Home How To Guide Travel Roadmap – Driving to Mexico – West Coast Route from Canada to the Oaxaca Coast

Travel Roadmap – Driving to Mexico – West Coast Route from Canada to the Oaxaca Coast

by Brent May

If you’re planning on driving to Mexico, here we share our experience of driving the West Coast from Canada to southern Mexico. You’ll need to have vehicle insurance and registration in order. If you’re planning on staying for awhile or importing your car, check out our article here about How To Import Your Car to Mexico. Here’s our adventure!

Nogales, AZ to Navojoa, Mexico

Total Distance: 642 Kms

Total Time: 9.5 hours

  • We were a little late getting on the road driving to Mexico through the border crossing and it is always best to cross early to avoid traffic and to get as far into Mexico as you can during daylight hours.
  • We got a quick 10-minute inspection of our truck at the crossing and headed for the 20KM Migracion Point on Highway #15
  • The Migracion you will need to stop to obtain your car permit.  You will need a copy of your passport, a credit card issued in the same name as the registration and insurance, the original copies (and bring 1 photocopy) of both registration and insurance, photocopies of your tourist card. There is a copy shop on site to get copies of everything.
  • You will have to make a few trips as you first have to pay for your tourist card and then stand in line to provide payment confirmation and receive your tourist card.  You then have to pay for the vehicle permit and get back in line to provide confirmation of payment and receive your vehicle permit.  You can obtain your vehicle permit in Canada ahead of time which will save you time in this process.

Tips for the Border crossing from the U.S. to Mexico 

  • Once through Migracion you will drive through the “Red Light – Green Light” system for customs.
  • If you are driving, the lights will be in the lane you cross in. Look for yours and if it’s green, then drive away. If it’s red (and there should be a bell or buzzer sounding) then you need to pull over to the Customs (you’ll be pointed in the direction by an officer) area for an inspection.
  • The police sometimes ask foreigners to show some form of identification. You may wish to carry photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport and important documents and leave the originals in a safe place.

Navojoa to Mazatlan

Total Distance – 623 Kms

Total Time – 7 hours

  • Highway 15 in Mexico is very good and it is advised to take the toll roads
  • There were a total of 5 tolls to pay on the highway; total cost of tolls were 285 pesos
  • We stayed at the Ramada Inn, Mazatlan.  Very nice hotel with Wi-Fi.


Mazatlan to Manzanillo

Total Distance: 749 Kms

Total Time: 11 hrs  Left Mazatlan at 7AM and headed for Manzanillo

  • It was very busy in Mazatlan, with a lot of construction in the city
  • There were a total of 4 tolls on the highway, totaling 387 pesos
  • We lost a little time as we stopped just South of Puerto Vallarta at a wonderful restaurant called “Le Kliff’ for dinner.  If you have time to spare it is highly recommended
  • Arrived at 10:15PM to Manzanillo
  • We stayed at Las Hadas in Manzanillo, it’s an all inclusive spot and is very beautiful

 Manzanilla to Zihuatenejo

Total Distance: 466 Kms

Total Time: 7.5 hrs

  • Once we were out of the hotel zone in Manzanillo we were a little confused on how to get back on the 200 South. We took the road to Colima which was the right way (Hwy 200)
  • Past Ameria we continued onto the Colima and took the Tecoman route. Make sure you go through Tecoman and do not turn to Centro
  • Take a left at the light to Playa Azul and you will see Playa Real sign at the light where you are turning left at
  • Follow to the next light and turn right
  • Total 1 toll at 108 pesos
  • We stayed at the Catalina Beach Resort in Zihuatenejo, a very nice all –inclusive spot


 Zihuatenejo to Puerto Angel

Total Distance: 567 Kms

Total Time: 12 hrs

  • There were good signs to Acapulco and we were able to get cash out at the Bodega store for the tolls
  • There were 2 tolls on the way totaling 51 pesos
  • We arrived in Acapulco to very heavy traffic and poor signage; took over 2 hours to get out of the city
  • We took the overpass and turned left at the light when we got to the ocean and kept driving straight until we saw the Oaxaca sign.  We turned left at the Oaxaca sign that said ‘Puerto Escondido’
  • We recently heard there is now a route that will bypass the whole city, which is great news 


