Dentistry is really expensive these days, and RVers that make their way south in the wintertime can take advantage of the good quality dental care that is available just over the border in Mexico.
The November/December 2016 issue of Escapees Magazine features our article about some of the great experiences we have had with dentists in Mexico just across the border from Yuma,Arizona, in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico.
Escapees Magazine Nov-Dec 2016 Article by: Emily and Mark Fagan
Escapees has posted the article on their website at this link:
We have always been very satisfied with both the dental care and the price.
With Mark’s tooth aching, we dashed to Yuma and then zipped across the border from San Luis, Arizona, to San Luis, Mexico, on our bikes (you can learn more about doing this as well as walking over the border in our blog post about Mexican dental care here).
Even though dental care in Mexico is excellent, the upscale frills that Americans are accustomed to are not necessarily a part of the deal.
For starters, dentistry in Mexico is usually handled on a walk-in basis rather than making an appointment in advance.
Some people have read my writings about dentists in Mexico and have tried to find these dentists on the internet. Well, most Mexican dentists don’t bother with the expense of setting up a website, as they rely more on word of mouth and patients showing up at the door when they need care.
So, we got psyched up for a day of dentistry, rode the 1/2 block from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office, leaned our bikes against the wall and peered in the door. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there.
Rather than wait, we decided to ride over to visit the endodontist, Dr. Horacio Avila, who had done such an excellent job on my root canal last year. I needed to see him for a follow-up on my root canal anyway, and we figured he might have some thoughts about Mark’s aching baby tooth. We each took a quick turn in his dentist’s chair and looked at our x-rays with him on his computer screen on the wall.
My root canal was doing great, but Mark’s situation was more complex. The adult tooth was present but was lying sideways, which meant there was no option for an implant. Instead, Dr. Avila felt he probably needed a bridge.
Mark and Dr. Avila check out his tooth on an x-ray.
Being an endontontist and not a general practice dentist, bridges are not his line of work. So, he handed us the x-rays and sent us on our way.
The bill for our five x-rays at Dr. Avila’s office was $50.
We biked back to Dr. Bernal’s office and found he had returned from his errands and was happy to see us.
Mark got in his dentist chair, and Dr. Bernal had a look at his tooth and Dr. Avila’s x-rays. Of course, Dr. Bernal has an x-ray machine too, but there was no need to duplicate the x-rays. He agreed that an implant was out and that a bridge was probably the best way to go.
He pulled Mark’s tiny baby tooth out of his mouth with a quick yank and explained that a bridge involves grinding down the two adjacent teeth, putting crowns on them, and then suspending a false tooth in between. Egads!!
Sadly, the two teeth on either side of Mark’s (now absent) baby tooth were 100% healthy. Mark felt really badly about grinding those teeth down to support two crowns and suspend a false tooth in between.
Dr. Bernal scratched his head for a while and studied Mark’s teeth for a while and then suggested he consider a different option: grinding a tiny channel on the back side of each of the two healthy teeth and suspending a false tooth in between on wings that were inserted and glued into the channels.
This sounded intriguing.
He suggested that Mark try a temporary solution like that and see how it felt before committing to a permanent solution. So, we hung around San Luis for about three hours while Dr. Bernal’s lab technician across the street fabricated a plastic temporary tooth. In the middle of the afternoon, Dr. Bernal inserted it and off we went back over the border.
He charged us $20 total for all of his work and the lab’s work.
Dr. Bernal goes over Mark’s options with him.
Mark liked the idea of being able to keep his healthy teeth mostly intact and not crown them, so we returned a few weeks later to get the permanent work done. Again, we showed up unannounced around 8:00 in the morning, and by late afternoon Dr. Bernal’s technician had fabricated a permanent false tooth with wings and Dr. Bernal had prepped Mark’s teeth and installed it.
The cost: $250.
Mark absolutely loves this tooth. He’s had it for a few months now and doesn’t even notice it’s there. It chews fine, looks fine, and the teeth on either side of it are totally intact except for a tiny indent in each one to support the wings of the false tooth. A retired dentist friend of ours said similar dental work in the US would have cost over $1,000.
Besides the high quality workmanship and low cost, the best thing about all of this was the back-and-forth conversation we were able to have with Dr. Bernal. Rather than the brusque manner of many dentists, he took the time to consider other options besides a bridge and to listen to our concerns about destroying two perfectly good teeth. I was in the room with Mark the whole time, and I liked the feeling that we were participants in Mark’s dental care rather than being just recipients.
Next door to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a hair cutting salon. Both times we visited Dr. Bernal, we dropped in on the hair cutting salon to get haircuts. The most delightful stylist named Amber works there, and for just $3 for men and $5 for women, she does a great job.
To find her shop: as you walk into the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is, the hair salon is on the right side before his office. For both of us, these have been the bests haircut we’ve had in over a year!
Next to Dr. Bernal’s office there is a great little hair cutting place.
Amber gives me a haircut
Another thing that’s great about going to Mexico for dental care — besides receiving excellent care at a fraction of American prices — is that it’s an excuse to enjoy a daytrip to another culture and eat some really wonderful Mexican food.
In San Luis there is an absolutely fantastic restaurant called El Parianchi that serves incredible food, complete with fun entertainment. We’ve now eaten several lunches there and a breakfast too, and we have loved the experience every single time.
The first course of a feast for two for $13 (pancakes and omelette not shown) at El Parianchi restaurant.
We’ve gotten to know several of the waiters as well as the harpist, Elias. Mexicans enjoy listening to folk songs played by various kinds of musicians while dining, and the harp music adds a special something to the ambiance at El Parianchi.
Elias entertains us with his harp.
El Parianchi also has a stash of huge sombreros, and sometimes the waiters bring them out and put them on their guests as a gag. We ended up wearing these crazy hats on one of our visits for my root canal last year (see this post). On one of our visits this year, a group celebrating a 26th birthday ended up in the hats right behind us!
Sombreros for everyone at the birthday party!
For lots more details about dental care in Mexico, including directions to our dentists’ offices, check out this link:
Basic info for our primary care dentist. He’ll set you up with specialists in town as needed:
Dr. Sergio Bernal
Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico
Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11
For first timers, walk 100 yards from the border to Dr. Bernal’s office (detailed directions at this link), and then take $2-$3 cabs to visit other dental specialists, if needed, and be sure to enjoy a meal at El Parianchi! Here is a map showing the locations we visited:
Dr. Avila = GPS 32.477776,-114.766224 (Calle 13 & Madero)
El Parianchi is in between them at Calle 10 & Captain Carlos Calles
To get the hours of operation of the San Luis, Arizona, USA / San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico border crossing and other info about the border, call: 928-627-8854
When we crossed the border for our first visit with Dr. Bernal this past October, we were alarmed to see a huge group of illegal immigrants waiting to cross into the US. On our return visit a month later, Mexican authorities had removed them from the sidewalks and placed them in shelters. The sidewalks near the border were empty as they always had been before.
So how do you get hooked up with a good dentist in Mexico?
We first heard about Dr. Bernal from fellow Escapees members at the Escapees Kofa RV Park in Yuma. For new RVers, we highly recommend joining Escapees RV Club, as it is little tidbits like getting the name and address of a trusted Mexican dentist that are the unsung benefits of being part of this club.
But sometimes it is the little things that are passed on member to member, like dentist and doctor referrals, that make the club particularly helpful for folks living on the road in their RV. Lots of people go RVing, but there is a comaraderie among Escapees members that is unique.
To learn a little more about the unusual history of Escapees, check out our links:
If you think you might want to join Escapees RV Club, you can become a member at the link below…and if you mention that you heard about Escapees from this blog, Roads Less Traveled, they will put a little something in our tip jar as a thank you (and thank YOU!!):
A trip to the dentist’s office isn’t fun for anyone anywhere, but Mexican dentists do terrific work, and we have received outstanding and very affordable dental care in our travels throughout Mexico, both on our sailboat and in our RV.
This page offers a glimpse of what a trip to a Mexican dentist’s office is like, what to expect when crossing the border to get dental work done, which dentists we’ve been to and recommend, and what various dental procedures have cost us. There’s a ton of info on Mexican dentistry here, and if you don’t want to read it all in one sitting, these quick links will get where you want to go:
Our first experience with a Mexican dentist, and the one that totally changed our attitude towards Mexican dentistry in general, was in San Luis Mexico, just a little south of Yuma, Arizona, back in 2008.
Getting a Mexican Crown was quite an adventure for us back in the day.
We walked over the border and continued on for half a block to the office of Dr. Sergio Bernal at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. We did not have an appointment, but we wanted to see what could be done about a baby tooth of Mark’s that had never fallen out but had suddenly started bothering him.
