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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Don't wait until you get to Baja to flatten out your learning curve! Carlos Fiesta has been traveling to Baja for over 25 years and is happy to pass on the valuable information he has learned. So when you get to Baja, you are ready to have FUN!
Looking for a little piece of mind for your next trip to Baja? In case of a medical emergency it can be a huge advantage to be a member of BI-NATIONAL EMERGENCY SERVICES. Review their web site for additional information.
We are headed to Baja for a 10 day vacation, and are wondering if we should bring pesos or Traveler's Checks. ~ Ruby
If you are going to be spending your time in a tourist area you will probably not need pesos. Most Baja towns, even most of the smaller villages, are happy to accept U.S. dollars in exchange for goods and services. It is important, however, to bring smaller denomination currencies, especially in the smaller towns. Before heading to Baja I usually go to the bank and get plenty of $1's, $5's and $10's. Although most larger vendors will have change for a $20 dollar bill, some will not.
Regarding Traveler's Checks, most people do not take them while on vacation in Baja, although if you are concerned about loosing your money this is one way to give you peace of mind. I always recommend dividing travel money into 2 separate locations. When heading out for the day, bringing a small wallet or handbag along with just enough cash for the day is a good idea, along with possibly one credit card if you think you will need it. The balance of your funds, credit cards and important papers can be left in a secure location in your room, or in the hotel safe. ~ Carlos Fiesta
I hear the legal requirements to go to Baja have changed. What documentation is currently necessary? ~ Leslie
To legally enter Baja you need proof of citizenship and a valid Tourist Card. In the past Mexican Immigration accepted Passports or a certified birth certificate and photo identification as proof of citizenship. Recently (in 2002) Mexican Immigration has been stating that they will only accept Passports. It has been reported that many visitors have been successful using the birth certificate / photo I.D. technique, but officially they can call you on this. This tends to be less important when driving into parts of northern Baja, and more important when flying into larger mainland Mexico cities.
Also, if you are bringing children to Mexico and only one parent is accompanying the children, Mexico requires that the un-attending parent provide written permission. A letter signed and notarized by the parent who had to stay home and miss the fun is acceptable.
NOTARIZED LETTER REQUIREMENTS: Visitors to Mexico who do not have a valid passport or a certified copy of a birth certificate may use a notarized letter (plus a photo ID) to receive a Mexican Tourist Card. The notarized letter must state that the traveler is a U.S. citizen. It is important to have this letter drawn up, signed and notarized before departing on the trip as it will be needed upon check-in at the airline counter or at the Immigration Office when driving into Mexico.
Travelers deparding through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) may utilize the services of the Notary Office at the Bradley International Terminal. It is located on the departure floor (second level) located next to the Information Desk on the north east end of the terminal. The hours of operation are from 6:00 a.m. until 12:45 p.m. The fee for a notary service is $25.00..
~ Carlos Fiesta
I have heard that there are laws in Baja prohibiting certain items from being brought into the country. What type of items are prohibited? ~ John
It is important to remember that Mexico has it's own laws and that honoring these laws is an important part of a good visit. Items that should not be brought into the country include any type of firearm (guns or rifles), ammunition and drugs. It is also prohibited to bring many types of fruits and vegetables into the country, just like in the U.S.
There are also several things you should not do while visiting Mexico. Public nudity is illegal, as well as disturbing the peace. Taking drugs is also illegal. As you can see, the laws in Mexico are not much different than in many other countries, but the consequences can be more serious. Above all it is important to remember that you are a guest in a foreign country and to act accordingly. ~ Carlos Fiesta
My husband speaks very little Spanish and I speak none. Is it necessary to speak the language to travel in Baja? ~ Beth
Although Spanish is the official language of Mexico, English is very common. The vast majority of the people you will need to deal with on a vacation to Mexico will speak enough English to help move things forward. English becomes a little harder to find when you get off of the tourist path, but even then a few key words of Spanish will go a long way.
It's is a good idea (and actually a lot of fun!) to put together 10 or 20 key Spanish words before you head to Baja, even if you are headed to one of the larger tourist destinations where English is common. Speaking a little Spanish sets you apart from the majority of visitors who know absolutely no Spanish, and shows the local people that you are at least making an effort to meet them half way. ~ Carlos Fiesta
We are considering renting a car for our vacation in Baja. What is the best way to do this? ~ Ralph
Renting a car while on vacation in Baja is a great way to explore some of the areas surrounding your main destination. A common technique is to reserve a vehicle with one of the major car rental companies 2 or more weeks before you leave for Mexico. It's a good idea to obtain some type of verification in writing to bring to Mexico with you, a receipt that shows a daily rental amount and the dates you have reserved. Most companies will provide you with this type of reservation without requiring you to make a deposit.
