Tips for Motorcycle Travel in Mexico

On my trip from California to Argentina, I spent a month traveling through Mexico. Here are some things I learned along the way. This is not a complete guide, just some things that might help you plan a trip or get a sense of what it’s like. If I posted something wrong let me know but I don’t want to start a whole discussion here of Mexico tips. Just my take on it. You can find additional info on an ADVRider post here.

Riding in Baja

 

Temp Vehicle Import  Permit

If you’re traveling outside the free zone of Baja you need to get a Temp Vehicle Import Permit for your motorcycle. You can get these online or at certain border crossings. I suggest getting it before you go. I know of two places inside Mexico where you can get these. At the La Paz ferry SAT office and south of Guaymas on Mexico 15 at a SAT building. More info at Baja Bound

Insurance

You need it. Your USA or other insurance won’t cover you here. Round the World insurance plans won’t work here either. Mexico is a country that if you don’t have the right coverage you can go to jail if you cause an accident. There are a lot of online insurance brokers to choose from.  I found this site to be helpful and purchased my insurance through Sanborns.

Roads

Throughout Mexico I found the roads overall to be in good condition. Roads that needed work usually had construction already underway.

  • Libre – Free roads. Usually older, less maintained roads that pass through town centers. Lots of speedbumps.
  • Cuota – Toll roads. The toll roads I was on were mostly really nice and well maintained. They’re often 4 lane highways but sometimes 2 in more rural areas. Motos pay about half the cost of what they charge cars. The fees are clearly marked on a sign before or there’s a digital sign at the toll booth. Go to the toll booth with the cash sign. Not the express prepay lane.

Gas Stations – the toll roads typically have gas stations/rest areas along the road. Since I have a relatively short fuel range (180 miles) I kept my eye out for gas stations. See more below.

Military/Police Checkpoints

Throughout the country I passed through 5 or 6 military checkpoints. There are signs letting you know they are ahead. They will either wave you by or have you stop. When I was stopped they would ask where I was coming from and where I was going. I think it’s best to be specific. I didn’t say California to Argentina. I said the town names. I didn’t take my helmet off at these and it was always really brief and they’d wave me on.

Signs on the Roads

  • Alto – this one is obvious. Stop.
  • Curva Peligrosa – Dangerous Curve
  • Topes a 100 meters – speedbumps in 100 meters
  • Disminuya Velocidad – Slow your speed
  • Despacio – Slow down
  • Poblado Proximo – There’s a town ahead
  • Cruce de Peatons – Pedestrian Crossing
  • Cassette de Cobro – Toll Booth
  • Highway signs are marked but they never use North, South, East, West. They just list highway number and the major cities the road goes to. Know the cities along your route and follow the signs.

Rules of the Road

  • Speed Limits – signs were posted regularly. On the main highways or toll roads it was often 70km-110km per hour. On regular roads it was 50 or 60kmph. Through towns it was pretty slow, 20 to 40kmph. Plus remember there are topes to slow down for.
  • One lane with dotted line on shoulder – this was something I had no idea what it was about. Basically the dotted line on the shoulder turns it into a lane. Cars ahead who are about to be passed will move over into this half lane so the vehicles behind can easily pass on the left. Some people will stay in that lane. It’s fine to pass them on the left.
  • Trucks on mountain roads drive slow. Before going to pass make sure you check to see if the truck in front of you has a large sign on the back that reads Semi Doble Remolgue. That means there are two trailers being pulled so make sure you have enough time to pass both.

Turn Signals

Left Turn Signal – on two lane roads this almost always means the truck, bus, or car in front of you are saying it’s ok to pass. They will usually move over slightly to the right. I didn’t have any problems where they signaled and it wasn’t safe but use your own judgement. If you are driving on a two lane road, don’t use your left turn signal when YOU are going to pass as you just told the person behind it’s ok to pass you and you might get hit.

Things In The Road

  • Topes (speedbumps)
  • Dogs, Burros, Cows
  • Boulders
  • Pot Holes

Fuel

The federally run Pemex gas stations are abundant. Most all of them are full service so you pull up and they fill up for you. In the small towns they’ll likely only have Magna 87 Octane. Main roads and cities usually have Premium 91 Octane. As of February 2016 it was $13.98 MXN per liter for Premium. 1 gallon = 3.79 Liters. So about $2.81 USD per gallon of premium. Get the latest fuel costs here.

