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Route of the Rio Sonora

Travel Planning

This page is your basic planning guide for your Rio Sonora trip. Traveling the route of the Rio Sonora is easy by private auto or RV but sometimes we just need someone to show us what to do and what documents we need.  What are you waiting for? Visit today!

Most visitors from the north will begin this adventure by entering Mexico from Cochise County, Arizona. Access to the Rio Sonora route is made via the border crossings located in Douglas and Naco, Arizona. Douglas and it's Mexican sister city, Agua Prieta are the eastern access point and will most accessible to those with larger vehicles or if towing.  Naco and it's sister city, Naco, Sonora has a smaller port but is usually less congested. 

Important:  The Banjercito office in Naco has closed.  Vehicle permits are now available in Cananea for those traveling the Route of the Rio Sonora via Naco.  Those crossing via Naco will obtain tourist cards (FMT) at the immigration office in Naco. Note that there are no longer any free 7 day tourist cards.  All are for 180 days and must be paid.

Directions to the Banjercito in Cananea.

From the east (AP-Naco) enter Cananea, stay in the left left lane as you approach the obelisk. You will need to make a left turn around the obelisk. There are two stop signs, one from cars approaching from the left and another for the ones from the right. Use caution as cross traffic does not stop. Stay in the left lane and proceed about two blocks. You will see a stop light in front of an Oxxo-Pemex. You will want to go left at this light. You will see a day school with a brightly colored fence in front of you on the right. You will want to park in front and just past this school. Walk down the left side of the colored fence and you are in front of the Banjercito office. It is not clearly marked from the street.

If you are coming from Imirus, stay to the right coming past the same obelisk as mentioned above and then move to the left lane on to the stop light.

Their phone is (645) 332-6815 They speak limited English

Mon-Fri. 8:00-6:00 Sat & Sun 8:00-1:00

Spanish language:  While knowledge of the Spanish language is not essential, some ability to speak and understand the language will add to your travel enjoyment.

Calling Mexico:  To call numbers listed from the USA, dial 011-52, followed by the number listed.  To call these numbers within Mexico on a cell phone, dial the number listed.  To dial back to the USA from within Mexico, dial 001, followed by the area code & phone number. Check with your cell service provider to activate service in Mexico before departure.

Paperwork: To bring your automobile into Mexico, you must have the title, registration, a tourist visa and a valid US drivers license. You should have Mexican Insurance on your automobile as your US insurance is NOT VALID in Mexico. You can obtain insurance online here and can buy it for a specified time or on an annual basis if you expect to travel into Mexico frequently. See the insurance page for online Mexican insurance.

If you plan to travel the Route of the Rio Sonora, you must obtain a sticker for the vehicle which is good for 6 months and is valid in other areas of Mexico. You will need a credit card to post a bond of about $20 to guarantee you will not sell the car in Mexico. Note: If you use cash, the bond is over $200. Moral is use a credit card!

See our detailed paperwork section below on this page for more on vehicle registration and tourist cards (visas).

Traveling with pets. If your pet is going on the trip with you, visit your veterinarian and get the animal a checkup and health certificate before you go. Take the rabies certificate for the animal with you as well. Be very conscious of temperature conditions and insure your animal has sufficient water and protection from heat, especially during the summer months.

Marriage in Mexico. Marriage in Mexico is a civil process conducted by an officer or judge of the Civil Registry. A church wedding alone is not legally valid in Mexico. To be married by the Civil Registry requires advance planning to complete the application process. Details about the process for US citizens wanting to marry in Mexico can be found at the web site of the Mexican Consulate in Douglas, AZ by clicking here. For Canadian citizens, click here for similar information provided by the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.

Weapons: We'll say this more than once, but DO NOT take any type of firearm or ammunition into Mexico. If you hunt or shoot sporting clays or carry firearms or ammunition in your vehicle for any reason, check it carefully to make sure you did not leave these items in the vehicle. If caught in Mexico with these items in your possession the Mexican authorities will toss you in jail and forget where the key is! They won't care if it was accidental or otherwise-so check the vehicle.

