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Travelers going only as far as Guaymas/San Carlos on the toll road from Nogales do not need to get a vehicle permit or a tourist visa. For Alamos you must stop at the Km. 21 immigration office just south of the border to get your tourist visa and pay the approximately $28USDollar visa fee and then at the Km. 102 office south of Guaymas near Empalme to get the approximately $50USDollar Only Sonora permit for your vehicles OR have the 180 day temporary Vehicle Import Permit which you get at Km. 21. Be sure you have papers for ALL your vehicles, including ones being towed, as regulations can change on short notice.
Preliminaries | Tucson, Arizona through Nogales, Sonora | Customs at Km 21 | Km 21 through Magdalena | Magdalena through Hermosillo | Hermosillo through Guaymas | Guaymas through Ciudad Obregõn | Ciudad Obregõn through Navojoa | On to Alamos | Returning to Tucson | See also
Visas and Car Insurance
San Xavier Mexico Insurance, and Arizona AAA (American Automobile Association) sell Mexican auto insurance. They can tell you the papers needed for the tourist visa and car permit forms, but you have to do the forms at Mexican customs.
San Xavier Mexico Insurance Tucson
2900 E. Broadway, Suite 108, Tucson, AZ 85716, USA
Tel: 520-327-1255, Fax: 520-327-1303, Toll free from USA and Canada: 1-888-327-1255
Arizona AAA will help AAA members; however, they only sell auto insurance on their website. Other regional offices may or may not have current information.
We recommend using one of these services, because they know the current regulations. It is still necessary to stop and have visas and the Vehicle Import Permit if you need it processed at the Km 21 customs checkpoint.
Mexico has a consulate in Tucson, but they are not always current on specific information for Sonora. They will tell you to ask at Km. 21.
Mexico has reciprocal visa agreements with the USA and Canada. You need your passport or your birth certificate and your driver's license. Please note that you will soon need a passport to reenter the USA.
If you are from a country that doesn't have a similar agreement, it is necessary to get a visa before crossing the border through a Mexican embassy or consulate. If there is any doubt, do it. Our friend from Papua New Guinea was told by the Tucson Mexican consulate that he could get his visa at the border, but he was turned back. If you plan to return to the USA from Mexico, make sure that you have the necessary visa to re-enter. Many student visas, for example, do not permit multiple entries into the USA.
If you own real estate in Mexico you may be told you have to get another type of visa (FM-3) other than the regular tourist permit. These more complicated permits are issued to people who live in Mexico for over 120 days a year and who meet the requirements and fees. One time we were told we needed one because we own a house in Alamos, even though we only do two trips of two weeks or so a year. This is apparently incorrect, but we were almost turned back. A few other people have had the same thing happen. Be polite, explain your situation, and you will probably be allowed to continue.
Vehicle/car Permits: (permits are also required for vehicles that are being towed)
Mexico has a program called Solo Sonora or Only Sonora for tourists traveling in the state of Sonora outside the free zones of the western beach resorts. This program's vehicle permit is good for the length of your tourist visa, but only in Sonora. The advantage of the Only Sonora over the temporary Vehicle Import Permit is that the processing is usually shorter and faster, plus there is no need to post a bond. There is a $25USD fee paid either in US dollars or with a major credit card.
The 180 day temporary Vehicle Import Permit (SAT) requires that the owner of the vehicle post a bond in exchange for a hologram sticker by one of these methods:
The amount depends on the value of the vehicle. Only the owner of the vehicle can get this bond. Spouses, children or parents of the registered owner may only take a vehicle in if they bring documentation of the relationship, such as a birth certificate. Notarized letters won't work. The owner or documented relative must always be in the vehicle when it is being driven. The same owner cannot take out a permit for both a car and a recreational vehicle at the same time. Mexican citizens with a foreign-registered vehicle must get a permit. Check ahead of time with a knowledgeable travel agent for the amount necessary and other details since they may change on very short notice.
For either permit:
You need xerox copies of all of these. You will have to get a copy of the visa after they sign and stamp it.
Mexican auto insurance is necessary. USA insurance will likely not be good beyond a certain distance, if at all, and may not be recognized as valid by the Mexican police. This could land you in jail if you are in an accident, even if it wasn't your fault. You can be held and your car impounded until guilt is legally established, if you don't have recognized (i.e. Mexican) insurance.
