A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!


Visit Expedia…

Expedia is my favorite place to book airfare, and they handle hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc. I like the organization of the site for figuring out what flights I want. Click on the suitcase to take a look.

I was very pleased to win an award for this blog! Even better for you: click through for lists of all sorts of award-winning travel blogs.

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

What size RV to take?

Huge RVs are iffy in Mexico.This is a personal matter. If you handle your large rig like you were born to it, if narrow curvy roads without shoulders don’t faze you, if you can stop on a dime, if you can go with the flow in city traffic like a New York taxi driver, and if you don’t mind spending a small fortune on gasoline, then a larger rig might be just fine.

It would also be fine if you were just going a little way into Mexico, to one of the campgrounds on the West coast that are popular with tourists.

It must be obvious that I have a bias here. For several years, Kelly and I full-timed in a bus conversion motorhome, a former Gray Line tour bus the size of a Greyhound. Kelly did handle it almost as deftly as described above, but we chose never to take it into Mexico. It was just too big a thing to enjoy there, with the way we like to explore back roads.

Vans are good for RV travel in Mexico.I think that the ideal vehicle for versatile Mexican driving is some form of van. It could be one of the nice van conversions with all the trimmings or even just a regular passenger van to which you added some basic camping supplies or built in a bed, table, kitchen, and maybe a bit of a bathroom. This would allow you to use it for sleeping and eating when you wanted to, but you would still be able to stay in hotels and get the vehicle under the common short entry gates.

Rubbermaid kitchen containers make excellent mini-toilets, as they seal tightly. We used to travel in a Volvo station wagon and sleep in the back of it. We had a Rubbermaid pasta container for those middle-of-the-night moments. I sewed a cloth cover so we could discreetly take it into a restroom for emptying.

When Kelly and I traveled through Mexico in 1979 for four months, it was in a V6 Ford Econoline van that had a pop-up roof. Kelly built in the basics, and we went everywhere. It was loaded pretty full, and twice – once in Chiapas and once in the highlands of Guatemala – we couldn’t get up steep hills that we had already gone down. In Chiapas, it was a short distance, and we unloaded some things, drove up the hill, unloaded some more at the top, and went back down for the things we had left. In Guatemala, we hired a passing truck to tow us a few miles. Those were our only problems. Another thing I liked about the van was that when it was parked, it wasn’t as noticeable as an RV.

What about going in a caravan?

There are a number of American companies that guide RV tours around Mexico. They charge several thousand dollars generally, on top of all other expenses, and you drive your own rig in a parade which could have perhaps 20 other households of truck-trailer combos or motorhomes hauling tow cars. It’s a great way to spend a lot of time driving and relatively little time doing anything else, though there could be caravans that have a decent ratio of driving to relaxing.

I talked with people leading two such caravans, and in one case the man did know Mexico quite well and spoke a reasonable amount of Spanish. But the other company – which charges more than most – had no employees on that tour who knew much Spanish at all. Frankly, I was shocked. It struck me as irresponsible.

We heard a couple of stories about mishaps these groups have had. The leader of the group I was just speaking of told me this one: Mexico has a number of trucks called Green Angels, which are driven by English-speaking mechanics who have tools and supplies for basic repairs. They are a wonderful resource. Well, one day, a Green Angel was accompanying a caravan from this company. The Green Angel pulled out in front of the lead RV driven by an employee of the company, and the RV hit the Green Angel. Then several more of the caravanning RVers ploughed into each other.

Another story I heard was about Guanajuato, a small city with narrow, curving roads and a tunnel that winds under the city streets. You don’t want to take one RV into downtown Guanajuato, any guidebook will tell you. But one day, along came a caravan, and the leader ignored all the people waving to him to take the bypass around the city. The caravan ended up in the tunnel, where one of the big rigs got stuck. It took more than a few hours to extricate it.

Okay, that is the bad side of caravans, along with the risk that they will buy all the gasoline in rural stations or all the groceries in small towns. “Locusts!” one friend of mine muttered. They are very wasteful ecologically too.