Services: Fuel including unleaded or diesel is available at numerous service stations along the route. You can buy any brand you like as long as it's PEMEX, the Mexican National Oil Company. These are full service so don't pump your own. They take pesos or dollars. There is usually a youngster around to clean your windshield and a small gratuity of 25-50 cents is in order. Restrooms (banos) are normally available at these service stations.

Speed Limits: Observe the speed limit signs, which are in kilometers per hour. Pay particular attention in built up areas as it is not uncommon to have pedestrians or animals along the right of way. Driving at night is generally not recommended as domestic animals may wander off the open range and onto the highway. Stick to the daylight hours for highway travel. And as in the US, please don't drink and drive. And please don't litter.

Weather Warning:  During July and August, the southwest desert area experiences a period of monsoon rains, which can cause flash floods.  Mexico Highway 188, the route of the Rio (River) Sonora makes numerous crossings of the river and other streams. These will be marked with a sign that reads "Vado" or ford.  Use extreme caution when approaching one of these crossings. The water can be quite deep and the current may be very strong and each year swift water accidents claim many lives in the southwest.  If in any doubt, do not enter a Vado when current is present.

Photos courtesy of Nogales Riders MC
3rd Annual Rio Sonora Ride-June 2006


The paperwork requirements to visit Mexico beyond the frontier zone (about 20 kilometers deep) are not terribly hard to deal with, but do require a bit of advanced planning.

To travel in Mexico beyond the frontier zone and visit the Rio Sonora requires a Mexican Tourist Card or visa. Tourist cards or visas are good for 6 months and cost 230 pesos (about $21 US)

To get a tourist card, you must have the following:
A valid passport or passport card.
A valid picture ID with address shown.
A minor traveling with one parent will need written permission from the other parent. Small children who do not have ID of their own will generally be included on a parent's tourist card.

There is a $22/person visitors fee which is paid at the Banjercito (Bank of the Army & Navy) located near the Migracion (Mexican Immigration) office. Actual cost will vary slightly depending on the currency exchange rate. The process is essentially the same at either of the border crossing locations.

1. Go to Migracion and present your identification to the official. They will complete the form and return it to you to sign. Tell them if you are staying for 7 days or less to get the no-fee tourist card.
2. Go to the Banjercito or bank with the document and pay the tourist card fee, if staying longer than one week. Banjercito will stamp your tourist card indicating that you have paid and give you a receipt.
3. Return to Migracion with your tourist card. The official will affix the final stamps to it.
4. Before proceeding to obtain your car permit, you will need a copy of the tourist card. Migracion can direct you to a copy center.

Once you have your tourist card from the Migracion (Mexican Immigration), you can obtain the necessary permit for your vehicle. For those whose travel plans include traveling the Route of the Rio Sonora, have the following and bring copies of each to provide the issuing authorities:

Original Title and a copy
Registration and a copy
Your Drivers License and a copy.
A major Credit Card
Your tourist card/visa and a copy.

You will post a bond of about $28 on the vehicle with the credit card. The purpose is to verify that you will not sell the vehicle in Mexico. This is non-refundable. If you plan to use cash, the price goes up to over $200 so use a credit card. The vehicle agency is the Banjercito, the Bank of the Armed Forces and your credit card is quite safe here. Note that if you entered Mexico via Naco, you will get your car permit in Cananea.

 The bonded permits are good for multiple entrances and for six months. If you won't be back in six months, turn them in upon leaving the country. They can get quite testy if you do not.

If you plan to bring a boat and trailer, ATV, PWC or other toy along, have all the documents and copies of the documents for these as well. Boats are now documented for up to 10 years. It's a different form than for motor vehicles. No bond is required on the boat.

You may be asked to pay duty on certain items, including computers. In some instances, very expensive new big game fishing tackle may also be taxed. Don't try to hide it but be prepared. And one more time: NO FIREARMS OR AMMUNITION, including shell casings. If they catch you with any of it, you are looking at 5 YEARS in Mexican prison. These are not a very nice place. Check your vehicle for any of this and leave it home.

Border Crossing Times: During the months of December and January, traffic returning to the US from Mexico can be very heavy and result in long waiting times to cross the border. Weekends and holidays can be very congested.  If your travel plans permit, try and avoid these periods.  If they cannot be avoided we do suggest you get an early start leaving. Border crossing times are available on line at https://bwt.cbp.gov/index.html


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