Mexico’s pacific coast is a well-deserved magnet for cruisers from all over the world, in particular those from the west coasts of the US and Canada. It’s common to find crews down here that left the states for a short trip through Mexico on the way to the South Seas, and are still here a decade or more later. It’s “easy living” at it’s finest: Good food, friendly people, a tight and ever changing cruising community, excellent anchorages, natural wonders, and the currency exchange rate makes it hard to find another place with more bang for your buck.
Checking in to Mexico on a private vessel is often a more arduous task than any other country in the Caribbean or Central America. It’s actually the most difficult, next to the United States. There are a number of steps to go through, which may include: Aduana (customs and immigration), Port Captain, Agricultural Inspection, Health Inspection, Temporary Import Permit for your vessel.
It is expected that you will clear into Mexico at the first available port, so these services are more available, and more streamlined, at select ports North and South, with limited availability at the more interior ports. Best spots to stop are Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco, Chiapas, Puerto Angel. (there may be more)
The old system of Port Captain “fiefdoms,” which had to be checked in and out of at each segment of coastline, almost like a new country border, has given way to a more civilized check in/out procedure at the Port Captain level. These interactions with the Port Captains is typically short and quite pleasant, with no cost. It keeps you on the right side of their ledger, and should make help more available to you, if you should need it.
While credit cards are widely accepted in major cities and large town in coastal Mexico, it’s still very much a cash economy, and exclusively so in the smaller villages. ATMs attached to actual banks are typically safe, while those at gas stations or convenience stores, or in an alley somewhere, should be eyed with due suspicion. Fraud and theft is rare, but does occur. Mostly it’s best to have a bank to go to if the machine eats your card, or lacks the funds you requested. The exchange rate is typically quite favorable for most western currencies, making Mexico an excellent bargain.
Marine services and parts are available in a scattered fashion, and getting items shipped into and around Mexico still poses some issues, notably loss of valuable items in transit. It is often best to have guests bring items with them in their checked baggage, to save the hassle and get access to items not found in Mexico’s chandleries. Labor and common parts can be quite inexpensive, including stainless fabrication and canvas work. But marinas, boat yards, and specialty marine parts (notably bottom paint) can be more than US prices.
Technically insurance isn’t required to sail in Mexico, but you’ll find it nearly impossible to stay in a marina, and you can find your boat impounded and your carcass in jail if something goes wrong and you cause damage to a dock, another boat, reef, etc. At the very least, get a liability-only Mexico policy from any number of providers. They are typically under $200 US per year, and will give you, marina operators, and authorities piece of mind.
Contrary to popular belief, we’re HUGE fans of printed cruising guides, and consider them essential gear for cruising any coast. Below are the OCG recommended cruising guides for this area. Following the links and purchasing these cruising guides (or anything else) helps fund OCG through a small commission. Thanks!