But there are some good points. If you speak little or no Spanish, don’t want to go on your own, and are an avid RVer, some form of group travel makes sense. You might take a trip once and then get the know-how to go out on your own later. Another choice would be travel with one or two other RVs in a small group. Just be sure you like the people – and that your ideas of how far to drive in a day are roughly similar.

Choosing your route and finding campgrounds

I lump these two topics together because there is a definite relationship between them.

On our recent trip, we were able to boondock more than most RVers because Kelly had added a couple of extra batteries that charged when we drove. (We haven’t put solar panels on our RV, but may well in the future.) Also, we were at times willing to conserve water in order to boondock, even if it meant shorter showers, or no showers for a bit. But even so, we couldn’t go more than 3 or 4 days without hookups. This was partly because we were both writing a lot and needed to keep our laptops charged. On our 1979 trip, we didn’t need hookups and had correspondingly more freedom.

The essential key to finding Mexican campgrounds is a book called Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping, by Mike and Terri Church.

As a librarian, I know that no one book has everything, and we did find additional information on campgrounds in Lonely Planet and other guidebooks aimed at the budget traveler. These books were also invaluable in choosing our routes, as I pored over their descriptions of various places. I thought I had a lot of guidebooks with me, but I would take even more another time!

In choosing your route, consider the availability of campgrounds, the weather at that time of year, how much driving it would be, and what your interests are. Be aware that Mexican highways vary considerably in the speeds you can go. We averaged about 35 mph in the state of Veracruz but a lot faster on the four-lane highways in Chihuahua. We rarely went over 55 – that’s part of how we managed to get excellent gas mileage.

We chose our route as we went along, but we did set out with some general ideas. We had never been along the Gulf coast and wanted to see some of it. We wanted to go to some archaeological sites. We were curious to see if we could find places we might want to return and live for some months. Well aware that the more miles you travel, the more the trip costs and the less time you have not driving, we planned to only cover part of Mexico this time. Once there, I found it hard to give up some of the places I wanted to see that were further away, but we didn’t give in to those impulses. It was much more fun to have a relaxing journey.

When there is no campground

Whenever we were going to stop for the night and there was no campground, we started talking to local people and asking their advice about a place to stay. We had done that all over Mexico in 1979. Travelers say that it is more risky now. If that’s so, I don’t know by how much, but on this trip we did always ask, where on the earlier trip, we didn’t always bother.

By asking, we were directed to one of our favorite spots, the ferry landing near Tampico. By asking, we were welcome to stay in the parking lot at the ruins of El Tajín, where there are two night guards. By asking, we were warned away from a small town where a couple of young girls had disappeared ten days before. As we drove away from that one, I remembered the persistent Latin American rumor that Americans steal babies for their body parts. A chill ran down my spine, and I was grateful for the kind local woman who had warned us we should leave. That night, we soon found another spot behind a café, intended for truck drivers to pull in and sleep.

When we spoke with the people where we stayed, we felt included in their network. Mexicans are so hospitable that it was a lovely feeling. Sometimes children would bring us warm tortillas their mother had just made, and we would scramble around to find some tiny gift we could reciprocate with.

I must admit that I slept somewhat better when we were in campgrounds. In some of the other places, I would wake in the night, wondering what that sound had just been. Rural Mexico is not a quiet place, and it took a while to get used to sounds at all hours. Kelly generally felt safer than I did, and that is true of us no matter where we are. One night in a rare Mexican government campground, the only other visitors were a jolly group of Mexican men drinking, singing, and conversing all night. I was uneasy, though there wasn’t any danger really.

I discovered that if we had a little dry dog food for the local street dogs, they would immediately adopt us for the night. I liked it that they would bark if someone came close, though of course when that happened once, it did wake me up.

In a nutshell, it’s a matter of using common sense and finding your comfort zone.

Danger and crime

We heard scary tales of guns and crimes in Mexico, though the scariest came from an American in Texas whose ex-husband carried guns around Mexico himself!