After two minutes in the chair, Dr. Bernal recommended he get a crown. We weren’t sure about getting something complicated like this done in Mexico, and were also unsure whether a gold crown or porcelain crown would be preferable. We walked around the streets of San Luis for an hour debating whether to go for it, and if so, what kind of crown to get.
When we returned to Dr. Bernal’s office, we met a group of Americans from Las Vegas in the waiting room. A big friendly guy in the group told us he gathered up his friends and family every year, rented a car, and drove down to San Luis to get their teeth checked and worked on by Dr. Bernal. He’d had extensive bridge work done by Dr. Bernal 10 years prior, and he had been so impressed by the quality and affordable cost of the job that he’d been going back ever since.
Mark decided to go for it, and in no time Dr. Bernal had ground down his tooth, made an impression of it and made arrangements for a porcelain crown to be delivered to his office by noon the next day. Because the permanent crown would be installed so soon, there was no need for a temporary crown (how nice!).
As we walked out the door (without having paid a cent for the diagnosis, the tooth grinding or the impression), Dr. Bernal asked Mark his name, scribbled it on a yellow sticky pad and put it on the impression. He waved to us as we left to walk back over the border and said, “See you tomorrow!”
Despite the next day being a Saturday (we later learned Mexicans work six days a week), we walked across the border again at noon, and Dr. Bernal quickly cemented the crown in place.
The cost? $130 US.
Best of all, it was a perfect color match and was the best fitting crown Mark had ever had. It has been fine ever since.
From that moment on, we have entrusted our teeth to Mexican dentists throughout the country without a moment’s hesitation.
The Dentist Chair… yikes!
During our nearly four year cruise of Mexico on our sailboat, we visited dentists (and doctors) up and down the Pacific coast and in the Sea of Cortez. The dental care was always top quality, very caring, and very affordable. We have never had unnecessary work recommended (as happened to me 15 years ago in the US when an unscrupulous dentist recommended I get five crowns immediately, only one of which I actually needed).
I always feel like going to the dentist in Mexico is basically like going to the barber. You walk in off the street without an appointment, talk to the dentist directly, hop in the chair for him or her to assess what you need, get it done right away or return the next day, and walk out with everything completed at a fraction of what it would cost in the US.
Where Are Mexican Dentists Trained?
There are some urban myths about Mexican dentistry. I’ve heard people say, “The best Mexican dentists get their training in the US.”
In our experience, that is not true. Of the ten excellent dentists and doctors we have been to in Mexico, none received their training in an American university.
Usually, Mexican dentists and doctors hang their diplomas on the wall. Whether the diplomas are hand calligraphed in Latin or typed up in Spanish, it is pretty easy to tell if the university was in Guadalajara, Mexico City or Baja California (the three areas for medical and dental schools we’ve seen on diplomas).
Do Mexican Dentists Speak English?
In our experience, most speak at least a little, especially in tourist areas and in the border towns where a lot of Americans come specifically to receive dental care.
Why Are Mexican Dentists So Cheap?
People also wonder how it is that Mexican dental (and medical) professionals can charge so little for their services if they are really as good as (or better than) their counterparts in the US. The reasons are complex, but in a nutshell, the American and Mexican economies and cultures are totally different. Even more important, the business models for the dental and medical professions are not at all alike in the two countries.
A Lower Wage Scale in Mexico
The average DAILY wage for an unskilled Mexican worker is around $5 per DAY. Obviously, skilled workers make more, but the entire spectrum of wages, from professionals to janitors, is scaled down much lower than the US. In many cases, like that of a city employed street sweeper we met in Huatulco, the employee provides the equipment for their job. This industrious city worker we met had fashioned his brooms for his government job from tree branches and twigs himself.
Cheaper Office Space
Commercial property rental is also much cheaper. A friend of mine who owns a store in the popular seaside tourist town of Zihuatanejo pays $30 a MONTH to rent the space. Office space for Mexican dentists and doctors may not be quite that low, but even if it is double the price, it is still negligible by American standards.
Very Little or No Staff
Mexican dentists and doctors also don’t employ much staff, if any. Some dentists have an assistant, but many of the best ones we’ve been to don’t. Also, there is no one dedicated to answering the phone and making appointments. Any time we have had our teeth cleaned, it was done by the dentist and not by a hygienist. One very conscientious dentist spent an HOUR cleaning my teeth and then spent another HOUR on Mark’s, for $45 US each.
Little or No Malpractice Insurance and Marketing
Unlike their American counterparts, Mexican dentists and doctors don’t have to carry massive amounts malpractice insurance. Also, they don’t invest in marketing. None of the dentists we’ve been to have websites, and it is very difficult to find information about any of them on the internet. The few Mexican dentists that do have websites cater primarily to Americans, and we found that their fees are often adjusted upwards accordingly.
No Third Party Relationships
Mexican dentists and doctors also set their fees according to the market demands of their patients. There is no insurance company operating as a middle man. Patients pay their medical providers directly rather than paying an insurance company who, in turn, then pays the dentist or doctor, as happens in the US.
This keeps the patient/doctor relationship very pure. The doctor or dentist is employed by the patient, not by a third party insurance company. Fees for unexpected issues that come up requiring return visits, extra x-rays, additional prescriptions, etc., can be discussed between doctor/dentist and patient. In our experience, though, those little extras have been free because the dentist/doctor is managing the relationship with the patient/customer and wants to provide good value.
Getting A Root Canal in Mexico — Our Experience in San Luis south of Yuma, AZ
A few weeks ago one of my teeth began to bother me, so we decided to return to our dentist, Dr. Sergio Bernal, in San Luis, Mexico, who had done such a fine job with Mark’s crown years ago. We took our rig to Yuma, drove our truck to the Mexican border and parked it in a parking lot on the American side right next to the border crossing area. The parking fee was $4 for 24 hours (in 2017 it is $5 for 24 hours).
The parking lot on the American side of the border at San Luis, Arizona. $4 for 24 hours.
It was 8:45 in the morning on a Tuesday, and we followed signs that walked us through the border crossing. We saw a few Mexican border agents, but none asked for our passports. Then we emerged on the other side and saw a soldier dressed in desert camo holding an automatic weapon.
The soldier smiled broadly at us when we said “buenos días” to him as we passed by, and he said “buenos días” to us in return.
Having lived in Mexico for a few years, we learned that Mexicans always greet each other with a warm “buenos días” (before noon), or “buenas tardes” (after 12:00 p.m. – sharp), whether they are passing in the street, or standing in front of a store clerk about to pay for something, or boarding a crowded bus (everyone on the bus responds!). Mustering the guts to say that phrase in Mexico will always get you a smiling response, and it is heartwarming and fun to give it a try.
We also learned that the presence of soldiers is just standard procedure at Mexico’s borders (we’ve seen them at the US and Guatemala borders). It is also standard procedure when the Mexican Navy boards boats at sea.
Our sailboat was boarded 8 times during our cruise, either to to check our papers, to check for weapons and drugs, or to make sure we had proper safety gear on board. Each time the inspectors couldn’t have been nicer or more polite. In one case, when they brought aboard a drug-sniffing dog, they put booties on his feet so he wouldn’t scratch the boat. Another time we were given a performance evaluation form to fill out for the boss!
I touch on three of the Mexican Navy boardings we experienced in these blog posts:
Moments after crossing the border, we emerged onto a lively and busy street in the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, the Mexican sister city of San Luis, Arizona.
After emerging from the border complex, we walked straight down the street, crossing a small intersection and looking to our left towards the opposite side of the street as we walked.
Mark crosses a small intersection after crossing the border. Dr. Bernal’s office is on the left just beyond the lavender “Genesis” sign (center of photo).
We were walking south on First Street (“Calle 1”). Dr. Bernal’s office is in an alcove on east side of the street (the opposite side…the left side in the above photo) about halfway between the first intersection we had just crossed and the street light at the next intersection.
The shops are small and tightly packed with colorful but faded signs overhead.
Walking down Calle 1 (1st Street), and looking left, these shops are just before Dr. Bernal’s alcove.
Catching sight of the lavender “Genesis” sign on the left side (east side) of the street, we spotted the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is located just beyond that sign (to the right of the sign while facing that side of the street (facing east)).
Inside Dr. Bernal’s alcove, we saw a large grinning tooth out in front of his office door. A sign overhead and a sign on the roof both said, “Family Dental.”
Dr. Bernal’s office is in this alcove. The door is on the right.
We head in!
Even though it had been 7 years since we had been here, back in 2008, memories flooded back as soon as we walked in. We had known nothing about Mexico back then, and we had been quite overwhelmed by the differences on the two sides of the border.
Things are not as spiffy or glam in Mexico as they are in much of America, and this dentist’s office wasn’t in fancy Class A office space like we were used to back home. That had been a little off-putting to us back then. But during those early days of full-time travel we had yet to learn that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
The waiting room.
