- Airline tickets: Or hard copy of your receipt from your online booking. Only needed if you are not
driving, hitchhiking, walking or sailing. If flying in, say to Cabo, don’t put your tickets away at all or
you’ll forget them. Put it in your backpack as soon as you book to make sure you don’t forget them.
Or tape them to your surfboard—you won’t forget that.
- Passport: Absolutely required. Prior to 2007 passports were not required for trips under 72 hours.
That’s now changed.
- Minors (under 18 years of age) going to Mexico without a parent need to get a notarized consent
form signed by parents. Forms are available at Mexican consulates or www.Free-Legal-
- Tourist Cards and Visas: A passport is still not enough for anyone planning to spend over 72
hours in Mexico or heading south of Ensenada. You are required to have a stamped Mexican
tourist card, or visa.
- A Mexican Tourist Card or FM-T (Migratory Form for Foreign Tourist or Forma Migratoria Para
Tourista) is required if you will be in Baja more than three days (but less than 180) or if traveling
south of Ensenada. Visas are required for stays of over 180 days. Visas can be obtained at the
Mexican auto insurance offices, some travel agencies, Mexican Consulates the Mexican National
Tourist Council and in general at the border crossings, airports and ports. One easy place to pick
up a Tourist Card is just as you cross the border at Tijuana in the Declaration Area to the right of
the entry. To get one you’ll need to show the authorities your passport. It doesn’t end there; you’ll
need to get it validated once in Mexico. Driving in from San Diego you can get it validated just as
you cross the border into Tijuana at the secondary inspection area (just pull over to the right and
ask). Or head to Ensenada at the office of the Delegacíon de Servicios Migratórios (immigration
office—another good place to pick up a visa) which is on your left on Highway 1-D just as you pull
into town (don’t take the bypass). If flying in on a commercial airline, they’ll provide the Tourist
Card and it will get stamped upon arrival. Your Tourist Card will be valid for 180 days, but it can be
renewed or extended. For extensions apply at the Servicios Migratórios, which has offices in most
cities and towns. Not that you would, but don’t bother going for an extension until your card is
about to expire as they won’t give you an extension until you really need it. There’s another kind of
visa, the Visitante Rentista, or FM-3, that’s good for longer stays. You may be asked to show your
Tourist Card at road checkpoints, so have it ready (and always expect a hassle, so be patient and
- Surfboards: Ah, the big question. Which boards? Bring as many as feasible or convenient. If it’s a
quick fly-in to Cabo, one board is the call as the inconvenience of packing and carrying extra
boards grows exponentially with each board, and some airlines charge for every board.
Otherwise, bring two or more for lots of reasons. It’s a fact of life that boards get trashed in travel,
so you may want to carry a second board just for back up, if for no other reason. But there are
better reasons, and they could depend on whether you are a shortboarder, longboarder, or both.
Shortboarders heading to Baja Norte might consider bringing a bigger board than usual – a step-
up. The waves are typically bigger and juicer in Baja than its closest neighbor, Southern California,
and the water is colder, so the extra volume can be welcome. Shortboarders heading to Baja Sur
should probably just bring their everyday boards.The same goes for longboarders, although most
are happy to bring one for all occasions. Even if you mostly shortboard, you may want to bring a
longboard to take advantage of the long points in Baja Sur on the smaller days. And if you have
huevos grandes, you will want to bring a gun for the bigger, juicier days or spots like Todos
Santos. (If you don’t have the huevos, don’t bring anything over 6’2” and you’ll have an excuse to
stay on the beach when it gets really big.) In the end, it’s nice to have a quiver of boards available
because it’s just plain fun. Probably the best way to pack a quiver is to work it out with your
buddies so that instead of bringing them all yourself, collectively you’ll have a good selection.
Then again, if you are heading to Cabo you don’t necessarily need to pack a board at all. Costa
Azul surf shop rents boards, as do places like Pescadero Surf Camp, the surf shop/stand on the
beach at Cerritos, and even the bed & breakfast Rancho Elías Calles. The rental selection has
usually been mostly longboards, funboards and trashed boards, but more and more you can find
Surftech epoxies of all sizes that are in pretty good shape.
