Dealing with checkpoints and road blocks in Mexico

There are lots of stories going around about Mexican government checkpoints, not all of them are good. And many people experience checkpoints as the scary part of their motorcycle trip filled with uncertainties and risk.

Mexico has a lot of checkpoints. Especially in the Yucatan and Quintana Roo area and in border areas there are plenty of them. Commonly found at important intersections in rural areas, in front of rural police stations/compounds and on state/city or municipal borders. Sometimes a stop is required, but often times most traffic is waved trough. It’s common curtesy to slow down to a walking pace, even if a stop is not required, this helps officers on duty to see what you’re up to and do a quick visual inspection without having to stop you.

We use the iOverlander app a lot to scout routes and attractions and when you check their database you read the most outlandish stories of checkpoint experiences mostly jotted down by paranoid American citizens. During our motorcycle trip from Cancun to La Paz we waited in line on several occasions while a vehicle from the USA before us bursted out in panic and overly dramatic nonsense when a the checkpoint police officer ask simple questions about where they’re going or where they came from.

We all know the stories of illegal checkpoints and roadblocks, often operated by cartels stopping you or sometimes corrupt police officers. But during my trip I noticed something; Checkpoints aren’t half as scary as some of the overly-dramatic Americans make them out to be.

If you are uncertain about checkpoints during your motor ride through Mexico, just ignore the ‘reviews’ or stories. But also if you’re curious if there are any on your chosen route every route all routes available on MotoTravel have a points of interest file with the checkpoints and chokepoints we encountered on our travels. This will help you plan and prepare for such eventualities.

The federal government is working hard to eliminate corruption

This is a big focus point in the modern Mexican army and amongst the various police services, both municipal and state police. But also within the Guardia Nacional, who took over the Federal police a few years ago. Simply because the Federal Government wants every citizen and tourist in Mexico to feel more safe.

Do not make drama when you get stopped, these people are simply doing their job in most cases.

For the most part I have found them to be very polite, for safety purposes they document everything they do, either through a body camera or a colleague with a camera or phone, expect documents such as your drivers license or ID card to be photographed as well.
A few army checkpoints near the US border seemed a bit more strict and demanding with a hint of impatience for you to open bags and cases if they want to look inside though. Some of them were build-up like proper defendable positions with sand-bag barriers, walls and machine guns.
These look a bit scary and the realization of a gun barrel pointing at your from the fortifications is a bit weird.

Overall though, most of the inspections and checkpoints we’ve gone through were done professionally and without foul play.

And that is exactly why I write this post, to give balance to the idiocy that is going around on the internet over checkpoints in Mexico.

In my opinion, many of the stories floating around are fuss about nothing or outdated, or are just incidents. I suspect due to the skittish behavior of the passengers in the vehicle being stopped. The drama I have witnessed when US citizens get pulled over in a checkpoint is beyond belief. I do not envy the persons on duty that have to deal with these people.

I think I might have seen one cartel checkpoint but did not have to pass through them, but they did not look all that scary. Even though the dudes were heavily armed, they only seemed to stop trucks coming from the opposite direction as we were going to. We did encounter many illegal checkpoints, and at one point I used a car as a shield to pass through the checkpoint simply because I did not feel like stopping to pay a their illegal tolls.

We also passed a few Immigration Checkpoints. Most of the time I could just ride through without stopping at all. In another checkpoint I had to unpack my bags, and a few times I had my paperwork for the motorcycle checked.

One time it was a sanitization stop for covid-19 and I got sprayed down with something – probably a disinfectant. That was hilarious, I could hear Arnan through our helmet intercom talking to the guy like: “What is this stuff, why do you do this???” as no explanation was given. It made me laugh.

Other times such checkpoints are to counter things like birdflu. These have no interest in civilian traffic and only check trucks with livestock and food stuffs.

In the videos below you’ll see some checkpoints we passed through.

A large Immigration checkpoint near the Chiapas/Oaxaca border.

