What to expect from Mexican Campgrounds
Mexico is extremely diverse, both geographically and culturally. You can go one week from shivering in the mountainous Sierra Gorda to sweltering hot camping in the beach towns, so packing for both hot and cold is essential. Even within the same day, many areas experience temperature changes of 15–20 degrees.
The rainy season starts around June and ends in September, when you can expect daily downpours, although usually only for a couple of hours. For waterside camping, you don’t usually get the vibrant blue and transparent colors. September is to March is a better time for camping, although as the winter season, nights can be cool.
Likewise, amenities and services vary widly, from luxury resort-style camping to virtually nothing but wood for sale.
For RV camping, you can find a list of sites here.
Camping Etiquette in Mexico
A common complaint is camping etiquette in Mexico. Because of the safety issue, the concept of “camping to escape and be alone in nature” is not as revered in Mexico as in other countries.
Probably feeding from the ‘safety in numbers’ mantra, it’s not uncommon to have neighbors set their tents right next to yours, even if there is copious space around. Personal space is not the preference; but in exchange, you get hearty conversations with the locals and invitations to share their food.
Loud blasting music is another headache, as people are happy to share their music with the entire campground.
Some campsites have tried to combat these trends by banning music and alcohol, or setting a noise curfew; people strictly oblige, so you can be sure to have peace by 11pm if there are such rules.
Early to bed, and early to rise tends to be the custom in Mexican campgrounds. If there is a tamale or coffee seller around, they have no qualms waking everyone up by hawking their goods at 7am in the morning.
As for the campgrounds, many are run by communities, called ejidos, rather than the government. This means that prices and conditions can change on a whim – as a “flush” foreigner, that whim might be you – although the more developed campgrounds have advertised prices and official tickets. For example, in 2019 during Easter, the ejido of Rio Ayutla decided to put up barriers and charge everyone wishing to swim in the river that passes through the town. Speaking Spanish helps a lot. In any case, camping prices are never usually more than USD 10 per person, plus USD 3–5 for parking overnight.
Almost all camping sites in Mexico offer firewood (ask for leña, said len-ya), usually from 30–70MXN per bundle. Toilets are also usually extra – 5MXN per visit, for campers and visitors alike – and showers are usually 10–15MXN. Almost all camping grounds in Mexico will also have at least a taco seller or two, plus drinks for sale. Some also have grill areas, table and chairs, and occasionally bags of ice.
Tips for Camping in Mexico
–Arrive before dark to scout a place to pitch your tent. Some places are run by local families and they usually don’t hang around after 6–9pm.
–Always keep cash on you; many camping grounds don’t accept anything else. A couple thousand pesos will last you several days.
–Bug repellent is your best friend. Try to use natural or mineral sunscreens when swimming in natural water.
–You’ll need to take your own drinking water, as Mexican water is rarely portable.
–Never let your petrol run low; keep a healthy half-tank at most times. Petrol stations can be plentiful and suddenly you won’t see any for two to three hours.
–It’s better to camp in areas that are regulated by the local authorities and have 24-hour security. It is not recommended to camp in remote areas where there is no local authority or access to medical services.
–You should always pre-plan where you will camp and let a close friend or relative know your travel route.
–Never camp alone.
–Take basic first-aid, medicines, or equipment such as batteries, lamps, radios and sufficient credit on your telephone
–Be prepared for connectivity issues. Many of the remote places don’t have internet access or phone coverage, which can land you in a pickle if your GPS suddenly cuts out and that was the only map you had.
–Know your transport options for each place; ‘improvising’ transport is not recommended (hitch-hiking, getting a taxi off the side of the road, not knowing the bus schedule). This leaves you vulnerable to scrupulous drivers – where kidnapping and extortion are not uncommon – and in some cases the next public transport might not be for hours or until the next day.
–There are not usually big supermarkets in the remote camping areas, so it’s always a good idea to bring the non-degradable essentials with you, and just top up. If you’re heading into a remote area, check where there are local markets or mini supermarkets (like OXXO).
–Police, civil protection, fire and ambulance: 066 is exclusive for emergencies, but also for security inquiries 24 hours a day.
–Be careful with your belongings; while many campsites have general security, this often doesn’t extend to watching tents. Try to keep your most valuable belongings locked in your car.
–If you don’t have a dog, feeding a street dog may earn you a free guard for the night.
–Expect the unexpected – and prepare for it – and you won’t land in an emergency.