The person(s) listed on the car insurance must be driving the vehicle or in the vehicle for the insurance to be valid. If not, the vehicle can be confiscated in event of an accident or other traffic stop by the police. If a driver's name is not on the car title, that person must have a notarized statement from the owner that he/she is authorized to drive the vehicle. We also suggest buying from a company that has an agent/office in your home country, so that you can easily follow up on any claims.
Travelers pulling travel trailers/caravans and small boats may be able to get special permits to pay only the auto toll on the toll road, but this must be done before you leave. Ask your travel agent.
Pets: The U.S. Government requires a U.S. vet certificate (Form 77-043) and a rabies certificate valid within the last 6 months for returning dogs and cats, possibly for other pets. We haven't done this, but it must be issued before you leave the U.S., so check with your vet and travel agent.
See our note on Firearms in Mexico.
It's best to have some money changed into Mexican currency, pesos, before entering Mexico. Alamos has a bank with a 24 hour ATM and sometimes the banks at the border are open. At the moment, the bank in Alamos will not change USDollars unless you have an account with them, you must use their ATM to get pesos. The rate of exchange is better inside Mexico, but depending on your bank debit/credit card charges you may not save too much using the ATM to get pesos.
In Tucson, only the banks have pesos and it may take them awhile to get what you need. The Wells Fargo across from the University of Arizona normally has pesos on hand.
Give the larger bills to the toll booth collectors on the highway and get some smaller change for use in the markets. The toll booths also accept US Dollars and the exchange rate is posted.
Clothing, Toilets, Food and Water
Nogales is colder than Tucson and Alamos is warmer. I always dress in layers. I start off with my ski jacket on in Nogales on an early morning in December, but by the time I get to Alamos in the afternoon, I'm down to a long sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up and I've taken off my socks and loafers for sandals.
The toll stops have restrooms, including wheelchair access stalls, which are reasonably clean and usually have toilet paper. Toilets in Mexico don't flush toilet paper very well and there is a wastebasket beside the toilet for paper, etc. There are also mini-marts at most stops.
Although there are lots of small cafes and food stands along the road, we take our lunch and drinks. Never drink tap water in Mexico and ice is risky. We carry our drinking water from Tucson for the whole trip in 5 gallon plastic containers. Bottled water and soft drinks purchased in Mexico should be okay.
Going south from Tucson to Nogales take Hwy 19 off Interstate 10. The road passes two of the original Spanish Colonial missions in Arizona. San Xavier del Bac on the right/west just outside of Tucson is still an active parish for the Tohono O'odham Indians. Farther south on the left/east is a National Monument with the partially restored ruins of Tumacacori Mission.
It's a good idea to get gas/petrol and use the service station restrooms before crossing the border. Exit 17 at Rio Rico has a Chevron station.
There are two border crossings in Nogales.
If you are not a US citizen, stop and complete necessary US Customs formalities on the US side depending on your visa. If you are a US citizen, go on to the USA checkpoint at the border: cars to the left, trucks to the right with concrete barriers and speed bumps forming several S curves at this USA stop. They may search your car.
It is illegal to take undeclared firearms or ammunition into Mexico. Your vehicle may be checked on the Mexican side at this red/green light stop and at the other customs and military checkpoints. They are very serious about this. See our note on Firearms in Mexico for details. If you do and are caught, you will likely spend months in a Mexican jail. Don't forget!
In Mexico, topes are speed bumps in the road, so slow down whenever you see the sign and remember not all topes are marked.
Follow the left/east fork marked Hermosillo to enter the bypass. The right/west fork, Nogales Centro, goes into Nogales. There are topes (speed bumps) at the gate, follow the signs. You do not need to stop at the customs building at this junction, but sometimes traffic is backed up here. Just wait your turn to pass on through the gates.
About 6 miles/10 km down are the first toll booths. We have had few problems, but it is still a good idea to count your change as the tolls vary at the different stops. If the toll is something like 63 pesos, we hand over a bigger bill plus three pesos if we have the smaller change. It makes it easier to count if you have received correct amount.
The Customs, Immigration and Bank buildings are 1 km more. Trucks are stopped on the right, just go on past, follow the Vehículos en Trãnsíto signs. If you have items to declare, go inside, if not, go through one of the Nada que Declarar lanes, slow for the topes. There is a red light/green light and several inspectors at this point who may check your cargo if the red light flashes as you go through. Pull over to the parking bays on the left/east and stop. They may just glance inside or you may have to unload all or part of your vehicle. All the paperwork is still done at Km 21.