When you get to Baja it is possible that the local car rental franchise that you reserved with actually will have a record of your reservation. It is also possible that they will not. If they don't have your reservation, the copy of the receipt you brought from home should help you secure a vehicle without too much trouble, at the rate you already agreed to. If you are looking for a more competitive rental rate, you might want to inquire about the daily rates before you mention that you have a reservation. Sometimes, depending on inventory, the last minute rack rate can be whittled down to a rate less than the reservation rate that you have.
Most car rental companies in Baja offer unlimited mileage. And they really aren't too picky about your off-road excursions (unlike rental cars in Hawaii). So the freedom of the wide open road is yours to enjoy...take advantage! It's always a good idea to do a complete walk-around with the attendant and make notes on your contract before you take possession of the car. Checking the jack and spare tire might make life easier for you later on.
Before committing to a rental car, take a good look at your itinerary. Most people who visit Mexico do not need a rental car for every day of the trip. It can be fun to grab a cab or shuttle from the airport, decompress around the hotel for a day or two, and then plan your road excursions accordingly.
For more information drop by the TRANSPORTATION section of Mexico Expo. ~ Carlos Fiesta
I am freaking out at the thought of coming home after 2 weeks in Baja to 300 E-mails! Plus I want to keep in touch with a few friends while I am gone. Suggestions? ~ Carole
Don't freak out. E-mail is becoming increasingly common in Baja, and the rates are becoming more affordable as competition increases. If your hotel does not offer Internet access for e-mail (and most Baja hotels do not), ask the front desk for the location of the nearest Internet Cafe. If they are clueless, don't fret. Find the part of town where most of the tourists shops are, and look for a sign that says "E-mail" or "Internet Cafe".
These shops are usually pretty clean and organized, although the on-line connection may be slow. Expect to pay about $3.00 U.S. for 30 minutes of computer time, which is often the minimum time frame. Most places will accept dollars, although they may give you a hopeless look if you hand them a $20. (another good reason to bring plenty of small U.S. bills with you.) These Internet Cafe's usually also offer long distance telephone service and fax service. ~ Carlos Fiesta
I am looking forward to shopping on our upcoming trip to Baja, but I am a little confused about converting pesos to dollars. ~ Julie
Converting the cost of an item from pesos to dollars is easier than you might think. To start off with, it is a good idea to get a general idea of the dollar cost of an item based on the "one tenth" rule. This is pretty easy to do because the value of the peso has been running about 1/10th the value of the U.S. dollar for some time now, give or take minor fluctuations up or down. As an example, if an item is priced at $150 pesos, you know the general cost is going to be about $15 U.S. (and a little more when the peso / dollar value drops below 10 to 1). An item costing $2,500 pesos will run you about $250 U.S., and again this item will cost you a little more when the peso / dollar ration slips. But this technique will at least get you in the ballpark.
Now if you are one of those people who wants to know the exact cost of an item, it's not much more difficult to figure out, but you will need a calculator. Any cheap calculator will do the job. Simply divide the cost of the item in pesos by the current dollar exchange rate. As an example, if an item costs $150 pesos and the U.S. dollar exchange rate is $9.5 then the item will cost you $15.78 U.S. dollars. ~ Carlos Fiesta
We are coming down to Baja in December from Canada. Do you think we will still need sunscreen in December? ~ Marie
Absolutely! Much of Baja is located in or just above the tropics, and exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays is much more intense than in the northern latitudes. Add a little reflected sun from the sand or ocean and it doesn't take long to get toasted. It's a good habit to cover your exposed body parts with sunscreen as part of your normal morning routine before heading out of your hotel.
If you are planning any beach or pool time, using a waterproof sunscreen is very important. Most of the brands now on the market work very well, and will stay with you through several visits to the water. I am a big fan of Bullfrog Waterproof sunscreen, the stuff works amazingly well. "Bullfrog Greg", a die-hard surfer, did a great job when he designed this product.
Another important tip. Try to avoid the temptation to get all of your sun in the first day or two. I have seen too many vacations ruined because someone tried to get a great tan as soon as they got off the plane. Getting a good tan is like roasting a chicken...do it gradually and keep turning! ~ Carlos Fiesta
I understand that tipping for services is different in most countries. What is considered a normal tip in Baja. ~ Ray
Gratuities are greatly appreciated by the Baja service people, but there are standards that you can follow that tend to be appropriate. For dining out and cocktails a 10% tip is considered normal. For taxi cabs a tip is not generally expected, although some tourists do provide a small tip. If you utilize the services of a porter to carry your bags either at the airport or at your hotel, a dollar tip is sufficient for 2 or 3 bags.
