Traveling By RV in Mainland Mexico: What’s It Really Like?
Overview of great experiences, logistics, safety, and important RV travel tips for Mexico. 

By: Peter & Kathy Holcombe

We have just completed a two-month road trip across Mexico and have completely fallen in love with both the landscape and the people. As we were planning this trip, we were apprehensive about our safety and what to expect, but once we actually set foot on the mainland of Mexico (after a great time in Baja), many of our fears were quickly put to rest. 

In this article, we share what we wish we would have known before we struck out on a road trip adventure into Mainland Mexico.

Leaving a beautiful campsite at Costa del Sol on the Bay of Campeche near Champoton, Mexico.

Some of Our Amazing Experiences in Mainland Mexico

Before we dive into logistics and addressing safety concerns, here are some of the amazing places we experienced during our time in Mexico. Be sure to read the captions throughout this article for more notes on places we visited and check out our YouTube channel to see more.

Kayaking & Rafting at Adventurec in VeraCruz

One of my favorite places in all of Mexico was at Adventurec in VeraCruz. They had a beautiful campground, wonderful staff, and delicious food. But the real draw to Adventurec was the kayaking and rafting through the jungle. The only way to experience the spectacular 100’ waterfall is via a raft or kayak. 

You can see my small red helmet swimming in the pool below the waterfall in the lower left corner for scale.

Looking for Opals in Magdalena

The small town of Magdalena is known worldwide for its beautiful fire opals. We spent a day in the mines smashing rocks in search of treasure. I actually found a small opal inside a rock. It’s not gem quality, but it was super fun to discover something special inside an ordinary looking rock.

Admiring Agua Azul

Agua Azul is a major tourist destination and for good reason. The travertine waterfalls are not only a spectacle to behold, but a great place to swim and cool off on a hot afternoon.

Exploring a Cenote (A Must in Mexico!)

No trip to Mexico is complete without a visit to a cenote. The beauty of traveling with your own home on wheels is that you can explore places more off of the beaten path. The cenote we explored was owned by a family that lived on the property. 

After the kids showed us it was safe to jump from the ledge 20’ above the pool, we had the entire place to ourselves. They even let us camp there overnight at no additional charge.

Marveling at Monarchs Near Mexico City

Monarch butterflies are a true marvel of nature and travel 2,500+ miles from the United States and Canada all the way to central Mexico, where they congregate for the winter in the mountainous bioreserves just outside of Mexico City. Here is a video about our time with the butterflies.

There were more than 20 million monarch butterflies in Mexico this winter, which seems like a lot, but is 59% less than previous years. Experts blame pesticide use and climate change for the diminishing numbers.

Grutas Tolantongo Camping & Caves

Grutas Tolantongo is a travertine river that flows through a spectacular canyon northeast of Mexico City. The water in the river is 95+ degrees making it a perfect contrast to the cool evening air. In addition to the beautiful hot river, Grutas Tolantongo has two caves filled with hot pools.

The camping at Grutas Tolantongo was riverside and included in the price of admission into the grounds. I think the total cost came out to $5/day for three days. The vibe was a really nice blend of Mexican tourists and international overland travelers.

Getting To Mainland Mexico by RV

There are many routes that lead to mainland Mexico, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. But we can’t think of a better route than to travel down the Baja peninsula, and then take the ferry across the Sea of Cortez over to the Mainland.

This option has three huge advantages: 

  1. You avoid some of the more dangerous areas around the border between Arizona, Texas, and Mexico. 
  2. This route means you get to spend time in one of our favorite areas of Mexico - Baja.
  3. And maybe the best reason … you get the unique experience of putting your RV on a ship and crossing the Sea of Cortez. 

There are two ferry services that operate in the Sea of Cortez between La Paz and Mazatlán. Both routes are about twelve hours, and both allow private vehicles. 

The Baja Ferry is more of a passenger ferry with cabins and multiple dining options. It is more comfortable and a bit more expensive. 

The TMC Ferry that travels between Lapaz and Mazatlan.

TMC is known as the trucker’s ferry and primarily serves as a transport ferry for semi-trucks. TMC allows you to sleep in your vehicle, allows pets, and offers two family style meals while in transit. It is a utilitarian service, and you will be parked between semi-trucks which may idle all night, but it is nice to sleep in your own bed. We elected to go with TMC and loved it. We had a great sleep in our Winnebago Revel nestled between the semi-trucks.