The toll road is signed as Hermosillo/Nogales Centro, keep going south towards Hermosillo. There are blue signs saying CAR PERMITS RIGHT LANE as you approach Km 21.
The toll way merges with the main highway just before the customs check point at Km 21. There are topes here.
Pull into the parking area on the right/west, more topes here. It can take up to 1 to 2 hours or more to clear customs here. Lock your car. The blue signs have directions in both English and Spanish.
The buildings on the right have tourist information, insurance, money exchange, snack bar and toilets, but don't count on them being open. The farthest building back with the Banjercito sign is for car permits if you are going to other states besides Sonora or prefer to get this permit rather than stop and get an Only Sonora permit at Km. 102 south of Guaymas. You will also pay your visa fee here. (See the earlier item on temporary Vehicle Import Permits.)
FIRST, you need to get your tourist visas before they will issue a car permit. The visas are issued in the blue and white Institute Nacional de Migración building. Look for the TOURIST PERMITS sign.
You need your passport or your birth certificate and your driver's license to prove your citizenship, plus a pen to fill out the forms.
There is a fee for this 6 month multiple entry visa if you stay in Mexico more than 72 hours for all destinations beyond this point.
SECOND, if you are the owner of the car, take your visa after it is stamped and get a photocopy of the Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) at the small COPIAS building out the back door of Migración. It's $.50 USD per copy, but they don't always have change, so bring some quarters.
THIRD, if you plan to get an Only Sonora car permit at Empalme, Km 96, go on to the FOURTH item. For the 180 day temporary Vehicle Import Permit (SAT) get in line again at one of the Caja windows at the Banjercito building on this side of the highway. They will want to see the originals and take the copies of your tourist visa, passport or other identification to prove citizenship, your driver's license, vehicle title and current registration. They will take an imprint of your credit card and charge you a fee. You will receive a receipt and a hologram sticker for your left front windshield. This permit and sticker must be turned in at Mexican customs before it expires.Be sure you have:
FOURTH, drive to the Centro Tactico Km 21 ramada. Go through the Nada Declare lanes if you have nothing to declare. There is a separate line for motor homes. The lines have a red/green light. If it flashes green, continue. If it flashes red, the officials will signal you to pull over to the right and have your luggage checked. There are topes at the south end and two more sets of big ones at the small settlement just beyond Km 21.
A limited amount of personal items may be taken into Mexico. Anything else may require that you register it and maybe pay duty. The officers do have some discretion as to what you can take in. Large amounts of groceries and clothing may get you in trouble as well as more than one TV or similar item. When the officials have finished, pull back out onto Hwy 15 and head on south.
Hwy 15 (part of the Pan-American Highway) is a 4-lane divided toll road all the way to the border between Sonora and Sinaloa. The speed limit outside of town is 90 or 110 kph, about 55 to 68 m.p.h., but most tourists drive between 65 and 70 m.p.h. Although the toll road is fenced, there are still cattle, goats, horses and dogs on the road, so watch out. It's better not to drive after dark as vehicles often are missing lights and there are people walking along the road.
There are 5 more toll booths on the way to Alamos. They take payment in pesos or US dollar equivalent. You will get a receipt.
The toll road is being improved (shoulders, better bridges, etc.) and repaired at many points along the way - your tolls at work. Sonora has done a good job of maintaining this road, so stay alert and follow the signs. There may be stretches where traffic is diverted and becomes two way.
Cibuta has 2 sets of topes. There is a sign for Alamos 654 km before Km 15 and along the way a sign that says "Hassle Free Vehicle Zone".
There are plenty of Pemex gas stations on the toll road and these are easier to use than the ones in town. Their restrooms vary widely. Unleaded regular gas is called Magna sin lomo and it's the green pump. Premium unleaded is Premium sin lomo and it's the red pump. Make sure the pump is set to 00 before they start pumping. If you don't want your windows washed (you need to tip the boy who does this) say "no limpiar" and shake your head no - firmly, several times if necessary. Do not leave your car unlocked or unattended; it's just asking for trouble. Keep handbags, sunglasses and other small snatchable items away from open windows and doors.
The Green Angels are Mexico's highway help. They drive green pickup trucks and can fix tires and other small jobs.
This part of the highway south of Nogales winds through beautiful small valleys with family rancherías, orchards and irrigated fields.
The small crosses along the road mark places where someone was killed in a highway accident. During the Day of the Dead, the family will repaint and decorate the memorials.
