Are you thinking about visiting Mexico but want to bring your own vehicle? Maybe you have a big group and want to keep costs down, or you have a dog that travels everywhere with you. Luckily, Mexico offers an abundance of opportunities within a short distance of the border. Discover pristine beaches, big vineyards, and beautiful destinations within a few hours of the US border.
Can You Actually Drive to Mexico?
The majority of Mexico is accessible via road systems, so you could take a long trip and reach Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Mexico City, or any other destination. It’s a big country, however, so plan accordingly. The border is close to a few idyllic destinations that are perfect for weekend trips.
It’s surprisingly easy to drive across the border, especially in Baja and Sonora where special vehicle import permits are not required. Even for those places where the import permit is required, it only takes a few extra minutes to complete the paperwork at the border.
Here’s how driving across the border goes at most crossings:
- Buy temporary Mexican auto insurance online to have it before crossing over. It’s affordable and mandatory to carry liability auto insurance at a minimum.
- Enter the border zone and follow the green light/red light system and stop signs.
- Stop for inspection with the border guards and hand them your passport. They often do a quick check of your vehicle.
- Park and enter the Aduana (immigration office) and show your passport. Obtain a tourist visa card known as an FMM for the time you plan to stay (always add a few extra days just in case).
- Visit banjercito to pay for your vehicle’s Temporary Import Permit (not required in Baja/Sonora). Bring a copy of your title and registration.
- Drive to your destination
- Return the Temporary Import Permit on your way back to the USA, and they will refund your deposit.
Every border follows a similar process, although some do not have the Aduana office directly at the border station. Some are 10-20 km south of the border. Regardless, if you have your paperwork and do a little research, it’s pretty dang easy. Here’s a list of every Mexican border crossing with instructions to cross in each direction.
Related Read: How to Cross the Border to Mexico With and Without a Car
Mexico Destinations Near the US Border
After entering Mexico, take a short drive to one of these incredible destinations. You can day trip to some but staying a few nights is ideal.
- Valle de Gualdalupe – Baja
Tecate offers a small and very simple border crossing that isn’t chaotic. After driving through, stay straight and follow the “Ruta de Vino” signs (it’s very obvious) and you quickly enter a stunning landscape full of vineyards. Imagine San Diego with rows of grapes in place of the freeways and populous.
The road is paved and very easy to navigate. Along the roadside, you will encounter stands where vendors sell bottles of wine, fresh fruit and more. You can wing it and stop at your leisure but booking lodging ahead helps with the planning.
Staying at a vineyard and touring it along with the surrounding wineries is the perfect weekend getaway. It’s less than an hour from San Diego to the border crossing and around the same to the wine region.
Vineyard Solar Futon offers wine tasting, tours, and a full restaurant. It’s a favorite stop in the heart of the Valle De Guadalupe Vineyards. Malagon Winery is another wonderful stop and there are dozens of other wineries and vineyards. It’s worth spending a full weekend touring multiple vineyards and doing a few tastings.
- Rosarito – Baja
Looking for a quick trip south that offers some of the best surf breaks and ocean views on the Pacific? Rosarito is just south of the border and it’s hopping with beach bars, night clubs, and a ton of daytime activities.
You’ll find nice beaches that are great year-round for combing, walking, and generally lounging around. The area has excellent fishing for yellowtail and a variety of saltwater gamefish as well. Chartering a fishing boat is perfect for spending a day outside. If fishing isn’t your game, take a horseback ride down the beach with a local guide.
Rosarito has a great local culture with the obvious nightlife but also shopping and local restaurants. Hit the town and take advantage of the street food and sit-down eateries, each with a unique flavor.
- San Felipe – Baja
While Rosarito offers big Pacific Ocean waves, San Felipe is almost directly to the East on the Baja Peninsula. This town is also oceanfront but on the tranquil shores of the Sea of Cortez. Turquoise waters, open desert landscapes, and a vibrant community where off-road racing is popular are found here.
Fishing is also good but the species are frequently different. The Sea of Cortez is warmer than the Pacific, especially in the northern corner. Dirt biking and off-road vehicles are available for rent and many folks also bring their own along.
Beachfront campsites are abundant and RVers have options for hookups and services at several established campgrounds. Camping isn’t necessary for folks who don’t want to bring the gear along, however. Hotels and rentals offer great lodging options with some being right on the beach.
- Rocky Point – Sonora
Drive an hour south of the Arizona border and you’ll hit the oceanfront resort town of Puerto Penasco which is also called Rocky Point by many visitors. The Lukeville Border crossing is one of the easier options and it’s great for RV’s. It’s pretty wild to realize the ocean is such a short drive from Phoenix and Tucson.
This is a hopping community on the northern end of the Sea of Cortez. The beaches are lined with resorts and bars with miles of sandy white beaches to explore. You will find incredible 4-wheel tracks and no shortage of rentals. Speaking of rentals, grab a jet ski and spend the day zipping around the water.
Rocky Point is a very easy place to visit by vehicle and that makes it a wonderful option for short trips across the border.
Related Read: Can I Travel to Mexico Using a Natvisa?
- Monterrey – Nuevo León
While the beach towns are often the focal point in Mexico, Monterrey is backdropped by big mountains. The McAllen border crossing is very smooth and Nuevo Loredo is another good option. Known for museums, architecture and culture, it’s a trip worth taking and is only a short drive south.
Take a walk down the Paseo de Santa Lucia with its big pathways, grassy fields and water features. The Parque Ecologico Chipinque is another must-do when visiting Monterrey.
The city offers plenty of entertainment but the big mountains also make for an outdoor town. Hikers and climbers come here to explore the many trails. Cerro de Silla is the big mountains and focal point that advanced hires love to summit.