A Beginner’s Guide to Camping in the Baja Peninsula
Cooler weather is here, and with it, dreams of escaping somewhere sunny for a week, a month, or the whole season. For those willing to go south of the border, Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula offers warm temperatures, affordable camping opportunities, and thousands of miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Sound tempting? Though it’s only 30 minutes from downtown San Diego, California, crossing into Mexico and traveling through Baja takes a bit more planning and preparation than a trip within the U.S. This guide will help you get ready for a new camping experience across the border.
Camping in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula
Baja consists of two separate Mexican states: Baja California and Baja California Sur. The northern half of the peninsula, Baja California, is home to the Mexican cities of Tijuana, Ensenada, and Mexicali. The landscape ranges from mountains to beaches, and the region is increasingly a destination for food and wine tourism, especially in the Valle de Guadalupe area.
Baja California Sur is the peninsula’s southern state, best known for its dramatic coastline, natural beauty, and the resort towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
Both Baja California and Baja California Sur have plenty of camping options, from beachfront RV parks to hundreds of boondocking sites. While those in bigger motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels will want to plan to camp at RV parks, many boondocking spots are accessible to small setups like truck campers and vans.
Rates for camping in Baja Peninsula campgrounds and RV parks range from free to about $40 per night, with most averaging between $15 and $20 per night. Some RV parks allow reservations, though few are set up to take those reservations online, so you’ll need to call ahead to secure your spot.
Is Traveling to the Baja Peninsula Safe?
Many people report that traveling through Baja is perfectly safe, but the feeling of safety differs from person to person. The U.S. Department of State regularly updates its Mexico Travel Advisory, which can help potential travelers plan their trip.
Like any other international (or domestic) travel, a little caution can go a long way. Keep an eye on your surroundings and move along if something doesn’t feel right. Don’t flaunt expensive items or discuss where you’re staying with strangers. The region’s roads are narrow, often winding, and rarely lit, so it’s not advised to drive at night. Consider joining a caravan of campers if you want to camp in Baja but feel safer traveling with others.
Make sure that your cell phone carrier works in Mexico and that you have access to maps and a reliable GPS.
RV and Trailer Considerations for Mexico Travel
Baja’s narrow, two-lane roads and rugged access roads make the region best suited for those with small rigs such as truck campers, Class Cs, and vans. If you have a bigger trailer or RV, you can still experience Baja, but you’ll want to exercise extra caution when driving. Plan your RV park destinations in advance, and stick to the main roads.
How to Cross the U.S.-Mexico Border
The three main border crossings into Baja California are at Tijuana, Tecate, and Mexicali. If you’re traveling from Yuma, Arizona, you’ll likely enter via San Luis Rio Colorado, in the Mexican state of Sonora. Its proximity to San Diego makes Tijuana the most common entry point, so plan for wait times at the crossing in both directions.
To cross the border, everyone in your vehicle must present a valid passport or passport card. The border agent will likely ask why you’re entering Mexico and how long you plan to stay. It’s illegal to bring firearms or ammunition into Mexico. You must declare if you’re bringing in animals, agricultural products, medication (for any reason other than personal use), or more than $10,000 USD in currency. If they choose to, the border agents can also search your vehicle or RV.
Once you’ve entered Mexico, you need to immediately obtain a Mexican tourist permit, called a Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) at a National Migration Institute (INM) location. It can also be completed online. An FMM is legally required for tourists. If you’re staying for 7 days or less, the FMM is free. For stays of up to 180 days, the cost is $594 MXN, which is about $30 USD.
Necessary Documents for RV Travel to Mexico
In addition to your passport and FMM, there are a few other necessary documents for your camping trip to Mexico.
- Mexican Auto Insurance: In Mexico, all drivers must have personal liability auto insurance to cover the cost of an accident while driving in the country. This is non-negotiable, and failure to have the proper insurance can land you in jail. Even if your U.S.-based insurance claims to cover Mexico, which most do not, the Mexican government does not recognize U.S. policies. Mexican auto insurance can be purchased for stays as short as a day, and coverage options include collision and comprehensive, liability, medical expenses, and theft. Remember, if your camping setup is a truck and trailer, both vehicles need to carry equal insurance for the duration of your trip. Insurance is available through several companies, including AAA, Allstate, Progressive, and MexPro.
- Valid Driver’s License: While you don’t need a special driver’s license to cruise through Baja, you do need to carry your valid U.S. or Canadian license.
- Vehicle Registration: Be sure to have original copies of the registrations for whatever vehicles you travel with, including trailers.
- Temporary Car Import Permit: If you’re only traveling in Baja California and Baja California Sur, a temporary car import permit is not required. However, if you plan to drive through any other Mexican state, you need a permit. Permits are available at customs offices at border crossings.
Traveling With Pets in Mexico
Your domestic pet (dogs and cats only) is welcome to join you in Baja, so long as they’re in good health and have their necessary vaccinations. All pets are subject to inspection at border crossings.
For paperwork, be sure to bring valid vaccination records—a rabies certificate issued at least 30 days before the crossing is required for dogs—and proof of ownership. Mexico does not allow pets under 3 months old. You can bring up to three pets into Mexico at no charge, but if you’re traveling with four or more pets, there’s an import processing fee of $1,817 MXN, or about $150 USD.
Where to Camp in the Baja Peninsula
Once you’re in Baja, it’s time to start enjoying the unique landscape and sites. Check out Campendium’s guides for the best RV camping in Baja California, the best camping in Baja California, and the best camping in Baja California Sur to get started.