When we walked into Dr. Bernal’s office with all these memories swirling around, he greeted us with a big smile. I explained (in English) that he had done a crown for Mark way back when and that we had come back because I had a toothache.
“Oh yes, I remember….” He said.
“You remember us???!!” I asked, incredulously.
“Of course I do…” he said, “Gold crown or porcelain… you couldn’t decide.”
We were the only patients there at the moment, so I hopped in the chair right away and he tapped my teeth and said I needed a root canal. Darn! I was afraid of that.
Dr. Sergio Bernal tells me I need a root canal. Oof!
Mark got in the chair and was given a clean bill of health. No problems, no need for work, no need even for a cleaning. “Come back when you have a problem,” Dr. Bernal said. I should only be so lucky!!
Wasting no time on my behalf, Dr. Bernal got on the phone to an endodontist across town, Dr. Horacio Avila, to make sure he was available to see me right away. Then he walked us out to the corner and hailed a cab for us. He handed the cabbie a business card for the endodontist, and we climbed in the cab.
Dr. Bernal puts us in a cab to go to endodontist Dr. Horacio Avila across town.
The cabbie swung the car around and then let another guy in too. The cabs in San Luis are shared cabs, and it is normal to have the cabbie pick up someone else who is headed in the same general direction.
A few minutes later he dropped us off at Dr. Horacio Avila’s office. The cabbie wanted 40 pesos or $2, whichever we had. We happened to have some pesos we wanted to get rid of, so we paid in pesos. Back when we got those pesos in 2013, the exchange rate had been less than 13 pesos to a dollar. What a shock it was to find that the exchange rate is now 19+ to the dollar!
Dr. Avila’s office at Calle 13 (13th Street) and Madero
Dr. Avila’s office was nice inside, and like all dentists and doctors we’ve been to in Mexico, his diplomas hung on his wall. He had earned his dental degrees at the University of Baja California. Dr. Bernal had earned his degrees at the University of Guadalajara.
Dr. Avila’s diplomas. He was trained at the University of Baja California.
I was blown away by Dr. Avila’s equipment. A quickie x-ray yielded an image on a computer screen in seconds, and he explained (in English) that the root canal would take about 45 minutes. He said it would normally cost $180 US, but because it was in a tooth that already had a crown on it, the extra work of drilling through the crown to perform the root canal would raise the cost to $230 US.
I leaned back, he numbed me up, and in no time the root canal was finished.
Dr. Avila had very modern equipment with x-rays that went directly to a computer screen, etc., etc.
When I got out of the chair, he explained that I needed anitbiotics and anti-inflammatory meds. He described how to take them and wrote up a prescription, handed me an envelope containing prints of my x-rays as well as the images of my root canal in progress, and then he led us to the door.
His assistant asked me my name and wrote it down on a pad. I gave her $230 in American dollars in cash, and she asked me whether I wanted a receipt. Then she took us out to her car and drove us to Liquis Farmacia, a big pharmacy back near the border crossing area. (“Farmacia” is pronounced “far-MAH-seeya” even though it doesn’t look like it).
Liquis Pharmacy (“Farmacia”) is a block away from the border.
She took us through the drive-through lane, placed the order for the meds at the window for us, and passed our cash through to the clerk (we paid in pesos, but dollars would have been fine too). It was about $10 for a supply of amoxicillan (Ampliron) and anti-inflammatory Supradol. Then she drove us to Dr. Bernal’s office.
We tipped her $5 in American dollars for driving us around town and making sure we had the right meds in hand before we left the country.
Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to the drive-through window and ordered my meds for me.
We walked over to Dr. Bernal’s office and I climbed back in his dentist chair (gosh so many times in and out of dentist’s chairs in one morning!!). He took a look at Dr. Avila’s work and said he would complete the job by putting a filling in the crown where Dr. Avila had drilled through to do the root canal. But he didn’t want to do it until a few days had passed and the tooth was totally pain free.
So he sent us on our way (and again, did not charge us a cent).
It was 10:00 in the morning when we crossed back over the border into the US and got back in our truck.
The pedestrian crossing going back into the US
The whole thing had taken an hour and a quarter — with no appointment. In that short span of time we received two check-ups, a diagnosis, a root canal, x-rays and meds.
Including the cab ride from the dentist to the endodontist, a tip for the assistant who drove us to the pharmacy in her own personal car, and the parking fee for our truck that was waiting for us on the American side of the border, it all came to a grand total of $241 US.
So far, we hadn’t paid Dr. Bernal a dime, yet he had masterminded the whole thing.
Does this sound like American dentistry?
We returned a few days later to check in with Dr. Bernal (no appointment, we just walked in). My tooth was still a little tender, so he told me I wasn’t ready for him to do the filling in the crown yet yet. So I was in and out of the chair once again! And again, he didn’t charge me for the checkup.
Finally my tooth was back in action and pain free, so we crossed over the border to Mexico again. This time we went to the endodontist, Dr. Avila, first to get a final x-ray of the root canal and verify that everything was A-okay. He was happy to see me and said everything looked great and sent me on my way. He didn’t charge me for the x-ray or the office visit.
Dr. Avila explains to me about teeth and roots. The x-ray is on the computer screen on the wall.
Then we stopped in at Dr. Bernal’s office. He had a line of patients waiting this time, so we took a seat and waited with them. I got chatting with an American woman next to me, and she told me she and her family had been coming down from Phoenix to see Dr. Bernal for 25 years.
“He must have been just out kid out of dental school back then!” I said.
“We were all a lot younger back then,” she laughed.
Suddenly, an old, hunched Mexican woman came in clutching her mouth. She was moaning as she took a seat. Mark asked her in broken Spanish if she was in pain, and she nodded and rubbed her fingers along her whole lower jaw, obviously in agony.
We were next in line now, but we got up and stuck our heads into Dr. Bernal’s office where he was working on a patient and told him we’d be back later and to please take care of this old woman first.
We wandered around town for a while, and when we returned the woman was gone and Dr. Bernal was free again. I hopped in the chair, and after a few quick zips with the drill, he was done filling the hole in the crown. Then he did a full check on the rest of my teeth and polished some of my white fillings that had started to leach and turn a darker color.
Back in The Chair with Dr. Bernal.
He charged me $40 US. This $40 fee covered the three times I had sat in his dentist’s chair over the past few days since we first crossed the border as well as putting a filling in the crown where the root canal was and polishing me teeth. We handed him the cash, and went back to the border half a block away.
So, my entire procedure involved sitting in dentist’s chairs five times for check-ups and procedures, x-rays, a root canal performed by an endodontist, a filling performed by a general dentist, cab rides between dentist’s offices, antibiotics and pain medications, a tip for the dental assistant who drove us across town and took us to the pharmacy, and the parking fee for our truck waiting for us on the American side of the border.
The grand total for my root canal plus all that other stuff was $281
Yuma is 23 miles north of the US/Mexican border, so it is very easy for RV travelers to get dental work done in Mexico at the San Luis border south of Yuma, AZ. Allow about 35 to 45 minutes to get to the border (it’s mostly highway).
There are loads of RV parks of every description in and around Yuma, and Yuma is a fun town to visit anyway. There are some pretty buildings in the Old Town neighborhood, a really funky burger/bar scene in town at Lutes Casino, and an interesting glimpse of how the Wild West used to be for the bad guys at the Territorial Prison.
For RVers who want to be a little closer to the border and don’t mind dry camping in their trailer or motorhome, Cocopah Casino is 16 miles from the border and has a paved parking area out back that is striped for RVs. As of January 2016 the cost to stay there was $10 for 3 nights. It was very busy when we were there in late January, and I imagine the place is quite packed through the winter season.
There are tons of RV park options in Yuma. At Cocopah Casino there is dry camping as well.
In Mexico’s border towns like San Luis, you can do all financial transactions in US dollars. Some businesses, like Liquis Farmacia (the pharmacy Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to), will take a credit card, but in our experience most dentists and doctors prefer to be paid in cash (some don’t even have credit card machines in their offices).
If you want to get some Mexican pesos, there are money exchange shops on both sides of the border. But you certainly don’t need to.
There are money changing shops on both sides of the border, but US dollars work just fine. Take lots of $1 bills for cabs and tips.
Walking over the border is easy, and if you are finished in San Luis early in the day, the walk back over the border is easy too. There was no one in the pedestrian line going back into the US when we got there at 10 a.m.
Later in the day, the border crossing into the US gets much busier. Walking back over the border late in the afternoon can involve a long wait in line for pedestrians (and much much longer for cars). Riding our bikes, we never saw anyone in line at the Sentri Gate.