Km 214: Two sets of topes at Los Janos, plus metal sculpture and bent wood furniture for sale on the right/west.
Km 236 and 217: Commercial agriculture is big business in Sonora with complexes like these huge hydrophonic greenhouses growing winter produce for the US market.
Three sets of topes as you pass the junction with Hwy 2 at Imuris, going east to the mining town of Cananea plus Juarez and El Paso.
Imuris sits in a very fertile river valley. Whole fields are planted in marigolds and other flowers for use in the November Day of the Dead celebrations. We have seen water right under their bridge during heavy rains, totally immersing the cabbage field and small houses below. Just south of the bridge are families of ornamental stone carvers with fountains, statues of lions and other carvings for sale. Other vendors have equipales (Mexican leather chairs) or copper.
The next toll booths are just before Magdalena. Count your change carefully at these toll booths.
If you want to drive through a typical small Mexican town and also skip the toll, this is a good place to take the free (libre) road. The toll road passes by hills with big stands of saguaro and senita cactus. The toll road is to the left (Cuota) and the free road (Libre) is to the right. The free road becomes Avenida Niños Heros, the main street through town. There are 3 sets of topes. Or take the right hand fork onto Avenida Cinco de Mayo in front of the IMSS building which will take you down to the Plaza. Follow the Zona Commercial signs. Watch for topes and overhead traffic lights.
Tacicuri is the small settlement along the free road with 2 sets of topes. The women make and sell the paper-thin, homemade wheat flour tortillas which are typical of Sonora. In season, pinon nuts, red chili ristas, squash and other items are for sale along the road.
Just beyond the split between the toll and the free roads for Magdalena, on the free road leading into town, is the turnoff to the late 18th century Franciscan church of San Ignacio de Cabûrica, about 2 Km. Turn right between the water tower and the white arch. This boldly lovely small church still has its ornate, original hand carved doors. One of the church ladies can open the sanctuary for you. It's appropriate to make a contribution to the church if you go inside.
Magdalena is the hometown of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the Mexican presidential candidate who was assassinated. Magdalena has left up some campaign signs in his memory.
Father Eusebio Francisco Kino was the pioneering Jesuit missionary in Northern Mexico, Arizona and California from about 1687 to 1711. His grave was discovered in Magdalena in 1966 and is the object of a huge pilgrimage on October 4, the feast day for St. Francisco Assisi. His statue is in a small side chapel of the later Franciscan church on the Plaza. Pilgrims fulfill their manda (vow) by walking to Magdalena where they pin milagros on his robes. It's a long way - 36 hours to walk the 55 miles (89 km) from Nogales, 120 miles (193 km) from Tucson. "Ya mero" - almost there. Turn right on Avenida Espino to the Plaza from Avenida Niños Heros. Small shops sell souvenirs year round.
This is the least interesting stretch of road, except for the mountains off in the distance. Truck and bus drivers on long hauls get sleepy here, so be watchful.
Km 178: Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe on cliff to the left/east.
Km 160: Santa Ana, Hwy 2 junction to Mexicali. Watch for the 3 sets of topes.
Km 147: Big cemetery on the left/east and mine to the right/west. The cemetery is redecorated during the Day of the Dead.
Km 112: South of Benjamín Hill and the porcelain factory is a checkpoint manned by the Federales, the federal military police. They are checking traffic for drugs and firearms. Be polite, they can drain fuel from your gas tank, deflate your tires, take out car paneling and so forth, if they want to check for hidden drugs. Usually they are only checking vehicles going north. There may be other temporary checkpoints on the highway. This town is named after a general of British descent who defended the border town of Naco during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917.
Km 42: The desert vegetation begins to change, note the first of the white-flowered palo santo trees (Ipomoea arborescens).
There are topes at the petrol station town.
Km 33: Checkpoint, but they usually don't stop vehicles going south, just slow down.
Km 15: Toll booths.
Km 12: Yaqui/Mayo deer dancer (Pascola) silhouette sign. The Yaqui and Mayo Indians fought hard into the 1930's to keep their fertile land from the Spanish and Mexican settlers. Although Sonora has adopted their deer dancer as a state symbol, the Yaqui and the Mayo are still distinct from their Mexican neighbors. Our friend, who grew up on a small ranchero outside of Alamos in the 1940's, speaks with fear of the Yaquis, who raided Alamos and its surrounding rancheros in the early years of the European settlements. See our article on Yaqui and Mayo Indian Easter ceremonies.
