Dangerous Travel in Baja and Mainland Mexico

Lately there have been numerous stories about travelers in Baja and Mainland Mexico
encountering bandits and other bad elements; fortunately this has happened on a
relatively small scale. Usually it’s because the traveler is unaware or ill-prepared for safe
travel in not only Mexico, but third world countries in general. Most crime in Baja occurs in
the north close to the border where tourists and drug dealers abound.  

There is good news though, so don’t despair about traveling south of the border. The
Mexican Government understands the importance of tourism and the money it brings into
their country so they want to insure that tourists have a positive experience to pass along
to other visitors. If you’re in a big expensive-looking RV and park in remote areas,
especially near the border, you might as well paint a target on the side because you soon
will become easy pickings. Remember, there’s safety in numbers. We’ve never been
accosted on motorcycles and always stay in motels where it’s secure for bikes. I can only
recall one group of motorcyclist that were robbed and that was on the Baja 1000 course
during pre-running where the bandits knew there would be lots of traffic. Thanks to the
Baja State Police, those bandits were soon in La Mesa Prison.

One of the bandit deterrents used is to deploy the Mexican Army along the most popular
routes that visitors travel. Whenever we ride in Mexico, it’s a welcome sight to see a military
patrol in the area. That usually means that you won’t see the bad guys out and about
looking for unsuspecting victims.  The military sometimes inspects your bags, asks where
you’re going, where you’ve been, and wants you to do a wheelie as you leave. Being
friendly and co-operative goes along way.

There’s great riding in Baja and mainland Mexico but you better know what you’re doing
(especially on the Mainland) when preparing for such an adventure. There are a number of
do’s and don’ts which if ignored, can lead to unpleasant experiences. Be prepared!

Bike preparation may be the number one consideration for extended travel south. A broken
bike can end what was going to be a great adventure. The list is so long that it would take
several articles to mention them all. In short, the suspension and chassis should be up to
the task, and the fuel system and electrical systems in good working order. Breakables
such as levers, cables, and shifter should be backed up with spares.  Don’t forget fuses,
light bulbs and JB Weld. You get the idea.

A tourist visa is needed to enter Baja Sur near Guererro Negro. They’re easy to get with
proper identification (passport or birth certificate and drivers license) and cost about
$20.00 for 6 months. Mainland Mexico requires these documents right from the border plus
proof of vehicle ownership. I know of a guy that went from San Diego to Douglas Arizona on
the way to Copper Canyon and forgot his birth certificate and was denied entry into Mexico.
It was a long ride alone back to San Diego while his buddies headed south for a fun trip
through the canyon.

Speaking of Copper Canyon… There was a group that went there and thought they had a
good time, but it didn’t sound so good to me. Three of the four bikes were too heavy (500+
pounds) to be called MSMs and ended up being too much of a handful for the riders in
rough terrain. They took several routes that were way too long and full of tiring obstacles
that left them exhausted and resulted in them having to leave their bikes in the middle of
no-where until the next day. What if the bikes were gone upon their return? What if they
were stripped? Poor route planning here.

Copper Canyon is known for its great beauty and scenery but some of the scenery
includes passing through drug areas that are well guarded. You need an approved (by the
drug guys) guide to safely pass through these areas or you could become fair game for
the bad guys. The best bet for Copper Canyon is the creek to Batopilas and back to Creel.
No problem.

You need to tap every source of information about customs and document regulations, the
type of terrain you may encounter, the right bikes, where not to go, and having some
contingent plans for emergencies. The best source I know is other riders that are familiar
with the best and safest routes.  

Don’t be afraid to go south, just be prepared. Baja from 50 miles south of the border to the
tip is the safest traveling. Elden has traveled all over Baja regularly for almost 35 years
(Pauline 28 years) without a problem. So can you.