Getting a Mexican Driver’s License in Mazatlán

For many of us, obtaining our first driver’s license was a treasured rite of passage. When it comes to our kids getting their licenses, however, like many parents the thought scares me. And the scariness factor is amplified because our son is learning to drive in what, for us, is a foreign land, and one in which the driving, at times, can seem a bit crazy. Guardian angels please protect him and those near him!

Greg and I obtained our Sinaloa driver’s licenses shortly after we arrived. We took the required class, submitted our documents, drove around the block, had our photos taken, and oilá. Others pay a “fee” and have it all done for them, but we did it above-boards and it was easy-peasy. In fact, the class was downright enjoyable — the teacher is a very good storyteller!

Now Danny’s just gotten his license, so I thought telling you about it might prove helpful for someone.

In his case, he’s a new driver, and we’ve been teaching him whenever we get a chance for about a year and a half. He started out slow, as does everyone, but these days he’s become quite competent.

He wants to work this summer to save money to buy a used car, and he will probably end up buying one with a stick shift. But, our car, the one on which he’s learned, is automatic. So, we enrolled him in a driving school so that he could learn how to use a clutch. The series of classes cost 1450 pesos, and included four rounds of driving of two hours each time, or eight hours total. In addition, there was a three hour classroom session during which they studied rules of the road. He seems to have taken to the standard transmission like a charm.

On Saturday he went to the tránsito, which is located just in front of the Aquarium here in Mazatlán. From the malecón, turn on the street towards the Aquarium. Go past the statue of Don Cruz Lizarraga, and turn right on the street on the far side of the vacant lot. The DMV office (tránsito) is at the end of the street, last building on your left, on the corner. There are two doors. The door on the right is where you file your paperwork.

The door on the left is where you take a class.

First-time drivers under the age of 18 have to take a five-hour class. They tell us the class is offered twice/month on Saturdays from 8:00 to 1:00. The classes seem to be pretty full, and the kids get a certificate upon completion which entitles them to be able to submit paperwork for a license. They do not take a written test.

When we got our Sinaloa licenses we already had U.S. driver’s licenses, so we only had to take a one hour class. At the conclusion of the class, they gave out a written test. There was an English language version of the test that they give out here in town, which seems much much easier than the Spanish language version (it’s multiple choice).

After the class and after you pass the written test, they give you paperwork so that you can go next door and get your license.

The documents a foreigner will need include (original and one copy of everything):

  1. Your Mexican visa or residency document
  2. Proof of residence/domicilio (water or electric bill with your name on it and your address)
  3. Letter of recommendation from a Mexican national, vouching that the person knows you and you are an upstanding person. This needs to be signed and accompanied by a copy of the signor’s voter registration card.
  4. You need to know your blood type (no proof required; just know it). If you don’t know, supposedly there is a lab about a block away where you can get tested. We know our blood types, so we didn’t experience this part of the process.
  5. The correct fee (see the photo at right for the chart of fees). Foreigners with FM3s are limited to 2-year licenses. First-time licensees pay for “Aprendiz.”

For first-time drivers like our son, you also need to bring:

  1. Birth certificate (to prove age)
  2. CURP
  3. Passport
  4. Parent needs to be present to sign

When you present your paperwork, they will usually ask you to do a driving test. So, you will need a car. They just asked us to drive around the block, nothing too challenging. We’ve been told that they want to be sure you buckle your seat belt and instruct the examiner to buckle his; this didn’t happen for us. Danny was also told that they ask you to pop the hood of your vehicle and show the examiner where you insert water, oil, coolant, etc., though he was not asked to do this.

Be careful as the street beyond the DMV office is one-way to the left; you don’t want to turn the wrong way. Also there are quite a few topes on the road leading up to the DMV office, as well as a stop sign conveniently hidden behind a tree.

After you drive with the officer, you pay your fee at a booth on the right side. Currently that fee is 344 pesos for a two-year period.

Next they take your photo and produce the license while you wait.

Each license contains a fingerprint of the license holder, so that’ll be the last step in the process. For us we filed the paperwork, did the drive around the block and got our licenses in under 90 minutes.

Licenses are issued Monday through Friday 8 am to 2:30 pm.

Renewals (as well as license plates, titles) can be done at this same office. However, we have had much better luck renewing our licenses at the DMV office in the Gran Plaza — it’s less of a crowd and seems to go quicker.

Good luck and drive safely!

NOTE: Our son said he learned a lot more in the driving school than he learned in the tránsito class, although he enjoyed both, and that he highly recommends the school for new drivers.

