This year (1997) Nadine and I drove down to Mazatlán from California. We are now in a position to tell you first hand what to expect on your trip down, should you plan to drive. I'll begin by starting in Tucson, Arizona. We broke the drive up into two days, but some of my friends tell me they do it in one day. I must admit we are not macho enough to attempt it, as both of our driving days seemed very long.
Starting in Tucson, take Interstate 19 down to Nogales. If you haven't done so already, you can stop on the US side of Nogales and buy your car insurance. There are several insurance "storefronts" on the way, with "barkers" encouraging you to select their particular agency. We had already arranged our insurance through Internation Gateway Insurance Brokers. Our policy allowed us to select how much of Mexico we wanted to be covered in, and we selected the whole country rather than just the northern states. The cost for the basic coverage is $458US for a year. The daily rate is $11US per day. This is for a Ford Explorer valued at $20-$25K. Their phone number, in case you want to use them, is: (619) 422-3022. Be sure to purchase your insurance before crossing the border, as your standard American insurance is not valid in Mexico. If you are in an accident here, and are not covered by insurance, you will be taken to jail until you can prove that you are able to be financially responsible for any claims that might arise from the accident.
Just follow the signs to the border. The crossing was no big deal for us. As you get to the border, your car triggers a customs light that either flashes green or red. The three cars ahead of us got green, but we got red. The guard ask us where we were headed, and when we said Mazatlán he waved us on our way. The "real" border doesn't happen for another 20 miles or so. When you get there, plan on spending about an hour to go through all the formalities. Park your car and take your papers with you. There are 4 stations, and they are numbered. Station 1 is immigration. You will need to fill out a tourist visa and present your passport or other documentation proving you are a US citizen. The officer inside will stamp this and give you a copy to take with you. Next proceed to station 2, which is inside of the station 3 building. It is a small window with a copy machine. The nice young man will make 2 copies of your visa and your driver's license and your vehicle registration. This will cost you a few pesos for the copies. Next go outside to one of the windows at station 3 and present these copies and pay the fee for the "temporary import permit." The person behind the window will fill out the form, and collect the payment, with can be cash or credit card. It comes to about $11 US. No big deal. They will tell you to go back to your car and get in line for station 4, which is the "real" customs inspection. While you are in line, someone will come around and paste a holographic sticker inside your windshield. Do not leave the area unless someone has done this. Don't be tempted to drive off. This sticker, and the form accompanying it, shows that you are allowed to drive your car in Mexico. If it is missing or out of date, the police have the right to impound your car at once. I repeat, don't drive off without this sticker. This queue will again bring you to a green and red signal, but this time it is always red, so you will have to pull over and a customs official will look inside your car. In our case, we opened the trunk and he poked his hand into a bag of dirty clothes, asked where we were going, and sent us on our way. All in all, the whole experience was no big deal, and nothing to lose any sleep over. In case you are interested in the official version of what can and cannot be brought into Mexico, the consulate has provided that information online. One note however: They are very strict about bringing in firearms. Don't do it! You may let a Mexican drive your car as long as you or your spouse or family members are with him. If you aren't and a Mexican is caught driving your car, it will be impounded, and you will wish you never heard the word Mexico. Finally, you are only allowed to keep your car in Mexico for 6 months. Make sure you and your car exit Mexico before this time period expires, or your car will again be subject to confiscation.
Once you are on the road again, and just about up to 65mph, you will see a sign saying that you are approaching a town, and the speed limit will drop to 40kph. I advise you to slow down at this point, as there will be people crossing the highway in a few minutes, and there was a parked police car on the side of the road. It looked to me like an old fashioned speed trap. You have been warned.
Once on the road again, we decided to take the toll roads all the way down. Look for the signs that say Cuota, which means toll rather than Libre which means free. We decided to break the trip down into two days, and spent the night in San Carlos, about 260 miles from Tucson. It is right next to Guaymas on the map. In the table that follows, I'll list the various tolls that we encountered. The last toll of the first day was Hermosillo. The tolls listed are for a regular car. Trucks and campers are higher. All the amounts are in pesos, and the date of the trip was the end of October 1997. An update! Recently I received an email from Manuel and Adriana Espinosa giving me an update on the prices at the various toll booths. I have included the new rates below. Also they recommended stopping over at Obregon, and staying at the Days Inn. These are current as of May 31, 1999. Thank you Manuel and Adriana.
|Puente Sinaloa (de Peaje)
|San Miguel (de Puente)
|Plaza de Cobro #59 (Las Brisas)
|Plaza No 58
There are plenty of gas stations along the way, and all of them have unleaded gas. Some, but not all, take credit cards. You would be wise to have about $200 US in pesos with you for gas, tolls and snacks along the way. There were plenty of money exchanges in Nogales, but past that the only place to change money is at a bank. Also, even past the border and the second border, we were stopped four times along the way by checkpoints. I am not 100% sure what they were looking for, but I believe that for vehicles heading north they were searching for drugs, and for vehicles heading south they were looking for guns. They never detained us or looked at our stuff. There was also an agricultural checkpoint, which also waved us through. All in all, the trip was uneventful, but long. I hope yours goes as well, should you choose to drive. One last note, we basically drove the speed limit all the way down, and many times we were passed by other cars that made us look like we were parked.
It isn't because of banditos or anything like that, its just that you can't see what is in front of you as well. It is not uncommon for livestock to wander on the roads, especially at night. Encountering a cow at 70mph will be unhealthy for both the cow and yourselves, so don't chance it. In addition, all the potholes that you avoided during the day are still there at night, only they are harder to avoid. Do yourself a favour, pull over and get a good night's sleep and set off as the sun comes up in the morning. You'll be glad you did.
