We wanted to share a few tips on how to make your way down safely from the San Diego International Border to La Paz, BCS. We knew that we couldn’t just fill the car to the brim and hope for the best. Some thought and planning needed to go into this; any time you go on a road trip, you want to be prepared.
It’s about 920+/- miles from the U.S. border to La Paz, so we knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task. Packing the car was done strategically; we didn’t want to invite unwanted attention and advertise all the things we were taking with us. Our strategy was to pack the trunk with the things that would not be needed during the drive. Not needing to pop the trunk during the drive pretty much hides the “goods” and avoids anybody from seeing that you have a fully packed car. Not that we were expecting to run into robbers, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Driving that many miles is not safely done in one or two sittings. The most important things to consider are not to drive at night (there is NO LIGHT on the road except from your car), not to drive tired (it’s imperative that you be fully alert the ENTIRE time), and to make sure you have enough gas (there aren’t that many gas stations). After planning our route, we decided to make the drive in 3 days.
The night before the drive, we packed the car with all our belongings, and stocked up on a few trip essentials:
- First Aid and our homemade Emergency Kit (detailed entry of this kit coming soon!)
- 2 gallons of water – Hydration for us, the dogs, and in case the car overheats
- Snacks – Granola bars, chips, fruit, chocolate – high energy foods
- 1 Quart engine oil – we would hate for the oil light to pop on in the middle of nowhere
- $500 USD converted into Pesos – about $11,000 MXP for tolls (there were 2), gas, and expenses
Crossing the border is really simple. There is nothing to be afraid of. You pass the last U.S. exit on the 5 freeway and make your way to the border crossing. As you enter the lanes for Mexico, you come up to a screening area where you go over a couple of speed bumps and approach a lifting gate. A green or red light flashes and the gate will lift. Green light means you’re good to go; red light means you will need to stop at the inspection area. We got a green light so we just made our way in and followed our navigation to the highway toll road. Don’t be worried if you get a red light. In the inspection area, they will only ask you if you have anything to declare and they will take a quick look into your trunk to make sure you aren’t bringing things to sell. Some people might get scared of the military presence, but they are only there for everyone’s safety.
We knew from our research that we needed to get car insurance. We stopped in Ensenada (about 1.5 hours from the border) and drove around for a few minutes until we found an insurance office (AXA). This was easy to do. They have a “tourist” auto insurance which cost $532 MXP (approx. $25 USD) for 3 days.
We drove about 225 miles before getting to El Rosario de Arriba, a small town north of the Natural Reserve of Baja. We had planned on arriving to Guerrero Negro (approx. 4 hours into the reserve, on the border of Baja California and Baja California Sur) and spending the night there, but it was starting to rain HARD and the streets were starting to flood. We got to El Rosario at around 3pm and we realized that continuing the drive into the reserve in the rain is dangerous. There is no light, lots of potholes, and no gas stations. Some areas were going through major redevelopment, and since we were not familiar with the roads, we thought it would be best to switch gears and leave this drive for the next day.
In El Rosario, we found a Motel called the Baja Cactus. This is a small, cute spot. Most importantly, it was clean. They have rooms available for $350-550 MXP ($17-30 USD) per night, and they allow dogs at no cost! We got the simplest room (2 double beds) and we were able to park right in front of our room (#8). We unloaded everything from the back seat so that the car looked empty and brought in anything valuable (just in case!).
Driving through the Natural Reserve of Baja was the most adventurous part of the drive to La Paz.
FILL YOUR CAR WITH GAS BEFORE YOU LEAVE EL ROSARIO! There are no gas stations through the reserve. Actually, there is NOTHING through the reserve. There is ZERO reception. The road is full of bumps, big pot holes, and there were even some floods we had to drive through (small Toyota corolla had no issues). BE CAUTIOUS! Don’t pull over unless you really have to, and be careful not to speed. Pot holes and dips come out of nowhere, and the last thing you need out there is a bad tire. It took about 4 hours until we came across a stop with a gas station and a small shop that sold tamales (they were delicious!)
We had planned on staying in the little town of Santa Rosalía for the night, but we got there earlier than expected, so we just had some lunch there and explored a little, then made our way down further into Loreto, another 2.5 hours of beautiful scenery.
When we got to Loreto, it was already dark, and we were exhausted. We found an affordable hotel called Hotel Plaza Loreto and asked them if they allow dogs. They didn’t, but for a small deposit of $100 MXP (which we got back), the manager allowed it and offered us a room for $850 MXP. They have a private parking lot in the back with security, but we still unloaded the back seat and took our valuables in (again, just in case!)
We woke up early the next day, and one last time, topped off our gas tank and continued to our final destination. The rest of the trip was really fun! With extremely long straight roads and not a car in sight for miles and miles, we might have broken the speed limit once or twice (do not do this!) and we got to La Paz by mid afternoon. Be aware that on this road, many parts were going through major reconstruction and we had to take some dirt streets that needed to be navigated very slowly. Nothing to worry about; just be careful.
All in all, the drive from San Diego to La Paz ended up being easier than we thought. There were approximately 5-6 checkpoints throughout the trip, in which the nice soldiers simply asked us where we were headed (we said “La Paz de vacaciones”). Only one soldier asked us to open the trunk, but he didn’t look through any of our stuff. He just opened it and closed it. They were all very nice and never made us feel uncomfortable.
It was a super fun, super beautiful first part of our road trip! Such beautiful scenery, wild horses and cows, and endless amounts of cacti!
We highly recommend this to anyone who likes road trips. Another hour of driving and you can make it to Cabo San Lucas, but we’ll save that for another day!
Check back soon to see our detailed post about El Rosario, Santa Rosalía and Loreto.
• Breakdown of expenses •
- Hotel for 2 nights: $65 USD
- Car Insurance for 3 days: $25 USD
- Gas: $100 +/- USD
- Food: $68 USD
- Toll Roads: $5
Total: $263 USD