It’s rare they accept card so have cash and they generally round to the nearest peso. So if it’s $50.33 just give them $50 and you’re good to go. Most Pemex’s have convenience stores and clean bathrooms. Some charge 2 pesos for the banos. If I was ever lost, needed to make a call, or stop for something, the gas stations were always a place I felt safe in cities or neighborhoods I didn’t know. The major roads have signs telling you how many kilometers to the next gas station. The only stretch that exceeded my fuel range was in Baja from El Rosario to Guerrero Negro. It was 318 km between gas stations. But there was the small town of Catavina about halfway where they sold gas from cans on the side of the road.

Baja Gas Station in Catavina

Baja Gas Station in Catavina

Common Sense Things

Be smart. Don’t ride recklessly and don’t drive at night. I had to drive once at night because the ferry to the mainland was 3 hours late.

Staying Safe

I saw the most accidents (usually involving cars or pickups) in medium sized towns at intersections. Take your time, ride slow through town and most importantly stay alert. If you get hit doing 30kmph it won’t be as bad as if you’re speeding through.

Parking

I stayed at inexpensive hotels and used couchsurfing throughout the country. Just about every place I stayed had secure parking. I did use a cable and disc lock, and used a motorcycle cover.

I had never ridden my motorcycle in Mexico before this trip and had no problems. I loved traveling through Mexico. The people were kind and welcoming.

 

Comments

  1. will smith says

    Dan thank you very much for all the great info. I just have two questions, weather permitting I will be leaving Maryland on my way to South America in Jan 2015, will it be dangerous to leave in Jan weather wise? I would like to avoid rainy season in CA. My second question, where should I enter Guatemala and Honduras borders as far as safety goes?

    Thanks again and be safe!

    Mr. Will

    • Dan Ford says

      Hey Will – Not a bad idea to skip the rainy season down there. Depends on your timeline and where you want to be when. I had fairly good weather most of the way aside from lots of rain in Bolivia in February and cold weather in Tierra del Fuego in early March. I don’t know the weather outside of those dates. Argentina and Chile are beautiful in their fall but by June it’s snowing in the mountains and cold a lot of other places down there. What’s your plan? You’re going to hit bad weather sometimes and it’s really not entirely predictable. Just go along and have an adventure. If the rain is keeping you stuck somewhere, stop in a small town and talk to the local people. Try a weird local food and head out when the rain lets up.

      For Guatemala I entered at La Mesillia. I had no problems there. And for Honduras at El Amatillo. I arrived at both borders early and El Amatillo was no problem. Aside from all the photocopies they wanted I did not have any issue. Read that blog here:
      buen viaje! -Dan

  2. Chris Tharp says

    Thanks for this. My brother and I are planning a ride through the Americas in the next few years and it’s great to get firsthand info from people who have already done it and wrote about it.

    • Dan Ford says

      I hope you and your brother (or even just you) make that trek if that’s what you want. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in life. I would do it all over again too.

  3. says

    Thanks for the information. There’s no mention of where you stayed at night. I’m not big on camping or sleeping on the ground so for these kinds of trips how do you set up the hotel or motel arrangements in advance?

    • Dan Ford says

      Hey David – I used the forums on Horizons Unlimited or ADVRider to find suggested hotels or hostels. Also searching Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor. I usually looked for places that marked they have parking available. That was only in large cities. In little towns it’s easy to just ride around for a few minutes and stop and ask about accommodation.

  4. Suzanne says

    Looking for more meaning in my life and always love a good adventure. I am a very young 60 female, not super strong – in past months have ridden a 250 Sport bike in Vietnam. Bike softly fell when I tried a slo-mo turn in soft sand. Not sure I could have picked it up by myself. But I have a big need to step out of my ordinary life and do something, and riding through Mexico and beyond have great appeal. (I’ve traveled Mexico and Guatemala several times.) I’d prefer to ride with others, but I know no one who rides. I live in western Washington state.
    Recommendations on size bike to buy? Groups to connect to? I worry a little that I don’t fit the stereotype of a big, strong, tough-looking girl and don’t want to invite disaster. Lol, how do you get to be a Hell’s Angels Mama? Kidding. I DO want to be safe.