Km 9: Sonora Hwy 14 goes east to Ures at a right hand off ramp just beyond the statue of Padre Kino. Start of the outskirts of Hermosillo, the bustling state capitol. The University is on the left/east. Named in 1828 for Col. J. María Gonzãlez Hermosillo, a leader in Mexico's war of independence from Spain. Unless you are staying in Hermosillo, or have business to do in the central business district, we recommend taking the less crowded truck route through the industrial district.
Km 1: To get on the truck route, turn left from one of the two left hand turn lanes (south bound Hwy 15) at the fifth light. (There are 4 traffic lights and 1 pedestrian crossing light.) There is a sign for Guaymas. There are often vendors and groups of boys washing windows at this light. Sometimes they are pushy, just keep shaking your head no and don't roll down your window if you don't want yours done. Once, when they couldn't wash our windows, they tried our van doors to see if they were locked.
At Km 248, there is a Pemex station on the right. Behind on the mountain cliff is a colorfully painted shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
This is another long stretch of highway with some amazing accidents like the truck overloaded with bags of cement that had collapsed in the middle of its flatbed. Most of the truck drivers are paid by the load, so they drive long hours and sometimes they fall asleep and run off the road here. Puente means bridge and there are lots of small ones over drainage culverts on this section.
Km 234: Bad curve
Km 210: There is a large traditional wooden corral on the left/east.
Km 208: Funny folk art figure on top of the cafe on the right/west.
Km 194: Bad curve
Km 172: Road to Bahia de Kino on right/west.
Km 145: Bad curves
Guaymas and San Carlos are deep-sea game fishing and resort towns, a reasonable place to stop for the night.
If you are continuing south, the toll road is the bypass around Guaymas, take a left under the small overpass to Obregõn. Don't buy shrimp from the road vendors as there is no way to know if the shrimp are fresh.
Km 20: Toll booths and topes. It is 127 km from here to Obregõn. Watch out for bees here.
Km 10: Just beyond is a lava walled corral on the left/east.
Pemex station on the right. The town of Empalme is off to the right/west under the smog. As you go over the overpass on the south side of town, look back north and west to Guaymas, the jagged coastal rocks and a glimpse the ocean.
The desert becomes lush with thick stands of different kinds of giant, clumping cactus. This area is the bread basket of Sonora with huge irrigated fields.
Km 98: ONLY SONORA office and restrooms. If you did not get a Vehicle Import Permit at the border, you MUST stop and get an Only Sonora car permit here before going on south. The staff are friendly, efficient and speak English. Although the permit is issued here, it is returned at the Km. 21 office - you MUST stop there before leaving Mexico.
(April 2014: We did the paperwork first at the far window. The clerk made photocopies of my visa and car registration on their copier for free. I paid at the bank window, then back to the first window for the sticker. Only two staff on a quiet day, so the routine may vary during busy seasons.)
April 2013: First, pay the approximately $50USDollar fee (varies, depending on the exchange rate) with either cash or a credit card at the Banjercito area. We recommend cash as you don't put your credit card number at risk or have to pay the foreign currency exchange fee that most of the credit card companies are charging. (There are seats instead of a line in this office, so pay attention to who was ahead of you at the first window, then you will know when it's your turn at the next windows.) Second, take your receipt back to the car permit area. They will give you a sheet with a sticker. This sticker is good for the length of your tourist visa.
Third, put the sticker in the upper center of the front car windshield (behind the rear view mirror).
Only Sonora used to be good for only a single entry/exit. This time, we were told at Km 21 that we could use it for multiple entries/exits up to the expiration date. No one in the USA seems to know. The Mexican Consulate told me the program had been cancelled - even though we had used it that same week. If you do not plan to return before the permit's expiration date, turn in the permit; otherwise, ask at the Only Sonora office on your way down to see what the status is. (Forgot to ask in 2014)
Keep the paper that comes with the sticker as you must have the sticker taken off here or at Km. 21 on your return, as well as turn in the paper.
If you don't turn in the sticker, the Mexican government will assume that you have illegally sold the car in Mexico and a warrant will be issued for your arrest. If you re-enter, you will be arrested and your car confiscated. This really does happen.
Pass the turnoffs to Yaqui Indian villages. Watch for livestock on the road. The Yaquis and the Mexican government are sometimes at odds. Yaqui protestors may occupy toll booths or put a rope across the road asking for contributions until the military chases them off. Give them a donation if you wish. They have always let us pass easily.