- Soft surfboard racks (or foam tubing) and bungee cords and cinch straps (good ones): Some
rental cars come with racks, but none have straps. So the foam tubing and cinch straps can be
used to secure boards to the hard racks. Bungees are for back-up. But frankly, you don't want to
have to think about back-up. Get the best racks you can afford. We like the Lockdown Racks by
Curve. You can find them online at SurfTravelGear.com (click here). Pack soft racks, tubing and
bungee cords in your board bag. If the airline loses your surfboards the racks may as well go
along for the ride. Pack cinch straps in your backpack. If the cinch straps are in the one board bag
that gets lost then everyone loses.
- Fins and hardware: If you removed the fins to pack your boards in your board bag, don’t forget to
pack them along with the hardware (key or screwdriver) for securing them and extra screws (for
guys like Bobito Sancho, who, on a recent Nicaragua trip, managed to lose the fin screw for his
longboard center fin and the FCS screw for his shortboard, leaving them both useless).
- Clothing: Consider packing or wearing one respectable-looking outfit (long pants, a “non T-shirt”
shirt, shoes, socks), because you never know when you might need it. If you travel to Baja often
enough, there’s a real chance you could eventually find yourself in front of a judge. Otherwise, you
will need a variety of clothes depending on where and when you go. Bring clothes for both hot and
somewhat chilly weather, depending on the time of year. Mostly, however, it’s shorts and tees. But
not white tees. Baja is a dirty place – dusty at the least, grimy and muddy at worst – so white
clothes become brown clothes in a few hours.
- Beach towels: Beach towels are so easy to forget, even for surfers. Perhaps this will help: Beach
towels make good board-packing material.
- Surf Wax: For Northern Baja bring cool to cold-water wax year-round. Down south it’s different. For
Cabo you’ll need cool to warm-water wax. In the peak of summer pack tropical, too. If you fly in you
should bring base coat (which is really tropical anyhow) wax since you may have stripped the wax
from your board(s) before packing. Plan on two bars a week, unless you are big on deck patches
or you expect to be in Northern Baja or Cabo, as there are surf shops for resupply. At the end of
your trip remember to donate your remaining wax to the locals as wax is expensive for them. Never
bring wax home. Bring a wax comb, too.
- Extra leash or two: You will need the second extra leash for your buddy who never brings wax. If
you are packing a new board, don’t forget the leash string for securing the leash to the board. My
buddy Bob Towner keeps an extra string tied to the leash plug—a great idea. (Yeah, he’s the
same guy who forgets to bring fin screws.) Good selection of travel leashes, from lightweight
comps to the new, "world's strongest leash" (per the manufacturer) can be found at
- Ding repair kit: It used to be that you had to pack resin and epoxy, or Solarez, sandpaper,
fiberglass cloth and all sorts of stuff. Now there are convenient, prepacked ding repair kits.
SurfTravelGear.com has a good selection. If you are going to remote spots or plan to be more self-
sufficient, build your own kit—fiberglass cloth, fiberglass roving, razor blade, sanding resin,
catalyst, masking tape, 60- and 100-grit sandpaper—for gashes and broken fins. The January
1996 Surfer Magazine has a good article on how to repair broken fins on the road (call or write
Surfer for a reprint), but that's pretty old, and with removable fins that act is almost ancient history.
Or you can go whole hog and get the book on ding repair, Fiberglass Ding Repair, available
online. If you are going straight to Cabo or staying north of Ensenada you don’t really need to pack
ding repair stuff since there are quite a few surf shops and ding repair joints.
- Duct tape: Quite a bit lighter than a ding repair kit. If you are traveling in a pack, have one guy bring
tape and another a ding repair kit.
- Super glue: To fix your glasses, reattach the rear-view mirror that rattled off, and for needle-and-
threadless sutures (see “First aid kit” below).
- (If you rent a car in Cabo) Soft racks and bungee cords and cinch straps (good ones—you can
find them at SurfTravelGear.com. If you rent a car you can sometimes rent racks, too. Also, you
often don’t have room in your vehicle for your empty board bags—they are incredibly bulky. So you
will need the bungees and cinch straps.