And a compilation of various other checkpoints throughout Mexico.

Are you planning on taking a Mexican Road trip?

Don’t let the bad stories deter you and start planning your adventure.
Please check out our tracks and routes in the MotoTravel webshop.

These routes and segments have been carefully prepared so everyone can use them. They include many Points of Interests including all checkpoints, official or otherwise, we’ve encountered as well as hotels, fuel stations and more.

Seeing a family member crash with the motorcycle

I think one of the most devastating things a mother can witness is seeing her child being involved in a motorcycle accident right before her eyes. That split second you see the body being thrown in the air, not knowing how it will end.

I have witnessed it twice during my motor-rider lifespan, which isn’t that long, probably 4 or 5 years. I ride a lot with my son Arnan, the owner of this website. And I have seen him crash into a Labrador-sized dog. That happened on the island of Siquijor in the Philippines.

That time he left a lot of skin on the asphalt. A scraped-up knee, leg, elbows, and hand. Scratches on his hip and more such wounds. And his motorbike, a Honda, a nearly total loss. It took forever to find parts to repair the damaged bike and it took even longer for my son’s body to heal. He still has scars today.

Recently I witnessed it again when an ignorant SUV driver cut him off, swerving into his lane to avoid a car in front and not paying attention to other road users. While he tried to avoid colliding with her car he crashed into the rear of a car in front of us. I was driving behind him but luckily could stop in time.

I saw him hit the car, being thrown over his windshield, slammed back on his gasoline tank, and being launched into the air before falling over and hitting the ground.

The woman in the car, kind of tried to ignore the whole thing although I urged her to get out of the car. Unfortunately refused to take any kind of responsibility or even say sorry and kind of waved me away like I was an annoying insect.

After we lifted the motorcycle, with help from the driver of the car my son hit, my son walked his bike to the side of the road, pure on adrenaline I guess. After the initial shock, he sat down on the pavement with that look in his eyes people have when after an accident. Probably the awe of what just happened, processing in shock. Feeling pain, disbelief, relief, and every emotion in between.

I called our insurance company which promptly put me on hold for over 10 minutes, I kid you not! After 10 minutes of listening to how important I am to my insurer, I called again and finally got to speak to a person.

It was the first time we had to deal with a foreign insurance company. But they handled it fine I think, although it took a long long time for everything to be processed. First, we had to wait for about 40 minutes for the accident investigator to arrive. Then the endless parade of forms, signatures, photos, describing damages, and more forms, and a few phone calls.

Imagine that you hit a car around 8 and by 11.30 you finally can leave the scene.

By daylight, while feeling sore and heavily bruised all over his body, he discovered more damage to his bike than we noticed in the bad streetlights of the Mexican night. So a few messages to the insurer to make sure they covered all the damage in the report they were expecting from the repair shop.

Before the accident, during the day, we had a weird ride anyhow. We decided to make a quick round through Cabo and on the way there we passed a flipped-over gasoline truck on the highway with a few guys around it flagging traffic to slow down. When we drove past there was a stench of fuel that was still pouring out of the cracked tanker wreck into the gutter. An hour later when we entered Cabo we saw emergency vehicles from the Civil Protection head the way we came and in the news, we heard they finally closed the highway for several hours.

In Cabo we had fun eating ice cream, watching a sea lion in the port of Cabo San Lucas, and exploring the marina a bit before finally driving home through the crazy busy rush hour traffic of San Jose del Cabo.

We left a bit late, but we figured that driving in the night wouldn’t be that bad for once. And headed through the mountains where we were caught up in a long line of slow traffic following a bus with a police escort because it had a flat tire on the narrow road there was no way for the bus to stop and no way for everyone to overtake the bus.

In villages and straight stretches, balzy drivers would overtake the line of slower vehicles and often push in at the last second nearly driving others from the road, this also happened to us a few times.

