Mexican drug cartels seem to make the headlines on almost a weekly basis. While marijuana is the only drug I’ve seen in Todos Santos, I’m sure there are stronger substances being used. (Pot is illegal here.)
It’s mostly the mainland where the cartel is fighting with rival gangs, where the danger is. Even so, drug deals can go bad anywhere, and Baja isn’t immune to such encounters. People can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A little common sense, though, can go a long way to being safe – just like in any small town or big city throughout the world.
One way Mexico tries to combat drug trafficking is with military checkpoints along the highways. What confounds me is why in Baja they don’t regularly employ K-9s. Dogs can sniff out a variety of contraband. This would be a more efficient use of resources as well as a way to catch more bad guys, and get more drugs off the street.
No one has used a mirror to check the underneath of the Jeep; drug smugglers have been known to tuck their stash under their vehicle. Maybe I don’t look like I warrant that kind of scrutiny.
Sometimes I wonder if these checkpoints just give people jobs. If so, that seems to be working.
In the three times I’ve driven the peninsula, I’ve been stopped once each direction to get out of the vehicle – though never at the same location. When I’ve had a passenger, they stand at one end or side of the vehicle, I’m at the other. This is to keep an eye on things, to make sure things stay on the up and up – nothing planted, nothing stolen. AJ, my dog, must come out – which is understandable. Twice they’ve looked through my backpack, always they open the glove compartment, and usually the center console.
Online forums have stories of troubling encounters between gringos and officers at these checkpoints; people being harassed, asked for money, having to unload their vehicle. Taking video is recommended when things go sideways. This is better than still pictures because it captures voices and the action. Paying any sort of bribe is not recommended. Keeping cash in multiple locations is a good idea, with very little in your wallet, purse or whatever your main vessel is for pesos and dollars.
Usually, I’m waved through. Sometimes they ask where I’m coming from and going to, and if I’m on vacation. I answer and usually that’s the end of it. They don’t look me in the eye, but instead are eyeing the contents of the Jeep. Are they profiling me and my belongings? If so, I’m fine with looking like I’m not a dope dealer – or user for that matter.
At one stop last month an officer asked in Spanish about AJ’s gender. I didn’t understand the question. He pointed to himself, saying hombre and pointed to me saying mujer. I said mujer. I’ve never thought of AJ as a woman before.
In October there were three checkpoints in Alta Baja and three in Baja California Sur. (Each is an independent state, like California and Nevada are individual states in the U.S.) Checkpoints can come and go, with others more permanent. All are staffed with men (I’ve never seen a woman) armed with automatic rifles, dressed in fatigues, looking serious.
One vehicle at a time is allowed into the inspection area. I try to smile, act calm and nonchalant, but those guns can be intimidating. I have nothing to fear unless one of them were to plant something illegal on the Jeep. I don’t do drugs (except alcohol), won’t be someone’s mule, and no weapons other than pepper spray are in the Jeep.
Great info Kae, and curious on a few things.
Is there some difference between marijuana and pot? How do you spread your money out in your Jeep when traveling if there is a chance the checkpoint officers might take it, if found? Same question in regards to pepper spray. How can you keep an eye on all of them if traveling alone and stopped?
I have two older sisters. My second to the oldest, Jean, age 66, a San Jose atty.,has traveled to Cabo many years for vacations. Going there in a couple weeks with a bunch of girlfriends as a matter of fact, and staying at the Tropicana which Michael owns which is in San Jose Del Cabo. Formerly owned condos along the Corridor also.
My oldest sibling and sister, Jo, age refuses to travel in Mexico because of all the horror stories she has seen on the news and read. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa. She has traveled all over the world, yet says , “ No gracias to Cabo,” every time we invite her to go down.
Anyway, please let me know the answer to these questions, and if you have don’t have the time to answer, I understand, and simply enjoy the beautiful sunshine, warmth, tennis, and ocean there, and be REAL happy you are not in slushy and rainy Tahoe currently! OMG.
Ps Would you ever buy in Baja? They have an amazing Pickleball facility around a hr north of San Jose Del Cabo , if interested. It’s a fun quick game and tennis players excel!
Pot and marijuana are the same.
I’ve been to the pickleball court facility in Los Barriles — beautiful. I’ve only eaten lunch there, which was great.
The main thing is to not have a ton of cash in your wallet/purse. Then it’s up to the individual where to stash it. I have never had my whole vehicle searched — as in never had to take everything out. I don’t bring much cash with me, instead get it from the ATMs. My bank doesn’t charge a fee. People who live here full time tend to bring more cash with them from the states.
I know lots of people who will never come to Mexico as well. Apparently they don’t think the U.S. is dangerous; whatever. I like to think I’m on the fun side of the wall.
Not sure if I would buy here. I need an income stream other than a book about hiking in Tahoe — I better get writing!
Hey, just wanted to point out that there are a few things that don’t add up here…
First, weed is NOT legal in Baja.
I live down here and have driven Baja a lot both ways and am constantly being asked to get out of my car while everything is searched. They aren’t looking to steal or plant something in your car but they are looking for any sort of marijuana products or remanence.
It is profiling like every other police check point in the world and they definitely do have dogs at multiple checkpoints even if you don’t see them. In the last 6 months, I have been searched by dogs at least once every time I drive the length of Baja.
The people are lovely here and there is no reason to be afraid. Just abide by the laws, leave your culture at home, and appreciate the life in Mexico. Have a great day!
Where are the checkpoints located? We are planning a Roadtrip and have two Dobermans – I would like to be prepared when coming up on one, if possible, as dogs can sometimes be a bit more protective when unexpectedly approached in their vehicle lol..
It’s going to depend on your route/where you are going. And sometimes locations change. On Facebook follow the group Talk Baja Road Conditions for up to date info on the checkpoints. There are signs as you approach. They will inevitably want you and dogs out of the vehicle with them on leash. I traveled with an elderly dog (18 now) and she did not always have to get out depending on the type of search.