Km 68: Pythaya turnoff. The town is named after the pitahaya edible cactus fruit that is sometimes for sale in the markets.
The Yaquis in this area still build the typical wattle and dab houses that were widespread in the Arizona and Sonoran desert Indian communities. There are a few Akimel O'odham Indian houses of this type on the road between Tucson and Phoenix. A framework of horizontal poles is infilled with adobe mud and the roof is usually thatch. These traditional houses are cool in the summer and easier and cheaper to build than adobe.
Km 58: Potam is once again a quiet village since the military check point closed. There are large irrigated fields beyond Potam.
Km 48: Vicam has a big pedestrian overpass and about 6 sets of topes. Sometimes bentwood furniture and large plaited wall/floor mats are for sale. Some of the houses in this town use split-logs from the Sierra Madre mountains.
Km 38: Torim turnoff.
Km 25: Bacum where there are often vaqueros with small herds of cattle or boys grazing goats on the roadside grass. Other men may be thrashing grain from the wild stands of wheat and grasses.
Km 16: Cajeme has an old-style, interesting adobe church off to the right of the road with double bell towers. It's to the right of the white water tower. Cajeme was a famous Yaqui Indian chief. Ciudad Obregõn was formerly called Cajeme.
Km 12: Cross the Río Yaqui.
Km 11: Toll booths.
Cross big irrigation canal on the outskirts of Ciudad Obregõn. You may see Yaqui Slider turtles in it. Barrío Esperanza (Hope) spreads along the sides. We have watched this barrío grow over the years from cardboard and wood pallet squatter shacks to cement block houses with electricity.
There is an turnoff to Tesopaco just before the pedestrian crossing light opposite Esperanza to the left/east on Hwy 11. (From Tesopaco, you can take Hwy 12 towards Yécora and from there to La Junta and Creel in the Sierra Madres. The Arizona program to reintroduce wild turkeys went to Yécora to collect turkeys.)
Pass the golf course (Alamos people come here to play).
We also take the truck route through Ciudad Obregõn. This city is named for General Alvaro Obregõn, an important general from Sonora in the 1913 Revolution and later presidente of Mexico. He lost an arm to Pancho Villa in a battle at Celaya.
As you go out of town, watch for crosswalks/traffic lights. There is a big Corona Beer distillery and bottling plant.
Km 209: Aeropuerto (airport) turn-off is at the Yaqui/Mayo deer dancer silhouette on the right/west, about 8 minutes south of Ciudad Obregõn. There are taxis (expensive) and rental cars available for the drive to Alamos. Your hotel may provide transportation. The plane connections from the USA to Ciudad Obregõn are often not direct and they change frequently. Also check out the Guaymas/San Carlos flights.
The long distance buses are decent, with toilets and comfortable seats. A number of expatriate Alamos residents take these buses to Arizona or to California. See our note on Bus service between Alamos, Sonora, Mexico and Tucson, AZ, USA
Km 204: Mountain shrine on left/east with a large painting of Virgin of Guadalupe.
Km 198: There are 2 sets of topes.
Km 196: Last toll booths before Navojoa which is only 36 km more. The local ejido has put in a graded dirt road short cut that detours around the toll booths on the right/west side of the road. We've never used it, but all the big trucks seem to. The government closes it off periodically and the ejido eventually reopens it.
There are big ejidos (cooperative farms), although some of them are leased out to commercial operators.
Km 166: A garden of prickly pears on the right/west, the young pads (napolitas) are eaten as a vegetable.
Km 161: There is a good Pemex station immediately north of Navojoa on the right/west side of the road at the junction off to Hwy 159 to Los Mochis and Huatabampo. No one hassles you here and it's generally clean, a good place to get your car windows washed. Count your change to make sure it is correct. They also have a small convenience store, snack shop and toilets (Which now cost 2 pesos to use). We see horse-drawn carts pulled up to the pumps in the early morning with the drivers putting air in the tires.
Km 159: Cross the Río Mayo into Navojoa. There are pretty park-like areas around the river. The Hotel Del Río on the south side of river on the right/west is a Best Western. Navojoa means "place among the prickly pear cactus" in Mayo.
Alamos is about a 50 km or 30 minute drive. Cross the railroad tracks. There are usually some vendors selling oranges, corn, etc. Cross the river. Go straight at the stop lights.