- Rashguards: Long sleeve rashguards are good if you’re going to be trunking it in southern Baja.
Long sleeve rashguards are a great investment. In the short run you’ll save time getting into the
water (less sunscreen lathering time) and money on sunscreen. In the long run you’ll save on
medical bills from removing carcinomas.
- Sunglasses: 1 cheap pair. You can buy spare or replacement cheap sunglasses for less than
$10 from the border to Ensenada, then again in Cabo. And if you wear glasses for reading or
driving, be sure to pack two pair in case you lose one, especially for driving.
- Hats: Surf travel requires serious sun protection. Trucker caps are OK, but leave much uncovered.
Bring your cool cap for going out, and a dork cap to keep the sun off. Try one of those Australian-
looking things that can be crumpled up into your pocket and washed without brim damage. They
protect your neck so you won’t have Baja lizard neck by the time you are 30. Japanese gardener
straw hats are even better. And if you want to put in serious hours in the tropical surf down south,
get a surf hat. Good ones are found at SurfTravelGear.com.
- Swiss Army knife: Pack it in your checked luggage if you are flying in as airport security will not let
you carry it on the plane in your pocket or your carry-on bag. That goes for most sharp objects.
- Spanish-English dictionary
- Flashlight and extra batteries: There’s a lighting shortage most everywhere in the world, relative
to the most advanced countries, and in parts of Baja the power sometimes goes out at night. So
even if you’re not camping, a flashlight can be handy. Headlamps are even better. Don’t forget
extra batteries. They can be relatively expensive and they’re usually old. Bring extra camera
- Sunblock lotion: Lots of the highest UV rating you can find. Buy the cheap stuff for your body (and
the no-wax buddy); you will use gallons of it (unless you use a long sleeve rashguard). Buy the
expensive stuff for your face. The cheap stuff stings your eyes more easily, ruining the first half-
hour of every session. Look for waterproof, rubproof, sweatproof, UVA and UVB protection. We only
use one brand, SolRX, available at SurfTravelGear.com. Get sunblock chapstick too.
- Mosquito repellent: Not necessary for Northern Baja, but a good idea for down south in the
- Caladryl and cotton balls: For the nights when you drink too much tequila and forget to use
protection (from mosquitoes).
- Balls Protection: The boys down below don’t take well to warm, moist, tropical climates, where
fungus and bacteria rule. Keeping your junk dry is the best protection. The appropriately-named
Fresh Balls is about the best stuff you can get. It’s a lotion, but turns into a powder after
application. Then there are the usual talc-like brands – Gold Bond, etc.
- First aid kit: Start by buying Sick Surfers Ask the Surf Docs & Dr. Geoff, by Drs. Renneker, Starr
and Booth. Read the part about cuts. Get cut in the ocean and you stand a fair chance of getting an
infection. The more you surf the more you’ll get cut. Hopefully, you will be surfing more than usual.
And this is Mexico which is not known for its hygiene standards. Back to the kit… Antibiotics
(check with your doctor for a good prescription), antiseptic (Betadine is good), Neosporin, a variety
of waterproof bandages, gauze, lots of tape, snake bite kit (if you are camping), antibacterial soap,
Advil, aspirin (for pain and fever), Pepto-Bismol (for you-know-what), tweezers (to pull out urchin
spines and pieces of fiberglass), Q-tips for cleaning cuts and the sand out of your ears, hydrogen
peroxide to pour into cuts, scissors, and lots of soap and fresh water for washing out cuts. If you
want to avoid all that work and don’t mind paying for someone else to put a great, lightweight first
aid kit together for you, look into the Atwater Carey products. Find them online at Wetsand.com.
Unusual for a typical first aid kit, but invaluable for a surfer’s first aid kit is duct tape. First aid tape
isn’t designed to hold flesh together in the ocean. But if you duct tape over your first aid tape you’ll
have a pretty sturdy package that will allow you to surf even with moderately serious cuts. Here’s
one more first aid tip from Scott Valor, a frequent Mexico surf explorer and author of The Surfer’s
Guide to Mainland Mexico: Super Glue. In Scott’s words: “How about Super Glue? Invented by the
military to take the place of sewn stitches, it works the same. Simply clean the wound, apply a little
to one side and squeeze together to seal. As the wound heals, skin layers with glue exfoliate off. It
is a great field dressing and easy to use. I’ve even seen it for sale down in Michoacán!”