For us, in all our travels and dental office visits in Mexico over the past eight years, figuring out which dentists to go to has been a matter of talking to the locals and to fellow travelers and to ex-pats who live in the area.
We first heard of Dr. Bernal from RVers staying at the Escapees Kofa RV park in Yuma. Some places with lots of ex-pats have online forums where local dentists are discussed and referred, and that’s how we found two of our favorite dentists in southern Mexico.
Some quick tips:
You need a passport to return to the US from Mexico
Take lots of $1 bills for tips and cabs just in case you want or need to be driven around town
Change will not be made with American coins, just bills. Take a variety of bills to avoid making change in general.
Some dentists and doctors will take credit cards, but not all. We carried about $350 in cash.
Bigger pharmacies will take a credit card. Unlike most stores in the US, Liquis was set up for the new chip style credit cards!
To save on currency exchange fees, get a credit card from Capital One. They waive the standard 3% currency exchange fee
If you bike over the border, you can save a lot of time getting back into the US because no one uses the Sentri pass / bike gate
Make a day of it. Go to El Parianchi (10th St. and Obregon) for some awesome food and a truly authentic Mexican experience, especially on a busy Saturday
Here is a Google Maps link for the locations of things in San Luis, Mexico. In this map link, the locations are:
Dr. Sergio Bernal – showing as “Calle 1 115”
Liquis Pharmacy – showing as “Calle 1 7”
Dr. Horacio Avila – showing as “Madero 1307”
El Parianchi restaurant – showing as “El Parianchi” at 10th St. and the border road.
You can see the location of the town square “Plaza Benito Juarez” too.
Here are some of the dentists we have been to and that we would return to. One thing that can be confusing about Mexican names is that the Spanish convention is to give your mother’s maiden name as part of your own name, at the end. So, you state your name like this:
Dr. Sergio Bernal does general dentistry and is located about 1/2 block over the San Luis Arizona/Mexico border on the left hand side in an alcove marked with a large sculpture of a tooth under a sign, “Family Dental” on 1st Street (“Calle 1”) just north of Obregon as described in detail above in this article. Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11
Dr. Horacio Avila is an endodontist located at 13th Street (“Calle 13”) and Madero (address is 1305 Madero). He did a root canal for me in 2016 as described above in this article.
Dr. Aldo Velásquez works with his father Dr. Eduardo Velásquez at #53 Benito Juarez Street in downtown Loreto. In 2011 Dr. Aldo Velazquez filled a cavity in one of my teeth and checked Mark’s teeth for 450 pesos. At the exchange rate of the time, this was about $40. We went to his office because we passed it on the street while out walking and it appeared well kept and attractive. Later we found out that Aldo and his father are very highly regarded in town. I wrote about our experience in HERE at this link
In 2013 Dr. Oliverio Soberanis (#210-E 5 de Mayo Ave.) replaced several large fillings in my teeth and fixed some work that had been poorly done by an American dentist long ago. See some pics HERE at this link. I found him by reading an ex-pat forum for Zihuatanejo. He had brand new equipment with TV screens showing the work in progress. I had a cruising friend who is a retired dentist check his work afterwards, and he was very impressed that he took the time to polish the fillings, something many American dentists don’t do because it takes extra time.
In 2012 Dr. Francisco Hernandez (Sierra de Ixtlan, Edificio B Dept 101, Conjunto Residential Los Mangos) did 2 cleanings for us (550 pesos, or about $45, each) and 3 replacement fillings (450 pesos, or about $35, pesos each) for us as well. The cleanings were the most thorough we’ve ever had, taking about an hour each. He was gentle and very conscientious. We went to him because the dentist that had been recommended in an ex-pat forum was on vacation, and she had left a note on her door giving Dr. Hernandez’ name and address. Another cruising friend (whose boat appears at the top of all our blog posts from Huatulco had an excellent experience with getting some fillings replaced by Dr. Hernandez as well.
If you have been enjoying your RV down near the Mexican border this winter and have been on the fence about whether or not to get some dental work done south of the border, hopefully our stories and info here will help you decide to give it a try.
Typical Costs of Mexican Dentistry and Where It’s Cheapest
Mexico has lots of dentists and doctors practicing all over the country. After all, Mexico’s population is nearly 1/2 of America’s population, and all those people need medical and dental care, just like Americans do!
Because of the big difference in the cost of living between the two countries, Mexican dentists are well aware that their services are sought after by Americans because it’s cheap.
Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Mexicans Are The Cheapest
Most Mexican dentists set up practices in predominantly Mexican communities, and they charge prices their patients can afford. Their prices are typically 10% to 15% of the costs for identical dental procedures done in America.
San Luis is such a community, even though it is a border town. A few Americans cross the border to get dental work and medical procedures done in San Luis, but they are a smaller percentage of the dentists’ and doctors’ total patient base than in other locations.
In San Luis, Mark’s porcelain crown cost $130 US in 2008. At that time, in America, the cost for a porcelain crown was typically $1,000. My root canal in 2016 plus medications, cab fees and parking fees cost $281. At that time, in America, the cost of a root canal in a tooth that had a crown on it already was typically $2,000 or more.
Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Americans Are More Expensive
In contrast, dentists that are located in places where Americans tend to congregate often establish their practices specifically to serve Americans. After all, they can make a lot more money that way than by serving Mexicans. This means that they have flashier office space, they have marketing geared towards Americans that is in English, both of which Americans appreciate, and they have higher prices.
Their services may not be any better than the Mexican dentists who focus on Mexican patients, but it will feel more like dentistry “back home” in America. They may require that you make an appointment in advance, they may accept a credit card for payment, and they may speak very fluent English.
The prices in these kinds of places are typically 40% to 50% of the costs of equivalent procedures in America.
One area that is extremely oriented towards Americans is Los Algodones near the border of Yuma, Arizona. Los Algodones is a tiny handful of tightly packed streets that are wall-to-wall dental and medical offices that serve an entirely American clientele. Few, if any, Mexicans go to these dentists and doctors for care. It is way too expensive for them.
Likewise, we found in our cruise along Mexico’s west coast that the dentists who operated in the more central and touristy parts of any town tended to have more American style facilities and higher prices.
In Ensenada, a cruise ship destination 70 miles south of San Diego, a dentist on the “front side” of town greeted us wearing scrubs (you rarely see that in more Mexican-oriented dental offices). He spoke perfect English and gave us a quote for a very American sounding price for a simple cleaning and a filling.
We decided to pass on his services. However, during our stay in Ensenada, we got to know the affluent looking owner of an ice cream shop in town and asked him for a recommendation for a dentist. He sent us to a totally different part of town where a very skilled dentist in a much simpler office took care of us at the typical 10% to 15% of American prices that “Mexican dentists for Mexicans” charge.
So, when looking for a dentist in Mexico, keep in mind that dentists whose patients are primarily American will charge you prices that are much higher than dentists whose patients are primarily Mexican. Whether the actual dental care they provide is any different is truly debatable. It’s just more expensive and feels more familiar because of the outer trappings of the office space itself and the way they run their business.
Crossing the border on foot forced us to rely on taxis to get to the more distant locations on the other side, so after our first visit, we decided for future trips it would be a whole lot easier and more interesting to ride our bikes over the border instead. We simply parked our new truck on the American side for the day, unloaded the bikes, and walked them across.
Once on the other side we could get around town quickly and easily.
We found riding our bikes around San Luis was much more fun and made the border crossing back to the US easier.
And that’s when we really started to have some fun too.
Mexico is a vibrant country with really exuberant, fun-loving people. Everybody is outgoing and friendly and warm, and we have always found it really enjoyable to chat with people on the street, whether in our halting Spanish or in their typically very good English.
The town square/park named for Benito Juarez has a small band stand.
We really enjoyed seeing San Luis beyond the dentist’s office. There’s plenty of security too — we saw police riding around on Segways (how fun!). They very kindly came over to offer assistance when we looked a little lost at one point.
Now there’s a great way to get around town!
There are lots of places to eat, and if you find yourself in town waiting between dentist or doctor visits and need a bite, there is a Subway that makes sandwiches exactly the way we’re all accustomed to. The only difference is the menu is in Spanish. But don’t worry, the workers will take your order in English — and if they struggle, sign language and pointing at what you want always helps.
Subway has a shop in town, and the only difference we found was the Spanish words on the menu. Pointing and smiling works fine if you can’t make out the Spanish words.
If you have a little more time, check out El Parianchi, a fabulous restaurant that is the Real Deal for Mexican food, Mexican flair and Mexican fun. We LOVED it there.
We found El Parianchi one day when we were looking for the other top restaurant in town, El Herradero where we had enjoyed some chips and salsa and beer on an earlier visit. We were a little lost, though, and we found ourselves in front of El Parianchi instead. When we asked the parking lot attendant, Fernando, for directions to El Herradero, he talked us into staying at El Parianchi, because the food there was truly delicious.
