Taking one of the ABC busses to Ensenada is easy and inexpensive (currently about $9 one way). They leave the bus terminal every half hour from early morning to 9:30pm at night.
After walking across the border you will pass through the first border turnstiles, take a right at the intersection and walk through a second set of turnstiles. Cross the street, turn left, and walk past all the yellow taxis and the McDonalds towards the Plaza Viva sign. The station is easy to find, it's on the street to the right just past the Taxi Libre pickup behind the large building with mirrored windows.
TIP 1: Don´t let anyone direct you to other busses, which may not be as nice and may take longer with frequent stops. ABC is the bus line you want. These buses are nice and comfortable with plenty of room and they usually show a movie on the way. If the bus is full you should take your assigned seat.
TIP 2: You can request to sit on the right side of the bus, which will give you a better view of the coastline.
TIP 3: The bus usually makes a stop before getting to the bus terminal near Ave. Juarez which is about four blocks from the main tourist street, which can save you several blocks if you are walking. You can ask the driver to identify the stop close to Ave Juarez.
The ABC Bus terminal in Ensenada is located at the corner of Riveroll and Decima (10th street). A taxi ride between the tourist zone (Lopez Mateos/1st. street) and the terminal is currently $5, however if you don't have much luggage it isn't too long of a walk.
I have made the trip back and forth to San Diego many times on the toll road both in the day and at night and so far have not been stopped once. I have noticed that SUVs tend to be stopped more than cars.
Some general tips that may help avoid problems:
1. Don't drink and drive.
2. Don't drive an expensive vehicle.
3. Have proof of mexican insurance before you cross the border.
4. Don't speed (limits are posted in KPH and change frequently).
5. Remember that the left lane on the toll road is for passing only.
6. Always wear your seat belt.
7. Make sure your registration and driver's license are valid. Your vehicle can be impounded if these are not current.
8. Using a cell phone while driving is a traffic violation in Baja California.
9. Watch for cross walks, pedestrians have the right-of-way.
When you cross the border in one of the nothing to declare lanes, you will get a random green or red light (if you get red you need to pull into the inspection lane). After crossing stay towards the middle lanes, but be prepared to exit on the right for the Ensenada Scenic Toll Road (MEX1). You will pass through three tolls (Currently 26 pesos or $2.50 USD on the way down to Ensenada, which is worth it because the free road will take much longer. There is also one agricultural inspection south of Rosarito, which I hear they may be removing soon.
Pemex gas stations are the only official outlets where you can purchase fuel in Mexico. These are full service stations and the attendant should handle the pump, and they will also check oil, tire pressure, etc., if asked.
Basic unleaded gasoline is called "Magna" and is measured in liters (1 gallon = 3.3785 liters).
Be prepared to pay for your fuel with cash. Although some Pemex stations close to the US border may accept US dollars, you should expect to pay for your fuel with Mexican currency. Be aware that some gas stations in Mexico have been known to attempt certain 'rip-off' ploys. To avoid being ripped-off, make sure the fuel pump is set to $0.00 when you begin fueling. Also, pay attention to how much change you should receive in return when paying for your fuel. Gas station attendants have been known to intentionally give tourists the incorrect amount of change.
If you ask the attendent to do any extras like check your oil or tire pressure, a tip 5-10 pesos (~50 cents - $1) is customary.
Karen and I tacked on our three day visit to Ensenada to a week we spent in San Diego, California. We chose to take the bus with Baja California Tours, and were very pleased with the value and service we received. Our tour, included bus transportation with a pick-up at our hotel in San Diego, stops in Tijuana and Rosarita Beach, Mexico, one lunch in Ensenada, and two nights lodging. All of this cost less than just two more nights at a moderate hotel in San Diego would have been.
The ride to Ensenada and back was an easy one along a modern highway, with wonderful views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Baja countryside to the east.
Ensenada is an easy city to walk, and we did a lot of it during the three days we spent there. However, on the morning we visited La Bufadora and regions south of the city we took a taxi. Taxis are easily found along Paseo Calle Primera, the main tourist drag. We thought the rates were reasonable and our driver, Humberto, was very friendly and eager to please.
