Mexico Campground Primer – ABC’s
Mexico Campground Primer – ABC’s
“Mexicans don’t usually camp,” says a surprised Thomas the former owner and manager of Isla Aquada Campground on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. “In fact” he says pointing to a cluster of tents and SUV’s, “that is the third time in 40 years that Mexicans have camped in my resort. Maybe this is why the trailer parks are different than in your country.”
Camping is different in Mexico. Very different. If you expect firewood and grills, marshmallows and forests you will probably be very disappointed. However Mexican camping is for you if you want beach and sand mixed up with a goodly amount of culture and colonial cities and a pyramid or two tossed into the experience. Enjoy it all from the comfort and convenience of your own RV.
While the majority of RV Parks were built to service camping, many are offered as an add-on to an existing business or enterprise. Resourceful Mexican businesses have incorporated RV space into resorts, hotels and motels, water parks, farms and ranches.
Chihuahua City rents out space in a park/sport stadium parking lot. In the state of Chiapas, an orphanage encourages campers on a by-donation basis. On the Baja you can stay at a school for the deaf. If you expect the unexpected in Mexico and can do it with a smile, you are usually pleasantly surprised.
We don’t recommend boon-docking. We believe there is safety in numbers and that simply parking on a deserted beach or urban camping in an unfamiliar city is asking for trouble. While Mexico is usually very safe, we always remember that our RV and it’s contents are worth more than a decade of work to many Mexicans. It is worth the few dollars to be secure.
As a general rule of thumb we avoid parking our rig in parks or places without some kind of security; fences, caretakers/security personnel or one or two other rigs. We have included a discussion and recommendations regarding Desperate Times.
Destination Sites – OK We’re Here Now
Destination sites are sites that are built as campgrounds at places you want to stay for a while. These could be simple facilities on a beach or a full-scale resort complex. You probably won’t see trees and chances are in the busy season you will be packed together like sardines. But IT IS PARADISE. Up and down the beaches of Bahía Concepción on the Baja for example, various parks and camping areas offer minimal or partial hookups for $7 – 15 US per night. Vendors with pickups bring fresh scallops as big as silver dollars or fresh shrimps and spotlessly crisp and firm vegetables for half of the price we know in our supermarkets.
On the Caribbean coast, Paa Mul RV Resort sits smack in the middle of the Cancun Tulum corridor. With overabundant theme parks- ecological or otherwise; hundreds of trained dolphins ready to ride, jump or swim; numerous archeological sites nearby for a quick climb and cenotes (ancient underground pools) for a quick dip or snorkel….You get the picture. It would be pretty hard to get bored when so much is going on within an hour of your RV Park. Paa Mul offers full hook-ups, a small but beautiful beach, restaurant, laundry hut and small store. Hard to beat.
Some hotel resorts are destination RV Parks. If the facility is a five star complex and offers restaurants, pools, business facilities expect to pay between 30 – 35 USD. In the town of Santiago just outside of Monterrey, RV’s camp in a spotless KOA facility that is fully integrated into a huge hotel resort complex. There are water slides, a number of pools both indoor and outdoor, exercise and weight facilities, skate parks, racket sports, fishing, boating, not to mention the bars, restaurants and other socializing areas. The cost is approximately $40 US per night – a pittance of what it would cost to rent a room or to enjoy those caliber of extras back home. Kids and adults talk about this place for years after they have enjoyed it.
Motels and Hotels – Paradise at the Foot of a Parking Lot
One of the most common types of Mexican RV campgrounds is the Hotel/Motel parking lot or adjacent RV site. Typically you will camp in a parking lot or area designated for RV’s. Many have full hook-up and all allow unrestricted use of the hotels facilities. While this type of camping does not sound particularly exciting, it does provide the ability to visit urban centers or stay the night comfortably while passing through in your motor home.
Prices vary greatly depending on the facilities provided. A motel type park with full hook-up in the parking lot would likely cost 25 – 30 US. The Pyramid Hotel is just 5 minutes from the entrance gates to Chichén Itzá one of the most intriguing archeological site in the Mayan kingdom. The hotel offers full hookups next to the hotel, use of their pool restaurant and restaurant. It even has it’s own pyramid. The cost is $25 per night.
Water Parks – Slip Sliding Away
If camping in a parking lot is not camping to you then consider parking for a night or two at a water park. Balnearios are a cross between a water park and a public swimming pool. These balnearios often provide space on their grounds or a parking lot for RV’s. Prices vary from 15 to 20 with or without use of the swimming pools and or slides.
“Agua Caliente” is a water park just 20 minutes from the ring road around Guadalajara the second largest city in Mexico and arguably one of the most artistic and cultural spots in the country. The park has full hook-ups, has numerous shade trees and offers free water park entrance for the price of 120 pesos or $20 US. Balnearios offer kids and adults an opportunity to “chill out” after a long hot day in the city and are common spots throughout Mexico.
Back 40 – Fields and Dreams
Campgrounds in farmer’s fields or compounds are common too. Often the facilities range from full hookups -electricity, water and sewer or combination thereof to an empty field with lots of grass. The camps are not usually the end in themselves but usually on the road to some other destination camping.
A prime example would be Rancho Hermanos Graham in Agua Dulce in the state of Veracruz. This is a ranching and farming community south of Veracruz City between Catemaco and Villahermosa in Tabasco. This is a working farm that has diversified by building a pool and installing services to RV’s
Another example is farm/balneario in Chiapas just North of Ocozocoaulta in Chiapas. This operation’s primary purpose is farming but the owner has built a small pool and invites the public to enjoy a swim while he or one of his family members sells beer, soft drinks and chips in a tiny booth on the pool deck.
He strings out a cord from his house to power to your rig but other than that you are on your own. The chickens walk around the pool and your RV all day, and the pigs and other animal barns and corrals are short 2 minute walk from your site.
Desperate Times and Places
Just about every RVer I know has been stuck for one reason or another on the road without a camping park in site. This occurs for various reasons; insufficient planning, the target park was closed or full, delays on the road occurred due to breakdown or road conditions.
EVERYONE KNOWS YOU ARE FOOLISH TO DRIVE AT NIGHT.
Fruit stand on road north of Puerto Vallarta near Las Varas
If you are absolutely desperate we recommend one of the following strategies:
a) Find the nearest Pemex (gas station) and plead you case. Give a tip or purchase lots of stuff.
b) Find a Motel or Hotel or Restaurant with parking capabilities and try to bargain for a dry camping rate. Offer to have dinner.
c) Park near the Zocalo in a city or a place that would have lots of light and foot traffic such as a Supermercado. I would use this strategy with caution because you may be disturbed in the middle of the night by the police or security asking you to move on.