driving in baja mexico
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Quirky Things About Driving in Mexico

Mexico is just different. There are a lot of similarities to the United States but there are some huge differences also. We love it here and would not trade living here for anything. We love the people and our opportunities. We have started helping as much as we can in any way that we can. We would like to introduce you to driving in Mexico. We will focus only on the areas we have been so the scenic drive from San Diego, California to Estaban Cantu, Baja California Norte, Mexico.

There are dogs everywhere in Mexico

A few of the dogs we have seen

I heard about the dogs in Mexico before we moved here, we were warned so to speak. We were told there would be loud barking dogs all night long. Well, it is kind of true but not the way I imagined it. We rented an AirBNB first and the neighbor's dogs barked for the first week or so. After getting used to us being there and Sadie feeding them steak pieces they didn't really bark as much.

Another dog there are so many. We want to save them all.

I can only speak for the areas I have visited or where we are currently living. There are stray dogs everywhere. This is not an exaggeration they are everywhere and it seems that the people here take care of them. They don't all look ragged or lost. They actually seem to be living their best lives, they roam free and eat what people give them or what they can find. We usually see them in packs of 2-7. They have been friendly thus far. We have not met any mean, vicious or rabid dogs. That being said you have to watch out for them. They will stop in the middle of the road or dart out from behind parked cars. You have to be aware of them and drive cautiously. Hitting an animal can wreak havoc on your mental health as well as your vehicle. Watch out for cows and other animals as well.

There have been some that look unkempt but they appear to be happy and as healthy as a stray dog can. We found a place on the beach that we absolutely love and every morning we are greeted by the friendliest Great Dane. He roams the beach greeting tourists and locals, he plays with the other dogs that are here also. We think he is someone's dog as he has a collar and is not usually out at night. He is well-fed and happy.

A view from our living room window.

Driving at Night

One thing we have learned since moving here is that you do not under any circumstances drive at night. There are people and dogs that roam the streets and there are very very few if any street lights that work. Most streets do not have lights at all. That combined with the potholes that can swallow even our conversion van makes driving at night a hard pass. It is not safe for you or others so we just don't.

Potholes in the road – and people collecting money while they fix them

What the roads actually look like near me

Now let's talk about those aforementioned potholes. You have never seen a pothole until you come to Mexico. These holes will swallow entire cars. If you hit one you will not make it out the other side. Avoid them at all costs. Now there are so many potholes that sometimes you cannot avoid them.

These are best approached slowly and carefully. The drivers here know where most of the potholes are and you can follow them around a majority of them, a word of warning though who you follow matters. Some people who are in a hurry or don't care will drive through some of the potholes. Having a truck or a vehicle with kevlar-lined tires will help you to navigate a drive through Baja California easier. This is not a necessity as there are plenty of cars, 4 wheelers, and other vehicles here that get around just fine. You have to know where to drive and where not to drive. Don't fret you will most likely follow the flow of traffic and be ok.

New Tires for Our Van

We don't think Mexico has a government-funded transportation department. that takes care of the roads. They might have one, we just don't know. We often see and have donated to, people on the road who are fixing the potholes. They are literally repairing the road and asking for donations only. It is awesome that these individuals are willing to take their own money and time to make the road a little easier to travel for all of us.

They rely on donations to fix the road and have found a way to make a living and help others. You don't see that in the US. The US definitely has better road conditions and a funded transportation department to fix them when they begin to deteriorate.

After the Rain. The main road in and out of Cantu

People Making up Lanes on the Road

Driving in Mexico can be challenging at first. There are posted rules of the road but they are rarely adhered to. Let me give some examples to try and illustrate what happens here. First off most people here are very courteous and understanding. That being said no one seems to obey any of the road rules.

Most of the stoplights don't work and the ones that do you can barely see. There are stop signs that are randomly placed and most of those are ignored. Then there are intersections that you will notice all the cars stopping at but no lights or stop signs are present. There are even places where one road will enter the main roadway without a stop sign or light. Everyone seems to know where these places are. These intersections are treated like there is a stop sign there and everyone just seems to know to stop and let the other traffic go. Courteousness and manners are prevalent here more so than rules and regulations.

Lanes are kind of like how many rows of cars across will fit. I am kidding sort of. most of the time there 2 lanes of traffic but you know that emergency lane we have in the states? Or the unused part of the road all the way to the right? Well, here that space is utilized. That is where cars will pull over to when you want to pass or it is a travel lane depending on where you are and what time of day it is. During heavier traffic times that space will be used as a turn lane or a travel lane.

There are some streets in Downtown Ensenada that will become mostly on way during rush hour. This means that even though there is a double yellow line, cars will use the lane that is usually oncoming traffic. It takes some getting used to but it will become second nature in no time at all.

Speeding

Speeding seems to be the norm here. What I mean is if you are going to slow people will go around you. They will pass you on the left or the right and go on about their way. You have to pay attention when you are driving you will be passed on either side of the road. One small adjustment I had to make was the posted speed limits are in KMH and growing up in the states I was used to MPH, a small adjustment and fairly easy to make since kmh is posted on the speedometer. Speeding seems to be the norm here no one and I do mean no one does the speed limit here and the policia do not seem to enforce the traffic laws as strictly as they do in the States.

Another interesting thing you will learn when driving here is that there are very few lane markings. So there are only arbitrary lanes. If there is room then there is a lane We have been on a street that was 5 wide with cars moving in one direction and 3 wide on the other side. It can be daunting because people just make a lane and go. We promise you will get used to it. It is not as bad as it seems when you are reading this. We want to inform you of the differences we have encountered but not deter you from visiting.

