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Driving in Mexico

¿Is It Safe to Drive in Baja?

questions answered by David "El Codo" Eidell

Published: December 2002
Hi David

This march I am planning on renting a car in San Diego and driving to Cabo San Lucas. Is this considered a safe drive? I have been told I might encounter "banditos". What should i know before doing this? How are the roads? Should I rent an SUV or is a standard car fine? I am told I should not drive at night.

ANY information or suggested resources would be appreciated.


David “El Codo” Eidell replies

Perhaps the best way to describe Mexico1, the transpeninsular highway is to say that many solo grandmother types drive small to medium size RV's annually to a winter's perch on a beach. Sadly, the days of banditos, highway robbery and ambushes have seem to have gone the way of the dodo. Gas station attendants however will shortchange you in the blink of an eye. Use pesos and keep your eye on the gas pump to make sure it starts off with all zeros.

The highway is narrow in spots and you should not allow yourself to become mesmerized by mile-after-mile of seeming light traffic and good surface. About that time you will crest a rise or turn a curve to find a herd of cattle or length of KENMEX diesel rig blocking the highway. Every trip seems like it has one or two close calls and the unprepared are setting themselves up for a terrible accident. I have probably driven the road more than fifty times and I NEVER EVER take one mile of it for granted.

Seventy percent of all accidents and ninety five percent of highway deaths on Mex 1 occur after sunset. I've seen big rig drivers lurch to a stop alongside a restaurant or store and stagger out with an armful empty beer bottles. As careful a driver as I would like to think I am, I will NEVER drive this road at night. There's nothing like discerning a gray steer on a gray highway surface just before you have to cut the wheel and risk a rollover out in the chaparral.

My favorite ride on this highway is inside an automobile with the best ride quality. The most refreshing trip I ever took was at the wheel of a Cadillac. Unless you plan to boondock, just about every automobile will do fine. Sporty cars however, with long overhangs and low slung chassis, may scrape across some of the bigger speedbumps. I treat EVERY developed area as if a two foot tall speedbump is just up the road. They seem to be everywhere there's houses.

There are numerous Army and Police checkpoints and they are looking only for narcotics and firearms. Most of the soldiers are good kids who take great pride in soldiering. Even in the presence of machine guns behind sandbag walls, I relax around the army -- they're honest and courteous.

At the EAGLE MONUMENT at the 28th Parallel (State Line between Baja and Baja Sur), you will be stopped and asked if you have any fruits or vegetables. Another man will approach and ask you to see your Tourist Card. Someone else will spray a milky looking liquid on your tires and after paying a dollar or two you will get an "official" receipt. This all is aboveboard. No one is going to expect you to speak Spanish.

But bandits? Uh uh.

Saludos! David

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