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.