Tips & Tricks

Riding Motorcycles in Mexico: Some Helpful Tips

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After mentioning Valle de Guadalupe in my last post, I got a few questions about riding motorcycles in Mexico. I’m not an expert on the subject since I’ve only ridden in Baja California, but I do make the trek down south several times per year, so I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way.

Is it safe?

Yes! I mean, riding motorcycles is a pretty dangerous hobby, but I wouldn’t say it’s less safe to ride in Mexico than it is in the US. Just be mindful of your surroundings (maybe don’t ride through a sketchy part of town alone at night — but that’s universal advice and not Mexico-specific) and you’ll be fine. Also, don’t be an asshole (again, universal advice).

I’ve found that many of the major highways in Baja are actually in better shape than some American highways. However, when riding around on smaller streets in town, be careful and check for potholes and loose gravel. Don’t ride in the dark if you can avoid it. A few years ago, one of my friends got two flat tires on his car from hitting a pothole outside Rosarito when we were in Mexico for the weekend. That was no bueno, and it would’ve been even worse on a motorcycle.

Riding Motorcycles in Mexico

Crossing the border

Getting into Mexico is easy — you can generally just ride across the border without stopping or having to show your passport. However, crossing back into the U.S. is a whole different beast (unless you have Sentri or Global Entry, then it should be quick and easy and you can probably skip reading this section).

I usually cross in Tijuana/San Ysidro, which just happens to be the busiest land border crossing in the world, and it’s not uncommon to see wait times of up to four hours — if you’re in a car, that is. On a bike, you can just split lanes to the front of the line and be back in the U.S. in 20 minutes or so. Be careful and take your time, though — there are plenty of street vendors rolling their carts in between the lines of cars, and they won’t always move out of the way for motorcycles. Prepare to maneuver around cars, people, dogs, carts, plus the occasional pothole.

If you’re in a group, spread out once you get to the front so you’re not all in the same lane. People have been waiting for literally hours to get to the front of the line, and they won’t be stoked if they suddenly have to wait for 10 inconsiderate bikers to get through the checkpoint first. Plus, if you spread out, you won’t get yelled at by border control (ask me how I know that).

Of course, there are plenty of less busy border crossings than Tijuana/San Ysidro, and if you’re not comfortable splitting your way to the front, you can check the wait times for each of them here and pick a less busy time to cross.

What to bring

  • Your passport. I hear people telling me they go to Mexico without a passport all the time, but it’s not something I would recommend, especially in these times of increased border security.
  • It’s a good idea to purchase Mexican motorcycle insurance before you go since your American plan likely won’t cover you outside of the country. I get mine here; it’s around $20 per day.
  • Bring cash! You’ll need it for toll roads, gas stations, tacos, and for most everything else you’re planning to purchase while in Mexico. In many places you can get away with using U.S. dollars, but the exchange rate likely won’t be in your favor. Bring pesos if you can!
  • And finally, if you’re riding outside of Baja, you will most likely need a temporary vehicle import permit. I don’t have any personal experience with this, but here’s some pretty detailed info.

Riding Motorcycles in Mexico

Where should you ride to?

This one I can’t answer for you, but here are some of my favorite destinations in Baja:

San Felipe

The ride down to this sleepy beach town on the east coast of Baja is one of my favorites. The quickest route is to cross the border in Mexicali and then head south on the 5 highway. From the border, it’s about 120 miles of mostly straight, mostly empty desert road, part of it along the coast. Super scenic, super fun. If you’ve ever done the El Diablo Run, you know what I’m talking about.

Valle de Guadalupe + Ensenada

I already mentioned these destinations in my post about Thanksgiving rides, but I’ll mention them again. You can get here either by taking the coast all the way down from Tijuana, or by riding west over the mountains from San Felipe (which is a major detour, but still a super fun ride).

Rosarito

For just a taste of riding in Mexico, Rosarito is a quick 40 minute ride down the coast from Tijuana. Here you’ll find plenty of restaurants, beach activities, a massive indoor/outdoor marketplace, plus a 75-foot tall Jesus statue.

Puerto Nuevo

About 15 miles south of Rosarito you’ll find Puerto Nuevo. Most people come here to eat some world famous lobster, but this super charming little village right on the coast is worth a visit even if you’re not the carnivorous type.

Riding Motorcycles in Mexico

Other useful info

Gas

If you have a regular sized tank (3+ gallons), you should be fine making it from one gas station to the next. If you have a smaller tank and plan to do a longer ride, it’s probably a good idea to carry an extra gallon of gas on your bike. Look for Pemex stations, and be prepared to have the gas station attendant pump the gas for you.

Toll roads

Toll roads are awesome! They are generally very well maintained and not super busy. You’ll just need to stop every so often and pay a minor fee (usually around $1 per motorcycle). Bring small bills for this.

Military checkpoints

These can look scary, but are usually pretty routine. Just roll up to the checkpoint and they’ll likely wave you on. If not, just answer any questions they ask you honestly. Don’t be stupid and bring any drugs or weapons.

Language

It’s always a good idea to learn some useful phrases in Spanish. Download the Duolingo app and start practicing!

Sanna likes motorcycles, kittens, and punk rock. When she's not at her day job as the managing editor of Roadtrippers, she's probably riding twisties in the mountains or camping in the desert with her moto squad. She has a 2015 Dyna and a Shovelhead chopper, but she secretly dreams of owning a 70s muscle car.

12 Comments

  1. Riding in Mexico was some of the best times I’ve had – but be prepared. Carry clothing for both scorching hot and cold weather (the ride home from EDR involved 40* and 40 mph winds!)

    Learn some basic words, especially if you need things like a receipt! (trust me, this one is difficult)

    More than likely, you’ll have to remove your helmet at the border crossing so they can check against your ID.

    If you ride to San Felipe, beware the lonely speed bump out in the nowhere, and be super careful of the crazy potholes in downtown SF.

    Your US money is different at every single shop/restaurant. They all have different rates.

    Oh, and don’t drink the water. This includes those incredible pina coladas in pineapples.. ask anyone who went on EDR this year..

    • Sanna Reply

      Oh yeah, good call on the water! Stick with bottled.

  2. Glad you wrote this post. Tired of hearing people say how scary and dangerous it is to even travel through Baja but if you’re not a jerk and you’re not into going down a scary part of town you should more than like always be fine. I have been going to Baja my entire life (I am now 30 years old) and my mom as a single mom always felt safe to do so. Thank you for this and I will be sure to let all my friends know about your post 😉

    • Sanna Reply

      Thank you for the kind words, and I completely agree that Baja is safe as long as you’re being responsible!

  3. Myself and a buddy are thinking about riding down to Puerto Vallarta via I15 in March, is this a bad idea or is it safe. All our travelling will be during the day. Are services and help if needed easily found?
    Thanks

    • Sanna Reply

      I haven’t done that ride myself, but I can’t see why you shouldn’t do it. Just look into getting a temporary vehicle import permit if you’re bringing bikes into Mexico.

    • Sanna Reply

      As far as I know, there are helmet laws in Mexico. I don’t know how strictly they’re being enforced though. But just for the record, I wouldn’t recommend riding without a helmet, in Mexico or elsewhere.

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  5. Can I ride into Baja California Mexico with my California motorcycle permit and ride my bike or do I need a license that qualifies for Mexico

    • Sanna Reply

      You can ride in Mexico on your American motorcycle license no problem. I’m not sure what the rules are for permits though, but I don’t think those would be valid anywhere outside California.

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