How safe is driving down to Baja at the moment?
June 27, 2008 4:26 PM   Subscribe

How safe is driving down and camping in Baja at this time?

I am heading down to El Rosario in Baja for the first two weeks in September to do fieldwork with about 9 other people. We are scheduled to be camping in a pretty rural area.

I am a little concerned about the safety however, both driving down there and camping as well. I've heard some pretty heinous stories of robberies and rapes but I am wondering how much is true? I've had a hard time finding a good website or blog that's keeping track of the situation.

All I know is that my brother and all of his friends used to go down at least once a month to go surfing and no one has gone for a year because they're all so concerned about the violence. Is it as bad as it sounds?

I'm also a woman, but will be with like 6 men (at least).

posted by WhaleRider to Travel & Transportation around Baja, Hungary (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't heard anything negative about baja from my camping friends who all drive down there to go surfing frequently but felt like mentioning something else possibly noteworthy to you: your car insurance may not be valid down there. many CA policies exclude coverage in mexico.
posted by krautland at 7:36 PM on June 27, 2008

Twice in the last month I've visited my parents who have lived in San Diego for the past 30+ years and unprompted, on each visit, they've just gone off about how dangerous Tijuana and Baja have become in the past year or so. They say the local news has been filled with stories of tourists being robbed at gun point in areas where that just never happened (like Rosarito). There always used to be some crime adn you could expect to have to pay off a cop issuing you a ticket for no reason, but there was (when I grew up there) little violent crime against tourists. That's apparently changing.

Just skim some of the recent (like in the past couple weeks) articles that turn up with this query.

I'm not one for fear-mongering, but I'd say proceed with caution.
posted by donovan at 11:32 PM on June 27, 2008

Yes, on the insurance. Check your policy and if you don't have it in there, be sure to stop at one of the many places on the US side of the border and get some.

Yes, its getting progressively worse down there. I think its the general increase in oil / global food crises / slowing economies. The prices of food and gas and whatnot go up faster and earlier in developing countries, the less developed the earlier (I'm in Zambia right now and a cheap lunch is about $12, gas is about $11.50 a gallon). People in more desperate situations take more desperate action, and in a place with significant law enforcement issues like Mexico, increased crime is the natural conclusion.

I grew up in NorCal and used to get down there for surfing on a fairly regular basis, so I've watched it change over the years. I remember we used to bribe cops with beer and tequila from the states b/c it was a cheaper option for us. You probably can't do that anymore. I've never had anything violent happen to me or my family/friends directly, but I have met people who did, sometimes while they were still there.

That said, you're going with a big group, so as long as you stick with them you will be MUCH LESS of a potential target (due to the size of your group - STICK WITH THEM). Try not to be dressed in enviable clothes, driving nice SUVs, or have too much jewelry or electronics dangling about your persons. Be indoors - or in your case, back to camp with a big fire started - by sundown. Consider making a schedule for people to take turns "on watch" through the night. Keep everything of any value in the tent with you, not locked in the vehicles. Don't be loud and obnoxious and thus ignorant of the environment surrounding you.

My advice would be to have some of your group trained and confident in the use of side-arms, and carrying them. This will get all kinds of resistance on a site like this, but the fact of the matter is that it makes you safer. You will have all of the issues of permits for carry in Mexico, however, to figure out with that option. And don't forget that Mexican jail is not like American jail. Its just the general idea with weapons - if you're trained in how to handle one (and, therefore, how to defend against the one you're handling), it puts you at an advantage against an opponent without one.

As for being a woman, consider making yourself a little less noticeable/attractive. My beaut of a blond sister is pretty smart when she's traveling with us in such places - she has her hair up in a bandana. Scream fire instead of rape if you get cornered - people will come running faster. And if your group is held up at knife, gun, or even bigger group of bigger looking thugs-point, remember that the most valuable thing you have is you, and surrender anything else that they want in exchange for your safety.

My brothers and I were planning a trip for this August (despite the recent news), and the general idea was that we weren't taking much of anything with us that we couldn't stand to lose. Beyond some clothes, food, booze, and surfboards, we'd have had a couple of cell phones and wallets and that's it. (Our trip didn't work out this summer however as I won't be getting back to the US before they start school - perhaps that's for the best, considering.)
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:18 AM on June 28, 2008

They say the local news has been filled with stories of tourists being robbed at gun point in areas where that just never happened (like Rosarito).

One thing on the positive side - I would imagine the majority of the violent crime has been in and around the cities, like Rosarito, Tijuana, Ensenada. El Rosario, if I'm looking at my map right, is a few hours south of Ensenada, and I'd feel safer out there away from the majority of people. Especially if you're staying somewhere rural. If you can bring most of your own supplies so that you don't have to go into town and thus advertise your presence, try to shoot for that. If you do have to, however, do a double-back or two (i.e. drive past your next turn and then make a U-turn to see if anyone's following, especially at night with their lights off. Second double-backs if you saw someone on the first one to see if they're still there, etc.) on the drive back to camp.

And, although its a pain, you'll probably want to break camp each morning and take your stuff with you to ensure that you'll have it again the next night.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:28 AM on June 28, 2008

My advice would be to have some of your group trained and confident in the use of side-arms, and carrying them.

Extremely. Bad. Idea.

Mexico has mind blowingly harsh penalties for bringing weapons and/or ammunition into the country (and heavy restrictions on gun possession outside of the home of a citizen/permanent resident).

A box of 9mm shells accidentally left in your glove box, will land you in prison if it's found when you're crossing the border or while you're in Mexico. No joke.
posted by toxic at 12:55 PM on June 28, 2008

Slightly safer than camping in the tribal areas of Baluchistan.


If you do want to carry a weapon in mexico you'd better be certain to go through the long, involved process of getting a permit from the federal government to do so (about as easy as getting a NYC carry permit or a Canadian concealed pistol licence, ie, extremely unlikely).
posted by thewalrus at 1:53 PM on June 28, 2008

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