Friday, December 13, 2013

The Long Drive to Mazatlan

It’s a tad bit shy of 500 miles from San Carlos to Mazatlan on the Mexican toll road Highway 15.  A long day’s drive, but still easily doable on most U.S. highways.  Not as easy to do in Mexico.  While the Mexican toll roads are very good (and sometimes even better than U.S. Interstates), the speeds are more variable, and parts of the road can sometimes be patchy and bumpy and/or lacking a shoulder meaning that it’s more difficult to drive as fast as the posted speed limit.
Night driving is also another difference—on U.S. highways, it’s often my favorite time to drive.  But here in Mexico, it’s strictly to be avoided—too many stray farm animals, unmarked topes (speed bumps), and/or pedestrians or other unusual things on the roadside that one would not find along US roads at night.

To make things even more challenging, there are no nice, easy overnight RV parks between San Carlos and Mazatlan, so many folks try to leave San Carlos at the crack of dawn in hopes of making it all the way to Mazatlan before nightfall.  While that easier to do in October or March, it’s more challenging (downright impossible) to do in December when the days are their shortest.

Our driving day was overcast and drizzling on and off.  Not the best for taking pictures, but frankly, besides the initial drive out of Guaymas, the route was rather blah-looking anyway. No hydraulic car lifts (or even a garage) at this auto mechanic’s shop in Vicam.  Just drive your truck up on the wooden ramps right outside the front door!


When a pickup truck seems too big, this little 3-wheeled motorcycle truck fits the bill!


Just as we left Ciudad Obregon, I noticed over a hundred people walking along the shoulder of the toll road.   They appeared to be walking for well over 5 miles out in the middle of nowhere, and being given water bottles every few miles.  Was it a protest?  A march?  Nope, it was Our Lady of Guadalupe day.  The walkers were headed to a huge shrine on the side of a mountain (just about the bus below) to say their prayers and light candles.  Holidays are big deals here in Mexico!


Evelyn had estimated that we’d have to reach the halfway point, Los Mochis, by Noon in order to reach Mazatlan by nightfall.  But even with pushing hard and limiting our stops to just one, we didn’t make it to Los Mochis until 1:30.  As there were no good overnight options any further south, we had to just stay stopped for the night at the gated, secured Pemex truck stop in Los Mochis.

Unlike relatively clean and tidy Navajoa (the last larger town we had come through further north), Los Mochis seemed about as attractive as an armpit, and the truck stop even worse.  To add to that, it had been raining on and off all morning leaving a HEAVY coating of dirt and grime on our vehicles.


After filling up our tanks we headed for the gated secured lot behind the gas station.  The daytime security guard spoke English and kindly directed us to spots along the wall right behind his guard shack and near the entrance gate.  We each tipped him 50 pesos to keep a good eye on our rigs all night.


We decided it would be best to stay inside our rigs as much as possible and not go into the truck stop restaurant or shop.  We surely were the only women in the truck stop that night, so no need to broadcast that!

My delightful view from the Los Mochis truck stop!


Around 10pm, I needed to take Millie for her final walk and noticed a big 18-wheeler had now pulled up right alongsite my rig (one foot closer, and I would have not been able to open my coach door!).  I worried he might try and run his engine all night long like US truckers often do, but to my relief and amazement, it was actually one of the quietest nights I’d ever spent boondocking in a truck stop!  Not only did the truck next to me keep his engine turned off, but so did most of the other trucks in the lot.  And, having the truck parked alongside of us, hid our rigs from view of most of the rest of the other trucks, giving us even greater security. I got a great night's sleep and in the morning, we were able to get back onto the highway without any problems. 

The last hour or so of toll roads in Sonora were annoyingly bumpy with hundreds of small pothole patches.  But the minute we crossed into the state of Sinaloa, the toll road instantly became smooth and new.  Maybe because the tolls also jumped in price and frequency in Sinaloa as well?

Speaking of tolls, yes, they are quite expensive in Mexico.  But then again, there are a few stretches of toll roads around Chicago that get pretty pricey as well, so I’m not sure they’re tremendously more than the U.S., but certainly more than many.