- Wetsuits: Once again, a north/south thing. Down south around the Cabo Corridor and East Cape
you’ll likely need nothing, but bring a springsuit just in case. Up north and on the West Cape you’ll
need different wetsuits depending on the season. In the winter and spring, bring something for
water in the mid-50s—nothing less than a 3/3 full suit, along with booties and maybe a hood,
especially for Todos. Most guys wear fullsuits in the summer, too—2/2s or 3/2s, although a short-
sleeve fullsuit is probably best. Also bring along a springsuit (2/1) or shortjohn for the warmer
- Wetsuit Repair: It’s bad enough to have to travel with a wetsuit, but it’s even worse to have it rip on
you when you are hours or days from the nearest surf shop. There are a variety of urethane
sealants available, and most surf shops carry at least one brand. The problem is that they really
don’t work well where most wetsuits rip, which is on the seams. What works best is to use iron-on
neoprene repair fabric, such as Aquaseal Iron-Mend. It’s strong and fast—a dry wetsuit can be
repaired in less than a minute. For extra holding and sealing power use both fabric and sealant.
By now you’ve figured out the real problem: You are screwed without an iron. So pick up a cheap
travel iron. Or borrow your mom’s. Or you could try a hot muffler. Or bring a back-up wetsuit. Or get
the Quick Fix wetsuit repair kit, also at SurfTravelGear.com. Great for basic repairs. No iron
- Booties: A good idea for Northern Baja in the winter, for lava reef protection, or to protect the
tootsies from sea urchin spines—Baja is legendary for sea urchins at rocky breaks. Another good
reason to pack booties is as a bandage protector. If you cut your foot you may want to use a booty
as a bandage cover and protector (over the duct tape, of course!)
- Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard are most widely accepted.
- Cash: Many of the gas stations and all of the lower-priced eateries and hotels don’t take credit
cards, and it’s almost impossible to cash a personal check. (The cops prefer dollars, too, and you
will need to be prepared for the mordida.) There are ATMs in the bigger cities, but they don’t
always have money and they charge high fees (but give great exchange rates, and pesos). If you
are going south of Ensenada, you will definitely want to exchange some dollars into pesos.
American dollars are widely accepted, but it gets more difficult as you get to the smaller towns and
the smaller businesses, and they always charge you a premium for the exchange – intentionally
or otherwise. Basically, you’ll save money if you use pesos.
- Calculator: A $5 Staples calculator for figuring the exchange rate at gas stations and other places
where you are easy prey. Most cell phones have calculators too, but they’re often not as convenient
or easy to use. But speaking of cell phones…
- Cell phone: Probably didn’t need to add this, as who doesn’t always have their mobile phone in
their pocket? But check with your provider first. Coverage is pretty good in Northern Baja from the
border through Ensenada, Camalu through El Rosario, and most of the area from La Paz south.
Rates are high if you don’t have a special international plan.
- Address book: You never know when you may need to call someone back home or send a
postcard to your boss or sweetie.
- Driver’s license: If you plan to drive in Baja, your current driver’s license is all you need, unless of
course, you decide to move to Baja permanently.
- Tee-shirts to give to the kids: Or to shed along the way. One plan is to pack clothes you would give
to charity, and leave them in hotel rooms and campgrounds as you wear them and travel around.
You will lighten your load as you go, not have any dirty clothes to bring home and wash, and you’ll
be doing a good deed because the Mexicans are predominantly poor. To that point, save the stuff
you used to give to charities for your Baja trips. Once over the border look for churches as good
places to make your drop-offs.
- Surf and skate stickers to give to the kids: Mexican kids like stickers a lot. Stickers are like cash
with the kids. Keep them handy for when you need directions or other favors from kids. And they
work well to temporarily patch small dings.
- Cameras: Two – one for backup. Don’t forget extra memory cards and batteries. All are expensive
in Mexico, and memory cards can be hard to find at any price.
