All posts in “Helpful Hints”

Cash and Credit Cards

Most restaurants and stores accept Visa and Mastercard. American Express is also accepted. However, be sure to bring cash with you for those merchants who don’t take credit cards.

Also, be sure to call your credit card issuer prior to departing for Mexico, just to let them know (it’s a total hassle to arrive and find that your cards have been placed on hold due to ever-stringent security at your issuer). We usually take the time in-between flights to make the calls.

Note that many credit card companies charge a 2% conversion fee for foreign exchange transactions. There are several that do not, Capital One being one of them.

When buying things in Cabo, insist on being quoted in PESOS.  If you’re being quoted in dollars, the merchant will likely convert to pesos when tallying your bill and you can bet that the conversion won’t be in your favor.

Airport: Transportation

Rental Cars — Rental cars aren’t cheap in Cabo. Travelocity.com seems to sometimes have good rates on compact cars in Cabo. Be sure to pay for the car with a credit card that covers collision damage and skip getting the expensive collision insurance through the rental car agency. However, be sure to buy liability insurance from them, as your auto policy back home won’t cover you in Mexico!

Beware that your reservation will be in dollars, but your contract will be in pesos; they’ll probably make $$ from the self-applied conversion rate, so best to be aware of this.

Airport Shuttle — $16 each way, per person. It takes a little longer than catching a cab, but the free cervezas on the way will make the time go quicker. To return to the airport, see the concierge the day prior and they’ll make sure you’re set for a pickup. For not much more, you can also book with TransPacifico and have a Suburban all to yourself.

Airport Limo — TransPacifico offers upscale transportation for US$95 from the airport to downtown Cabo San Lucas (up to seven people in a late-model, clean Suburban). This doesn’t cost much more than a taxi, so it’s a great deal, even for a family of four. This is the real deal — a nicely dressed chauffeur holding up a sign with your name on it at the airport, waiting to whisk you away — just a great way to start off your vacation. As a bonus, TransPacifico will head to Cabo on the toll road, saving about 15 minutes of travel time. To book with TransPacifico, click here.

Taxis — the $300 you’ll spend on a small rental car will sure buy a lot of taxi rides. For those trips to Todos Santos, see the concierge and just rent a car for a day (or take a TransCabo tour for $50 each). Yeah, it’s a pain paying $10 each way to go to Costco, but $300 will buy a lot of those $10 trips and with a lot more convenience (like being dropped at a restaurant rather than spending 20 minutes searching for a parking space). What do we do? We keep a car in Cabo and know some great parking spots downtown :) Otherwise, we tend to walk the fifteen minutes to downtown in an effort offset the caloric consumption at dinner. By the way, no tip required for taxis (it’s built into the price).

Cheaper Rental Cars and Travel — when you travel internationally, try booking your rental car in the country you’ll be traveling to. For example, rather than booking at www.avis.com (the USA website), try www.avis.com.mx (the Mexican website). Also, the major travel booking engines (Expedia, etc.) have foreign variants where you can also try. If you don’t have any luck, try contacting a foreign travel agent and they can usually secure “locals” pricing (and at the same time, charge it to your USA credit card — which the websites may reject due to it be domiciled in the USA rather than in the country where you’re trying to book).

Cheaper (yet) Rental Cars — just prior to your trip, take another look at what rental cars are renting for. Since there’s no penalty for canceling a rental car reservation, it doesn’t hurt to check and see if the rate has changed. Often, if reservations are on the light side, you’ll find car rentals discounted the closer you get to your departure date.

Policia — Speaking of rental cars, you need to know that you may get pulled over for a traffic infraction. The most common is turning the wrong-way onto one of Cabo’s many one-way streets. The local cops sit and wait for some unsuspecting Gringo to do this. We’ve never, ever been hassled, but a buddy got stopped and paid the 200 peso “fine” immediately to the officer. Just be cool, mind your manners, and you won’t be paying any fines to anyone.

Emergency — Speaking of rental cars and speaking of Policia, it’s worth mentioning that 911 won’t get you ANYWHERE in Cabo. In the event of an emergency, 066 is the number to use! If you’re at Villa La Estancia, call the operator (0) first. Worse comes to worst, there’s a emergency clinic on the four-lane when it first enters Cabo. The official hospital is located across from CCC on the road to Todos Santos.

Colectivo Buses (public transportation) — These are small white buses that run around just about every street in Cabo. How’s your spanish?

Cruise Ships — and Shopping

At times, Cabo’s bay can be inundated with cruise ships. When you see the cruise ships, it mean that Cabo’s downtown area will be busy with disgorged cruise tourists. This means that restaurants will be busy AND that prices get increased by many of the vendors.

So, the rule is — if you want bargains, shop when there are NO cruise ships around! However, if you want to have FUN, hit El Squid Roe or Cabo Wabo on a night when a cruise ship is anchored overnight.

Cabo San Lucas/San Jose del Cabo

Okay, let’s get this confusion un-confused right away.

If you’ve never been to Cabo San Lucas, it’s important for you to know that there are two different towns with the name CABO in them:  Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.  Don’t get them confused!

