Driving to Potrero Chico

Last updated:Última actualización: October 15, 2016

From the U.S. border at Laredo, Texas

Driving to Potrero Chico from the United States border is a cheap and fun way to get the full Mexican experience – airplanes, buses and taxis limit what you see on your trip. Its particularly advantageous if you are traveling in a group with a lot of gear. Driving is a popular alternative for Americans and Canadians and is routine for many life-long, repeat Potrero Chico climbers. A down side is the border towns of Mexico and the United States, such as Laredo, are known for being dangerous – a common discouraging factor for many would-be drivers. While the hype over most of these border towns are somewhat valid, non-stop drive thrus of these towns during day light hours make these crossings much safer. There are many climbers who annually make these border crossings – safely and worry-free. Knowing Spanish, though it helps, is not mandatory. For more information on safety issues, see the page Safety In Mexico.

The following is a comprehensive guide to driving to Potrero Chico that is loosely based on previous driving guides, in-depth research and many 1st-hand border crossings by U.S. citizens. The guide assumes you will be crossing into Mexico from Laredo Texas – it is the closest American city to Potrero Chico. In the Laredo there are actually 3 different bridges to choose from, each with their own advantages. Our overall recommendation is that you cross into Mexico on Laredo International Bridge II because it is the most direct from I-35. However, when returning to the United States, depending on the time of day, it might be more advisable that you cross at the Columbia Bridge because of shorter lines, despite it being more out of the way. See the section Laredo, Texas Passenger Bridges.

The following are the step-by-step driving instructions for crossing at Laredo International Bridge II. We suggest you take the time to read all of the information in this guide and print a copy for your car.

Map Overviews

Laredo Bridge II Border Crossing

Crossing the bridge and making the u-turn

Driving Through Hidalgo

View In Google Maps:

Step by Step Driving Directions

These instructions assume you are crossing at the Laredo International Bridge II.

