Sep 072012

Driving to MexicoDriving to Mexico is easy and safe. Rules of the road are similar to the US and Canada. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to an enjoyable drive through Mexico … down to San Carlos Sonora!

Driving Directions – from Phoenix and Tucson to San Carlos, Mexico:

Take the I-10 east to Tucson, Arizona. From Tucson, head south on Interstate 19 to Nogales, Arizona. If you stay on I-19 until the border, you will have to go through down-town Nogales. There is a second border crossing option that is often quicker and easier (especially if you are in a larger vehicle or towing a boat or RV) — take the Mariposa border crossing (aka, the truck crossing) at Hwy 189. This crossing is open from 6:00am until 10:00pm. The Nogales crossing is open 24 hours.

Once you cross into Nogales, Mexico, continue south on Highway 15. You will pass several towns on the way. The most notable are Magdalena, Santa Ana and Hermosillo. If you don’t see a sign saying San Carlos, don’t panic. After Hermosillo, you will see signs for Guaymas. The Guaymas airport is 10 minutes from San Carlos. You will see the San Carlos sign as you get closer to Guaymas. From Phoenix, it is approximately a 7 hour drive. From Tucson, it is approximately a 5 hour drive.

Check below for a detailed driving map from Arizona to San Carlos Mexico.

Driving across the Border into Mexico

When you arrive at the border, drive slowly to the spot with the stop signs. Continue to drive slowly and look left. You will either see a flashing red Alto (stop) sign, or a green Pase (go). If it says Pase, do just that. Go on your way and begin the last four hours of your trip. If it says Alto, pull over to where the Mexican border patrol officers direct you and answer any questions that they have. Usually, it is “What is your destination?”, or they may quickly look in the trunk of your car and then allow you to go on your way.

When driving into Mexico, you have to stop at Kilometer 21 to get a Tourist Visa. This checkpoint is very well marked. Go to the white building and show the immigration official your passport, then complete and sign the Visa form that the officials will give you. They will then stamp the Visa and fill in how many days it is valid for. Take the Visa to the adjacent bank and pay the fee.

If you will be traveling outside of the Hassle Free Zone, you will need a permit for your vehicle. You can get one at km21 or apply for one online and it will be mailed to you.

Car Insurance for Mexico

Make sure that you have car insurance for Mexico if you are going to drive in Mexico, because U.S. and Canadian insurance policies are not recognized here. For a free online quote, visit Sanborn’s Insurance. If you have any questions about purchasing car insurance for Mexico, you can talk to insurance agent Julie Akin, who lives in both San Carlos Mexico and in Tucson Arizona.

Handy numbers for when you are driving in Mexico: Emergency Numbers and information on the Green Angels.

Mexico Map & Toll Information

The Secretary of Communication and Transportation has a useful tool on their website. Input your origin and destination and the application will map your route and give estimated driving time and toll costs. It even lists toll locations, so you can start preparing your ‘cuata’ in advance.

Gas Stations

There are plenty of Pemex stations along major routes. “Lleno (pronounced yay-no) means “fill it” and Magna Sin is unleaded. “Lleno con magna” = fill it with unleaded.

The gas stations are usually equipped with restrooms, but bring your own TP and hand sanitizers. Many pit stops charge to use the restrooms, so keep plenty of small change handy.


When driving in Mexico, you may come to a police or military checkpoint. I’ve always found the officials to be polite and friendly. They usually just ask where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Just politely answers, and you’ll be on your way in no time.


When driving in Mexico, watch out for the topes. Topes are speedbumps, but in Mexico they’re huge and cars often come close to a complete stop before proceeding.

Driving Distance from U.S. Cities to San Carlos

  • Phoenix , Arizona: 429 Miles
  • El Paso , Texas: 593 Miles
  • Las Vegas , Nevada: 722 Miles
  • San Diego , California: 723 Miles
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: 724 Miles
  • Sante Fe, New Mexico: 786 Miles
  • Los Angeles , California: 801 Miles
  • Denver, Colorado: 1,172 Miles

Driving in Mexico Map – from Tucson to San Carlos