Riding a motorcycle in developing countries is always juggling with death. You need to have eyes everywhere as well as ears. I guess we have guardian angels that are on overtime since over the years, as new drivers, we do not have that much damage and accidents if you take into consideration the crazy traffic and situations we sometimes find ourselves in.

But this was a day I will not easily forget, some images will stay with me vividly for way too long, like my son’s body being thrown in the air.

Material damages from the accident total about $1500US and include; A broken headlight, crushed fender, bent crash bar, broken spokes, and a bunch of superficial damages to plastic covers and such.

Luckily we have insurance for all of it.

The best time to visit Baja California Sur on a motorbike

best-time-to-visit-bcs

After we left Cancun in mid-2021 and drove across Mexico over the span of a few months, we ended up in the area of La Paz, Baja California Sur. And the cold weather caught us by surprise. It made us wonder what the best time in the year is to visit Baja California Sur.

Over the past year we have learned that the climate in Baja California Sur can vary from place to place due to the long stretches of desert and mountain ranges between areas. So, the weather in la Paz is not nearly the same as the weather in Los Cabos. And same goes for Loreto.

In general all these areas have cold winter nights and very little rain throughout the year as a common climate.

Temperatures between daytime and nighttime may vary around 20 degrees celcius. And some days, especially in early spring the wind can be cold. But with little to no rain during the biggest part of the year, Baja California Sur has an excellent climate for motorbike riders.

Spring in Baja California Sur starts in March

Spring definitely is the best time of year, although it is a relatively busy time when it comes to tourism. You will see motorbike riders and campervans everywhere. But with the long stretches of road between villages and cities traffic is usually very light and some miles you feel like you are the only one on the road. Temperature-wise, the period between March and the end of May is the most comfortable we think.

Temperatures easily go up to 100°F (38°C) when Spring progresses. There is no rain, And during Spring Break and Easter, this is the busiest time of the year on the peninsula. During Semana Santa, Mexicans and Americans will camp out on the beach for the entire weekend and you’ll find the urban areas mostly empty.

Whale season is at its peak. If you’re lucky you can see the whales play out in the Sea of Cortez while following the panoramic coastal roads, and it is pretty spectacular.

La Paz

Summer in Baja California Sur starts in June and ends at the end of August

Summer is hot. You soon learn to start your days early to catch the early morning coolness. But that soon vanishes as summer reaches it’s peak in August. Temperatures are around 95ºF (35ºC) and you can imagine that that does to the tarmac. The chilly wind is gone, seawater is warming up to a point where you do not cool down when you take a dip.

Even at the night, it will not cool down, although the temperature still drops to around 20-25 degrees celcius. Because the days are hotter, so are the nights. July and August are the perfect months to honor a siesta during midday and start your days a little earlier when it is still cool.

At the end of summer sporadic rains may start, but don’t get all excited about the idea of all the desert dust settling down, it will be very brief and very localized, mostly in the higher mountains.

Fall is from September until the end of October and it will come with lots of storm warnings

Temperatures range from 98°F (36°C) and 82°F (28°C), which will feel very nice given the humidity and the breeze. Rainy periods will add up to a total of 4 days a month, and those downpours can be severe.

Almost immediately you’ll see the water crossings in the roads flooded by the rivers that suddenly fill up and you can’t continue your journey due to the raging river that suddenly appears. In the smaller towns and many neighborhoods streets will be muddy, with debree and rocks everywhere, a lot of it spilling out all over the towns and cities down hill. Especially in the mountains it will rain a lot. With that in mind you have to come prepared and drive with caution.

Tourism is fairly slow during these months because nobody wants rain during their holiday. But still, there is plenty of sunshine and the flash floods will disappear as fast as they appear in the dry grounds leaving only a few puddles as a reminder of the rain.

It is spectacular when the sky bursts open and the ground for the first time in months gets soaked. Within days mountains and the much of the desert turn a luscious green.

But then December through February winter arrives!

