Algodones, Mexico is an unusual little border town. What’s so unusual about Algodones? We heard that within a four block radius there are more pharmacies, doctors, dentists and opticians than a similar four block area anywhere else in the world! And, this “border medical land” attracts thousands of Canadians and Americans weekly. What’s the big attraction? You can find heavily discounted prescriptions, eye-glasses, and medical and dental care.
And, if you listen to your friends in the snowbird RV parks, they can tell you that the care from their Algodones doctor or dentist is as good as anywhere back home.
Algodones is located 7 miles south of Yuma, Arizona off Interstate 8. You will be in California when you take the exit to the border. You will travel down Route 186. The border crossing is officially Anrade, California. Algodones is located in the Mexican state of Baja California. Map to Algodones Town Map
Crossing the Border
The Anrade, California border crossing into Algodones is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. As you head down the road to the border crossing you will find large paved parking lots run by the local Native American tribe. Parking fees are nominal and we hear that your car is safe. The lot is unshaded so don’t even think about leaving your pet in the car. You can also drive across the border. There are some small fee parking lots and there are some medical and dental offices with parking spaces in front, but not many.
I recommend that you park in the lot on the U.S. side and walk over. Most people do. Entering Mexico is effortless. No one checks your ID or inquires about what you are bringing in. Just stroll across and voila’ you are in another country.
What to Expect
What you will notice first are the pharmacies and medical offices.
Some simple and very “south of the border looking,”and some new and not unlike what you will see in any American town. The pharmacies have hand written signs touting their prescription prices. Staff eagerly beckon you to enter the store. Everyone speaks English and during the day the town is filled with older Canadians and Americans. It’s best to look around before you attempt to purchase anything. That goes for pharmaceuticals, vanilla, souvenirs or liquor. The Algodones shopping area is only four blocks square, remember.
You will also notice that Algodones is a Mexican border town. Don’t expect even sidewalks, chain stores or austere white buildings. Algodones is dusty, colorful and fun!
Good news! Most people can eat the food served in the local restaurants and have a margarita without worrying about water-related and food issues. And indeed, we had salad, Mexican food, a Margarita and had no problems whatsoever. Keep in mind that the Margaritas may be pretty potent so adjust your consumption accordingly. We enjoyed dining al fresco at El Paraiso, The Garden Place. The patio is not easy to find as it’s in the center of one of the shopping blocks. Any vendor can direct you though.
We enjoyed our lunch, listened to live music and got a kick out of the begging tortoise that roamed from table to table begging for lettuce. Vendors also went table to table. While this added to the color of the experience, we were glad that they easily took “no, gracias,” for an answer. Prices? We had a full lunch, extra guacamole and a large Margarita for $19.00 for the two of us.
There are restrooms just across the border. Others are in the restaurants and are, in general, reserved for restaurant patrons. The restroom at the El Paraiso restaurant in the courtyard was exceptionally clean.
I was a bit disappointed in the souvenir, pottery and glassware shopping. It was pretty limited and the quality was lower than what I had experienced in Mexican beach towns or in large cities.
Nevertheless, you may be able to find a fun beach dress, straw hat, knock-off purse or silver bangle to take back with you. My neighbor loves the moving rock and metal sculptures they sell there. I recommend bringing cash for shopping. The prices are in U.S. dollars. And, don’t forget… this is Mexico. Bargaining is expected and prices are not marked. Offer half of what you are first quoted and bargain from there. It’s always easier to get the price down if you buy several items.
If you are interested in prescriptions, it is best to talk to others who shop there regularly and know the routine. My friend asked for a drug that she regularly paid quite a bit for in the States. While the price was good, the name was different than what she expected and she realized that she should know the generic names and alternative names for her medications. We were cautioned to check the expiration date on the container. We also were told that you can’t take more than a 90 days supply of medications back across the border. Don’t expect to get regulated medications such as pain medications without a written prescription. They sold everything from diabetic medications to Viagra.
I recommend talking to others before you decide to take the plunge and make a dental appointment, buy glasses or see a doctor. The variety of medical offices is mind-boggling. Friends have come back very satisfied with their dental work and extremely satisfied with the prices and the quality of the care. One friend said that most of the dentists are U.S. trained. The thousands that cross the border weekly for prescriptions and medical/dental care tell the story. This is very much a word of mouth system. While there will be scrub-clad staff outside of dental offices inviting you in for an exam, it is best to check with friends or those who frequently use the services for recommendations before considering a procedure in Algodones.
Alcohol and Tobacco
Interested in vices? There are some large liquor stores (they are purple) with a great supply of bargain liquors, chewing tobacco and cigarettes. Be sure and check on the limits before you load up. While in one of the stores, I noticed that they accepted cash and checks with ID but charged a fee for debit or credit cards.
Crossing the Border Back to the U.S.
If you are on a schedule be sure and watch the line at the border crossing. If it starts winding around the corner and back up the street, it might take you an hour or more to get through the crossing to the U.S. side. This is typical in the middle of the day during the winter when there are swarms of snowbirds. If you wait until later in the day or visit off-season, you might find no line at all.
Documents for Tourist Travel Across the Mexican Border
Passports and passport cards became the only accepted form of ID on June 1, 2009. Alternately, passport cards became available starting in spring 2008 for U.S. citizens wo don't travel by air or sea and just cross the border occasionally. The cost is $45 versus $97 for a passport.
When you approach the officials at the border, they will interview you one by one, examine your ID and ask you what you purchased. I was waved through with my straw hat and one bottle of tequila. They weren’t too interested in receipts or going through my tote bag. My friend who purchased medication was asked to show the package to the official.
Although the wait at the border can be long at times, Algodones has provided some benches and light shade. It is a good idea to carry a bottle of water with you for the time in line. Vendors often entertain you was you wait. Our hour went pretty fast although we were very glad it wasn’t much warmer out!
Algodones is a fun little border town with sparse shopping opportunities and some good Mexican food. It’s cleaner than many such towns. I say, “buyer beware” when it comes to prescription drugs and medical/dental care. Research your options carefully and listen to those more experienced. It’s worth a stop for the local color, Mexican food and border town experience.