Let No One Say Mexicans Don’t Know How to Load a Truck

We recently drove from Mazatlán to Morelia, and I ended up taking quite a few photos just of the creative and efficient ways in which people here in Mexico load their vehicles. Nothing if not practical! We can make it work! We can get it all there in one load! Take a look and enjoy the slideshow! If you’d rather see larger photos, click through to SmugMug.

Travelogue Spring Break 2011, Day 12: Espinazo del Diablo/Devil’s Backbone

The road between Mazatlán and Durango (Highway 40) is called “Espinazo del Diablo”, or “Devil’s Backbone,” due to its steep incline, hairpin turns, and sheer drop offs. Originally this spring break trip we had intended to leave Mazatlán and go over the Devil’s Backbone through Durango to Zacatecas. It’s only about 180 miles/300 km, not so far. But, it takes at least five hours, and some have even reported it taking ten hours! Many of our local friends convinced us that we should not do that because it was far too dangerous. Instead, our friends recommended we go around, through Guadalajara, making a big southern circle to get to Zacatecas. We followed advice and were happy we did. Our roundabout route enabled us to spend a few days in Guanajuato.

We intended to return the same route on the way home. Thanks to our friends’ advice, we were now scared about traveling over the reported 3800 curves of the Devil’s Backbone. But, who wants to retrace their steps? We wanted to see new territory, and we’d heard that the drive through the Sierras via Durango was gorgeous. Durango is a city fairly close to Mazatlán, with others being Culiacan or Guadalajara. There are not a lot of big cities nearby our home, and sometimes one craves a city.

What we found today was a gorgeous drive with a much-improved roadway, and some fortunately very responsible drivers. While I wouldn’t want to make this drive often, I would definitely make it again. Neither Greg nor I felt it any worse than the drive to Tahoe or down Cañada Road on the SF Peninsula (N CA), or Oak Creek Canyon in AZ where I grew up. It is, however, much much longer.
We left Durango about 9 am and arrived in Mazatlán about 3:00, with stops for breakfast and lunch on the way, as well as losing one hour to the time change. That means about a 5 hour drive from Durango to Mazatlán for us today. Over the curves we averaged 30 mph, but when we were stuck behind trucks or a line of cars we frequently progressed at 2 or 5 mph. It is definitely slow going!

The new portion of the road that is open is terrific—two lanes each way, flat and smooth, clearly marked. The scenery along the route is terrific, with some unusual rock formations and incredible vistas.

John Wayne’s ranch is along this route, as are a couple of national parks, some nature preserves, and several places to rent cabañas. Come summer I think it would be fun to go up there, rent a cabaña, and spend a few days sniffing the pine trees, hiking and mountain biking. It was wonderful to smell pine in the fresh air and to feel the nearly-freezing temperatures of the sunny morning. The highest point, we’ve been told, is 1890 meters/6200 feet, less than Flagstaff AZ where I grew up, and far less than Conifer CO where Danny grew up.

Once the new cuota ended the free road was two lane, with oncoming traffic. The actual “Espinazo del Diablo” or “Devil’s Backbone” of hairpin turns and steep drop offs is only a portion of the road between Durango and Mazatlán, a 2-3 hour portion depending on which big slow trucks you get behind and how kind they are to pull to the right when you want to pass. Greg and I felt it was not nearly as bad a drive as we had been led to believe. With the new highway, it should be great. There were guardrails in most of the places that needed guardrails, something others had mentioned as making this drive so dangerous. Our guess is the rails have been recently installed. The biggest danger is closer to the Mazatlán side, nearing Copala, where the road, at least today, was still two lane and had absolutely no shoulder. If you happen to be making a hairpin curve while some crazy person is passing in oncoming traffic, there is not much you can do. Fortunately, today we only had two small instances, both very manageable. So, as of now we’ve overcome our fear of the Devil’s Spine.
There were lots of cows and horses by the side of the road, free range, and we saw some turkeys as well. It was a very scenic drive. Unfortunately we also saw loads of roadside shrines, dedicated to people who had been killed in car accidents.

Along the way are many construction sites. Information on the signs varies, but a website for the project indicates that the new road is going to include 63 tunnels along with 8 bridges over 300 feet in length and an assortment of smaller bridges. Along the way there are many makeshift towns that seemed to have arisen so that the road/bridge workers can have somewhere to live. Please visit the website to get a better understanding of the engineering challenge in making this drive safer, quicker and easier.
The workers work in incredibly dangerous-looking conditions, with steep drop offs and no safety equipment from what we could see.
We had our last meal of this spring break holiday together in Villa Unión at Cuchupeta’s, a place we’ve long been planning to visit. We were not disappointed.