    • Dan Ford says

      Hey Suzanne –

      There were a few others on 225s or 250s traveling south through latin American that I might. I’d say get a bike you’re comfortable with. You can always take all the luggage off if you go down. I would suggest checking out Horizons Unlimited and ADVRider.com. They both have forums for riders to meet up. Buen viaje!

    • Pedro Gonzalez says

      Hello Suzanne, when do you plan on going to Mexico? I currently live in Guadalajara Mexico but I’m going to Boise Idaho for the summer to visit some family. Anyway, I’m planning on riding my bike from Boise to Guadalajara in early to mid August if you’re looking for a riding partner.

      • Dante Sachez says

        Hi, Pedro
        I’m from Santa Clara California but I was born in Guadalajara (Tlaquepaque) and I have a Ducati 1200 Monster that I’d like to ride to Guadalajara, Mexico in a month or so. Please let me know if you’re interested in partner up together, Thank you and other riders are welcome to join too!!!

    • Sarah says

      Hope you ended up going on that trip! I have never ridden a bike before and have been invited to travel from Alaska to South America on one with a very dear friend. How did you feel learning before your epic trips?

      Thanks!

    • Doug MacPherson says

      Hearing what you say about a bike I would venture that you might like the Honda 500 adventure bike. Nice size, low seat height, extremely reliable and not too heavy.

      http://powersports.honda.com/2016/cb500x.aspx

      Get a frame kit and some bags and you will be all set. The bike has been around and is probably available used on Cycle Trader. I went to Mexico on a Honda NC700x DCT in 2014 and had a terrific time. This all depends on your budget of course but the Japanese products from the major producers tend to be good bets, reliable and capable.

  5. Madhukar Pawar says

    Really nice informative post.

    I am planning to ride Harley 883L going from San Diego – Mexicana – San Felipe – Guerrero Negro – Ensenada and back to San Diego.

    Which places among above are safe for motorcycle ride and which place should we avoid?
    I heard it is not safe to ride in Mexico. Is this true? Did you have any bad experience?

    Are you open for a brief call to talk about your experience?

    Thanks
    Madhukar

  6. Jody Manor says

    I’d like to say how much I appreciated the way you ended the post – that you loved traveling through Mexico. In the US we are inundated w. messages about super dangerous Mexico so it’s refreshing to hear your first hand perspective.

    I have spent much time there – all over the country – and love it as well. I once rode from DF to Oaxaca which I still consider one of the craziest things I’ve ever done in my life – mostly because I was so ill prepared! But it is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. And I never for a moment felt unsafe. On the contrary, the people I met along the way were unfailingly polite and very helpful.

    Take your chance everyone. The food alone is worth the trip!

  7. John Prunty says

    I.m planning a trip this September 5th thru September 29th, I’m starting & ending Nashville, TN.
    I’ll be entering from Juarez, going down thru Chihuahua on to Zacatecas, Queretero, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, back thru Mexico City to Monterrey then home.
    The 15th &16th will fun times, independence days. I know you can get all your necessity on line, your visa, motorcycle permit and vehicle insurance.
    As you say don’t full around at the border towns and there is a good road that keeps you from going into town and runs into the main highway on to Chihuahua City.
    If there is anyone interested in coming along I up for some company. It’s going to be the heart of Mexico tour. I have friends that are worried, i’ve given myself plenty of time to arrive in daylight hours and stay at hotels with gated parking.
    Do you see or think any concerns?

  8. John says

    hello, I plan on riding a motorbike from Texas to Central America and passing through Mexico but am a bit worried about the border crossing area. Any advice? I hear there were quite a few kidnappings and the last couple years.Thanks

    • Dan Ford says

      Hi John,
      Apologies on the slow reply. It’s best to check forums on ADVRider or Horizons Unlimited but I have crossed at the Santa Teresa border in El Paso without problems. I had no problems at any borders in any county between the US and the southern tip of South America. Best of luck on your travel. I hope you make the trip. Mexico is a wonderful country. I love it there.

