The drive down the Baja peninsula in Mexico from the California border to Cabo San Lucas is still one of the most beautiful and unspoiled on the continent. It can be hazardous, though, as you'll encounter narrow roads and many isolated areas. Here are eight things you need to take with you to ensure you have a safe and fun journey.
Valid ID and a Visa
You probably know you can use your US drivers license in Mexico, but you can't use it any longer to get back into the United States after your trip. You must have a valid passport to re-enter the US.
You'll also need a visa to travel for more than 72 hours and south of Ensenada within the country of Mexico. You can print and fill out a visa form from the government website and stop to get it stamped at immigration when you cross into Mexico, or you can do it all when you enter. Just follow the "something to declare" lanes to locate the immigration terminal wherever you enter the country.
Mexico doesn't have private gas stations like the US. Gas is federally regulated there and available only at Pemex stations. Service stations can be sparsely located in Baja, and if one is closed or runs out of gas (which occasionally happens), you could be stuck without enough fuel to get to your next stop. But if you fill up an extra gas can once you leave the Ensenada area, you can avoid running out of gas.
Water and Food
In case you get stuck behind a truck convoy, have a breakdown, or roll into a town after the restaurants have closed, it's a good idea to carry some food and water with you. Bring protein bars, dried fruit, nuts, and bottled water (don't use tap water), and you can weather a day or night without a formal meal.
The roads are mostly paved now from Tijuana to Cabo, but there can be rough, potholed patches and the odd nail just waiting to do in your tires. Always carry at least one spare, and if you know how to change a tire, you won't wait forever for help if you do have a flat.
Flares and a Reflective Vest
Speaking of breakdowns, in case you do have one, you want to be visible to traffic, especially if night is falling. Bringing flares and a reflective vest is a wise idea.
If you do need roadside assistance on your journey, how are you going to call for it? You will pay astronomical roaming charges to use your US mobile phone in Mexico, and you may not get tower reception in some remote areas. Contact a global satellite service provider for information about devices you can use south of the border.
While you can generally use credit cards from Tijuana to Ensenada and again in the Cabo area, most of the regions in between will be cash only. The good news is that most places are eager to get American dollars, which are legal in Baja and accepted most places. Be aware that the exchange rate can vary at Mexican cambios (exchange houses) should you desire to turn in your dollars for pesos.
Medical Evacuation Insurance
It's not pleasant to think about, but health emergencies can happen anywhere. In most places in the US, you are just an ambulance ride away from hospital care, but this is not the case in Mexico. Hospitals in Baja are clustered at both ends of the peninsula, and some cannot provide the level of care you may be used to in the US.
It makes sense therefore to purchase evacuation insurance, which can be had for a reasonable fee, before you leave the States. You'll know you have medical flight service from anywhere if you run into trouble on your Baja vacation. You can put your mind at ease about medical emergencies and enjoy the trip.