It's often fun to reward excellent service with an above average tip. As an example, if the waiter at your restaurant went out of his way to make your dinner a spectacular event, then leaving a 15% or 20% tip is a great way to thank him. Along the same lines if a taxi cab driver was able to help you with some of your questions about the local area, a good tip is usually appreciated.
On the other side of the coin tipping for crummy service is a bad deal all the way around. If your service was lousy and you leave a 10% tip just because it is normal, then you are leaving a message to that service person that his poor level of service is acceptable. Not a good idea! ~ Carlos Fiesta
We are considering taking a trip to Baja with the kids to let them see the California Gray Whales. What is the best time to go, and where? ~ Kevin
The California Gray Whales head south to the Baja Peninsula from the waters off of Alaska each winter. They start migrating down in late December, and start showing up in Badge's lagoons in mid January. The whales frolic, give birth and mate until mid March, and then head for home. Because of the births of new pups, the crowd headed north is usually a bit larger than the original group that headed south. These huge mammals start motoring back home in March.
There are three popular locations along Badge's west coast to view the whales. Some of them stop about mid-peninsula in the large lagoons west of GUERRERO NEGRO. Others keep on trucking another 100 miles to Laguna Ignacio further south. And the real feisty ones keep on going to Bahia de Magdelana and even further towards CABO SAN LUCAS and beyond!
For more information on these magnificent creatures drop by the WHALE WATCHING section of Baja Expo.
We want to go to Baja but we are not seasoned travelers. This is a big deal for us, especially my wife. Which Baja destination do you recommend for a first trip with no culture shock? ~ Kevin
If you are looking for a getaway long on fun and short on culture I would suggest Cabo San Lucas in BAJA. This is an easy getaway with few of the anxieties of other Mexican destinations. Some of the features in the plus side for you would include a short flight down, English spoken, dollars accepted, U.S. quality hotels, great weather, warm ocean water, low crime, etc.
For more information drop by the CABO SAN LUCAS section of Mexico Expo.
It has been 12 years since I visited mainland Mexico, but I remember several of the people I was traveling with became sick. Is the water a problem in Baja? ~ Betsy
Mexico has come a long was since the days when many visitors to Mexico got sick. Although this has never been much of a problem in Baja or the Yucatan Peninsula, mainland Mexico did have problems for quite a few years. Hotels and restaurants have been very pro-active in establishing high quality water purification systems, and today very few visitors become sick.
One of the main reasons visitors become sick in Mexico today is from having too much fun. That may sound a bit crazy, but if a person stays up late, doesn't get enough sleep, eats a lot of spicy food, drinks excessively, spends too much time in the hot sun and runs the body hard all day and night, something has to give. The best way to stay health while vacationing in Mexico is to try to keep things in moderation. It's hard, but it's worth it! ~ Carlos Fiesta
We are looking forward to partying on the beach in Baja. How crazy can we get without getting into trouble? ~ Beth
Partying on the beach in Baja is fun, but there are a few things to keep in mind. It is important to remember that all beaches in Mexico are public. That's good news, in the sense that you can feel free to explore any beach you can get to. But that also means you must abide by the laws, which can put a bit of a hitch in your quest to get down.
Things to try to avoid on Baja beaches include nudity, sex, drugs, disturbing the peace, driving on the beach and all of the things you can get in trouble for in a public place back home. I say you should try to avoid these things because, in reality, people do occasionally do these things in Mexico. But discretion is pretty important in Mexico. Spending the night in jail means you can't go dancing that night or snorkeling the next day. And think of all the margaritas and tacos you could have bought with the money you'll have to spend on the fine.
Getting naked on a deserted stretch of beach will probably not get you into any trouble. But smoking a joint on any Mexican beach is risky and not worth the risk.
The last time we went to Baja they checked our passport and Tourist Card, and after that they checked our luggage. Why are they so picky? ~ Susan
Although most of us take a visit to Mexico lightly, the process of visiting a different country is a very important one. If you think they are picky in Baja try a visit to some middle eastern countries. Yikes!
In most Mexico ports of entry there are usually 2 important processes that are addressed. Immigration is an important step because most countries want to have some control over who they allow into the country. Customs is a separate process where they want to see what items you are bringing into their country. While immigration is a pretty consistent process with very little leeway, customs in Mexico can be more of a crap shoot. After you pick up your luggage at most Mexican airports you must press the "Stop ~ Go" button for them to determine whether of not they will review your luggage. If you press the button and get a green light, keep on trucking towards that first cold margarita. If you press the button and get a red light, be prepared for the nice folks at the counter to inspect your bags for guns, drugs or mangos. Assuming you have none, you are on your way!