Mirror to the Baja's highway

Los Cabos draws millions of visitors annually to explore its stunning beaches, vibrant culture, and natural wonders at the tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. If you are staying down here for any length of time, a car is highly recommended as there are so many adventures to be had behind the wheel, including waterfalls, mountain mining towns and East Cape surfing safaris!

But operating a vehicle in Los Cabos brings with it all kinds of questions. Is it safe to drive in Cabo? Can I take an Uber in Los Cabos? Can I drive my US- or Canadian-plated car in Los Cabos? Can I ship my vehicle to Los Cabos? What is it like to drive down the Baja Peninsula? What insurance do I need? Can I drive a Mexican-plated car? What’s up with all the South Dakota license plates? Here we answer those questions and offer some insider’s tips on taking the wheel in Los Cabos.

Is it safe to drive in Cabo?

Los Cabos is one of Mexico's top tourist destinations, known for its beautiful beaches, lively nightlife, and outdoor adventures. Neighborhoods like Palmilla, Pedregal, Querencia, the Waldorf Astoria and gorgeous Tortuga Bay are bringing homeowners down to Land’s End for extended periods of time. Many visitors and homeowners wonder if it's safe to drive themselves around Cabo and the surrounding areas during their vacation.

The short answer is absolutely yes, it is generally very safe to drive in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and other areas of Southern Baja as long as you take some basic precautions. However, driving in Mexico can be very different from driving in the United States or Canada, so being prepared is key.

While the roads are generally well-maintained, driving habits in Cabo can be more aggressive than you're used to. Passing on shoulderless roads, tailgating, and ignoring traffic signals is common. Always drive defensively, use your signals, and be on the lookout for road hazards, from livestock to potholes to random speed bumps called “topes.”. And remember you can’t always rely on apps like Google Maps to get you where you need to go, especially in remote areas.

Common sense rules apply in Mexico as they do anywhere else. Don’t drink and drive, don’t drive while using your cell phone and always wear your seatbelt. Don’t park in areas where the curb is painted red or in handicapped spaces (the fines for the latter are quite high). Traffic cops will ticket you for those offenses and usually will confiscate your license plate, which means a trip to the police station to pay your ticket and recover the plate, which is a time-consuming hassle. If you are unsure, play it safe and park in a paid lot.

The tourist corridor running between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas is a beautiful but busy stretch of road and traffic during peak driving times and it can be a frustrating commute. Also, accidents are frequent and can result in traffic being backed up for miles, so keep that in mind when commuting between the two cities. Patience behind the wheel is key, and on most days it’s a quick, 20-minute trip between the two towns.

Can I take an Uber in Los Cabos?

Uber is a great option in Los Cabos and the service is usually readily available and much more economical than taking a taxi. The Uber app you use at home works in Los Cabos as well. Many hotels have long-standing relationships with taxi companies, who wield an enormous amount of power in Los Cabos, and won’t allow Uber drivers onto their property, which simply means you’ll need to meet your Uber driver at the gate. Note that UberEats also works in most areas of Los Cabos if you’re hungry and don’t want to hit the road. 

Can I drive my US- or Canadian-plated car in Los Cabos?

There are many US- and Canadian-plated vehicles in Los Cabos, and foreign cars often outnumber local vehicles in places like the Costco parking lot. 

It is perfectly legal to drive cars from Canada and the US in Cabo, and you don’t need a Temporary Importation Permit unless you are traveling to mainland Mexico in your vehicle.

Make sure your registration is up-to-date, and that your driver's license matches the state or province of your license plates. Legally, Mexicans cannot drive foreign-plated cars, so keep this in mind before loaning your car out. 

Panoramic ocean view of the Baja

Can I ship my vehicle to Los Cabos?

While Baja California is connected to the mainland United States, getting your personal vehicle down to popular vacation destinations like Los Cabos requires a bit more planning than just driving across the border. Many Americans and Canadians choose to ship their cars, SUVs, motorcycles, or RVs to Los Cabos to have reliable transportation for extended stays. Although the drive down the Baja is beautiful, it can be daunting to embark on a 1,300-mile road trip.

