair breakdowns on your own when at home. Use YouTube and websites/forums that are specific to your vehicle. You’ll probably be surprised about the loads of information out there.
Of course, you don’t want to think about everything that can go wrong, but accidents do happen.
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8 Tips for Traveling in Baja Mexico
I could talk your ear off about the preparations you should make about traveling in Baja. I hope I haven’t frightened you too much. The Baja road trip adventure is totally worth it and if you take the right precautions, you can do it.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: don’t take unnecessary risks. Be prepared and self-sufficient.
If you take anything away from this article, let it be the golden rules of traveling in Baja: Get Your FMM; Don’t Drive at Night; and Keep Vital Supplies Topped Off.
Adventure awaits. Will you be ready??
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