We had one experience of petty theft. One Sunday afternoon, we were camped at a popular balneario or hot spring, and we put our bathing suits and towels on the back of the RV to dry before taking a walk. I had an old pair of sandals with me, and they were quite wet. I set them on the hood of the Toyota to dry, where they were more visible to people going by. I thought to myself that if someone did take them, it really wouldn’t matter much. I had a better pair with me.

Sure enough, when we got back from our walk, my sandals were gone. Kelly noticed that a rather rowdy group of young men were also gone.

End of story? Not quite. When we left that spot a couple of days later, my sandals were tied to a tree by the front gate, at just about the height someone in the back of a pickup could easily reach. The sandal straps were undone. It seemed that someone had tried them on but had been no Cinderella!

Of course, there are risks greater than that of losing a pair of sandals. But there is also a risk of staying at home and missing out on wonderful experiences. I have a sign over my computer: “If you don’t do it, you’ll never know what would have happened if you had done it.”

We always pulled the curtains and locked the doors of the RV when we were gone. With both our current vehicle and the van we took in 1979, Kelly installed simple sliding door latches on the driver’s and passenger’s doors, which we used in addition to the regular door locks. We came and went through the side door of the vehicle, which had an extra lock as well. In this motorhome, we decided not to use the oven but to make it our electronics center. We kept our laptops and cameras in there, and Kelly created an arrangement which locked the oven without showing. It involved removing a drawer next to the oven and poking a small screwdriver into a hole. Also, he installed an extra electrical box right beside our other one, in the closet. We kept our extra money in it, along with photocopies of our credit cards, passports, and Mexican tourist cards.

Has Mexican RV Travel Become More Dangerous Since Our 2003 Trip?

I don’t know how to judge this, since I’ve just done a little RVing since we moved to Lake Chapala in 2005. We do have some friends who traveled in their van and broke some of the rules for RV travel — they pulled off to have a snack at a lonely spot on a highway, just before dark. They were robbed, the guy fought back, and he ended up in the hospital for months. Very scary, but it is the only  incident I know of, and things like that do happen in the US too.

The news about drug cartels scares a lot of Americans, but I frankly don’t know if it would affect RV travel. The media loves bad news, of course, but then some of it IS true. Some.

I got tired of the uncertainties of where we would sleep and park the RV,  and now would myself prefer to stay on somewhat more beaten tracks in an RV. But in a van I would do more, with hotels always an option.

Would it suit you?

Happy camper atop his RV in Mexico.In my opinion, RVs are best suited for certain kinds of trips, like driving to a destination  and staying there, like the beaches of Guaymas, Mazatlan, and other northewestern shores of Mexico. If you want to spend most of your time in cities,  chances are you would be happier staying in hotels in the heart of town. If the driving would make you too nervous, go some other way instead.

So – for yourself, what do you think? Whatever you decide, may you enjoy it!

[End of the book]
Some images ©www.clipart.com and used with permission.

12 Responses to “More on Roaming Mexico in an RV or Van”

  • Cherrill Allan says:

    My husband and I live in S A at present and are looking to move – somewhere. Mexico seems a good option, whether to RV or to buy a house/apartment we are not sure. We do not have oodles of money, have enjoyed travelling in our hook up trailer (we call them caravans)since 1964 in and around S A and are looking to do the same somewhere else. We would travel on an extended timescale, such as 3-5 or 6 months at a time..

  • Rosana says:

    Cherrill, I am sure that with your adventuresome spirits you will have a great time wherever you go! I have no idea if Mexico would be more difficult than South Africa with a trailer or not. You may have found some of my pages where I talk about the rigors of RV travel if you go off the beaten tourist path, like this one:


    You would not need oodles of money to do what you are describing in Mexico.