“I’ll put your bikes in here,” he said, pointing to a locked shed in the back of the restaurant. “They’ll be safe.” Deal! We rolled them in between the rakes and shovels and barrels, and went on in.
We had been noticing that we were the only gringos in the whole town. And now we were very definitely the only gringos in this restaurant. We were also the only people dressed in cycling clothes.
Talk about standing out!
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the place was hopping. Waiters rushed here and there, grabbing extra tables and chairs for people, and the food was flying out of the kitchen at a wild rate.
The servers were hustling at El Parianchi on Saturday afternoon!
Two big parties — what looked like a baptism party and an engagement party — were in full swing at long tables on either side of the restaurant, and a Mariachi harp player was singing and strumming his heart out in a corner.
People were laughing and eating and have a grand time while the waiters ran at top speed from one end of the room to the other.
Gringos in cycling jerseys. Sure…we blend right in!
We were seated to one side, and in an instant, a waiter was at our table welcoming us.
We both ordered Corona with a lime, and Mark got a bottled water and I ordered a Jamaica water as well. Jamaica water is an absolutely delicious drink make of hibiscus flowers that has a tartness like cranberry juice (and is about that color) but is much sweeter. Jamaica is pronounced “Hamikah” with a long “i” (even though it doesn’t look like it), and it is a refreshing drink I enjoyed repeatedly throughout our Mexico cruise.
The drinks arrived along with tortilla chips and a bean dip that was to die for. If only I could make beans like that!
Suddenly the harp Mariachi player appeared at our table. Mark handed him a few dollars and asked for a song.
A harp playing Mariachi sang some songs for us — what total fun!!!
“What song do you want?” the harpist asked.
After racking our brains to remember the name of a Mexican folk song, we came up with “Alla En El Rancho Grande!”
He proceeded to play a great rendition of it. I don’t have a video of him singing, but I do have a special video of another Mariachi singing this exact same song for us when we were in Huatulco Mexico at a little beach bar in the sand. Our sailboat Groovy was anchored just out of sight.
When he finished the song, the folks at the tables around us clapped. He wanted to sing a second song for us, so we asked for Mariachi Loco. This is a really cute song we first heard on a day charter catamaran called Picante that used to circle past our boat at anchor in Zihuatanejo.
We were having so much fun in this restaurant, we hadn’t even looked at the menu yet!
Suddenly, the manager, Jose, came over and asked if we were having any trouble understanding the menu. We told him we wanted a beef and bean burrito, and he recommended one of the “percherones.” We’d never had one before, but the “Sonorense” was absolutely scrumptious. It was so good, in fact, that we came back another day just to sample it again!!
For a genuine Mexican culinary experience, check out El Parianchi on 10th Street and the street along the US/Mexico border by the international boundary wall.
When the bill came, it was $17.73 US including our 20% tip — and we had plowed through four beers, a bottle of water, my Jamaica water, our chips and bean dip plus the huge percheron burrito we had split.
We got up to go, rubbing our aching tummies, and suddenly a waiter was carrying over two huge sombreros for us.
We put them on and cracked up.
The harp player placed his harp in front of us, and Jose took pics of us while everyone at the big party at the long table clapped and laughed. How fun!
Then someone handed Mark a guitar and he strummed a few chords.
What a total blast this was!
Mark finds a guitar in his hands and a sombrero on his head!!
We left to a chorus of cheers and found Fernando waiting in the parking lot. He unlocked the shed door and helped us disentangle our bikes from the rakes and shovels and buckets inside. We tipped him a dollar for his efforts.
Rolling back to the border on our bikes, we passed dozens and dozens of cars lined up to cross into the US. By now the pedestrian line was really long too.
In San Luis, bicycles go through the Sentri Pass gate (a special gate for people who cross the US border on a regular basis). This was awesome because there was never anyone in line at that gate!!
What a fabulous day… and no line for bikes at the border!
Our smiles went from ear to ear when we settled back in our little buggy after a great day in Mexico.
Note: We returned to San Luis to see Dr. Bernal and Dr. Avila for more dental work a year later in October 2016. Read the blog post here:
January 2016 – The desert RV scene around Quartzsite, Arizona, is a wild place in January, and has been compared to Burning Man in the Nevada desert and even 1969’s Woodstock in upstate New York.
The sun winks at the RVs boondocked in Quartzsite in the early morning light
But the crazy Quartzsite RV insanity lasts longer, and more people go, and you don’t have to buy a ticket to be a part of it all. Plus — the crowd is decidedly gray haired.
Even though there may be some free love going on in a few rigs in Quartzsite, I can’t say I’ve seen Jimi Hendrix performing there. And rather than one huge bonfire, there are lots of small campfires.
A typical scene around the campfire in Quartzsite
Of course, nowadays, it’s likely that a few faces in Quartzsite are the very same ones that were at Woodstock all those years ago, although they are probably a bit more wrinkled now, nearly 50 years later.
Quartzsite has its share of wacky people. Some even lug their tripod up on their trailer roof to take pics at dawn.
The fun thing is that it is open to anyone that can get there, and come they do, driving, pulling, and probably in the worst cases even pushing whatever kind of RV they can get their hands on.
Any and every kind of RV is welcome in the Quartzsite desert, from ordinary to off-the-wall.
A cool custom bus conversion we came across looked like a fabulous way to go.
Power and cargo carrying capacity to spare.
Some travelers forego the RV all together when they make their way to Quartzsite, and we were quite surprised to see a tent tucked between some RVs in the vendor area of the RV show.
If you can’t swing a rig with wheels, a tent will do the trick.
Getting up off the ground is good when it gets cold, though, and Quartzsite nights sometimes get down into the freezing zone in January. A vintage popup tent trailer we saw fit in just fine with the bigger rigs around it.
A popup can be just the ticket in Quartzsite
Some folks like to add a little class to the antique RV niche in Quartzsite, and we saw more than a few wonderful old Airstream trailers.
Going retro is cool, but some folks are handy and would rather build from scratch than deal with fixing and repairing an antique. We saw one rig that was totally custom.
Another one we noticed was not entirely identifiable.
Umm… what’s in the trailer?
At one point we found ourselves driving behind a Funny Car.
Out in the desert, the love of rollling wheels includes remote control ATVs that scurry around on the hard packed gravel between the rigs.
Whaddya do all day in the desert in Quartzsite? Play!!
Others take to the sky for a bird’s eye view.
What a great way to survey the scene!
We took off on our bikes and found that just a few pedal strokes away from the RV madness are some pretty nice mountain biking trails. It can be a little soft and sandy in places, but the trails go on forever!
A little spin on the bike can take you far from the crowd.
With all the RVs in town, there’s a constant RV traffic jam on the roads, and it’s not unusual to find the local gas stations filled with RVs.
RVs fueling up at the gas station.
The Quartzsite RVing crowd is not proud. We all know what we’re made of and who we are. Wearing a t-shirt emblazoned “Trailer Trash” kinda sums up the sentiment in these parts.
Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. “My Indian Name is ‘Runs With Beer'” may be closer to the truth for many.
Not everyone in town is a t-shirt type of guy, though, and the owner of Oasis Books on Main Street, Paul Winer, is famous for wearing nothing more than a thong.
He is very willing to pose for photos with the ladies at his store (I’ve done it too!), and he does his laundry — what little there is of it — right alongside all the RVers down at the Main Street Laundromat.
And it’s a good thing too because, as another sign at the laundromat says…
The bulk of the Quartzsite crowd is old enough to have grown children, so, it’s not surprising to see a sticker on the back of a Honda CRV that says, “I love my Grandog.”
Lots of grandmas and grandpas love their granddogs here, and a few love them to an extreme.
Not all RV pets are quite so pampered, though, and one Kool Kat we saw in the desert was keeping a close eye on what was happening within reach of his trailer.
No matter how you come to Quartzsite, there’s fun to be had in the desert, and we certainly had our share this year with the Hitchhiker fifth wheel gang.
At the end of our ten day stay, our new friends from the Hitchhiker group, Steve and Jean, brought out champagne for everyone, while Christine shared a plate of homemade chocolate covered strawberries fresh from her Mobile Suites RV kitchen.
Did anyone say we were roughing it out here?
Mark shows off Christine’s truly decadent chocolate covered strawberries while Steve pours champagne. This is living!
Everyone raised their glasses in a toast to the great time we shared.
Cheers…and Happy Trails til next year!
Almost every morning and evening we were in Quartzsite, the Arizona sunrises and sunsets lit up the sky in some of the most dramatic and colorful displays we have seen anywhere.