You can watch our YouTube episode about our night on the ferry here.

Logistics of Visiting Mainland Mexico in an RV

(Important Disclaimer: This article offers insights from fellow RVers. The information shared here is not direct advice from Winnebago. You should always use your own discretion, do your own research, and decide for yourself which destinations are safe for you to visit.)

Vehicle Insurance

Typically, U.S. vehicle insurance does not provide coverage into Mexico (and you are required to carry liability insurance while in Mexico), so you will need to purchase vehicle insurance for the duration of your stay. We purchased our insurance through the and elected for a platinum policy through CHUBB. 

Read more about our vehicle insurance policy for Mexico in this article.

While the streets of the city center are challenging, it is the low hanging wires that have proven to be the most difficult. Standing at 11’6” with our kayaks on the roof, we frequently brush the wires as we pass beneath, but have squeezed by so far!

Mexico Visas & Border Crossings

According to the INM, an FMM, or Forma Migratoria Múltiple is an "admission document" issued to vacationing visitors of certain nationalities. It is not actually a visa, but rather a tourist card that is required to enter Mexico. You can either apply online or in person at the border.

The FMM is approximately $38/ person. Whether you apply in person at the border, or online, you will need to stop at the border and get your FMM stamped. The FMM allows you to be in Mexico for up to six months. It is possible to apply for an extension if needed. 

Read more about our crossing into Baja, Mexico, in this article.

Guanajuato was a delightful surprise. We loved exploring the markets, murals, and architecture of the city center.

In addition to a visa, you will also need a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) which allows you to bring a vehicle into Mexico for up to six months. You can get a TIP at any of the border crossings or at the ferry terminal in La Paz. You will need your original title, registration, and a passport with the same name as the title and registration to receive the TIP. 

NOTE: A TIP is needed everywhere in Mexico except for Baja.

Each border crossing into Mexico will have a building for immigration, where you get your FMM, and an aduana (customs) where you will get your TIP. Go through immigration first to get your visa and then head to customs for your vehicle. Each border is different, and some are far more efficient than others. 

It can sometimes take a couple of hours to complete all of the different steps to cross the border. Make sure you arrive with a lot of patience, plenty of time, and a spirit of adventure and the border will become another great memory (or at least a good story around a campfire) of that time you decided to drive to Mexico.

Language Barriers

While you do not NEED to know Spanish to successfully navigate Mexico, it certainly enriches the experience. I have been doing Duolingo for more than a year now and have a fairly decent vocabulary. My sentence structure, however, is poorly lacking. But with a bit of pantomime, Google Translate, and a few key words, you can certainly navigate restaurants, checkpoints, and campgrounds. 

The downside is that you miss out on talking to all of the wonderful local people whose insight and knowledge would greatly enrich the travel experience. If I had it to do it all over again, I would have taken a conversational Spanish course before we left or spent a week or two at one of the local language schools scattered across Mexico. 

Fuel in Mexico

Mexico is a very populated place and fuel stations are abundant. They have ultra-low sulfur diesel and diesel exhaust fluid is available in the larger cities.

The deserts of Mexico are incredibly biodiverse and interesting to explore. Just make sure you are keeping an eye on the fuel gauge while traveling!

Water and Food

Water is actually easy to come by in places where the water supply is marginal because the locals rely on purificadas to purchase clean water to cook with and to drink. Sometimes you can pull up to these water stations and attach a hose and fill your tank, sometimes the only option is to purchase large 20L bottles, known as garifones. 

These water bottles are available almost everywhere (grocery stores, gas stations, markets, campgrounds, etc.) and are what most Mexicans use for their drinking water. We are able to siphon water out of a garifone directly into our water tank, which makes getting water a piece of cake. 

The fruit/vegetable stands in the markets are fabulous and our favorite places to get produce.

As for food, we generally ate out one meal a day and cooked the rest of the time. Grocery stores vary tremendously, with small towns having fruit/vegetable roadside stands and small markets with limited selections. Larger cities have grocery stores similar to what we have in the United States, with more variety. And of course, in the really big cities, you can find a Walmart Superstore just like at home. 

If you like rice, beans, tomatoes, garlic, onions, avocados, and meat, you are in good shape grocery shopping just about anywhere. But, if you are a picky eater or have specific dietary needs, you should probably stick to shopping in the city. The same holds true for restaurants. 