Travelogue Spring Break 2011, Day 1: MZT-GDL-Guanajuato


Off we go, onto the cuota highway…

We departed Mazatlán about 7 am Saturday after picking up our beautiful niece Mara. The car was pretty full, with a cooler full of food and drinks, 4 people and all our baggage.

Daniel had the brilliant brainstorm as we were entering Guadalajara about 1 pm that we should have Indian food for lunch. So Little India it was! It seems our friend the chef is gone, and the current owner, Deepak, was his partner and is now the sole owner. It was Mara’s first time ever to eat Indian food and I think she loved it, especially the lamb tikka masala. Deepak’s wife, a Tapatía, has a little shop around the corner from the restaurant, where she sells spices, some clothing, jewelry and incense.

The drive was long, approximately a nine hour ride to Guanajuato. The kids listened to music, played some games, and Danny read a book for a while. Fortunately things were very uneventful.

About 6 pm we were soooo happy to finally arrive in Guanajuato! Not the main purpose of our trip, but a place I’ve been wanting Greg and Danny to see, and I’ve been wanting to visit again, for a long time. We plan to spend two nights here.

We found a charming hotel that has three beds and a terrace, with this view. Not bad, I’d say.

After unpacking and resting a bit, we took a walk. The architecture here, as I remembered from my first visit, is incredible. I had not remembered the candy or snack shops, however!

We walked past the central market (Mercado Hidalgo) and the Plaza Mayor (Jardín) with its gorgeous church.

In the main garden/plaza is the Teatro Juarez, which in any light is absolutely gorgeous, but lit up at night it was truly incredible.

The students dressed in the cervantino garb, ready to take people on a musical “callejoneada” stroll, were gathered in front of the theater.

The kids were hungry, so we stepped into a restaurant a cenar. They make beautiful “sangrias españolas” here, layering the soda or juice with the wine much like a cappuccino.

After dinner we took a long walk through several of Guanajuato’s 18 tunnels, and miraculously came up for air nearly in front of our hotel, exhausted.


Las Rutas de México/The Routes of Mexico

Have you seen the full splendor that Mexico has to offer? It’s an incredibly beautiful, historically and culturally rich, and geographically diverse country populated by some of the kindest people on the planet. Yes, I am very proud of my adopted home. I’ve been privileged to live in four incredible countries in my life (Japan, Spain, USA and Mexico). Our planet definitely holds beauty!

Today, May 22 2010, President Felipe Calderón announced a new Sectur tourism program, called “Las Rutas de Mexico.” How many of these routes have you travelled?

1. Route one is the route of the Culture of Wine and the Aquarium of the World, based in the states of Baja California and Baja California del Sur. My cousins and I are planning a trip there this next October, in celebration of our 50th birthdays.

2. Route 2 is the Millenary Route of the Tarahumaras, which passes through the states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa. This is the route we took during Holy Week and Easter Week last year, and includes El Chepe train through the Copper Canyon. It was incredible, and the culture of the Tarahumara (indigenous people) is fascinating (they are the famous distance runners).

3. Route 3 is the Magic of Tradition and Nature, and runs through the states of Mexico, Michoacan, Morelos and Guerrero. There is a LOT of diversity to see here. We’ve seen some of it, but look forward to seeing a lot more, including the wintering grounds of the monarch butterflies.

4. Route 4 is the Cradle of History and Romanticism. Just the title makes you want to visit, doesn’t it? This route passes through the states of Querétaro, Guanajuato and Jalisco. I’ve seen some of this, including a most memorable trip to Guanajuato when I was 12 (cobblestone streets, mummies in underground passageways…)

5. Route 5 is called the Art of Tequila and Music Under the Sun, and traverses the three states of Jalisco, Nayarit and Colima. We visited the towns surrounding Tequila over Christmas break a year ago, and it is definitely worth the trip!

6. The sixth route is called Huastecan Beauties, through the states of  Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Veracruz. We have not traveled this area yet, and very much look forward to it.

7. Route 7 is the Thousand Flavors of Mole. Again, who could resist that? This route includes the states of  Tlaxcala, Puebla and Oaxaca. We spent this past Christmas in the city of Oaxaca and, believe me, it is gorgeous and we ate terrific mole!

8. Route 8 is the Mystery and Origins of the Mayans<, and traverses the southeast of Mexico. The amazing architectural feats of the Mayans are definitely one of the world’s treasures.

9. Route 9 is the Experience of the Viceroys, through the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato and Jalisco.

10. The tenth route is called the Fascinating Meeting of History and Modernity. It is located through the states of  Durango, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Sonora, where the juxtaposition of ancient and modern is as remarkable though very different than similar juxtapositions in Asia or Europe.