January 2016 – The focal point of the January RV migration to Quartzsite, Arizona, is the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show. This is a wild event, attended by thousands, but the name is a little odd.
The show is geared primarily towards the lifestyle interests of the retired crowd and also has a fair bit to do with RVs. But it makes just passing references to vacations and has very little to do with sports at all!
Quartzsite and its RV Show are as quirky as the camels that greet people on the way into town!
It’s strange name aside, the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show is a total hoot, and during the eight days it is open, thousands of folks from the North America’s senior set walk through the Big Tent in town and wander around the many booths scattered around the outside. If boredom sets in, there are loads of other flea markets and outdoor selling arenas in town that have trinkets, tools and household goodies for sale too.
Walking into the Quartzsite RV Show
The RV Show is a freestyle cross between a county fair and a flea market, and vendors set up shop all over the grounds to keep show goers well fed with funnel cakes and kettle corn and ice cream.
You won’t go hungry at the RV show!
Inside, we found the Escapees RV Club booth right away and got chatting with Mark Nemeth, the magazine’s technical guru who shares his wisdom in every issue in his column, “Mark My Words.”
We met up with RV tech guru Mark Nemeth (in the blue shirt) at the Escapees RV Club booth
Nearby was the tourism board for Alaska, and we snagged a map and learned a little about how to tackle an RV roadtrip to the far north.
Curious about Alaska? This booth has the answers!
Last year, we were charmed by a brief chat we had with Amazon Camperforce representative Nancy, and we were thrilled to find she was at their booth again. She and her husband, David, have worked for Amazon as ambassadors for their unique RV workamping program for several years, and her warm smile and enthusiasm for the program were as infectious as ever.
Even better, they travel full-time in a Hitchhiker Champagne fifth wheel trailer, and although they were camped near town for an easy commute to the show every day, one evening they came out to the Plomosa Road campsite in the desert, where the Hitchhikers were gathered, and joined the group for a potluck dinner.
I was thrilled to see David and Nancy at the Amazon Camperforce booth again this year.
The RV Show is more of a Home Show and Lifestyle Show than it is specifically an RV show, and there were lots of gadgets for sale that are handy in the home whether it rolls down the road or sits on a permanent foundation.
The Sweepa Broom looked like it could be super handy for RVers. Lots of show goers were carrying these brooms, and that had been the case last year too. In fact, last year the booth was shut down by the time we got to it because they had sold out, so we were glad to be able to catch the demo this year. It was amazing how thoroughly it swept up pet hair!
Some of the hottest selling items would be handy in either a rolling or stick built home.
The Sweepa Broom folks still had plenty of stock when we stopped by, but the Chilling the Most booth was plumb out of their product. I have no idea what they were selling, but it was obvsiouly very popular!
Oops… got to this booth too late!
There’s no segmentation or grouping by product type in this show. All the vendors are jumbled together. So we got a laugh when we saw the Vitamix blender booth right next to the National Park Service booth. Well, that’s the RV life, I guess: make a smoothie and go see the Grand Canyon!
The essence of the Quartzsite RV Show: Vitamix blenders and the National Park Service side by side.
Food prep is a big deal at this show, and lots of vendors were giving demos of various kitchen gadgets. The Primo Peeler definitely put my old fashioned carrot peeler to shame. It slices, it dices…
The Quartzsite RV Show is in large part a Home Show — and why not?!
A very popular booth offered a “detox for life” foot bath. Just soak your feet in a magic forumla in a bucket for a while, and you’ll detox your whole body. Meanwhile, the liquid in the bucket turns a frightening color.
Snake oil or life saving health product? Who knows — it’s Quartzsite!
Detox for Life – just soak your feet in this bucket for a bit.
At some booths, like the detox booth, we had to stretch our imaginations a little to figure out if they were aiming their product at the Sports people, the Vacation people or RV people in the show’s audience. The mini-flipper 4 wheel drive ATV toy and Urban Rail Car and Create A Track train sets really gave us pause for thought.
A toy for the grandkids — or for the kid in all of us!
Suddenly, it hit me. Most of the folks attending the show were grandparents — and they had grandkids to buy for. What could be better for the little tyke than a toy train or ATV?! Funny thing was, when we got back out to our desert campsite, we saw a guy — a full grown guy — playing with a flipper ATV he’d picked up at the show. I guess we’re all kids at heart!
Of course, lots of people have grandkids at home, but they travel with their little pooch when they go RVing. Many of them brought their furry friends along to the show.
Even though the crowds were thick in the aisles of the show, lots of little dogs made their way from booth to booth in baby strollers.
It’s easier to brave the crowds from the protection of a stroller!!
Seminars were being given on various RVing topics.
We caught up with the folks at Wholesale Warranties too. A year ago we were not so sure how useful an RV warranty could be, but this year we discovered just how important it is to have one for an older RV — our $1,904 four year policy covered $6,700 of repairs in just over a year — so it was great to put some faces with the names of the good folks at this company.
We were also fascinated to learn about their new RV repair facility rating and review website called RV Repair Direct. Since they have a vested interest in having warranty repairs done correctly the first time, they are putting together a database of RV repair facilities where people can rate and review the service providers they have used.
We met the gang at Wholesale Warranties and learned about a new service they have.
What an inventive idea this database is. Lord knows, figuring out which repair shops are good and which aren’t is really important and not easy at all! As I chatted with founder and CEO Jeff Shelton (on the right in the above photo), I was really impressed with his energy and his many creative ideas and his enthusiasm for the RV lifestyle.
RV insurance companies were at the show too, and Progressive Insurance had a long line out the door.
Whatever Progressive was giving away, it had to be good. Look at that line!
And outside we found lots of RVs for sale.
In one area there were a bunch of used Prevost motorhomes for sale. New ones go for about a mil and a half, so we jumped at the chance to peek inside some used ones and see what it would be like to live in a six year old $650k rolling home.
Mark gets a feel for how “the other half” lives.
The Prevost tours were popular, but I think the ice cream vendors were the ones that were really raking it in. This year for the RV Show the weather was sunny and warm, and everyone seemed to be licking an ice cream cone!
Ice cream was a big seller!
Of course, as the afternoon wore on, the outdoor beer and burger venues began filling up too. In the morning when we had first passed the “Happiest Place in Quartzsite” on our way into the show, the seats were all empty. But by the time we left in the afternoon they were full!
The “Happiest Place in Quartzsite” !!
At the end of the day we relaxed with our new Hitchhiker friends around the campfire.
The RV Show is fun, but I think the real draw in Quartzsite is getting together with friends.
What a fun way to spend a few days in the middle of winter!
January 2016 – Before we went to Quartzsite this year, some soon-to-be full-time RVers asked us why it is that RV travelers go there. They were native Arizonans and they knew that Quartzsite is just a truck stop of a town on I-10 between Phoenix and LA. So why would such a dumpy little town swell from less than 4,000 people in July to something like a million people in January, almost all of them living in RVs?
Quartzsite, Arizona, is a gathering place for RVers of all kinds each winter.
We tried to explain about the January RV Show in town, and the 15 mile radius of retirees boondocking all around, and the huge rallies for owners of all kinds of RVs, from Montana fifth wheels to Alpine coaches and Safari motorhomes to dozens of other RV manufacturers.
We talked about the moveable feast of pot-luck dinners, and the campfire cocktail circles at sundown, and the huge outdoor movie screens that folks set up, and the crazy flags flying from all the RV roofs, and the light shows people put on in the dark on their RVs.
Quartzsite is best known for its wild RV boondocking scene in the desert.
“So it’s a social thing?” They asked. Well, yes, we realized. In a nutshell that’s what it really is.
Quartzsite is “The Gathering Place,” and it seems that almost everyone who is living in the southwest in their RV in January swings by for a day or a week or a month. Some even spend the whole season here.
There are RV parks in town with full hookups, and some folks stay all winter — or even all year!
There are all kinds of places to park an RV and to get together with friends. There are RV parks with full hookups, and there are enclosed camping areas called Long Term Visitors Areas (LTVAs) on BLM land near town with toilets and dump stations and water where you can stay for a modest fee. And then there’s the free desert boondocking on BLM land a little further out.
RVing groups and rallies of all kinds come to Quartzsite. Even the Escapes Boondockers “Birds of a Feather” group camps together in the desert
The Sonoran Desert in this corner of the state has a hard-packed gravel surface that is easy to drive on, and there is very little vegetation. So, you can drive your rig anywhere, in almost any direction, and park and set up camp. If you’ve got friends that are coming or if you are part of an organized group, all the better.
All kinds of groups gather together in Quartzsite each January.
There are little signs all over the place pointing to where each social group has convened. The Escapees Boondockers stake out one area, the Off-Road Geezers stake out another, and the Gad Abouts and DV8’s take another. These are just a tiny few of the many dozens of groups we’ve seen.