Here are some words of advice from other RV'ers who have travelled down to Mazatlán. Never let your gas gauge go below one quarter tank. It is often a pretty long way between gas stations, and it doesn't hurt to keep it full. Be sure to fill up, way up, in the US before crossing the border. Gas is about as expensive in Mexico as the US. Also, be careful when pulling into and out of gas stations and driveways, it is pretty easy to bottom out. One other thing to look out for is speed bumps, or topes as they are called in Spanish. If you see a sign saying topes, slow down immediately. You can't count on them being marked or painted, so use extra caution. There often isn't much warning, and you can do some serious damage to your suspension if you hit one at full throttle. Also, be aware that when going through towns, these topes are frequently not marked, so drive slowly. Finally, if you do decide to take the libres, or the free roads, and find yourself going through the towns, always make sure that you can make it all the way down a street before turning into it. People often park creatively here, and you can find yourself stuck between two parked cars waiting for the owners to return.
There are also several trailer parks in Mazatlán, where you can drive up, hook up, and hang out. I've visited two of them so far, and found the owners friendly and helpful. One is on the beach, and called Mar Rosa Trailer Park. Their GPS co-ordinates are 23 degrees 15 minutes 26 seconds north and 106 degrees 27 minutes 35 seconds West. The cost is 10-16 dollars per day depending on the proximity to the beach. They charge 3 dollars a day extra if there are more than 2 people in the trailer, and require a 100 deposit to reserve space. The nice thing about this park is that it is right on the beach, in the middle of the golden zone. Needless to say, the beachfront spaces have been reserved by the same people for years and years, but no matter which space you wind up in, you are only seconds away from the crashing waves. The second trailer park I've been to is the Las Palmas trailer park. It is just across the street from Guadalajara Grill, right in the heart of the golden zone. Their GPS co-ordinates are 23 degrees 14 minutes 40 seconds north and 106 degrees 27 minutes 04 seconds West. The cost is $270 dollars per month. Particular spaces can be reserved for a minimum of three months, and require a one month deposit. The folks here love to get together and go down to Lario's for dinner and Margaritas. The office is on the third floor of the building overlooking the trailers.
I found this information online, but have not verified it personally. In Tucson, the Elite bus to Mazatlán leaves daily at 10:30AM, 2:30PM, and 8:30PM from their station at 1428 South 6th Ave. (between 24th and 25th). The station has a parking lot (without security service) and also offers transportation from the station to the airport ($3 USD) or downtown ($6 USD). To contact the Tucson station, call (520) 903-2801.
In Phoenix, the bus to Mazatlán leaves daily at 8AM, 12 noon and 6:00PM from their station at 1306 Vanduren (near 13th St.). This station also has a parking lot (without security service) but it closes at 8:00 p.m. To contact the Phoenix station, call (602) 258-5852. You may also contact the TBC station in Nogales, Sonora at 011-(63)13-28-80.
Recently (Feb. 2001) I've obtained the local bus schedule for busses leaving the main bus station here. The bus station is easy to get to, just walk up to any taxi and say you want to go to the central camionera (sentrahl kameeonera) and they'll take you right there. From there you can take a bus to Mexico City, Puerta Vallarta, Durango, Nogales and many points in between.
Some notes on the tables below. I collected this data by writing down what was posted on the walls in the bus station. I was warned that the prices are subject to change, and that the travel times were estimates. I converted the prices into US dollars at a rate of 9.5 to 1, with the hope that the price in dollars will remain more constant over time than the price in pesos. The travel time is the number of hours to reach the named city.
|I had a very hard time with this bus line. I have copied their schedule faithfully, but the guy at the counter told me that a bus from Guadaljara arrives every hour and then departs to Tijuana. I could never reconcile this with the schedule above. Also as an addendum to the schedule, there is a bus to Agua Prieta, which is, apparently, the same as Puerta Vallarta, that departs at 09:30, 18:30, and 22:00. This is the best I could do, sorry. I welcome any further clarification from anyone who can figure this out.
|This is a very local bus line, that only runs as far as Tepic. The guy at the counter said the buses run from 5am until 7pm, and depart every 15 minutes. Judging from the lack of people in the station, I would guess that each bus has many seats available.
|I have to admit that I'm not sure about the departure times for Durango. The sign said 3, 6, 8, and 11 but I'm not sure if it was AM or PM. Since the sign also said 16:00 for Torreon, I'm assuming they are AM departures, though 3am is a bit early, especially for Mazatlecos. Still, if you absolutely, positively have to be in Durango by 10am, I guess a 3am redeye is the way to go.
|You might be wondering about the departure times. Well, here are the ones I know about: To Tepic at 11:00 and 14:00. To Guadalajara at 09:30, 12:30, 20:15, 21:45, and 22:45. To Mexico City at 11:00, 14:00, 16:00 19:45, and 21:100. Finally, to Aguascalientes at 22:45. The other desitinations, I'm not really sure. There were more on the board, but when I inquired about them I was told they were cancelled. Perhaps the buses to Mexico City carry on to some of the other locations, but this was my last stop and I was running out of steam, so I guess I let accuracy slide by the wayside. While the counter agents were friendly enough, I got the feeling with some of them that this information was on a need to know basis, and it wasn't at all clear why a passenger would need to know when and where the bus was going. You figure it out.
|This schedule is for the direct service. These buses don't make any intermediate stops, and generally take about an hour less travel time than their counterparts above.
|Prolongacion Carnaval S/N
|Fracc. Playa Sur
|981-7020 or 981-7021 (Voice)