Between tolls and fuel, you’ll need LOTS of pesos when driving in Mexico.  Credit cards are rarely used/accepted here.  Our strategy was to fill our gas tanks in Nogales, AZ, and also have a few hundred dollars already exchanged into pesos before we crossed the border (enough to pay the tolls down to San Carlos).  In San Carlos, we then began using Mexican ATM machines to get more pesos and refilled our gas tanks there as well.

Here’s a breakdown of toll costs for my View and Tracker to get from Nogales to Mazatlan:

  • Nogales to San Carlos = 410 pesos
  • San Carlos to Los Mochis = 525 pesos
  • Los Mochis to Mazatlan = 1141 pesos

Each segment above was around 250 miles, and yet the last leg (through Sinaloa) was twice as expensive!  In total, it was 2076 pesos (around $166) to drive 750 miles of the Mexican toll road to Mazatlan.

The drive through Sinaloa was mostly lush flat farmland surrounded by distant hills.  The green colors and sunshine were quite a welcome change from the day before!


We arrived into Mazatlan for the noontime rush and noted a few pickup trucks of heavily armed Federales helping patrol the streets.  Those officers in the back are carrying automatic rifles!


Just past Mazatlan, we turned towards the road to the Aeropuerto (airport) to make our way to the 8 km dirt road that would lead us back up to the Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island) where our RV park was located.  What’s a little more dust and dirt to add to our already-filthy rigs!


It took around 30 minutes to make it down the dirt road due to all the pot holes left from last month’s tropical storm.  But we finally reached the small village at the end of the peninsula with a sign directing us to Tres Amigos RV Park.   Just had to inch our way around the horses in the road first!


I was warmly greeted by my blogger friend Contessa (whose spectacular nightly sunset posts made this a “must-see” stop on my tour of Mexico).

After pulling in and getting set up for our month-long stay, Contessa walked us down to one of the restaurants that line the north end of the beach so we could order some lunch and get acquainted.  Millie and Molly loved being able to sit right beneath our feet and cool their paws in the sand!


After lunch, we let the dogs off their leashes to walk home along the beach.  Do you think Millie will like being here for a month?


Our first Isla sunset also did not disappoint.  Ahhh, sweet paradise!



  1. Regarding credit cards, we have found that the majority of Pemex stations now accept them for payment. Even American Express! The only problem is that sometimes the receipt machine is out of paper, or the connection doesn't go through. Always ask beforehand if they will accept, and it's wise to have enough pesos anyhow in case it doesn't work.

    Hi Contessa!

    1. Oh, and all major grocery stores in Mexico also accept credit cards.

    2. Thanks Kevin-- that's great info to know! I never even tried asking a Pemex if they took credit, but might just have to give it a try when we head further south next month!

  2. Glad you arrived safely. I'm enjoying your adventure.

    1. Thanks Jill, we're happy to have arrived safely too!

  3. Very interesting read. Not something that I'd do, though.

    1. Ah, but think of all those summer bird friends you'd meet down here! I sat watching some warblers out my rear window the other day and a little hummingbird came to rest on my laundry line for the longest time... just 4 feet away from me!

  4. Enjoyed your blog on this trip. Thanks for the photos that included the rigs and roads.

    1. Thanks Gene. I wanted to keep track of the details so I can remember for the next trip!

  5. I just have to add that the Pemex stations are very safe to stay in. By tipping the 50 pesos you can be sure that you were watched but security as you slept. The Mexicans welcome our business and want us to be safe.

    1. Yes, while I was a bit nervous when we first arrived, I felt more safe there later in the evening than I would have in the truck section of a Flying J in the states! Much quieter at a Mexican truck stop than a US one as well!

  6. Lynne, I'm really enjoying your blog and look forward to future posts. I love your posts and pictures. Max sends doggie hugs to Millie. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your traveling companion.

    1. Not sure why I showed up as Rob' mom - maybe because I am! Anyway this is Kathy Hintz from the Tab group.

    2. Oh you guys would have so much fun down here Kathy! Hopefully you and Max can do a snowbirding trip one of these years!

  7. Glad to see your post included the positives and the negatives. Looks like you are very security minded which is just plain smart. Have a great time. Contessa is the hostess with the mostest.

    1. Thanks Colleen. Contessa and Colin rolled out quite the welcome mat for us! We're having a wonderful time!


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