Busses: I’ve done this solo a few times...it’s easy. I did the planes, trains, and automobile method. I flew into SD and then took a taxi to the Greyhound Bus Station (about $10) in downtown SD. From there I took the buss (one leaves about every hour) to TJ Central Buss terminal (NOT downtown), then another buss (ABC buss Co.) to Ensenada (again, one every hour). You can take different busses to other places like Rosorito and many other Mexican cities from TJ Central. The day was long, but relatively cheap way to go. Greyhound was about $8.00, and the TJ to Ensenada was about $11.00 -both roundtrip. There are several buss companies that leave out of TJ Central (not downtown station) and head to various locations.
This is also a faster method to get back in the states at the border. By car, you will sit waiting in line for hours sometimes.
The U.S. Departments of State announced that all U.S. citizens, Canadians, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and citizens of Mexico will be required to have a passport or other accepted secure document (such as a Border Crossing Card) to enter or re-enter the U.S. by January 1, 2008. SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST programs are anticipated to be still accepted.
The new travel requirements will be rolled out in phases. The current proposed implementation timeline is as follows:
December 31, 2005 – Passport or other accepted document required for all travel (air/sea) to or from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America.
December 31, 2006 – Passport or other accepted document required for all air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada.
December 31, 2007 – Passport or other accepted document required for all air, sea and land border crossings.
Car: Easy drive to Ensenada or Rosorito from San Diego. La Linnea (or Border in English) can be a hassle, only because it is the busiest border in the States. Since the inception of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) many people commute to and from San Diego and TJ. (I would hate to do this everyday) But once you are across, it is a clear shot. Make sure you have a map and if you are renting, make you sure purchase Mexican Insurance! You can do this close to the border, or even when you rent the car from certain companies.
The highway that leaves TJ to Ensenada is a toll road. You will have to pay a $2.50 toll a few times before you arrive in Ensenada. If I remember correctly, there are 3 tolls.
The Angeles Verdes (Green Angels) is an organization belonging to the Federal Secretary of Tourism that provides medical first aid, mechanical services, including basic mechanical supplies. They drive radio-equipped vehicles and their main function is to help tourists who experience car problems along any of their patrolled highways. You won't be charged for their services, but you will be charged for parts, gas, and oil. They patrol the highway daily, from dawn until sunset. If you have an emergency while driving call the Ministry of Tourism's hotline (078) and ask them to contact the closest Green Angel. If you are unable to call them, pull off the road and lift up the hood of your car. Chances are good they'll find you
Forget the car. Take the bus from Tijuana to Ensenada and leave yourself free to enjoy the scenery. And once you leave Tijuana, trust me, there is some beautiul scenery. I daresay the Pacific Coast is even more beautiful in Baja than it is up north in the Big Sur.
Park the car in San Diego - you can do this for only $5 and walk to the station. The trip cost about $14-16 round trip and is and hour and a half each way. Just make sure you know when the last bus leaves for the return trip unless you want to spend a night in Ensenada!
I just booked a bus tour going to Ensanada from San Diego on Saturday (Holy Week 2011) for me and my wife. Ensanada is about 70 miles south of the border - and there have been some "bad press" about Tiajuana (drug cartel gunfights) so I decided a bus tour might be more reliable and with less stress, than driving with my own car. Our friend though drove to Tiajuana a few weeks before and did not have any problems.
The tour was about $75 (COACH AMERICA + lunch and margarita included), and this can be booked on-line with some $5 discounts sometimes, but I just decided to book through Expedia since I felt comfortable booking through them with my elite status. The tour of course includes hotel pick-up but we were not staying in a San Diego hotel, but we just gave them the city where we were staying and they told us where to wait. In our case, we were in Chula Vista and they had us go to the 24th St station (22nd St and Wilson) trolley station in National City. Parking free at station. But if you at the Harbour place departure area (8-830 AM), the parking there is about $15.
The big bus with COACH AMERICA Sign was prompt at 7 AM. Our nice driver and guide GREG is white but lived in Mexico himself. Very jovial and guided us well through the tour which stopped first at Rosarito, then Ensenada and then Mexico.
Overall, a great idea to go here with a bus tour, which also included a nice lunch (yummy selection of fish with mango sauce, fried squid or steak...) + a free small margarita
I guess I’m a bit of a coward. I’ve only brought a car into Mexico once and that was just to order some iron gates and the car always remained in site. I’ve heard too many horror stories about US citizens driving deeper into Mexico. A better option for me is taking one of the bus lines from San Diego.