  9. Carole Tait Starnes says

    My son was hit by a driver in a F150 truck on Nov. 4th, 2015. The driver was an elderly man, who made an illegal left hand turn. My son was driving through San Quintin, at about 25 mph. He died about 3 hours later. He was 29 years old. I hated his motorcycle and especially did not want him to make the trip to Mexico. I had a horrible feeling something would go terribly wrong. It did. Had he been in a car, he probably would be with us now.

    Ct

  10. John says

    Great article. Very helpful and education. I only differ on one part and that is the check points. I have been traveling to the state of Michuacan for over 15 years. This is one of the most dangerous and militarized states in Mexico. That being said you can imagine that their are a lot of check points. I found that if you pretend not to speak Spanish the check point soldiers, even if they do speak a little english will become more and more flustered if you speak loudly (stereotypical Texan accent I found works best) and quickly. They often become embarrassed in from of their men and wave you on just because they don’t want to admit they can’t understand you. Saved me a ton of time. Also if you gesture and simply state a city name up the road they won’t ask questions. Thanks again for the article.

  11. Jakub says

    I also just wanted to say thank you for this post. It’s super useful as I am planning my first trip to mexico on my Versys 650.

  12. Steve anderson says

    How well do you speak Spanish? I’ve hit all the border towns and traveled down to cabo. Next year I would like to ride to cancun and maybe in Belize. I’m sure the language barrier would be greater in side mainland mexico

    • Dan Ford says

      Steve,

      Early on my Spanish was honestly pathetic. I had spent all my time preparing the motorcycle and gear and neglected devoting time to learn more of the language ahead of time which meant my conversations with people were very limited. I spent a week in a language school in Guatemala but it wasn’t until a few months and especially the final two months in Argentina that I improved a lot. I heard a guy who did a similar trip tell me Spanish wasn’t needed for the trip, and I believed him. While it’s possible to get by without out, your travels will be much more rich if you invest in learning the language. I hope you get time to travel further into Mexico and beyond. Best- Dan

  13. John Prunty says

    I had planned to go through Mexico last year, but friends derailed that.
    I’m not going to let that happen the next time. I have many in-laws from Chihuahua to DF. I several friends in Cuernavaca because I worked there many years.
    I love Mexico as much as I love my own country. It was was my deceased wife’s country and look forward to going soon.

  14. Lyndell Adato says

    Dan,
    Just came across your posting and hope you’re still available to answer questions. My husband and I hope to come from Australia early 2017 and ride south!!!! from L.A. perhaps. All still in the planning stage. Seems difficult to ship our bikes so will look into buying. In your opinion would we be better to buy in the US or MExico?? I’m thinking of registration, insurance etc not just price, although price is always important. I would love to read a full detail of your travels where do I find that?
    Thanks for any information you can offer.
    Lyndell

    • Dan Ford says

      Hey Lyndell,

      I don’t have experience purchasing motorcycles in Mexico. It was really easy to get mine across the border from California. I assume it would actually be cheaper to buy in the US if you are planning on traveling through Mexico. You’ll need to purchase insurance either way. You can read more on my blog here or on ADV Rider forums search Places Beyond.

    • Jef in NZ says

      Kia ora Lyndell,

      I have a similar trip planned, and already purchased a bike this year that I rode in a big look from LA to NM, up the entire continental divide to Banff Canada, and then back via the coast. If you see this, lets talk. Dan is a great source of info, and his RR is one of the best out there. Hope to connect with him for a coffee on my return since I couldn’t get to him this year and we ride the same bike :)

      Hit me up… tawhiri At gMALE dotcom

  15. charlie greenaway says

    Awesome . Going to Costa Rica this winter from Vancouver. Trailering the bike to southern Cal and riding from there. Lots o info on how to get into Mexico , what about getting out .
    Eg: where do you get your deposit back

    Cheers Charlie

    • Dan Ford says

      Hey Charlie,

      The deposit was returned to my back account about two days after I cancelled my permit upon exiting the country. It’s important that you exit on time or the deposit is cancelled. It was a pretty straight forward process. Good luck!

  16. David says

    Thank you Dan Ford (and everyone) for sharing your knowledge. I’ve been on a 5 month journey across North America (from Canada) on my GS1200, and am about to set out through Baja and over to mainland Mexico.
    If anyone would like to join me, send me an email! David dot Patchell at gmale dot com
    Safe Travels!

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