Are you a Gad About? Park here!
The DV8’s were having a great time not too far from us
Some groups don’t have signs but just wave flags instead, and you have to walk over to the group and talk to them to find out what their group is all about.
A group of rigs flying a big yellow flag with a red crab on it really got us guessing.
Flags fly high from RVs all over the desert. American flag. Air Force flag. Crab flag??
“We’re Crabbers!” An old fellow told me. “We have small boats and trap crabs on the Oregon coast.”
And here they were in the Arizona desert doing the Quartzsite RV camping thing!!
Others just stake out a spot of their own without being part of an organized group. So it has always been for us.
We found a quiet corner and got set up.
However, this year, right after we unhitched our new truck and started leveling our trailer, a couple walked over and told us we were about 100 yards from the Hitchhiker fifth wheel gathering. They were all just beyond the next wash. Since we own a Hitchhiker fifth wheel trailer, they suggested we come on over for happy hour and meet the gang.
The Hitchhiker group was a great bunch to hang out with. And since Hitchhikers are no longer made, there was no problem joining in if you were in some other kind of RV. Two couples were in Mobile Suites!
No matter! When we got over there we were welcomed like family, and immediately handed paper plates and forks, and told to go grab some grub from the large table of sumptuous food. We joined the circle around the campfire and had a blast.
Over the next week we spent every afternoon and evening with this really fun crowd.
How cool to find that we were a short walk from the Hitchhiker gathering!!
Campfire storytelling is always a blast, and Lee and Christine regaled us with hilarious tales from their careers as dog trainers for Hollywood’s A-list stars. Steve, Jean and Pat shared great tips from their RV trip to Alaska last year.
Old salts Rick and Virgie told stories of their coastal and offshore sailing adventures between California and Mexico navigating with nothing more than a hand-bearing compass and a sextant back in the 80’s. We were amazed when they described entering the stunningly beautiful but dicey bay of Careyesat night, an anchorage that we loved but that’s so tricky that few sailors trouble with it.
There was a campfire and great food every night.
Our location was about 12 miles north of town on Route 95 and then east on Plomosa Road about 2.5 miles. There are a dozen turn-offs to both the north and south along a three mile stretch of Plomosa Road where you just drive out into the desert with your rig and find a place to park. There were little groups everywhere we turned.
RVers gather all over the place on the BLM land surrounding Quartzsite.
What’s fun is that the same groups claim the same trees and washes and fire rings in this part of the desert every year.
Little groups in camp chairs can be seen everywhere.
Interestingly, this is the corner where a lot of the single RVers hang out. The Solo’s and the Loners On Wheels were not too far from us, and the WINs (Wandering Individuals Network) were a really big group nearby.
The Wandering Individuals Network are a fun-loving group of single RVers.
The funny thing is that with all of these people busy socializing in the desert with their RVs, there’s a business opportunity for all kinds of RV service people. A really funky undercurrent of the Quartzsite experience is all the vendors who capitalize on repairing and upgrading the RVs that show up in the desert. They take full advantage of serving this captive audience for a few weeks.
Not only did we see them in town, but they were zipping across the desert too, fixing everything from windows to awnings to electrical systems.
No customer is too far out!
Getting it done… in the desert!
Some guys are general practitioners, while others are specialists in one area of RV repair or another.
Nothing like getting the RV awning repaired while having a beer in the desert.
This desert camping is all dry camping, of course, and you can see just about every imaginable kind of boondocking setup out in the desert. Some folks have big, elaborate solar power systems on their roofs, and others have just a solar panel or two propped up on the ground, while many many others simply run a generator for a few hours a day.
Many RV rooftops sport solar panels, and there are all different configurations.
Some mobile RV techs (like Phil & Ann’s RV) specialize in electrical work. What a workshop!
Lots of folks come to Quartzsite looking to upgrade their rig too, and RV retailers set up shop for a few weeks in town with temporary lots full of new and used rigs.
There are RVs for sale on every corner.
Lots of folks come to Quartzsite with dreams of finding a new rolling home.
For us, this was a really special Quartzsite year. Not only did we meet up with a great group of people, but the weather was pretty near perfect the whole time, with warm days and almost no wind (it can be very windy and dusty there!). Best of all, the sunsets were divine!!
Some of the sunrises and sunsets this year were truly spectacular
The RV Show in Quartzsite, Arizona, is one of the biggest and wackiest RV shows around. Selling everything from hydraulic leveling systems to Good Sam Club memberships to Watkins spices, it is the focal point for thousands of RVers who come from all corners of the continent to camp out in the desert for free and check out the latest and greatest in the RV industry’s offerings.
Quartzite itself is a totally funky and quirky place, full of interesting characters and odd sightings. We got a flavor of that from a few signs we saw outside business establishments on our way into the show.
Parking is at a premium during RV Show week in this tiny town, and traffic is a dusty, snarly nightmare on the dirt roads that run between the flea market tables around the outdoor edges of the show. We had to laugh when we saw one exasperated vendor had put up this sign on the edge of his outdoor booth:
People from all walks of life flock to Quartzsite in January, and everywhere you go around town vendors are peddling anything and everything they can. The tiny town’s streets are overloaded with folks hawking goodies off open air tables under makeshift tarps. From pizza to homemade ice cream, food vendors had it all, and a pair of street musicians set up shop just outside the show entrance.
Serenading show goers outside the show
There was good music inside the show too, and Johnny Goodrum, whose karaoke style crooning we remembered from our visit to the RV Show six years ago, kept the massive crowd happily entertained with his mellow karaoke style songs.
Music inside the show!
Did I mention the crowd was massive? It was shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip throngs of people as far as we could see down every aisle, both inside and outside the big RV show tent. We shuffled along at a snail’s pace, watching salespeople demo everything imaginable. One of the first booths we saw was selling induction cookware, a boon for RVers who don’t want to heat up the inside of their RV on hot summer nights. This electric cooking system uses the magic of electro-magnetism to heat food without making the burner itself hot. It is fantastic if you have electric hookups but might be tricky for boondocking, as it draws over 1,000 watts, a big drain on the batteries.
Induction cooking booth
The RV Show is as much a lifestyle show for the senior set as it is a show for RVers, and along with practical goodies for RVing, there were all kinds of anti-aging elixirs promising a sip from the fountain of youth. Lotions and potions and drops of snake oil were in abundance. They could make wrinkles disappear, stop snoring, and put an end to migraine headaches. Foot baths detoxified your body and massage chairs relaxed aching muscles.
“I can fix your pain” One vendor called out to me as I passed.
“But I don’t have any pain!” I laughed back.
Wrinkles be gone!
If a salve, or pill, or magic powder in a drink wasn’t to your liking, there was a hair salon booth that would happily give you a new do!
Get a new hairdo at the RV Show!
Lots of these booths had images of very happy older people looking quite young, but we were really taken aback when we saw a huge image of the svelte, bare mid-section of a young woman who was definitely not a card carrying AARP member just yet. Something about the almost provocative photography and the large amounts of skin showing on all the people kept my eye scanning the photos around this booth, and then I saw why. This was the booth for the American Association for Nude Recreation. And the salesman had a huge grin on his face!
Why is this man smiling?!
“You meet the nicest people at the nude RV parks,” he was telling me as my eyebrows shot up in my head. “It’s impossible to be a jerk when your naked.”
Is that so? Well, I imagine that must be true…!
He suggested we stop by one of their 260 affiliate resorts and try out their special brand of freedom — a nakation! He went on to say that the AANR has been encouraging folks to get in touch with their own naturism for 84 years, and they now have over 200,000 members!
When I got back to the rig, I just had to check out their online logo-wear clothing store… what exactly would they sell? Ummm… jewelry??
Buffs of going in the buff weren’t the only unusual attendees at this show. Dogs were in abundance. Most were wearing their natural furry birthday suits, but quite a few wore sporty jackets, and many of them never let their paws touch the ground. Dog lovers carried their pups in kangaroo pouches and other cuddly hugging sacks, and a huge number of adorable dogs were pushed and pulled around the grounds in strollers and wagons.
I knew the RV show was going to the dogs stood when I reached into a freebie candy dish at one booth and pulled out a dog treat!
Riding around the show in style
The most fashionable pampered pooches wore sunglasses!
For animal lovers that didn’t have room in their lives for a canine companion, perhaps the funniest and most endearing booth at the show was the Sugar Glider display. This wasn’t some kind of fancy lazy susan to pass the sugar around the RV dinner table. These were adorable little marsupials that come from the rainforests of Indonesia and Australia.
Ever heard of a sugar glider?
