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Mexico 101

Los Algadones MexicoJust 100 miles south of Quartzsite is the border crossing of Los Algadones, Mexico. Many winter snowbirds plan at least one trip down there during their stay.  Why? Because the shopping and services are inexpensive and excellent. They cater to Americans and most do speak English. They accept the American dollar as well. Bring lots of cash as they don’t accept credit cards.

If you ask your fellow RVers in camp, you will likely find someone who is going down there who would be willing to either take you along to share the cost of gas or will pick up any medications you need and bring them back. Both are very common. There is also a local bus that goes down there and back one day a week so that is a possibility if you don’t feel like driving that far. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce for a schedule.

Getting there is as easy as driving to the main border parking lot then walking across. Getting back out can be easy or a little more time-consuming depending on the month and time of day. While anyone can just walk in the short distance into town, you will need a passport to get back out. When ready to leave, line up by the customs office. Later in the day or during January the lines can get very very long so plan your time there. The line is under cover and does have benches here and there so even a long line is not that bad. Have your passport ready. Customs will want to know what you bought and go through your bags. Be aware that while you can get prescription medicines without a prescription in Mexico, you will need to have a prescription at home for them. You can also bring liquor back but there is a limit to how much. Check the current limit before buying. Chatting in line is fine but don’t even think about making jokes about guns, bombs, smuggling, or anything insulting to Mexico. It is also possible to use the local pedicabs to cross in and out. I don’t recommend driving into town for just the day as the streets are full of people , your car may be searched, and you need extra insurance. The town is not very big so walking it is easy.

Shut your cell phone off as soon as you get there if you don’t want a nasty international phone bill from someone calling you or your phone checking email. Even if you are technically in the American parking lot, your phone may connect to a Mexican cell tower. There is a bathroom right at the entrance. It is clean so feel free to use it.

Once you get into Los Algadones, expect to be greeted by hawkers. Guys will come up to you to sell you everything under the sun or to ask what you are looking for and steer you to their employers. They are not particularly bothersome if you know what you want and stick to your plan. At times they can be quite helpful.

There are many good dentists there. Get a recommendation from others before you go. Some are better than others just like in the U.S. Prices can vary and don’t necessarily relate to quality.  Americans get thousands of dollars of dental work there and come back year after year for it.

Eyeglasses are very inexpensive there and usually include the eye exam. I personally got an exam and an excellent pair of progressive lenses and frames for only $77 there in 2010. They do have all the other addons like tinting etc. and designer frames if that is your thing. Glasses are usually ready within a couple hours but get them in the morning to be sure you have time to wait. Again, shop around as prices vary though not by much.

Bring your list of medications including dosages with you and prepare to be shocked. The prices in Mexico are much cheaper for many common ones and even over the counter medications are cheaper so stock up on your Ibuprofen or Omaperazol. I did find that one of my medications would actually cost twice as much there since I get it through the Walmart $4 program so I don’t buy that in Mexico. Shop around as prices on these can vary quite a lot and don’t forget to compare the amount for the price.

Finding a beauty salon around Quartzsite that is both reasonable and gives a good cut is not always easy but you can find one in Los Algadones. Stylists there take a lot of pride in their work.

Personally, I take bottled water with me to drink but I have eaten there and did not get sick. In fact, the food was wonderful! If you have some time on your hands to wait, go ahead and eat or grab some sunshine on a bench in the plaza.

In terms of safety, at this time the town is fairly safe from bandits due to its location. However, just as in the U.S., there are always going to be local bad apples so pay attention, stay in the main tourist areas away from less populated side streets, keep your wallet close, don’t flash your wad or expensive gadgets all around. Do NOT take pictures of the border crossing station or customs! Try not to act like another dumb American.

I hope this helps. Going across the border to Mexico can be safe and fun with a little planning and knowledge of what to expect.