Before you even think about going to Mexico, be sure you have a current passport. This is a requirement now. While you can walk across completely unchecked, if you plan on coming back, you will need a passport. Be ready to leave the humor at home and keep your mouth shut. Neither side has any sense of humor at the border and they don’t find bomb, drug, or terrorist jokes at all funny. You will also need cash, even for large purchases. American dollars work fine. It looked like they may accept Canadian dollars as well at a discount. Shut off your phone when you get there or you may get a shocking phone bill later for international phone calls. Even a few minutes can cost big.
I went with friends so I wouldn’t be alone for safety reasons. We went down to Algadones, Mexico just west of Yuma, AZ. It could not have been a more pleasant experience and surprise. The town is very much setup for foreigners streaming across with a large parking lot right next to the border with plenty of handicapped parking available. While you can drive across, it really is much simpler to walk across since anything you want is right there with very little walking needed. The lot seems to be safe enough. Getting in is as simple as walking in along a pathway they have laid out which takes you right past el baño (bathroom), a popular first stop. They were clean and there was someone outside handing out paper towels for tips.
On into town, the traffic was very light when we were there though there were hundreds of foreigners and vendors all over. It is immediately clear why people come there when looking about. You will see dentists, optical shops, and pharmacies one after another after another on every block. They all seem to use the same advertising so picking one is not particularly hard though I did shop around and there are small price differences here and there. For dentists, I suggest checking with other RVers before you go to see who they used and if they were happy with the work. Surprisingly, the work really is very good there and I could see even the hair stylists take pride in their work. Appointments are not necessary, just walk in and find the front man who handles estimates or the receptionist. For major dental work, do call beforehand and get an appointment. They can get very busy in January and February. You will find a lot of hawking going on outside to get you into this office or that, sell you this or that. If you ask, any of them will be happy to point you in the right direction for whatever you need.
My friend went to the dentist. There were people there getting work done such as implants that cost as much as $11,000 in the states for only $1,800 there. You may wait a bit but it is well worth it. Her dentist is in a tiny cubbyhole but she likes him. They seem to use central labs for all the actual making of dental crowns, dentures, and eyeglasses which deliver to all the shops.
I was after eyeglasses. Single vision glasses with transition lenses could be had for $49. Alas, my days of single vision are long gone so I had to do some shopping around. I finally settled on Best Optical where within 3 hours I got an eye exam and a beautiful new pair of progressive lenses glasses for $78 total. Be aware the main cost is in the frames you choose and the extras like transitions (auto shading in sunlight), etc. I did find exactly the frames I like and wanted in the cheapest range and skipped the extras since I’m a night person. Others were paying $200-$300 for fashion frames from Dolce and Gabanna and others along with the extras. Also be aware this is not Tijuana where you bargain like crazy. You can certainly haggle over purses, lamps, etc. as always but the services and things like frames are already pretty discounted.
Be sure to hit up the local pharmacies as well which have billboards outside with prices of many common drugs they sell, both prescription and over-the-counter. The prices are just amazing and you don’t need to have your prescriptions with you though you will need to know your required dosages (10mg, 100mg, etc.). There are some limitations on what you can bring back to the USA though I saw no one having any issues with that. Shop around for the best deal. While most prices are very similar between shops, I did find one of my meds priced at $3 more between shops. Prilosec for stomach acid seems to be a biggie down there. $22-$27 for 42 currently in the states while across the border it is $3 for 120. Huge difference! Yes, they are selling the generic for it but that is usually fine for most folks. They also sell plenty of Viagra, antibiotics, high blood pressure medication, cholesterol medication, Prozac, and much more.
My friend and I decided to hit up the local beauty salon for haircuts. They did excellent work at half the price. Mine did not speak English well but she had no problem understanding what I wanted.
Since we had to stay to wait for my glasses, we decided to try lunch there. We found a lovely patio in a courtyard. The food was excellent and not too spicy at all not to mention fresh. American music was provided by a singer-guitarist. It did take a while for the food to arrive but we were not in a fast-food joint. Meanwhile, plenty of roving vendors came by the table to show us their wares.
We found sitting in the plaza on the benches in the warm sunlight very enjoyable. It was nice to sit down and watch the rest of the happy shoppers go by. We watched the talented artists creating the most lovely works in front of us. I heard that some folks bring their satellite dishes down there to get those pretty paintings done on them and we saw someone with a huge saw blade come down to have it painted for a decoration over their home door. They offered to paint my cane. I would have taken them up on that if I had my other cane with me.
Mexico is also a great place for cheap booze. Watch the limits on what you can bring back but many folks do make a point of buying some to take home. One poor fellow was swinging his bag about while waiting to leave and smashed his bottle on a cement bench. I suspect that happens a lot while standing in line to leave.
When it came time to leave, we piled into line with hundreds of others. Going back, you must go through customs so it can take a while. We found the line while very long, moved very quick so we were out within an hour and had a nice chat with folks around us. Some folks stood around waiting for a Pedi cab which was taking 3 at a time for $5 across by bike right to their cars. Customs will want to see your passport and check your bags. They just want to know what you are bringing back so go ahead and tell them. They may want to know what each medication is for if they are not already familiar with the names.
All in all, we had a wonderful day in Mexico. The people were very friendly, the bargains were great, and the experience was well worth it. I will definitely go again next winter when I’m back this way again and I now understand why so many RVers are heading south of the border. See you there!