Don't get discouraged as you drive out of Navojoa; it's not a scenic route at the edge of town. Pass the squatter camp, the crumbling former red light ranchería, the city dump, the chicken farms and a marble chip plant. The new road is excellent and even has shoulders, a rarity in Mexico.
Eventually the road begins winding up into the thorn forest foothills (cerros) of the small mountains. If you are lucky, from December through February the lovely lavender or yellow flowered amapa trees (Tabebuia chrysantha and Tabebuia palmeri) bloom in clusters along the intermediate elevation of the hills. The tree with no leaves and huge, morning glory-shaped white flowers is the palo santo (Ipomoea arborescens) or else the cuajilote (Bombax palmeri). Big seed pods with fluffy, white fiber hang from the kapok tree (Ceiba acuminata). The tall saguaro-type cactus is hecho (Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum) which blooms from December into the spring. Summer flowering trees include the rose-flowered nesco (Willardia mexicana) and the blue flowered guayacãn (Guaiacum Coulteri).
The road to Presa Mocuzari, a large lake that has some fishing, is on the left/north.
Minas Nuevas has an historic church on the left, an old silver mine on the right and 2 unmarked sets of topes. There are temporary kilns for firing burnt adobes. The turn-off to Aduana is on the right/south and the town is about 2 miles (3 km). Aduana is worth a half-day side trip. See Day trips and tours from Alamos
The outskirts of Alamos, outside the historic district, have some newer buildings and 3 unmarked topes going in. There is a depot for bottled gas refills on the left/north. Real de los Alamos trailer park is on the right, two motels on the left, Motel Somar and Las Dolisa Motel (Dolisa's sign is on the right just past the Somar. It has kitchenettes, laundermat, they also sell and deliver bottled water). Also signs for the hunting lodges: Rancho Acosta and Rancho Palomar. There is a big set of topes just as the highway narrows down and passes an old orchard behind the long wall on the right. It widens as you approach the Y in the road. Farther on the right is Ban Creer, the bank to pay the tourist fee, get your visa stamped, change money or use their ATM.
The two left-hand forks of the road split around the Parque de Alameda commercial plaza and Mercado. Take the right-hand fork between the historic houses on Calle Madero. This narrow, one-way street goes directly to the Plaza de Armas and the church in the old colonial heart of Alamos.
See our sketch map of Alamos
Remember this is a partially unfenced road, so watch for animals plus the 2 topes at Minas Nuevas.
As you enter Navojoa watch for 2 topes and the 4-way stop between the railroad and the main highway.Thre are 2 unmarked topes at the railway station. The gas station on the north edge of town, on the left at the highway junction just after the highway becomes divided, is a convenient place to fill up.
There is a traffic light and 2 sets of topes at the small settlement at the Cajame turnoff just beyond the Navojoa toll booths.
The large facility on the right/east outside of Navojoa is the Arcelor Mittal iron ore processing plant.
Km 1: There are 6 or so crosswalk/traffic lights in this section.
Near Km 8: Highway sign for Tesopaco, then the 6th traffic light and just beyond is the unmarked turnoff (the road in front of the Goodyear signs to Yecora and Creel on the right/east.
Vicam has 8 sets of topes going north.
Km 58: Potam junction, 1 tope
Km 89: Sanitary Inspection station. We have always been waved through, but they may ask if you have fruit or meat.
Approaching Guaymas, take the left/west road fork over the 2 overpasses on to the toll road (Cuota) to Hermosillo.
Km 9: A traditional stone corral on the right/east.
From the toll booths to Km 146 there are several sets of bad curves.
Between Km 218-219, there is a tall, funny, VW bug spider sculpture on the right (east).
Just before Hermosillo is a Pemex station and shrine on the mountain on left/west.
Km 20 through Km 110: The distinctive desert includes a bush ocotillo which transitions into the Sonoran Desert ocotillo around Km 84. Both have bright red blooms in the spring. The desert is being cleared on the east side of the highway for more irrigated farmland and grapevines. The large valleys along the Rio San Miguel, which parallels the highway off to the far east, are big agricultural areas with small lakes.
Km 110: Military checkpoint outside of Benjamín Hill. They will usually let you pass. Autos drive to the left. Trucks in line to the right. Sometimes a truck pulls into the left lane and the other drivers won't let him cut back in. If you can get around on the shoulder, go ahead. There is a long line of trucks during the winter produce season. They try to move passenger cars through quickly, but sometimes the line backs up.
Km 147: Big cemetery on the right/east. Cemeteries and roadside crosses are redecorated around the first of November during the Mexican Day of the Dead ceremonies.