Shipping avoids the wear and tear on your car during the long journey, and there are a number of reputable companies that offer this service to and from Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Some will pick up and deliver your car with door-to-door service between your homes up north and in Los Cabos. 

Do your homework online, read reviews, and make sure you are trusting your vehicle to a reliable, professional and insured business. 

Drive down the Baja

What is it like to drive down the Baja Peninsula?

For adventurous travelers, there's no road trip quite like driving the entire length of the Baja California peninsula from the U.S. border all the way down to the sun-drenched beaches of Cabo San Lucas. This epic journey spans over 1,300 miles of stunning Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez coastline, deserted beaches, dramatic mountain landscapes, quaint towns, and endless opportunities for adventure.

A Baja road trip allows you to experience the region's true magic at your own pace, although the trip can be made in about 18 hours if you are pressed for time. It’s best to savor the journey just as much as you do the destination on this bucket-list-worthy road trip.

Highlights include Ensenada, about 90 miles south of the border. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and check out the port city’s malecon (boardwalk) or visit a Puerto Nuevo lobster stand.

The inland road from Ensenada to Guerrero Negro is long (around 430 miles) and sparsely populated. The landscapes are otherworldly with massive granite boulders and striking cacti forests. Make sure you keep your gas tank full and avoid driving at night.

The next leg of the trip is 525 miles from Guerrero Negro to Cabo, and unquestionably the most beautiful. Mulege offers fresh chocolate clams, Loreto’s azure coves and historic mission deserve attention, as does artsy Todos Santos, the last major town you’ll hit before you arrive in Cabo. This is where you may want to drive less and explore more. 

No matter how much time you're able to allocate, a road trip from the U.S. border to Cabo allows you to experience the real, untamed magic of Baja that you'd completely miss by flying over it. From deserted beaches to colorful seaside towns, rugged canyons to expansive sand dunes, the landscapes shifting out your windshield will provide endless eye candy.

Santa Rosalia, a stop when going to Los Cabos

What insurance do I need?

Make sure you have Mexican insurance. There are a number of options for coverage online and it's usually relatively inexpensive. Coverages to consider include:

- Liability for third-party injuries/damages

- Collision coverage to repair/replace your vehicle 

- Theft/vandalism protection

- Roadside assistance and towing

Your US insurance will not work here and insurance is required by Mexican law, so keep those documents in your car in case you are pulled over or involved in an accident. 

Can I drive a Mexican-plated car?

Some people find it easier to simply buy a car in Los Cabos rather than drive or ship their own vehicle down the Peninsula. Just remember that if you buy a car with Mexican plates you’ll need a Mexican driver's license to legally operate it. 

 

From Loreto to Los Cabos

What’s up with all the South Dakota license plates?

South Dakota plates in Los Cabos are everywhere, and don’t think it's because South Dakotans love our surfing, golfing, fishing and beaches disproportionality to visitors from other states.

South Dakota registration is a popular legal hack used by in-the-know Mexico road trippers and expats. As long as fees are paid, the plates are properly renewed, and the car isn't actually housed in South Dakota full-time, it's a completely legitimate way to have your Mexican vehicle needs covered.

The South Dakota Department of Revenue doesn’t care where your vehicle is located and appreciates the (very reasonable) out-of-state registration fees. Although there are businesses in Los Cabos that will facilitate your registration for a fee, it’s a process that you can easily do yourself, provided you have a US address to which they can ship your plates and registration documents. Clay County, South Dakota is particularly friendly to vehicle owners living in Mexico. 

So next time you spot a car, truck or RV with those unmistakable blue South Dakota plates cruising around Southern Baja, you'll know it's not someone taking an extremely adventurous road trip, but rather a smart traveler who ensured their vehicle is fully legal for all their Mexican journeys. Just one of the insider tips you pick up along the way when driving and living in Los Cabos.