Tag Archives: Mexico travel

Memorial Day Weekend: Do You Have Your Passport?

I can always tell when three-day weekends are coming up like this one for Memorial Day. Like clockwork,  I see a spike in blog traffic as people who are thinking of heading to Mexico by car or foot start worrying about whether they will be stranded at the border if they try to cross back into the United States without a U.S. passport.

As you may recall, it was ok for many years to cross the border at the land ports of entry with a flick of your state driver license. A few years ago, the U.S. government outlined a passport “requirement.” Enforcing this hasn’t exactly been practical, and I continue to hear back from people who say that they are making it back just fine without their passports.

Now I personally think everyone should have a passport, just in case you have an itch to pack your bags and go to…who knows where. However, at the border I don’t use a passport (I have a frequent border crosser SENTRI card),  so I rely on readers to share their own border crossing experiences. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest comments people have left on the blog about crossing without a passport:

Here’s one account from reader Rick, who seems to have an affinity for writing in haiku:

“just cross the mexico us border last wekend for the 2nd time no passport only my nevada dl birth certificate ss card no problem only sugested to get my passport soon.”

Here’s a recent first-person account from JLo (you mean, THE JLo? Ok, probably not…)

Hello people well I just cross the border April walking Tijuana border. Yes they do ask for a passport and ask why I didn’t have it. I told them I didn’t have money and they just let me pass. Now they do have a special line for the ones that don’t have one. The funny thing is that a cross the border in 5min and the ones that did have a passport had to wait 2hours . Remember something I did have my *Birth Certificated and my *California ID….. oh another information i have is that children are not asked to have a passport. My littles sister is 10 and they NEVER ask for one. Remember this is only my experience ! hopes this is helpful.. have a nice trip.

And NRod, who is getting a bit grumpy about those long border line waits, reminds us all to update our passports:

People…the lines at the border would go a lot faster if everyone would have either a passport book/passport card, certified birth certificates for travellers under the age of 16 with their school IDs.

If travelling by land, pay the $55 to get the passport card. It is well worth it! It gets frustrating when we have to sit in line for 3 hours to come back to the U.S. from an outreach work weekend because people don’t have the proper documentation.

Happy travels south of the border this weekend!

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Three: Hermosillo to Guaymas

This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Day Three of the trip: December 27, 2009. Starting point is Hermosillo, the capitol of Sonora.

I had been to Hermosillo before, so I was looking forward to spending some time in this pretty, desert capital. With an estimated population of  over half a million, Hermosillo nonetheless maintains a certain patina of order and tranquility that stands in contrast to the chaotic energy of other urban centers. 

As I waited for my travel companions to wake up, I browsed through some pamphlets from the hotel lobby about the newly-opened Sonoran Art Museum . There was an exhibit of Oaxacan painter Rufino Tamayo that would have to wait for a future visit.

Instead, we went to the Sonora Museum which is a former state penitentiary that operated from 1907 to 1979. It was located near our hotel – the Hotel Colonial – on the other side of the Cerro de la Campana (Hill of the Bell). As we took in the bird’s eye view, a nearby church bell started to ring. It momentarily sent me back in time and place.

The museum is free on Sundays, and we spent about 40 minutes wandering through the old cell spaces that had been converted into educational exhibits on the region’s history, including one with a photo of Benjamin Hill. The rabbit and pig sock puppets engaged in ongoing silly commentary. We also took some pictures of ourselves behind prison bars.


Then we headed back to the downtown area for breakfast. Our destination: the local market where people come to buy their pig’s feet, vegetables and cheeses. After walking around the entire market, we sat down at a corner stall and I ate several spicy shredded beef tacos.

Even though Hermosillo’s weather was pleasant, the dominant collective opinion of my travel companions settled on  finding a warm beach. So we  decided to continue our trek to the beach communities of Guaymas (where we would take the ferry to Baja California) and San Carlos. Both were only about one hour way.

After a quick detour through San Carlos, we headed to Guaymas where we discovered the harbor area. This oceanfront section of town seemed to serve as the city’s central plaza where local folks strolled and merrily scooted around  on their skateboards, bikes and in-line skates.

We picked the Armida Hotel at random, unloaded the car, and then I started flipping through the Yellow Pages Book. A section on Guaymas provided me with some informational grounding: The city was founded in 1769 and has one of the largest fleets in the Mexican Pacific. The write-up mentioned that the nearby Miramar Beach is a good place for sunsets. I looked at the clock: 4:30. We got to the beach in about ten minutes and searched for shells along the shore as the sun sank low and pelicans dive-bombed for fish. 


For dinner, perhaps inspired by the pelicans, we went to a Sushi place near the hotel. The rolls were average, but the ambience was energetic with three television screens beaming sports and music videos. The next day was Monday and we would need to make reservations and confirm the Tuesday departure time for the ferry that would take us across the Gulf of California to the Baja peninsula. 