Many tourists from the USA love these months and consider them the best months to visit Los Cabos and La Paz. At night temperatures will drop to 50ºF (10ºC) while during daytime int he afternoons the thermometer will stop around 80ºF (27ºC) at most when the winter is at its peak.

But in october you already notice the turning of the wind, cooling down the air when you ride. While riding through the mountains large shadowy areas appear and you’ll feel chilly and later on even riding the pacific coastline will make you shiver.

The happy news is that the rain has stopped, on average it rains in winter no more than 1 day divided over the whole period. Of course this can vary from the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Coast, and from the plains to the mountain areas, the mountains always seem to get a little more rain. Overall though, there will be plenty of sunshine to brighten up your cool winter day.

Winter, and spring make the perfect climate to ride in Baja California Sur, all the way down to Los Cabos.
Plenty of places to camp or stay overnight, and the choice of coastal or winding mountains roads is yours.

You can join the campervans and mobile homes from the winter-birds coming down from the north looking for sunshine, visiting the many bays and beaches where you can camp and get that “Robinson Crusoe feel” of living on a lonely beach and endless sea.

Just be sure to bring a sweater or a jacket.

What will be your favorite time of year in Baja California Sur? And how did you experience the temperatures during your stay?

Looking for routes to ride on the Baja California Peninsula?

We have tested and safe tracks and routes for you to check out. Routes also includes Points of Interest with noteworthy locations such as hotels, restaurants, checkpoints and fuel stations we’ve used or or encountered.

All prepared in easy to use GPX files that you can import in many route planning apps.

Interesting routes

Roundtrip to Cabo

Yesterday I went to the Cabo area for some exploring and alone time. Along the way I found a jungle like area that reminded of me of the Philippines. Having barely dodged a rain storm everything was nice and freshly green after the rain forced the dust to the ground.

Replacing the headlight on the BMW G310GS

Today we replaced the headlight on my mom’s BMW G310GS. The OEM mount broke a few months ago. BMW in all its wisdom makes everything from plastic and a new headlight assembly costs a ton of money and has to be done at a service station because they won’t sell me the part… With BMW services being a 5 days ride away – Not an option.

We ordered a compatible aftermarket LED assembly online for just under $150US. And today I went on the task to replace it myself. This is a laborious process that involves taking pretty much the whole front-end of the bike. All the plastics from the saddle on forward needed to be removed.

All to get to the 3 mounting screws and the small plug for the pilot light.

Taking off the many plastics took a while, it’s a puzzle of plastics screw-holes and maaaaaaany screws. 39 screws not including the headlight mount to be exact. I also replaced the hard-rubber mounting rings I put in last year to fix the wiggling and vibrating of the whole headlight unit. Not super nessesary, but while I’m in there… Why not. For this I used some simple rubber gas seals from the local hardware shop. You know, the ones you use to seal a valve where it connects to a hose.

And behold! The new headlight is a funky and modern looking LED assembly!

Looks like it’s working alright. Soon we’ll test it in the dark.

Finally fixing the BMW F850GS Adventure

After making up my mind for a few days and being depressed about BMW service being the worst I decided to finally have my motorcycle fixed.
I found a local repair shop with a guy in it who was happy to finger my BMW F850GS Adventure to apply a new gasket seal for my motorcycle.

Hopefully this fixes the leak BMW couldn’t fix. They replaced this seal 3 months ago…

An afternoon in Cabo san Lucas

In May of 2022 I drove down to Cabo san Lucas for lunch and a bit of fun. Living in La Paz is great, but the city as a whole doesn’t have much to offer and a change of scenery is nice from time to time. Cabo is supposedly only a few hours away. And it almost is. The plan was to leave somewhat early, have some fun in Cabo and ride back at the end of the day. Simple as that.
Continue Reading…

Visiting Todos Santos in Mexico

A little roadtrip to the Todos Santos and the nearby beaches.

in the southern bit of Baja California Sur in Mexico.

Ruins on the beach

Somehow this restaurant failed. All that is left are some walls and floors.