Driving to Mexico

Gathering advice from several friends about how to drive to El Salto in Mexico, one common suggestion was to go as far as possible in the USA before crossing the border.

So, we braved ice storms, heavy snow, endless rain, and crossed the country over several long driving days to make it from Victoria, BC, Canada to Laredo, Texas, USA.  From Laredo to Cienega de Gonzales, the town you stay in when climbing in El Salto, the driving time is only about 4 hours. We met up with Dan, Nicole, Shep, Jared, Chris, and Roscoe for the journey.

Crossing the border can be a bit confusing as there are a lot of steps. Graham found a great site to prepare us, but our experience was a little bit different so we will outline it here for anyone else planning a similar journey.

We fueled up before crossing the border, and at the gas station Graham met Jerry, a very kind man who lives partly in Laredo (north of the border) and Nuevo Laredo (south of the border). Jerry told Graham he has 50 cats in Mexico… probably one of the key points that led to their instant friendship. Jerry spoke only a little English, but it was enough to help us out tremendously. He crossed the border with us and accompanied us every step of the way translating and offering general guidance.

We must admit we were a bit skeptical. We figured he was probably scamming us and looking for money. Regardless of his motives, he was super helpful and we were super grateful. In the end, it turned out he was just a kind soul, he wanted nothing but hugs, and called us his amigos. He gave us his phone number and that of his brother. He told us not to drive at night, and warned us to be careful who we give our trust to. In his words, people are overwhelmingly kind and giving, or they are trying to screw you.

Anyways, back to the purpose of this post.

Five Steps to cross the Mexican border in Laredo.

1. Purchase vehicle insurance. The insurance can be purchased online to cover the duration you’re gone and then printed off. You can also buy insurance in Laredo before crossing the border, but we’d heard it was cheaper to buy it before hand. If you’re from Canada like us, ICBC will reimburse the cost of your Canadian insurance for the time you were in Mexico. I think we bought our insurance from this site.

2. Pay Bridge Toll before the border. At the time we crossed (Jan 2017) the toll was $1.75 USD per axle on your vehicle. We paid $3.50.

3. Cross Border. Crossing the border was actually quite easy (but again, we had Jerry running around, chatting to the border guards in Spanish and telling them we were his friends). You drive through a small covered archway with tables that form makeshift lanes. A border guard approaches either driver or passenger and asks to see your Mexican car insurance. Our border guard then opened our van door, stepped inside and had a peak. That was it! They never checked our passports, and we were there for maybe three minutes.

4. Buy your Travel Permit, Vehicle Permit, and pay Vehicle Deposit. This is where it gets a bit trickier, as you do not buy these things right at the border.

Fortunately we had Jerry who led the way in his small brown sedan. The place where you purchase your permits is on your RIGHT when you cross the border, but you need to drive LEFT to get there. There are blue signs (I think they said something about immigration in white letters) that you can follow the whole way, but it can be a little confusing. Once you arrive at the immigration building, you enter on the left. Follow the big signs hanging from the ceiling that indicate Steps 1-4. Everything is in Spanish and no one really speaks English.

Step 1. Tourist Permit. The immigration officer at the counter is the first person who will ask for your passport. Your passport is scanned, and then you get a tourist visa to fill out. There was a Spanish-speaking woman hanging out at a little table on our side of the counter who filled out our visas for us. She wore a blue t-shirt and no official uniform, but she was helpful! Then we took our visas back to the immigration officer, and he took the top half for their records, and gave us the bottom half.

Step 2.  Vehicle Permit. Only one person per vehicle needs to go up to this window. They need proof of your vehicle registration, your Mexican car insurance, and your passport. They will make some copies and print some forms for you. This step costs $1.75 USD per car.

Step 3. No idea what this step was for, Jerry told us we didn’t need it so we skipped it.

Step 4. The Banjercito. This is the final step and the spot where you make all your payments. Bring all the documentation you’ve received so far and your passport. The tourist permits are about $24 USD each, and the vehicle permit was about $60 USD. You also pay a refundable vehicle deposit at this step that is based on the age of your vehicle, our van cost $300 USD. You can pay in cash or with credit card. If you pay in cash, you need to return to the same spot on your way out of the country to receive a cash refund. If you pay with credit card, the refund will be reimbursed onto your credit card (at the exchange rate of the day for Canadians) when you cross the border.

Be sure to keep all your receipts/proof of payment papers. You may need to request your refund.

5. Final Border Check. After about 30 minutes of driving south we passed another border check. The border guard spoke briefly to the first van in our convoy of four, and then checked the vehicle stickers in our windshields as they waved us all through.
Driving through Northern Mexico
And that’s about it! When you cross into the state of Nuevo Leon you can pick up the MX-85 toll road. We drove this all the way to Santiago, passing one toll that cost 219 pesos. We took an accidental scenic detour when in Monterrey, but it ended up being pretty neat to see.
Cruising through the desert on the MX-85 toll road
Lost in Monterrey
We grabbed groceries and gas in Santiago before heading up the mountain to El Salto in the small town of Cienega de Gonzales. We drove up the mountain on a Sunday evening, so the whole time we were passing a steady stream of cars and ATVs on their way down from weekend adventures, blasting Mariachimusic from their souped upsound systems.
Starting our way up the mountain
Nearing the top
We made it!!
It is SO beautiful and authentic here. We are staying at Dona Kika’s, in a fenced yard with several other climbers. Kika is the go-to for climbers in town, renting space in her yard as well as several cabanas. She also has a small store with groceries and beer, and sells 250mb of wifi for 70 pesos. She has drinking water from a well, a kitchen, bathrooms, and showers.
Kika’s backyard that we are staying in
Our van convoy
We’ve only climbed two days so far but El Salto is spectacular. Kirsten and Yannick just arrived safely this afternoon and we are thrilled they decided to come here first. Stoked to be spending a month here!
Jared, Graham, Chris, and Roscoe standing in front of Las Animas wall for the first time
Jared staring up at the horizontal roof in Cueva de Telacote
Teeny tiny Graham in the big, beautiful canyon

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