Turning Lanes

Turning lanes do exist but like everything else you have to be aware of your surroundings. People here turn right and left from any and I mean any lane they are in. They do not miss their turns even if that means the traffic has to stop to let them cross. The traffic will stop and let them go and no one will honk or even get mad, it is what it is and everyone just goes on about their way.

Since we are talking about turning there are a lot of smaller motorcycles here 250cc and below, and quite a few mopeds as well. They, like many of the cars, make their own lanes, weave in and out of cars, and turn when they feel like it. I have witnessed a motorcycle turn left at a light, (that everyone stopped at even though it wasn't working.) onto the main road and then take an immediate left through oncoming traffic and up onto the sidewalk. It was crazy to watch.

Turn Signals

Watch the turn signals. Turn signals are not usually used to signal that someone is turning. No, they are used mostly to let someone behind you know that it is clear to pass. Crazy I know but true. Trucks will signal you to let you pass even on curves. When passing you will notice that the car you are passing may move to the right to give you more room to pass. The oncoming cars will also move to give you more room to pass. The drivers here are courteous and will give you the room you need to get to where you are going. It is amazing how without so many rules people still seem to not have accidents and get to where they are going efficiently.

Hand Gestures While Driving

Most motorcycle riders know the hand signals that are used to signal drivers of their intent. Here you will see everyone using them. Truck drivers to motorcyclists and bicyclists. Look out for hand signals as they will let you know what the driver is about to do. There is not a lot of horn honking here either. The vehicles here seem to barely be roadworthy. I assume that means the horns don't work. But driving here you really don't get a lot of road rage either. Like I stated when I started this section, people here are courteous and not in as big of a hurry as in the states.

They don't pull over for ambulances??

Ambulances and police cars are not given the same respect as in the states. Let me try to add a little clarity here. We have seen ambulances with their lights on and sirens blaring stuck in traffic. The traffic in some places has nowhere to go due to road conditions and that is understandable.

But we have noticed that the traffic continues on and doesn't usually change lanes to get out of the way of the ambulance. We have seen this a few times. On the flip side of that, we have also seen traffic go through a red light to let the ambulance go. All the other traffic waited as the line of cars that were impeding the ambulance moved and he continued on his way. Just an interesting tidbit.

Update: Now that we have been here a little longer, we have noticed that cars do move for Policia and ambulances but if you are traveling in the same direction as the emergency vehicle moving over is recommended but not always the norm.

Time for a bath

So I guess it depends on the time of day and where the ambulance is as to whether or not traffic is going to move. The traffic does tend to travel at higher speeds so the ambulance really didn't need them to move to get to where he was going. If you see an ambulance while driving here in Ensenada, move. Move over, move faster, but move, most people do move they just move over and drive faster.

If you are perpendicular to the road the ambulance is on you may have to wait to go. The traffic in front of the ambulance will begin to move regardless of whose turn it was to go and regardless of the light. If there are performers at the light, we will talk about them in a few, they will direct you to go and help stop the rest of the traffic so the ambulance can go. Please pay attention as they are truly helping the traffic move efficiently so the ambulance can get through. It is amazing how effortlessly everything gets done here.

One Way Streets are not Always Marked

In the states, we are used to well-marked one-way street signs. Here in Ensenada that is not always the case. Some places you just have to know. We have encountered several places where the streets are not marked at all. No name, no direction no anything. most side streets are dirt roads so markings are nonexistent. Pay attention and watch what the other drivers are doing so you know how to get where you are going.

Do not rely solely on Google Maps you have to look around and make sure you are going the way you want to go. It can be hard when you first get here but after about a week I got the hang of it and I have ZERO sense of direction. I mean zero! If I can figure out how to get around you can too. Don't let a little fear and what you have been told about Mexico deter you from visiting this wonderful country. The positives far outweigh the negatives and some things are just different, not negative just different.

Homemade Speed Bumps

Look out!!! There is a rope in the road??? What? Why is there a rope just across the road? It is a speed bump meant to slow you down. Not just any rope these ropes are used to moor a cruise ship. These are big and sometimes you can even see them as they will be painted blue or orange but of course, the first one I encountered was uh sand-colored. It matched the color of the road perfectly. It was daytime so I did see it and drove over it at a moderately slow speed. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't really drive slow. So we bumped a bit.

There are random speed bumps everywhere, even in the middle of some of the main streets. These like the street lights seem to have been placed at random. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for their placements. Sometimes you will even get a warning that they are there.

You will see a sign that says “Tope” or “Topes” which means bump. Loosely translated as with English words this one can have several meanings and depends on the context of the sentence. I digress, watch out for the speed bumps and until you get to know the area you should go slower over them than the other traffic is because sometimes, actually quite often, there will be a pothole on one side or the other.

Jugglers at the Intersections

Awesome

A huge difference that you will notice immediately after you cross the border is the number of people who are working in the street. In the US you don't see street performers often with a few minor exceptions. This may be the case here as I can only write about my experiences in Tijuana and Ensenada. In Mexico, you do not see many people begging for change on street corners, you do see people working for the tips they get.

At the border in T.J.

The culture here is different, the people here are different. They are willing to work for their tips and donations. We have encountered fire breathers, jugglers, a person on a unicycle juggling while balancing spinning plates, a Granpa and granddaughter of about 6 or 7 years old juggling she was on his shoulders it was very cute. You are going to see many people selling stuff or performing for tips at every stoplight when you are near the bigger cities. They are out there working to entertain you while you sit in traffic. We love to see them and always have a little spare change to give them.

Driving in Mexico

Driving is one of the many differences you will face when coming to Mexico. It can be daunting at first but you will get used to it. You may even learn to enjoy it. We love it here in Ensenada and we want to share our experiences with you. There are many reasons to visit Mexico don't let fear and misinformation stop you from visiting one of the most beautiful states in Mexico. Baja California Norte.

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