Crossing the Sea of Cortez
Updated: Jan 28
First and foremost, prior to leaving Baja to get to the mainland, you MUST acquire a Temporary Import Permit for your vehicle at a Banjercito. There is one located at the ferry port in La Paz if you didn’t acquire it in Tijuana or other mainland border crossing prior to leaving the free zone of Sonora. If you have a tow vehicle, you’ll need a TIP that identifies each vehicle you have. The cost for the TIP itself is only $60 USD. However, you will have to pay a deposit usually in the range of $200-$600 USD depending upon what kind of vehicle you have and your tow vehicle. If you are bringing in a vehicle classified as a motorhome, your permit will last 10 years. If you have a regular vehicle or motorcycle your permit is good for 6 months.
We got lucky, we are classified as a motorhome, but we also have a scooter as a tow vehicle which complicates things. The tow vehicle is attached to our vehicle, not as a separate trailer, so we only got a 6-month permit. I could have asked for the vehicles to be separate, but I would have had to pay 2 TIP fees. The good thing is that because we are a motorhome, we didn’t actually get charged a deposit. Our fees came out to a total of $60.00 USD. We were fine with the 6-month permit because we are planning on only being in Mexico for 6 months. If we need to, we can go to any border crossing or airport and renew our permit at the Banjercito.
The things you’ll need to obtain your TIP (you must make copies of all of these documents as they keep them and they will not copy the documents for you. If you don’t have access to a printer or copy machine, there are local papelería’s around that will do it for you and it’s very cheap)
Registration/ Title (something verifying the classification of the vehicle and VIN)
If you bring a pet, a recent health certificate and current shot records (just in case they ask. They never and I mean NEVER asked for Roxy’s health certificate but better safe than having to quarantine)
They will require you to fill out an inventory sheet to account for all items in your rig. You fill out 2 of these, one for them and another for your records. The person at the counter will enter all of your information into their computer system and take your deposit and non-refundable fee and issue you a TIP to place in the windshield of your vehicle. They want this placed as close to the rear-view mirror as possible to make it visible to military or law enforcement personnel. If you do not have this permit, if you get pulled over, you WILL get your vehicle confiscated and impounded. The fees to get your vehicle back from what I hear are astronomical. Nearly the cost of your vehicle itself. I don’t know first-hand about this, but I do know first-hand about getting the motorcycle impounded. I’ll address that in another blog post.
Banjercito tag that let’s Law enforcement know you’ve paid the import fee.
You have two choices of ferries to use to cross the Sea of Cortez. TMC or Baja Ferries. There are slight price differences between the two, with TMC being more cost effective but less comfortable. You have a choice to ship from La Paz to Mazatlan or Topolobampo (Los Mochis). The ferry to Topo is shorter, but if you’re headed south, it’s a 4-hour drive to Mazatlan. The difference between the two ferries is that Baja Ferries requires you to ride in the passenger area and does not grant you access to the cargo area. If you’re traveling with pets, your pet must be crated and stay in the vehicle/crate. The ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan is a 13-hour trip. You can book a room to sleep in or you can sit in the passenger area of the ship which is usually packed with people and they don’t allow you to spread out and sleep on the floor. Booking a cabin is an additional cost.
The TMC ferry is who we chose to cross with and we chose to cross to Topolobampo. When we arrived, a customs officer met us and inspected our vehicle and our TIP paperwork. She then had us drive over to the cargo parking area where they measured our vehicle and weighed us to categorize us for cost. We were 7 meters long with the scooter and the max is supposed to be 6 meters, the nice man and I were conversing in Spanish and he told me he’ll measure us at 6 meters and not to tell anyone. Then he asked if we were a cargo van and showed the price between the cargo van and the motor home. It was $7,300 pesos for the Motorhome or $2900 pesos for the cargo van plus 1908 pesos for 2 extra drivers- we had to pay passage for Kaden with Baja Ferries it would have cost In pesos- 11,300 for the motorhome +$1197 per person x2 (initial driver is free but again, we have to pay each passenger and Kaden counts) + 2750 p for motorbike to go to Mazatlan. He decided to categorize us as a cargo van but again, not to tell anyone and didn’t charge us for the motorbike since it was attached to the ambulance and not officially being “towed”. We weighed in at 14,960 lbs, putting us well into the commercial vehicle category. In total it cost us $250 USD to cross to Topolobampo versus over $800 USD to cross to Mazatlan. Even with toll roads and camping along the way we still managed to save $500 USD.
During passage, we were able to stay in our vehicle to make sure it was secure; the dog didn’t need to be crated and we were able to walk around the cargo area with her to get her out of the vehicle. They offered dinner, which was gross, but edible. There is no passenger area, everyone stays in their vehicles. This is a cargo ship, so mostly large shipping containers and diesel trucks making deliveries. They have hot showers and toilets, but not exceptionally clean if I’m being totally honest. It’s a no frills, not for comfort crossing, but we stayed in our vehicle with the fan blowing and the doors partially open for ventilation. The diesel situation was getting out of control while sleeping because everyone was sleeping with their AC on which meant the engines were running so we kept our fan on to blow diesel fumes out of the ambo. We slept okay and woke up in the morning mostly refreshed and ready to drive to Mazatlan.
When we disembarked I was expecting to have a customs officer look through our vehicle and inspect our travel documents, but nobody came and nobody seemed to care. We offloaded and drove right to breakfast in Los Mochis.
We arrived in Mazatlan after a few hours and got some work done to the ambulance, ate lunch and dinner and drove to a local RV park right off of the Malecon and secured the last spot.
All in all, the crossing wasn’t bad, the price was right and we arrived safely in the state of Sinaloa. We had no issues with paperwork, getting the TIP or the initial inspection of the vehicle. Just remember, always keep your documents with you and travel with your passport or at least a copy of your passport at all times. We’ve been asked numerous times at inspection stations all over Mexico for our documentation and twice we didn’t have our passports but could furnish the copies. We have been advised to always carry them with us by the local law enforcement. We’ve been lucky to have the forethought to keep copies with us everywhere we go and we advise others to do the same.