Post Trip Recaps & Highlights

Total Distance from Nogales AZ to Puerto Angel MX: 3,047 Kms

Total Time from Nogales AZ to Puerto Angel: 44 Hours

Total Pesos for toll roads: $831



  • Keep cash on hand for the toll roads and in case you need to pay the Police a bribe for ‘speeding’.
  • We drove at night on a few occasions and never felt unsafe.  However, we do not advise driving at night due to the pedestrian traffic and livestock on the road.   There are many people and animals on the road at night.  Although some carry lights and flash them at oncoming cars as a warning, most people do not.
  • Mexican drivers utilize their signal lights a great deal on the highways and roads.  You will come across situations where the vehicle in front of you turns on his left hand signal.   This can mean he is turning left or he is signaling for you to pass.  If you are on a busy highway and the vehicle in front of you turns their left signal light on, it is a safe bet that it is a good opportunity to pass.  However, definitely exercise caution when doing so.

 What We Learned

  • The locals all over Mexico were extremely friendly and assisted us when we were lost.  Everyone from people on the street to taxi drivers and even local police, were very helpful and gave us directions to help us get on our way.
  • Mexico’s infrastructure is better than we thought it was going to be.  They are developing the roads at a great pace all along the country, making it easier and less time consuming to drive south to your vacation or retirement destination.  Don’t get us wrong, there were some rough spots, but overall the drive was pretty smooth sailing.
  • There are a lot of places to get both gas and funds along the way in Mexico; we weren’t sure how many gas stations we were going to see, and there was definitely no shortage of them during our trip down.
  • Despite local media and news, driving in Mexico is not scary.  We never once felt at danger or worried during our drive.  In fact, we found that the local Policia and locals were quite helpful during times we were lost.

Driving in Mexico

The Mexican style of driving and standards are very different from Canada. Be prepared to stop unexpectedly, and beware of potholes, slow moving vehicles, vehicles changing lane without indicating and going through red lights. Many local drivers do not have any form of car insurance.

Debit and credit cards are widely accepted, including by ATMs. It is not possible to exchange American dollars in cash at hotel receptions – this can only be done at banks and Bureaux de Change.

The Mexican Federal Police (Policia Federal or “Federales”) patrol the roads. Unfortunately, the culture of “mordida” (the term for bribe in the local slang) still prevails, and as often as not the Federales may be willing to let you off with a warning in exchange for some folding money. However, do not by any means assume that the officer is expecting a bribe–the Police are well aware that it is illegal and rarely will ask directly, occasionally an officer might be offended or may even arrest you for offering. As in most places, courtesy and respect are most important. Knowing Spanish is also very useful in these situations, since the police often do not know English.

Read more: How To Drive Safely in Mexico

The Green Angels are a government run roadside assistance program with green trucks driven by mechanics all over Mexico.  For a fee, they will can assist you with fixing a vehicle or provide gasoline should you run out.  Should you have vehicle trouble on the road, it is wise to only obtain assistance from the Green Angels by calling 078.

There are many ‘topes’ or speed bumps on the highways in Mexico, definitely keep at a moderate pace and keep your eyes peeled as they are not always marked.

Driving to Mexico, you will come across military checkpoints, where you will be asked for your driver’s license and insurance information. Your vehicle may be searched for weapons or drugs, with varying degrees depending on your load and how busy they are.

Driving to Mexico is a great adventure. Drive safely and take your time. For more information and tips on driving in Mexico, visit our Post-Departure Checklist.

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1 comment

Michael Kane May 28, 2020 - 3:11 pm

Thank you…this was very interesting to read. Lots of information for anyone wanting to drive down. If we were to come to Mexico on a six months tourist visa how does one handle the insurance for our vehicle. Will it cost a fortune or can you get reasonable insurance for the six months? Always have wondered about this aspect of traveling in Mexico. Thank you.


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