There are a few things you should understand about the military checkpoints in Baja before you begin a road trip on Mex 1.
The first is: Their purpose is to capture the bad guys involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities, not to harass unsuspecting tourists traveling the highway.
As you travel along Mex 1, it won’t be long before you will encounter a sign indicating there is a military checkpoint ahead. The number of these military checkpoints varies throughout the year; you can expect to encounter approximately six of these stops scattered along the highway between Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas.
When you approach your first checkpoint, you can expect to see young men in military uniforms armed with automatic rifles.
It becomes crystal clear that these young men (some of whom appear young enough to still be in school) are very serious about their jobs.
Often you will just be waved on through and be on your way.
If not, don’t panic. Should the Officer in Charge signal for you to come to a complete stop, lower your window.
If it is dark turn on your interior lights so that he can easily see inside your vehicle. Now is a good time to remember the old song title “smile and the world smiles with you”.
The soldiers have been trained to be courteous but firm with tourists. Don’t expect much of the conversation to be in English. Usually their first question will be, “Habla Espanol?” (Do you speak Spanish?) If you don’t, most of the communication will be broken English and pointing. They may ask you, “Adonde va?” (where is your destination?). Conversely, “De donde viene?” is (where are you coming from?).
If the officer asks to inspect your vehicle, you and your passengers will be asked to step outside, taking your pet if you are traveling with an animal, to allow them to do their job as efficiently as possible. There will often be a line of cars behind you, so the quicker this all takes place the happier everyone will be. They will expect you to open the trunk or the back door of the vehicle so they can inspect the contents. You can anticipate that they might check in the glove compartment, look under the seats, and open your travel bags to inspect the contents.
These military checkpoints may seem like one of the more intimidating experiences for the first time road traveler to Baja, but they are necessary in the Mexican government’s effort to control illegal activities along Mex 1.
The important thing to remember is that the young soldiers manning the checkpoints have a difficult task trying to separate the good guys from the bad guys.
My experience is that a non-confrontational attitude, punctuated with a smile, makes a big difference and will expedite your stop. You will be pleasantly surprised how professional these young men can behave.
Be aware that possession of guns, shells or other related paraphernalia, is illegal in Baja and there are no excuses. Make sure that any guns or related items have been removed from your vehicle prior to crossing into Baja.