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Car rental to Baja Mexico

We are staying in a friends cabin on the Baja peninsula. We will probably fly into San Diego and rent a car. I have read it is cheaper to rent a car from the Tiujana airport but haven't been able to find clear info on how to get there from the San Diego airport. How do we get there and is this feasible for a family of six adults?

Posted by
5401 posts

You may have a hard time finding a car rental agency that will let you rent a car in the US and drive it into Mexico, so that may force your hand. I'd start with that first, as it may relieve you of the task of comparing prices.

I'm not sure about getting from San Diego airport to Tijuana. I'd guess this is not an unusual need and that there are services that specialize in this. Try googling that yet?

Where in Baja are you headed? It is a big place, much of it is quite desolate, and driving times/distances (and conditions) can be daunting. Depending on your actual destination, it might make more sense to fly to someplace in Baja rather than driving from San Diego (or Tijuana). If you haven't done this before or researched it yet, you should probably learn a bit about driving in Mexico before just flying and jumping in a rental car. Most of Baja is real wilderness.

Renting a car in Mexico can be a bit complicated. Do your homework about insurance and beware deceptive low-ball prices you will find.

Finally...six adults. Plus their baggage. You're going to need something larger than the typical rental car, which will complicate things.

Posted by
8418 posts

Most, if not all auto policies written in the US exclude coverage in Mexico. It is almost as certain as death and taxes that your auto policy will NOT cover you for driving a rental car in Mexico.

As David touched on, why not fly to somewhere closer to your destination?

And 6 passenger van may not have space for all the luggage 6 people are likely to bring, so be sure to check luggage capacity as well as seating capacity. You may want to consider 2 cars rather than one large van.

Do your friends whose cabin you are using, have a suggestion on how to do the transport?

Posted by
5401 posts

It is almost as certain as death and taxes that your auto policy will NOT cover you for driving a rental car in Mexico.

No "almost" about it. Mexican law requires you have insurance issued by a Mexican company.

Posted by
20810 posts

It may not apply to Baja, but I have read some scary things about driving in Mexico (attempted extortion by cops, being thrown in jail after an accident in which the other party was clearly at fault, fun stuff). At the time of reading, I found the accounts believable, but I had no reason to look for additional verification. I suggest doing some serious research, both via Google and by getting hold of a current guidebook with a chapter on driving in Mexico.

Posted by
3336 posts

The above posters are correct. You cannot rent a car in the US and drive it into Mexico. US citizens who drive their own cars into Mexico have to stop just before the border to buy Mexican insurance.
As for getting into Mexico from the US in order to rent a car, there are plenty of shuttle services directly from the San Diego Airport to the Tijuana airport - Google it. At the Tijuana airport you can rent from some of the usual companies...Sixt, Enterprise, Avis, etc....I have never done this but I can imagine it won't be much different than renting a car in any other country.
It's true that the police in Mexico do sometimes pull tourists over and suggest that you offer them something in order for them to let you go. They will normally ONLY do this though if you have committed some kind of traffic violation - they won't usually just randomly pull you over. I've gotten out of "tickets" with cans of Coca-Cola, $20 bills, and other ridiculous things. They don't want to take you to jail...they are supplementing their income. It happens far less often than it used to but it does still happen. That said, if you do get pulled over you should always ask for a written ticket, making sure the amount of the violation is written on the ticket. They can normally be mailed in if that is how it works out. You can usually tell whether they are gunning for a bribe or are truly issuing you a ticket - they will be quite clear without directly saying they want a bribe, if that is what they truly want. There is often a passport checkpoint set up just south of Ensenada - make sure you have your passports handy at that spot if you're going that far.
Baja is actually very well-traveled by Americans...there are tons of expats down there and people traveling around in RVs. The "green angels" roam the highways offering roadside assistance on the more remote stretches. The taco stands are terrific, the natural scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly, and you should have few problems if you stick to the tourist areas and take normal precautions and main roads.

Posted by
5401 posts

It may not apply to Baja, but I have read some scary things about driving in Mexico (attempted extortion by cops, being thrown in jail after an accident in which the other party was clearly at fault, fun stuff). At the time of reading, I found the accounts believable, but I had no reason to look for additional verification.

@acraven - I value and respect and appreciate your comments all over this site. Your posts are spot-on, smart and well informed. I always find you on the same page as me. However, I think your concerns above are excessive.

I suggest doing some serious research, both via Google and by getting hold of a current guidebook with a chapter on driving in Mexico.

That's sound advice.

Years ago, I was making plans to spend several months driving up and down both sides of Mexico, living out of my VW camper, touring, wandering, getting lost and finding my way, exploring ruins, beaches, and everything there was to explore. Before I left, every friend, family member and well-meaning stranger assured me that I would not return alive. The cops are all corrupt. Bandits and crazy people are everywhere, waiting to victimize you. Trust no one, don't go. You will either be murdered or you will die rotting away in some hellish Mexican jail. The dire warnings were sincere, well-meaning and consistent. Everyone told me this.

I went anyway.

And my experience could not possibly have been more different from what I had been told to expect.