- Binoculars: Saves driving that last half-mile where you destroy the undercarriage of your vehicle.
Or the hikes that require you to leave your vehicle unattended.
- Energy or Snack bars: And bring lots. Food is not always convenient, there are very few Starbucks
or Jack-in-the-Box’s, and preparing meals every time you get hungry is a pain. Pack snack bars for
a good, timesaving, dawn patrol breakfast. No cooking or refrigeration required. When you run out
you can find bananas just about anywhere.
- Books: For down time. In Search of Captain Zero of course.
- Earplugs: You will be in the water a lot. An infection will ruin it. Ear care supplies can be found at
- Toilet paper: This is not Huntington Pier. Restrooms are few and far between, and they’re not
often well stocked. Given the likelihood of Montezuma’s Revenge, toilet paper should be at the top
of your packing list. Then again, if you forget TP you can always use your beach towel, or your
waxless bro’s towel, or maybe corn tortillas. Wet sand works too.
- Paper and pencil: To write down directions. Better still, bring a sketchbook to keep a log and draw
your own maps. Best option: The Surfer's Guide to Baja. Add your notes to the excellent maps.
- Watch or alarm clock: So you don’t miss your flight back (Cabo trips). Again, a cell phone does the
job, too. Or you could try that Corona bottle sundial thing.
- Plastic sandwich and trash bags: To pack your trash. Baja sometimes looks like one big trash
can, but we don’t need to compound the problem. Trash bags are also good for wet trunks and
wetsuits, and double as raincoats. Use sandwich bags to pack goop—sunscreen, insect
repellent, K-Y, whatever your goop-thing is—so that if a leak develops your bitchin Rusty tank top
won’t get ruined.
- Vehicle repair parts: Once you get past Ensenada vehicle parts stores and repair shops are hard
to find. The legendary Green Angels carry some spare parts, but you will likely have to wait for
hours to be discovered by them, and they may not have the correct parts for your vehicle. Here’s a
short list. You know your vehicle, so add to this accordingly.
- Extra spare tire, and make sure you have your changing tools (Extra spare is important for any
extended off-road driving. If you get a flat off-road, chances are you can get another soon. And once
you use your spare you are screwed until you get somewhere you can get the flat fixed. That could
be a very long drive.)
- Jumper cables
- 12-volt air compressor or other tire inflator (For extended off-road driving, especially in sand, you
may want to deflate your tires to around 15 PSI. You’ll need the air compressor to reinflate.)
- Tire pressure gauge (so you reinflate to the proper pressure)
- Siphon for gas
- Gas can
- Spare belts and hoses
- Hose clamps
- Electrical tape
- Motor oil and other fluids (brake, power steering, transmission, anti-freeze)
- Filters—air, oil, fuel
- Spare spark plugs
- Shovel: To dig your vehicle out when you get stuck. Also for latrine digging. A hatchet also works.
- Tow Rope, Strap or Chain: For when you are unsuccessful at digging your vehicle out. Get a
length of at least 50 feet...and a tow hook.
- Spare vehicle keys: Losing your truck keys down there ain’t fun.
- Ice chest: Buy block ice before you cross the border. Block ice lasts longer. And ice bought in Baja
is made from Baja water, and you know what that means.
From The Surfer's Guide to Baja. Available at core surf shops, SurfTravelGear.com and other online retailers.
The Surfer's Guide to Baja - What to Pack
What to Pack for a Baja Surf Trip
If you are like most people, the last day before you leave
on a surf trip is spent in a nervous, anxious state of
adrenaline rush. This is due to the anticipation of good,
so you leave with a clear conscience (never possible);
and most importantly, the only fear worse than a pintail-
first sucking over the falls: forgetting to pack something.
Deciding what to pack for Baja depends on the type of trip
you are planning. Are you camping in Northern Baja or
stylin’ it in Cabo at a luxury condo? Flying to Natividad or
driving and surfing the whole way from Baja Malibu to
Punta Perfecta? For most, Baja is a road trip. But
whichever it is, here’s a long list covering most
everything, albeit not enough for a proper camping trip
and too much for a Cabo weekend.
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