At restaurants, you typically sit at the counter and there are just a few choices on the menu. We often don’t completely understand what we have ordered (because of our very rudimentary Spanish skills) and it’s always a fun surprise when our food arrives. We call it dining roulette.

We loved eating at the roadside food stands in small towns. The smaller and funkier the better, and most of the time the food was fabulous. We have been fortunate and have avoided food borne illness so far. 

Safety when Traveling & RV Camping in Mainland Mexico

First things first, safety is, and should be, a priority when you travel across Mexico (as it should be any time you visit an unfamiliar place). Just like in the USA, some places are more dangerous than others, and it is your responsibility to do your homework before you head down the road and into the unknown. Traveling with a friend in another vehicle did add some peace of mind for us as well!

We used the U.S. State Department website recommendations as the first filter to help us plan our route. As of the writing of this article (April 2024), there are six states that have a “Do Not Travel” warning from the State Department (Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas), and seven more where the recommendation is to “Reconsider Travel” (and many of those are only for select areas within the state). That leaves 19 states that are ripe for exploration. 

We carefully planned our route to minimize our time spent in the “Do Not Travel” states, but we did end up driving through several as we traversed the country. We were certainly on heightened alert through those areas and tried to avoid stopping there unless absolutely necessary.

As the temperature began to rise in Mexico, we sought out cooler places to camp. This is a free camp spot on top of a volcano that we found on the iOverlander App. We liked it so much that we spent a second night reveling in the Colorado-like landscape.

The second filter that we utilized was the iOverlander app. It places a red exclamation point wherever there has been a dangerous incident (or where there are dangerous road conditions). It also has recommendations and reviews of potential camping areas (both paid and free). We always read the reviews to gather more information about a place before we decided to stay in a particular place. 

Of important note is to pay close attention to the dates of the reviews. We certainly weighted more recent reviews more heavily than the older posts!

The third filter that we used is situational awareness. Some people are naturally more aware of their surroundings than others, but it is certainly a skillset that can be honed and improved. For example, I am sure that most Mexicans can identify cartel members at first glance, but I am not positive that I actually ever saw any with my own eyes. 

There were certainly a few suspiciously out of place, brand-new, and very tricked-out SUVs that would roll through an otherwise extremely impoverished area. But we were also driving through in very nice vehicles (since we were traveling with a fellow Winnebago Revel owner) and stuck out like a sore thumb, so who’s to say if it was cartel related or not. 

Occasionally, we would drive through a town where a guy would be sitting on the hood of his car with a walkie talkie and talk into the radio as we drove by. Often there would be several of these “lookouts” throughout an area. I will never know if those situations posed an actual threat to us. The point here is that the more time you spend in a place, the more you are able to identify potential danger, and the better you are able to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

The ferry port in Mazatlan is in Sinaloa, a “do not travel” state in Mexico. We left the port and immediately drove to San Blas to stay in a beachside campground. Any time we were in doubt about the safety of an area, we stayed at a campground.

Our Strategies for Assessing a New Area

Here are two strategies that we use regularly to assess an area before we spend the night that may help. The first is a very simple, but effective strategy: look at the dogs. If the dogs are well cared for and happy, we feel that is a good sign of the area. If they are skittish, mangy, and skinny, you might want to reconsider spending time there. 

The second is a more direct strategy. Entering a town with two tricked-out overland vehicles tends to create a bit of a spectacle and everyone stops what they are doing to watch the show. We used this as an opportunity to test the waters on how welcome we were in a community. 

As people gawked at us, we would smile and wave vigorously at everyone as we drove by. If they smiled and waved in return, we took that as an indication that we would likely be welcomed into the area. If they stared back with no reaction or with a scowl, we kept driving in search of a friendlier place. This proved to be very effective and often resulted in lots of people coming to talk to us once we parked for the night.

This is another example of a free campsite just outside of the Reserve de la Biósfera Santuario Mariposa.

Checkpoints and Bribes in Mexico

One of the biggest differences between Mexico and the USA is the security patrols. There are trucks full of armed soldiers and police on patrol everywhere. Each truck carries 5-8 officers, each of which is armed with a rifle. In addition, there is often a large caliber weapon mounted on the roof of the vehicle with a soldier actively manning it. 

