Public Camping in Mexico
Mexico, the country south of the US that borders with the States of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, has some beautiful places to visit. It is a country rich in history. A number of our regulars here in RTA have traveled in Mexico and found it to be a rewarding experience, for its beauty and difference in culture. That said, the prepared traveler should read up on what's out there and how to keep yourself safe and healthy while you travel.
Public camping in the country of Mexico is NOT like public camping in the United States or Canada. Mexico does not have state forests, parks and recreation areas, nor do they have national recreation areas. They DO have national parks, and those with camping will be listed within this thread. Unlike the US and Canada, however, there are far more “parque nacionales” (national parks) without any form of camping, than there are national parks with camping. Those campgrounds are very primitive --- Bring Your Own Everything – you'll be lucky to get a pit toilet, much less a picnic table or running water (which you shouldn't drink anyway, more on that later).
Safety in Mexico
There is a good deal of unrest in Mexico, but then too, haven't there been issues recently in the US? Use the same instincts you would when in the US and Canada. If a place doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. If you talk to other travelers and they tell you a given place is not safe because they have been through there, do yourself a big favor and believe it. You may NOT transport a gun or illegal drugs into Mexico, though you are welcome to bring your prescription medications with you (and probably get them refilled at a fraction of the cost, depending on the medication). Don't bring mace or pepper spray, either.
Also, do not offer money, food or drinks to any official. It can be considered bribery and land you in a Mexican jail. No food, no water brought to you. Mexico uses the Napoleonic law: guilty until proven innocent.
Driving should be done carefully. There are maniacs everywhere; North America is full of them, and Mexico is not exempt. Just remember if you are in an accident: you are to blame no matter what. Carry auto and rig insurance purchased in Mexico, such as Sanborn's, Lewis and Lewis and others.
A lot of folks worry about the availability of fuel in Mexico. The good news: there are more stations than in the past, they are all the same brand name (Pemex), the price is the same throughout the country, there is Unleaded and premium, and many stations (but not all) have Diesel. For diesel owners, diesel is BLACK labeled. Don't take the green label because that is Unleaded and will damage your engine and tank. The bad news: they aren't everywhere like American stations. Start looking for fuel before you get to the half-tank mode, especially if your rig takes diesel.
Maps and Toll Roads
Mexico has recently started to publish their own road atlas, called the Guia Roji (2015 is the latest edition). Amazon and other sellers carry it; it's around $19 US. In addition, some Rand McNally Road Atlases include Mexico, plus National Geographic has a decent fold-out map that's around $6.
The best highways in Mexico are four-lane toll roads, but they are also costly, especially if you are in a rig that has more than your average number of axles or if it's a dually pick-up (i.e. 6 tires). Alongside them is the old road, free, but it is usually not as maintained and has “topes” (TOW-pays) in them, which are speed humps. You will be driving twice as long on the free roads because of their poor maintenance and higher traffic levels, to avoid blowing a tire or (worse yet) breaking a strut, spring or an axle, and there are more commercial trucks on them blowing by you faster than they should. So many “norteamericanos” just decide to pay for the toll roads.
Things to Bring/Things Not to Bring
Your normal camping/RV'ing gear should be included. Other things, such as electrical pigtails to downgrade your rig from 50 amp service to 30 amp, are a necessity. Don't bring too much food, as Mexico has grocery stores and Walmart too. (Shopping is part of the cultural experience.) Also, make sure you bring your own toilet paper, even if you are tent-camping and don't have your own porta-potty with you. Few campgrounds, even the privately-owned ones, have TP! You'll also want a way to purify your drinking water, especially if you are going to be in the country for any length of time. (See below.)
Leave guns, mace and pepper spray at home. They will be confiscated and you run the risk of legal issues. Read up on how much liquor/beer you can bring in as well, remembering that these things are sold in the country.
If you're bringing a dog, make sure you bring the proof of a rabies vaccination. Your veterinarian can help you with the proper paperwork.
Highly recommended is Mike and Terri Church's book, Traveler's Guide to Mexican Camping, as a source for border crossing and lots of other information about traveling in Mexico. He also runs a website, Rolling Homes, which updates his (and his wife's) books in a more timely manner than book publishing will allow. That book, and other websites, can also lead you through the process of tourist permits, insurance (your own vehicle insurance is NOT good in Mexico, and with their Napoleonic laws, you DO want vehicle insurance that is good in Mexico), passports (necessary for return to US and savings of paperwork to get into Mexico in the first place), and the inspection process both in Mexico and returning to the US.
Cell Phone and Internet
Well, good luck with either one. Generally speaking, cities have more service for both. Rural areas are still extremely spotty.
Cell phone: It is hghly recommended to read these articles:
Use Your Cell Phone in Mexico
Communications in Mexico
Also, call your carrier. They may have a plan that will allow you to use your cell phone without racking up a high bill to face when you get home.
Internet: It is highly recommend to read these articles:
Internet Access in Mexico
Internet While You Travel Mexico
Talk to your carrier before you leave, regarding data service on your cell phone (assuming you have a smartphone).
For your laptop, you'll do better in the larger cities by finding an Internet cafe.
Next post will contain the basics of actually camping in Mexico...