Cabo San Lucas is at the tip of Baja and is the “CABO” you want.  The airport is located at San Jose del Cabo (SJD), which is a town located about 25 miles east of Cabo San Lucas.  SJD has resorts, but not as upscale as Cabo San Lucas; also, the weather’s more humid around SJD.  We’d like to say that SJD has some pretty cool ambience downtown – art galleries and restaurants – but Cabo San Lucas is where most people go when they think “CABO.”

In between Cabo San Lucas and SJD is the “tourist corridor” and many resorts are located along this stretch (Hilton, Westin, One-and-Only Palmila), but they are not in “CABO” and require an expensive taxi drive to get to CABO.  If you’re staying on “the corridor,” you might get tired of having to drive 20 minutes to get to town…

Tipping

Tipping in Mexico is greatly appreciated by the workers.

Prior to leaving for Cabo, make sure to get a handful of 1’s and 5’s; for us, tipping very much improves our stay in Cabo — and at the same time plays a BIG part in spreading goodwill and of improving the lives of the workers that work hard in making our stay enjoyable.

BELL STAFF AND TRANSPORATION: We typically tip $1/bag

RESTAURANTS: 10-20% of the bill

GROCERY SHOPPING: If you shop at the local markets, the kids and people bagging your groceries aren’t paid and depend on tips.

MAID: We usually tip our maid the first cleaning of our stay. US$10-20 is always VERY appreciated by our maid and we end up tipping just about every other cleaning day.

POOL: If you want that particular chair saved for you…

CABS: Cab drivers do not expect tips in Mexico. Shuttle drivers who do a good job can be tipped (some of them even provide free cervezas for the road…).

Things to take to Cabo

  • Passport and driver’s license (with photocopies stashed in your luggage).
  • Small bills for tips — about $50 in 1’s and 5’s. Larger bills for shopping and restaurants that may not take credit cards. Take additional 1’s and 5’s if you don’t like getting change in Pesos.
  • Sunglasses, shorts, suntan lotion and sandals!
  • iPod loaded with Jimmy Buffett tunes
  • Costco card (or Sam’s Club)
  • Digital camera
  • Laptop
  • Empty lightweight duffel bag — for carrying your shopping treasures home with you. We even go so far as to stuff it with packing materials (and a roll of tape) for the trip to Cabo, so we can wrap stuff for the ride back.
  • Printouts of the information from this website so you don’t forget all this stuff!

Calling Toll-Free Numbers

Calling toll-free numbers: American toll-free numbers dialed from Cabo are usually blocked by the local phone companies (who get no revenue from the connection).

Anyway, passed on to us is a way to bypass the blocks. For 800 numbers, dial 011-880, then the number; for 866 numbers, 001-883 then the number; for 877 numbers, dial 001-882 then the number and for 888 numbers, dial 001-881 then the number.

Of course, if you’re staying in our villa just pick up the Skype or Vonage phone and dial like you’re in the USA.

Pemex Stations: Cash only (Pesos preferred)

Just a word to the wise: if you rent a car, you’ll need to buy gas for the car.  Be aware of the fact that the closer you get to the airport, the bigger the chance that you may get scammed by a Pemex attendant.  They’re aware it’s a rental car, you’re filling up prior to returning it and that you’re probably in a rush — they rely on that knowledge and might be tempted to scam you.

The biggest scam:  they fill the vehicle, you give them US$50 and expect change. The attendant disappears with your US$50, only to return with a US$1 or $5, saying “senor, you give me the wrong amount…”  What are you going to do? Call the cops and miss your flight?

Sometimes they won’t even disappear — another attendant will distract you (“Senor, would you like the window washed?) and during the distraction, the attendant holding your money will switch out your bill for a lower-denomination bill.

The other scam (and it happened to me):  the attendant filling the vehicle distracts you by asking how your vacation was, whatever, and gets you to stop watching the pump (which you should be doing).  Meanwhile, his buddy somehow resets the pump to read higher than what was pumped (it may be some kind of diagnostic mode).  When it happened to me, I noticed out of the corner of my eye another attendant at the pump and when he quickly left, it turned out that it took 17 gallons to fill our rental car — and on the way to the airport, my wife pointed to the vehicle manual where it said “gas capacity…  14 gallons.”

Here’s my recommendation:

1.  Pay in pesos; if no pesos, pay in dollars — but ask how much gas that will buy
2.  Tell the attendant “200 pesos worth” or “17 gallons” (if that’s what your money will buy) or ask “How much will this buy?” while holding up the bill(s).
3.  Hold onto the cash while the attendant pumps the fuel.
4.  WATCH THE PUMP; ENSURE THAT IT HAS BEEN RESET TO ZERO before pumping begins.
5.  WATCH THE PUMP
6.  WATCH THE PUMP
7.  Have a passenger in your car witness the handing of the bill(s) to the attendant for final payment. Count it out.

Not all Pemex jockeys are dishonest. Just pay attention. Tip them if they were honest.

Wikimapia

For most of the places listed on this blog, we found a cool little application called Wikimapia. It’s based on Google Earth technology and is an annotated mapping system.

Check it out.