When these patrols stop, two of the soldiers stand at the ready while the others take care of whatever business they are stopping for. It is not uncommon to see two soldiers positioned outside the grocery store with 6+ soldiers actively carrying their weapons as they shop. It is very different than what we are used to in the U.S., and certainly takes some getting used to, but is the norm for all of Mexico.

In addition to the mobile patrols, there are both military and police checkpoints everywhere in Mexico. Some of them wave you through without a second glance. Some want to talk to you before you proceed, and sometimes they want to inspect your vehicle. We went through roughly 60 checkpoints during our six-week traverse of Mexico. Forty or more of them just waved us through, often without ever looking up from their phones. 

We were stopped at about ten, where they asked a couple of questions or asked to see our passports. There were two checkpoints where they actually looked inside our van. Even when they were inspecting our van, it seemed they were more curious than anything else, and only opened a cabinet or two before sending us on our way.

One police officer asked us if we had a collectible U.S. dollar for him to have. We laughed and said no, and he waved us on our way. That was the closest thing to a bribe request that we experienced on our entire journey across Mexico.

The markets of Oaxaca were vibrant and full of beautiful textiles. Navigating the streets through the city center in our Winnebago Revel was challenging and stressful, but so very worth it!

Encounters with the Police

We did have one unexpected, and somewhat scary encounter with the police in the State of Mexico, northwest of Mexico City. We were parked for the night in a soccer field on the outskirts of town in a wild camping spot that we found on iOverlander. It was basically a giant field that was surrounded by farms. It had just gotten dark, and we were eating dinner in our friend George's Winnebago Revel. 

A vehicle appeared in the darkness and the headlights made it difficult to see what was approaching. We could see the silhouette of two armed figures walking alongside the vehicle. It was certainly an extremely tense moment. The vehicle blocked the exit road and made it impossible for us to drive around them and escape. Then it turned on red and blue lights. 

I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or not to discover it was four heavily armed police officers blocking our exit. We got out of the van and went to talk to the officers. Through very broken English/Spanish and with the aid of Google Translate, the officers explained that we were parked in a very dangerous place and that we needed to immediately follow them into town.

They showed us a place on Google Maps that was safe for us to camp for the night and insisted on escorting us into town. Still uneasy with the situation, we shared our location with a friend in the States as we followed the police into town, and watched our maps carefully to ensure that they were taking us where they said they would.

This is what the vehicle looked like. We snapped this picture and sent it to a friend as we were being escorted into town by the police, just in case we ended up in a bad situation.

The officers led us to a beautiful town that turned out to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site and parked us right smack in the center of the town square in front of the police station. There were officers who stood guard outside our van all night. It was a Saturday night, and the town was filled with families and festivities. Once we took a look around, we felt very comfortable with where we were parked. 

The next morning, we awoke to two officers standing outside our van watching our YouTube channel. We talked with the officers and thanked them for their help and spent the morning exploring the charming town. The entire experience with the police was very professional, and they wanted nothing more than for us to enjoy their town and have a safe experience. 

Our Takeaways for Safety in Mexico

Overall, it was a very stressful, but positive experience, and definitely one that we learned a lot from. Here are the key takeaways: 

  1. We decided to pay for camping for the remainder of our time in Mexico in hopes of avoiding future dangerous situations. 
  2. It was a reminder to always park so that we have multiple exit options in the event that we need to leave unexpectedly. 
  3. We realized it is important to always talk to locals wherever you are to determine the risk around you because it is not always apparent. 
  4. In our experience, it seems that many of the police and people of Mexico want tourists to have a positive and safe experience.
The Adventurec campground in VeraCruz.

Final Thoughts on RVing in Mexico

That covers all of the basic logistics, but completely misses the whole point of exploring Mexico. It has jaw-dropping scenery with every imaginable environment: from deserts and beaches to alpine meadows and jungles. We shared some here, but there is so much more to see!

And the people, the people are absolutely wonderfully warm and welcoming. Even though we had very few words in common, they made such a big effort to get to know and understand us and welcomed us with open arms. 

Mexico has stolen our hearts, and we hope that this article helps you if you plan to head south across the border to explore Mexico for yourself. And as always, we hope to see you somewhere over the horizon! Onward… 


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User commented on May 22, 2024 12:52 AM
Congratulation, great adventure !
User commented on May 22, 2024 6:16 PM
Great advice.