Km 166-167: Santa Ana junction stay to the right/east, vibradores at first overpass, watch for the tope just before the junction of 166. Choose the free/libre road to the left or the toll road to the right. Count your change carefully at these toll booths.
There are big stands of cactus on the hills along the toll road.
Km 180 (this info is old, may not be completely accurate for the libre road): on the free road, Magdalena has 6 traffic lights and a traffic policeman, 1 tope at the school, 1 more light, then 2 more topes going this direction. At the junction between the Cuota (right) and the Libre (left) road through Magdalena there are stands selling chili and garlic ristas, pecans and assorted canned goods, more stands on the Libre road into town. Don't buy the local soft cheese, it's not pasteurized. North of Magdalena, in the small town of Tacicuri there is usually someone selling packages of big, thin wheat flour tortillas. 2 topes here.
Km 207 at Imuris: Stone, copper and other crafts for sale on the right/east.
Km 228: Aqua Caliente (hot water/spring) Ranch
Between Km 231-232: Several roadside shrines (and trash) at an easy turnout. This is a lovely valley along the winding road.
Km 236: Ranch with split-rail corrals on right/east.
Km 241: At Cibuta there are two sets of topes.
Km 21 Checkpoint (at Km 255): Watch for topes.
Both car permits are turned in on the right/east side of the road (Sometimes this changes, ask/follow the signs). Follow the blue signs PERMIT RETURNS RIGHT LANE and FOREIGN VEHICLE PERMIT RETURNS to the booths on the right hand side of the road.
For Only Sonora/Banjercito, they will compare the number on your form with the one they have on the computer and give you back a receipt. Don't leave without this! They will come out and ask you to peel the sticker off your windshield and give it to them.
If you have the 180 day temporary Vehicle Import Permit (SAT) and don't plan to return to Mexico before it expires, stop and turn it in or you will have to return to the border and do this before the expiration date.
Follow the blue signs. Permits are turned in at the green signed Banjercito Internacion Fronterizos Permit Return building for Foreigner Vehicles on the farthest right/east. You will receive a receipt. Don't leave without this! They will come out and give you a razor blade to peel off your windshield sticker.
You can try to turn in your tourist visas, but sometimes no one at this check point or at the border wants them. Just don't bring expired visas back in on another trip, because a few people have had problems when officials saw their expired visas.
Watch for topes!
There may be a military checkpoint set up just beyond Km 21. Trucks line up to the right, cars drive to the left. You will probably be waved through.
Through the Mariposa Exit in Nogales:
As you approach the border, cement barricades split the auto traffic off from the truck and bus traffic into the FAR left lane ONLY. Do NOT take any of the right lanes for commercial vehicles. You will have to back up. If there is a truck behind you, they are not allowed to back up. You will have to find a break in the barricades to cross into the left lane.
Km 27: Rancho Santa Cruz Guest Ranch nestled in the cottonwoods.
Km 30: Nice view of Tumacacori and the Santa Cruz River Valley. You can also usually see the telescope on Mt. Wrightson to the right/east.
Pass the town of Tubac on the right/east. The original Spanish Presidio of Tubac was here. Now there is a state park, art galleries, restaurants, etc. The town hosts an arts festival in February.
Km 40: US Border Patrol You must stop. Please don't cut ahead into the line. View of mine tailings ahead to the northwest at the Amado exit.
Km 86 - 90: Good view of San Xavier del Bac off to the northwest/left as you drive into Tucson. Think how lucky you are to have done this drive now instead in the 1600-1800's. It was easy!
See also in this site: bus service between Alamos and Tucson, AZ | firearms in Mexico | sketch map of Alamos | Our Lady of Guadalupe | San Ignacio de Cabûrica | Yaqui and Mayo Indian Easter ceremonies |Sonora coastal bird list | bird guidebooks | desert books and links | wildflowers of the Southwest deserts
If you are traveling through Tucson, see Desert bed and breakfasts.
AlamosMexico.com at http://www.alamosmexico.com/ has current information and links for hotels, businesses, language courses and much more.
El Pedregal Mexico at www.ElPedregalMexico.com has a driving guide pdf posted at http://www.elpedregalmexico.com/uploads/pdf%20files/Drive%20Log.pdf.
El Pedregal is part of www.Solipaso.com which runs birding and other tours in Mexico.
If you have any comments on this guide, e-mail us at:
banis32 at gmail.com
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