A sugar glider breeder, who clearly loved his pets and his job, was very busy capturing peoples’ hearts as he showed the way these unique animals snuggle in your shirt and leap great distances (like a flying squirrel) from person to person. He explained that they are ideal pets for many folks because they sleep all day and want to hang with (or on) their owners after work in the evenings.
I was amazed when he described his breeding facility. He has a dedicated 2,000 square foot building for 400 breeding pairs of sugar gliders. They are the size of a grain of rice when born, and they spend 11 weeks in mom’s pouch growing from a virtual embryo into a furry little animal. They can glide for 150′ between treetops in the rainforest canopy, and a skydiver even released one at 10,000′ and glided alongside it (just inches from his hand) until they both reached 1,000′ when he tucked him back into his pocket!
Sugar gliders make great pets!!
But between all these crazy booths, there were some things for RVers (and homeowners) that seemed really useful. One fellow was demonstrating the ShamWow towel. We have a few of those, but we discovered we had been using them wrong! Unlike a normal towel that you use dry to mop up wet things, the ShamWow has to be wet in order to work. You soak it, wring it out, and THEN place it on your puddle of spilled wine or coffee. Only then can the magic begin to happen. Who knew?
Another guy did a fabulous demo of a miracle doormat. He was wearing big rubber boots and had a pail of very muddy water that he swished his feet in. Then he’d take two steps across the mat onto a clean sheet of paper (without wiping his feet!), and there wouldn’t be a drop or hint of mud on the paper, not even an outline of a footprint!
I watched him do it several times and then tried it myself. I asked him how it would work with dust since that is our biggest nemesis in our trailer. He said it would work great. So out came $40 from our wallet for one of these doormats. How could we resist??!!
And does it work? Well, we just had three days of muddy, rainy, yuck in Arizona, and our floors are clean. The trick, though, is that this floor mat has to be washed first. We tried it when we first got it home, and it was okay, but not super effective. Once we ran it through the washer (letting it drip dry in the sun), it worked just like we saw at the show. Pretty darn cool!
One step on this doormat cleans the bottoms of those muddy boots!
Another nifty product we saw was a slick folding portable solar power kit. This would be ideal for RV weekenders and vacationers who want the freedom of solar power but don’t want the hassle of doing a permanent installation on their RV roof. The cool thing about it is that the two panels fold together into a hardshell suitcase that is easy to carry and has a built-in handle.
This clever foldaway system also protects the panels, so they won’t get damaged when you store them. When you set the panels up you can easily tilt them towards the sun with the built-in brackets so you can maximize their efficiency. Of course, this isn’t a huge full-timer’s solar power setup, as described here, but we would have absolutely loved having it when we traveled around on weekends and vacations with our popup tent trailer!
There were other fabulous booths, and we picked up memory foam pillows and fancy LED lights and other things we really didn’t need but just couldn’t resist when we saw them in action. There was one booth selling yellow brooms that everyone was buying. No matter where you turned, someone had a yellow broomstick in their hands. When we finally got down to their booth, however, the demos were over because they had sold out. Whatever those brooms can do, it must be really great! Oh well… next time!
Outside there were lots of new RVs lined up. We are partial to fifth wheel trailers, so we wandered in and out of a lot of them. One of the most interesting fivers was the Alfa Gold from Lifestyle RV. The innovative floorplan has a storage room on the driver’s side with a back door leading out to it and a big ramp door that opens to the ground. The model on display had a motorcycle ramp in this room.
How about a little garage or storage room off the side of your fifth wheel?!
Another model just has a storage room. You could keep bikes, a generator, the grill, camping chairs, patio mats, tables and all kinds of other big gear in this room. How clever!
What a cool idea!
So, those are some of the wild and crazy things we saw at the unusual Quartzsite Arizona RV Show. This RV and Home Show is a kind of three ring circus in the desert, and I don’t know what we liked most — the RV stuff or the quirky sideshows!
Arizona is a land of stunning sunsets, and the other night we were blessed with a sensational one that covered the entire sky. As it slowly progressed, we saw RV doors opening all around us as people came out into the desert to admire it and snap some pics. Campfire conversations came to a halt too as everyone turned to face the sky.
I hopped up on our roof to see if I could get some pics of the scene. It was like standing under a dome of pink and orange, as the entire sky lit up around us and the vibrant color intensified.
January, 2015 – For the past few days, we’ve been boondocking in the heart of snowbird RV madness in Quartzsite, Arizona, alongside tens of thousands of other RVs. This is a wild and crazy place full of wacky seniors soaking up the warm sun and living it up in the desert.
Quartzsite is such a small blip on the map on I-10, between Phoenix and LA, that few motorists on the interstate give it the time of day, unless they need gas. However, flocks of RVs descend on it every winter, because of the massive tracts of BLM land (and free camping) that surround the town.
Quartzsite is a haven for RVers in January
Stretching in a ten mile radius from the I-10 exit, the land is open, vast, and empty. It is also naturally hard packed gravel, which makes a perfect surface for driving and parking. RVers set up camp in the desert anywhere they wish.
When the annual week-long Quartzsite RV show starts in January, RVing groups of all kinds stake out sections of the desert as their own. The desert becomes littered with signs pointing to the various gatherings. We drove 13 miles to the northeast of town, to a far corner of BLM land on Plomosa Road. We passed thousands of RVs randomly parked all over the place before we finally turned off the paved road and drove out into the desert ourselves.
Was this remote spot quiet? Heck no! We could see RVs parked as far as a half a mile or more from the road — on both sides!
Our campsite was just a few steps from the Alpine Coach Association rally
We rode our bikes around to check out the neighbors and discovered we had parked just a few yards from the Alpine Coach Association rally. Ninety Alpine motorhomes were lined up in a huge U-shape around a big tent (where breakfast, dinner and cocktail parties were held), and lots of members who couldn’t squeeze into the U were camped on the outskirts.
The Montana fifth wheel circle was close to us too.
Just past the Alpine motorhomes, a Montana fifth wheel rally had formed an enormous circle of the wagons. Each Montana fifth wheel had parked facing outwards, and a huge collection of camping chairs surrounded an enormous campfire in the middle. We were told 70 Montanas had come to the rally, and dozens of trailers that didn’t fit into the circle were camped all around the outside.
The heart of every gathering is the campfire — and you just can’t have enough wood!
Tiffin Motorhomes, Safari Motorhomes, Pacer Motorhomes and even a tiny Hitchhiker fifth wheel group had staked out places in the desert. But it isn’t just RV brands that bring people together for cocktails by a campfire here. The Roving Rods, several Escapees chapters, and other groups had gathered in various spots too. One had built a huge woodpile that would be burned each night throughout the week.
Groups posts signs so they can find each other.
We seemed to be in the midst of several enormous singles groups too. The Escapees Solos, the WINS (Wandering Individuals Network) and the LOWS (Loners on Wheels) were all camped near us.
Some groups have flags too, like the Escapees Solos
Boondocking in Quartzsite is an art form unto itself, and we saw rigs of all kinds. Everyone is living on solar power or generator power, and some of the solar power getups we saw were fantastic.
Because solar panels produce a lot more power in the wintertime if they are tilted to the south, RVers get very inventive with ways to get as much solar power as possible.
Lots of people have unique solar power setups
Everyone is towing something, and sometimes they even match!
Quartzsite attracts a wild mix of people and rigs. You never know what you’ll see. One minute we saw a motorhome towing a trailer that had an elaborate matching paint scheme.
When one motorhome isn’t enough!
The next minute we saw a Class A motorhome towing a Class C motorhome beind. A mother-in-law suite! What next?!
Some folks put art on their rolling homes.
There are homemade rigs, bus conversions of every vintage, and some really amazing paint jobs to boot.
The mobile RV mechanics have steady work during the winter months in Quartzsite, and we saw quite a few at the different rallies.
Your awning all hosed up? This guy will come to you!
Need that huge motorhome windshield replaced? No Problem!
Awning specialists, RV glass replacement specialists and general mobile RV mechanics were on the loose out in the desert, and they were finding plenty of work, I’m sure!
RV Pit Stop — A drive through for dumping the waste tanks and getting fresh water and propane.
Near town there is a wonderful service station that we’ve never seen in any other part of the country: the RV Pit Stop. It offers all the basic RV services in a drive-through. You can dump your holding tanks, fill up on fresh water and get propane all at once. And propane at $2.30 a gallon is a sweet deal too!
In Quartzsite, always expect the unexpected!
Quartzsite in January is a place like no other. Part Burning Man/Woodstock, part flea market, part trade show and part AARP convention, it has to be seen to be believed! If you’re looking for serenity in the desert, you won’t find it here. On the other hand, you might look up and see an ultra-light flying over your rig at dusk, and there’s something very fun and funky about that. And that’s the essence of Quartzsite!