TRAVEL FACTOIDS:

The road leading to the Sonora museum has lots of tricky one-way streets

The more upper scale Hotel  Colonial in Hermosillo had a “special” rate of $80

Hotel Armida in Guaymas cost us about $55


Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Two: Puerto Penasco to Hermosillo


This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Day Two of the trip: December 26, 2009. Starting point is Puerto Penasco, a few hours south of Arizona. 

Always an early riser, I left our hotel at 8:30 a.m. to walk around the Puerto Penasco oceanfront. We had picked a hotel in the downtown area, but on the other side of the bay I could see the high-rise condos that have become second homes for some Arizona residents.

 I wanted to find out what to do in Puerto Penasco this time of year. One merchant, just opening his storefront, sighed and said: “It’s too cold to go to the beach.” Back at the hotel, the staff scrunched their foreheads and came up with a few ideas: A small aquarium (read some TripAdvisor reviews here) and a regional museum. But no one seemed to have  a recent or decent map to show me where they were. 

Meanwhile, the car’s alarm was going off for no reason and we couldn’t start the engine because of some electrical glitch inspired by the alarm. We got a hold of a mechanic who showed up in a car with a fake license plate. At the top of the plate (in small letters) were the words FORGET 911 (and in larger letters) IDIAL .357. An insignia of a gun made the point even clearer.

Despite the less-than-assuring credentials, the mechanic did his job just fine.

We had originally planned on staying in Puerto Penasco for a day, but decided to continue south in search of warmer climes. On our way out of town we passed a giant statue of what I think was a shrimp, representing the town’s fishing roots.

We ended up driving about five hours to Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora.  At first the landscape was flat and somewhat stark, masking the rich potential underneath the soil. Clouds of smoke emerged from the earth in four points – looking like distant tornadoes  –  where farmers were burning land for agricultural purposes.

From the small city of Caborca (an hour and a half from Puerto Penasco) the land starts to ease into the mountains and hills of the higher desert. It becomes increasingly jagged as you get closer to Hermosillo and the tips of mountains look as as if they have been nibbled on by dinosaurs.

Along the way, we got gasoline at a town called Benjamin Hill. I asked the gas  attendant: “Who is Benjamin Hill?”  I pronounced it in English, since it looked like an English word, but the attendant didn’t seem to understand what I was saying until I used a Spanish accent (Ben-ha-meen Heeeel). Then he told me Benjamin Hill was a general during “the war” (He is mentioned in this Sonora tourism site in as being involved in the Mexican Revolution).

At Hermosillo, we checked into the Hotel Colonial near the Cerro de la Cementera (photo above)  where we paid about $80 for a nice but small room. Sonora is known for its beef, and we missed an opportunity to eat a traditional steak dinner here. We also missed out on trying the famous Sonoran hot dogs (hot dog stands are lined up en masse in front of the local university). Instead,  we ended up eating some beef tacos after seeing a movie in town.

TRAVEL FACTOIDS:

Total road trip travel time from Puerto Penasco to Hermosillo: About 5 hours

Total amount of money spent on two toll booths: $11

Cost to get car alarm fixed in Puerto Penasco: $65

Beef tacos in Hermosillo for four people: $15


Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day One: Tijuana to Puerto Penasco

This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Day One of the trip: December 25, 2009

The nice thing about traveling on Christmas Day is that most people are at home and not on the road. Me and my travel companions (another adult, two kids and two sock puppets)  left Tijuana at 4 p.m. after I picked up a tourist card . This was necessary since I was traveling beyond the border area’s tourist zone. It cost about $20 and I got it at the same Mexicans Customs office where we had to  register our car (A Mexican car restricted to circulating in the border zone).

Heading east towards Mexicali takes you through a rock-studded chain of mountains called La Rumorosa that inspires frequent stops for photo shoots. By the time we hit the Mexicali desert, it was nightfall. Crossing into Sonora at San Luis Colorado, we picked up some sandwiches for dinner at an Oxxo (sort of like a 7-11) where the cashier told us there was a new, faster toll road that would take us just two hours to get to our destination, Puerto Penasco. 

The new toll road costs about $8.00. Since we were traveling at night, there wasn’t much to see – except for the stars above us and a large number of roadside signs that we seemed to pass every 30 seconds:  FOGGY ZONE, WATCH OUT FOR FAUNA, DON’T PASS CARS, KEEP THE ROAD CLEAN, RESPECT NATURE, DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE, NO HUNTING.

My favorite of the bunch…DON’T DESTROY THE SIGNS.

We arrived in Puerto Penasco at 8:45 p.m (Sonora is one hour ahead of California) and as we headed to the downtown area we passed this city traffic sign (above) that made me laugh. The sign includes a banner that basically says “here we take care of tourists.” Yet the multiple arrows heading every which way prompted me to feel tourist trauma: Which road to take?

We managed to find our way to the Hotel Vina del Mar, where our $63 got us a room with an angular view of the ocean. 

TRAVEL FACTOIDS:

Total road travel time from Tijuana to Puerto Penasco: 4-5  hours.

Total amount of money spent on five toll roads between Tijuana and Puerto Penasco: $19.20