Finding Campsites: We use a few methods to find campsites as we travel through Mexico. Our favorite resource is the book by Mike and Terri Church, Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping. If you are considering an overland trip through Mexico, I would highly recommend this book as it lays out the details of each of major campsites in the various regions of Mexico.
The book includes the lattitude and longitude coordinates of each site, which is valuable as it greatly facilitates finding the sites through a GPS. I would also highly recommend purchasing the “Guia Roji”. The “Guia Roji” is available in most of the OXXO stores (Mexican equivalent of Seven Eleven) and has detailed maps of each of the regions of Mexico along with short descriptions of cities and attractions.
We also sometimes use the i-Overlander app on the phone to find nearby campsites. This resource also provides GPS coordinates, and incorporates user reviews so we can get up to date information about the campsites we visit. The app works without even being connected to cell service by using the phone’s GPS. Web searches through the internet can also be an essential tool for finding campsites or other points of interest in Mexico. Many people who have not visited Mexico are surprised to learn that how widespread internet access is throughout the country. Many restaurants and campsites will provide wifi access, although the speed will vary dramatically. This is particularly helpful if you are trying to find more detailed information about a place.
Up to date information is one of the most valuable resources when overland traveling. For other overlanders considering a trip through mainland Mexico, I would say it is important to realize that organized camping may not be available in many areas of the country. Our experiences have taught us Mexican cities can go from boom to bust within the course of just a year or two – such that an area that once had many campgrounds may not necessarily have them now. It is essential to seek out the most up to date information available. Therefore, our favorite method of finding campsites is by talking to other campers to hear where they have been and what the recommend, and always paying attention to the areas we travel through.
Free vs. Paid Campsite: While free camping is available on many beaches in Mexico, we find it to be easier, safer, and more convenient to pay a few pesos to stay at formal campground. While campgrounds vary in price, they generally run between 100-300 pesos a night, or $8-$16 US dollars. Most campsites are enclosed within a fenced area, and they often have a guard and a gate which is locked at night. Paying for the campsite will generally allow you access to a toilet, a shower, and sometimes the wifi password (if available). While we were on the Baja, we could reliably find campsites every few hundred kilometers. However, we have found that there are much fewer campsites (and overland travelers) on the mainland. Because there are not always convenient campsites, we will also sometimes stay at a small hotel with a locking gate. These hotels seem to cater to Mexican tourists traveling within their own county. Prices range from 300-500 pesos and generally include a bed, private toilet, private shower, access to the pool, and the wifi password. In these instances we are glad to have a small van that we can easily pull into the parking lot.
We have met some travelers who prefer not to stay in hotels, which dramatically changes the places were they stay. These folks sometimes end up sleeping at gas stations, soccer fields, or near the town square. The i-Overlander app has many descriptions of these free campsites, including the last date a person visited the site.
Planning the Days’ Drive: The number one rule for traveling in Mexico is to never drive at night. To make sure we can follow that rule, we try to start our days early so we can arrive at our campsite no later than 3:00 pm. We do this because it allows us to have plenty of time before nightfall to come up with a plan B if we were to arrive at a campsite only to find it closed. Most of the time nothing comes up, and we end up checking in at 3:00 or a little before. We like this schedule because it also allows us to have the whole afternoon to explore our new site. We have met some overland travelers who will plan on driving over 500 km in a day. However, we have found that unless we are traveling on a quota (toll road) we can usually only manage 300 km a day, averaging about 50 km per hour. This was particularly true on road called the 200 going down the west coast of the mainland. This pace sounds tediously slow…and it can be. However, there are several factors limiting the speed at which drivers can pass through Mexico:
(1) Even the smallest town the road passes through will have at least 5 speed bumps (known as topes) – requiring drivers to slow down to a crawl.
(2) Most roads are only two lanes – making it necessary to wait for a safe time to overtake slower traffic.
(3) The roads are in a perpetual state of disrepair and construction – meaning drivers must slow down to dodge potholes or traverse over stretches of unpaved road.
Other Campers: We prefer to stay in campsites where there are a few other folks camping – again it adds to the security of the campsite. Since arriving on the mainland, we have noticed that most of the other campers tend to be Canadians. We have met many people from British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario. They have been helpful in providing us up to date information about which routes are best, and provided us with suggestions on the easiest ways to get through the country.
Gas: There is only one type of gas station in Mexico – Pemex. They are pleasant to visit, and are often the most well maintained building in the whole town. Most will have bathrooms, and may also have a convenience store attached. Gas prices are uniform across the country. It costs about 500 pesos to completely fill up our 12 gallon tank.