I went through big cities, small towns, mountains, farmland, deserts, jungles and countless miles of terrain - everything I could have imagined, and more. Everywhere I went, people were friendly, warm, genuine, welcoming, curious about me and what I was doing there but shy. Even the police were nice. And even the occasional military checkpoint (staffed by what appeared to be 14-year-old boys with automatic weapons). On more than one occasion I was invited to come stay with someone's family, meet grandma, stay for a while, etc.

It was wonderful.

Bribes? The cops were all gentlemen (I treated them with respect, they returned that doubly - although I did witness one obnoxious gringo a-hole waving a wad of money and screaming in a cop's face - surprise, the cop gave that guy a hard time). Once, at a military checkpoint, the kids with machine guns shyly asked me for "a gift" while giggling and "inspecting" the contents of my van. I laughed and shrugged and said sorry, I didn't have any money. They asked for a portable radio they had seen. I apologized and told them I would love to give them the radio but could not as it was a gift from my mother. They all had a good laugh, wished me safe travels, and sent me on my way, smiling and waving.

There is so much hysteria and misinformation about Mexico. As I'm currently getting ready to do another driving trip in Mexico soon (just a short one this time) I am hearing the same warnings - but with links to "news" stories about shootouts between drug gangs (500 miles from where I will be).

To be clear: Yes, there are places in Mexico where there is violent crime. Plenty of places in the USA too. I have enough sense to stay out of those places here, and think I can avoid them there, too (I think most people can). If you do your homework and have common sense, a trip through Mexico should be no more dangerous than a trip through France, Italy or the USA. That doesn't mean you blithely go anywhere with your brain disengaged, but Mexico is not Kabul. The vast majority of it is like anywhere else: mostly good people trying to live their lives. There are a few bad apples everywhere. You won't cross paths with them unless you go looking for trouble, same as at home.

To the OP: driving in Mexico is quite safe if you do a little homework and understand the differences (eg: don't drive at night - there's often livestock on the roads). Add some common sense and it can be fine.

Hope that helps. Vaya con dios.

Posted by
5401 posts

It's true that the police in Mexico do sometimes pull tourists over and suggest that you offer them something in order for them to let you go. They will normally ONLY do this though if you have committed some kind of traffic violation - they won't usually just randomly pull you over.

I believe that in some circumstances (depends on what the violation is, and the locale), if you get a ticket (for an actual violation), you may need to pay it at the local court, which might not be open when you get the ticket (BTW, years ago this used to be a common practice in small towns in the USA, too - it wasn't always easy to pay a fine by mail or online). I have heard that if you get one of these tickets, a Mexican cop may actually be doing you a favor (or think they are) by "taking care of" the fine on the spot, helping you avoid coming back on Monday afternoon and finding the local courthouse. My understanding is that this does not happen much anymore, and that courts have been modernized in many places to avoid inconveniencing tourists passing through.

Or it may just be an excuse for a shakedown. I encountered several police checks in Mexico and never had any troubles, all were professional. IME if you treat them with respect, they will return that.

Posted by
5324 posts

Are you sure you want to drive in the border areas of Mexico. I have relatives that live near the border and find it too dangerous to go there these days. The drug cartels pretty much own the northern border areas of Mexico.

I know some cruise ships do stop on some Pacific ports that are considered safe. Can you fly into the city you want to visit?

Posted by
3578 posts

It will never be cheaper to rent a car in Mexico, it’s about double the cost of a US or European rental.

Supplementing the basic Mexican CDW insurance with Amex Premium $20 insurance to cover the $1500 deductible works well.

Your main safety concerns are potholes, topes and erratic in-village traffic. It’s not worth worrying about the police or criminals.

Posted by
290 posts

You can rent a car in the US and drive to Mexico. You may need to call a few companies to find one but I've done it to go to Baja's wine region. It's not cheap because it's going to a foreign country and there is a charge for the Mexican insurance that you need to have and want to have because you are a smart traveler. :).

Getting to the TJ airport from San Diego isn't easy. Easiest is to pay for an exercise endive cab ride to the Otay border crossing (it's closer to the airport). Walk across and cab to the car rental. Otherwise you can take a bus from SAN to near the American Plaza Transfer station, then trolley from there to the San Ysidro border crossing, walk across and cab to the airport. The trolley ride is a good 45 minutes because of all the stops. Given that there are 6 of you, the single can ride might be more cost effective if you do the car rental in Mexico.

Either way, if you have the option of a toll road those are usually better cared for and more direct. Worth the extra pesos.

Posted by
8418 posts

Easiest is to pay for an exercise endive cab

"exercise endive cab"?

I give up... please translate for the over 50 crowd

Posted by
290 posts

An exercise endive cab is for, um, lettuce that likes to work out? I have no idea what spell check did there. Take a cab was the point, I'm pretty sure. Must spell check the spell check!

Posted by
5324 posts

That state department warning nailed what I was saying

U.S. government employees are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. government employees are also not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico with the exception of daytime travel on Highway 15 between Nogales and Hermosillo.

Posted by
1277 posts

I looked at the government website, clickwd the link descrping the S.T.e.P program, and found our buddy rick steves!