  • Hal Tzeutschler says:

    Hello, Roseanna & Kelly. It’s now been about 20 months since my wife and I had the trip-of-a-lifetime, Jan-Mar 2008, and we couldn’t have done it without you! We have a 1996 Roadtrek, and ventured for 7 weeks down the East coast, through Yucatan as far east as Valledolid, back to Chiapas, then Oaxaca, and up through the center (avoiding Mexico City but not Teotihuacan). It was spectacular! There were so many “best” parts, but one of them was overnighting, about 1/3 of the time, on Zocalos in medium-size towns, because there was no campground to be found. Towns like Tlacotalpan (Ver), Occosingo in Chiapas, Tehuantepec, Atlixco (Puebla). Fabulous because all these towns centers are very alive with music and folks having fun into the evening, and there are street vendors there with great food. Also a Pemex with a view to die for on the Tabasco coast. We wouldn’t have dared any of that without your encouragement. We also sought out and shared your enthusiasm about sites you loved, like El Tajin, the hot springs at Carrizal, Xalapa (what a museum!!!), Guanajato, Teotihuacan, and many others. Also loved the minor Mayan sites in Campeche and along the Ruta Puc in Yucatan and the biggies Uxmal & Chitchen, and Palenque (of course!) and Tonina in Chiapas – 9 in all besides Teot. and Tajin. We fell in love with Oaxaca, and now plan to go back down there this winter, revisiting some places along the way, spending about a month in Oaxaca, taking Spanish courses, and spending some time on the Pacific Coast, Puerto Angel.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experiences which really gave us Heart do do it ourselves!

  • Dean says:

    Looking to purchase a map for RV travel from Brownsville TX to Quepos Costa Rica. I will be pulling a 10 ft trailer. I will travel by day and would appreciate camping stop suggestions. Advise on large easy roads, not necessarily the fastest. Country entry documents required any weapon restrictions. Escort recommendations for dangerous areas. Insurance coverage recommendations for entire trip.

  • Rosana says:

    There are *not* large easy roads for much (most, probably) of the route that you describe. I suggest you click on Our Mexican RV trip and at least skim the parts that talk about travel south of Texas. I remember that one long day we averaged 35 mph. Maybe there are fewer potholes now.

    For maps and books: click on the link at the top of the page that says Books. You want a Guia Roji map for Mexico and I don’t know beyond there. For a really good guidebook for camping stop suggestions, scroll down to my suggestion under the heading RV TRAVEL AND CAMPING. Escort recommendations? You might be best off going in a tour group.

    Weapons restrictions, I know they exist and need to be taken seriously, but have no idea exactly what they are, but I am sure googling it will result in something.

    Good luck. It’s not a trip that I personally would consider fun!

  • We drove a self converted pickup truck / camper shell conversion through Baja California about 10 years ago and had a fantastic trip – had the truck searched several times by Mexican soldiers but they were always very polite.
    .-= Annabel – Campervan Insurance´s last blog ..When Campervan Insurance Just Isn’t Enough =-.

  • Willard says:

    As a Mexican RV insurance provider – I can tell you that RV travel to Mexico is down significantly for 2008-2009. The biggest factor for RV travel going down is not the violence reports in Mexico – it is the GAS PRICES. RV travel is down significantly everywhere – RV sales have plummeted, and this is due to the gas prices – especially when diesel was well over $ per gallon.

    FYI – we have not seen any robberies or thefts commited against RV travelers in Mexico – and we insure over 30,000 vehicles (not just RVs) per year. So the perecentage of tourists – especially RVers who have problems in Mexico is very, very small – but one horror story can scare a lot of people.

    Just do not drive at night. Always park in campgrounds – NOT ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD – and you will be fine. This same advice goes for anywhere in the world – not just Mexico!

  • George M French says:

    George M French

  • Diver7041 says:

    Any idea who to contact to get the rv and vehicle insurance needed to stay legal?

  • Rosana says:

    We used Lewis and Lewis (google them), or google the general topic for more ideas.

  • Jim Turvin says:

    Is there any vehicle age restrictions for bring a motor home to Mexico? I’d like to travel to Mexico in a 1982 Itasca Sunrider.

    Thank you

  • Rosana Hart says:

    Jim, it’s been 3 years since we left Mexico with our Toyota Dolphin of about the same vintage. If you are planning to go as a tourist, the regulations are different from the ones you would encounter if you had a Mexican residence permit.

    But in either case, I don’t know! Suggest you go to mexconnect.com which has forums, and ask there.

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