white-throated sparrow

white-throated sparrow

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Driving to Mexico

I’ve been meaning to update for quite a while.  I’ve taken two birding trips to Mexico since my last post and had fully intended to write detailed trip reports after each once.  I’ll blame my failure to do so on grant writing season.  Or perhaps my lack of motivation to sit in front of my computer in the evening after a day of... sitting in front of a computer.  But here it I go; first up, a bit of info on driving in Mexico.  


What you need to know if you plan to drive to Mexico

For a recent trip to southern Sonora for Christmas Bird Counts, I decided to drive and take several other participants- here I will share what I learned about driving one’s own vehicle in Mexico, many of the details specific to crossing in and out via Nogales.

To drive in Mexico you MUST have Mexican insurance - from what I read, you could GO TO JAIL if something happens and you are uninsured (most US companies will not cover you outside the US).  This was fairly straightforward to obtain online, there are also places in Tucson and other border towns where you can walk in and purchase insurance.  The rate was roughly $45 for a 7-day plan.  Another necessity, which was less straightforward, was obtaining a car permit for Mexico.  I believe you can go a certain distance into Mexico without one, and there is apparently a separate Sonora-only permit and a federal Mexico permit (although they cost the same).  In my confusion I got a federal permit (even though I wasn’t going beyond Sonora) issued at the same location as the tourist visas, 21 km beyond the border from Nogales. As of late 2012 this now requires a $300 !! deposit (plus the $50 permit fee), of which I was unaware before arriving. I kept an eye on my credit card balance and this transaction was indeed cancelled about a week after leaving the country- when heading back into Nogales, watch for the rather unofficial-looking booths immediately across from the tourist visa facility, you have to pull off the road and go through this booth to get your permit removed and deposit refunded.  

What was it like?

I dare say that driving in Mexico is easier than in many places within the US, as there seemed to be far fewer distracted drivers.  Larger towns are a bit more hectic but nothing I haven't negotiated before.  The main thing to watch for are slow trucks, pedestrians, and physical obstacles.  The main toll highway south from Nogales is currently under construction, and many of the older sections are potholed.  Watch for speedbumps that may or may not be well-marked while passing through towns. 

Of course, there were exceptions that lent a sense of adventure to driving my own car into Mexico. There is currently some dispute over water rights (I don't know the full details), and in demonstration one group is stopping all commercial truck traffic at the tiny village of Vicam between Guaymas and Cuidad Obregon; apparently they let the trucks pass at 5 pm daily. They let passenger cars go by, but this is no easy task when hundreds of semis are occupying both lanes for kilometers in either direction. The solution? Just drive over the median and drive against traffic on the other side. If the median happens to be a ditch where you need to cross, well, tough luck. I've taken my Saturn on some pretty crazy roads before, so I knew what it was capable of and managed to get across said ditch with no more than an uncomfortable scraping sound and proceeded to drive against traffic into Vicam- but lots of other cars were doing that, so no big deal, right?  We encountered a similar situation right before crossing back into the US - I'm not even sure what was going on, I guess the truck line was really slow so they were just waving passenger cars into the oncoming lane.

I leave you with this drawing of the "welcome sign" you see as you cross into Mexico... I drew it in paint because I was driving and did not have my camera handy.  But's pretty realistic ;-) 

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