If you are a braver sort than I, there are no special permits or procedures if your travel is within the Border Zone (usually up to 20 kilometers south of the U.S.-Mexico Border) or the Free Trade Zone (including the Baja California Peninsula and the Sonora Free Trade Zone) .
One thing to keep in mind is that U.S. & Canadian auto insurance is not valid in Mexico. While Mexican auto insurance is not mandatory, it is highly recommended. If you are in an accident or other vehicle-related problems and you do not have insurance, you may be arrested and your vehicle impounded until the authorities can figure out the situation. The insurance can be easily picked up over the internet or by one of the many insurance companies that line the road to the Mexico entry point.
If you do choose to drive you will find the drive to Ensenada from San Diego takes about 90 minutes, and is extremely scenic and pleasant. The Transpeninsular toll highway running from Tijuana directly into Ensenada is extremely well maintained and safe. Many parts of the highway wind through the coastal hills hundreds of feet above the Pacific Ocean making for breathtaking views. There are three toll gates on the way, but normally there is not much of a delay.
Once you arrive in Ensenada, I would keep my car in one of the secured parking lots in either your hotel or some other private agency at night.
If you choose to drive in Mexico, there is something a bit different in driving customs there than in some sections of the US with regard to the Left Turn Signal. They use it first of all to indicate a pending left-hand (usually in conjunction with a slowing of the vehicle and a flashing of the brake lights). A second, and possibly more common use, is in a “Caravan” of vehicles to indicate that the "leading vehicle" considers it safe for the "following vehicle" to pass. This is extremely dangerous in the situation where the leading vehicle really intends to turn left, and the following vehicle interprets that it is OK to pass. I’ve seen this used in the US mostly by long haul truckers so it wasn’t totally foreign to me.
You need to make sure that the leading vehicle is actually telling you that it’s OK to pass and not actually making a left turn. A lot of time they will put there hand out the window and wave you past them, otherwise check for possible left turn points and pass only if there are no places this vehicle could possibly turn into. When a Mexican driver is going to turn left, there will often be some arm-waving and a movement of the vehicle into the other lane (if that lane is empty) - this allows you to pass by in your regular lane.
If you intend turning left and there are following vehicles, then slow down and have your brake lights on when you activate the turn indicator. For good measure, open the window and use a hand signal as well.
One last use of the indicator is to warn other large trucks or RVs when they are about to pass a large vehicle going in the opposite direction. As most drivers know, there is suction from these vehicles which effect larger vehicles and RVs even more (yes large trucks SUCK!!! :) )
It’s only about a 120 mile round trip from San Diego to Ensenada so gas should not be an issue, but if you plan on doing more driving, here is some information about fuel in Mexico. The price of fuel is uniform throughout Mexico, with the possible exception of some border areas where fuel may be priced to reflect competition across the border. The only seller of fuel is Pemex, the nationally owned "Petroleos Mexicanos" oil monopoly, and they normally accept only cash at the Pemex stations (i.e., no checks or credit cards).
The unleaded gas in Mexico is called "Magna Sin", and is supposed to have an octane rating of 92. This unleaded is sold from the green pumps. Beware, a leaded gas, "Nova", is still sold in Mexico from blue pumps.
Diesel fuel is readily available due to the large number of trucks on the highway - however, don't confuse the green Magna Sin gasoline pump with a diesel pump as might be the case in the U.S.. The diesel pumps are purple or red, and are usually found on a separate island - the marking is "Diesel Sin." The usual warning about water in diesel fuel applies more so along the Baja highway. Try to use only the large stations which have a lot of truck traffic that keeps the fuel from sitting in the tanks for long periods of time.
Be careful during holidays, as there may be gasoline supply problems, especially in the central region of the peninsula. There are also large convoys of RVs periodically traveling the highway. One friend passed 50 of them line together. If you try to go to the station after they filled up, they may be out, if you are lined up with them, you may be there the rest of the day. Gauge the distance to the next station and the likelihood that there will be gas at that station - do not rely on the distance measurements printed on the blue or green gas pump signs along the highway. Imagine that the next station is out of fuel, and think about what you would do if that turned out to be the case.