1. From the United States take I-35 South to Laredo, TX
2. Continue straight onto Santa Ursula Ave for less than a minute and then straight into U.S.-Mexico Border Inspection Station for "Juarez-Lincoln" International Bridge II
3. At this point you may have your car inspected by the U.S. Border Patrol. They sometimes use a truck-mounted x-ray machine for inspection.
4. Continue straight onto toll bridge to cross into Mexico. See fees chart on this page for update costs.
5. Cross Laredo International Bridge II
6. Drive thru an old inspection station and take a sharp left. Note: this has recently changed and may be a temporary inspection station. Sometimes the authorities require you to go straight, sometimes they want a sharp left.
7. Drive up to one of the lanes with an individual traffic light and wait at the arm barrier. If you get a green light you can proceed. If you get a red light you must pull over to the covered area with soldiers and have your car searched to varying degrees.
8. A few meters directly after the new inspection station, take a right (your only option).
9. A few meters later, take a left (again your only option). You should now be headed east, parallel to the Rio Grande. You might think you are lost because you are suddently dumped into a small side street of Nuevo Laredo, but this is the actual route. Be careful with the stop signs and people in the street.
10. Follow the blue and yellow/orange signs that say "Modulo CIITEV: Permissos de importacion vehicular" (Car Permits).
11. Once back on a major road, change to the left lane. Continue on this road until the first traffic light.
12. At the traffic light, take a U-turn into the far left lane (there are three lanes). Follow the blue sign instructing you to do this.
13. Continue on this road for about a minute, following the blue signs. Pass under the international bridge.
14. Turn left into the Modulo CIITEV (Aduana) and park.
15. Bring a pen and go into the "Entrada" of the long building with the huge words "Control de Internacion Temporal de Vehiculos" painted on it.
16. Inside the building take right and walk into the next room. Look for the sign labeled "Paso 1: Migracion."
17. Go up to the window and ask for a Tourist Visa form. You will need to show your passport. Sometimes you will get a form in English and sometimes in Spanish. Sometimes there will be an attendant to help with translations and questions. Go to one of the tables and fill out the form. Return to the window with the form and your passport.
18. Go to the next counter down, labeled "Paso 2: Copias." At the window ask to have your documents photocopied for a vehicle permit - "Permiso de Automovile." Just ask for "Copias" and they will know what to do. They should photocopy your car title (registro del vehiculo), driver’s license (licencia), passport (pasaporte) and tourist visa (permiso de migracion). If you have previous import permits you will want this photocopied as well. Additionally, be sure to request the back of your car title be photocopied if you have changes of ownership recorded there. See the fees table on this webpage for costs of photocopies.
19. Skip the next "Paso" and continue to "Paso 4: Banjercito." This is the cashier window were you pay for your tourist visa and receive your vehicle permit. Present the original and photocopied documents for the automobile permit. It is much better to pay for the permit with a credit card because if you pay with cash you will have to make a several hundred dollar deposit to guarantee you will return the car. Your vehicle permit fee will be based on you car’s Blue Book Value. You will be given a hologram sticker that must be placed to the right of your rear view mirror.
20. If you haven’t already bought Mexican car insurance, you can buy it now here in the CIITEV building.
21. Return to your car and affix the hologram sticker to the inside top middle of your windshield
22. Drive to the far right of the building to exit the parking lot. You do not need to wait in line at the inspection booth before exiting.
23. At the parking lot exit take a right, backtracking the same road you just arrived from.
24. Continue back under the international bridge to the first traffic light where you originally made the U-turn.
25. At the traffic light take a slight right into the far right lane. It is an unusual traffic pattern. Follow the instructions on the blue sign to go to Monterrey.
26. Continue on this road approximately 6 miles until you reach a large bridge overhead.
27. Immediately after the bridge take a left onto 85 towards Monterrey
28. Continue on 85 until you arrive at a second inspection station (approximately 16 miles). Follow the signs instructing cars to go right.
29. Again you must stop and wait for either a green or red light. If the light is green you are free to go, if it is red you must pull over to the right to be questioned and possibly have your car searched.
30. Continue on 85 towards Monterrey. Approx. 42 miles from the border you will see a sign for 'Monterrey Cuota' on the left and 'Monterrey Libre' on the right. The Cuota is the highly recomended toll road that is not cheap but that is much safer, has excellent quality roads, and has higher speed limits. Go left.
31. Continue on the toll road for approx 76 miles from the border until you reach the large toll plaza (see the fees table above on this webpage).
32. Directly after the toll plaza to the left is an excellent and the only quality rest stop/tourist trap until you reach Potrero. To access it you must make a U-turn several hundred yards after passing the rest stop.
33. Approx. 126 miles from the border you will be starting to enter the outskirts of Monterrey and will arrive at some stop lights. You should see a small airport on your right. You will then see signs towards "Saltillo, Mexico: Cuota" or Freeway 40.
34. Take a right onto Freeway 40, "Saltillo, Mexico: Cuota" toll road and Monterrey bypass. The on-ramp is immediately before a highway overpass bridge, to the right.
35. On Freeway 40 take the first exit towards Monclova 53
36. Pay a small toll at an even smaller toll booth and make an immediate right
37. Continue on Highway 53 for 12.5 miles (30 minutes).
38. Note: on Highway 53 be sure to pay extra attention to the lane dividers as they will rapidly split into turn-only lanes with very annoying lane bumper humps. These splits are not labeled with signs.
39. Turn left through the Hidalgo arch way entrance, into the town.
40. Continue into a roundabout, taking a left. There is a green sign pointing left to help you, labeled ‘Parque Recreative Potrero Chico’.
41. Continue over the train tracks and go right at the ‘Y’ junction. Continue to follow the green signs.
42. You should drive pass a police station on the right and a cemetary on the left. The road will end at the CEMEX plant, where you must take a left.
43. After one block take a right, continuing to following the green Potreo Chico signs.
44. After another block take a left, still following the green Potreo Chico signs. You should see a large plaza to your right. At the back of the plaza is the last grocery store until Potrero - "Carniceria La Mexicana". Now might be a good time to stock up on food supplies.
45. Follow the road straight up the large hill to Potrero Chico. The road will split near the top, take the slight right.
46. Welcome to Potrero Chico!

Vehicle Import Permit

Before driving into Mexico with your car for the first time you will need to prepare the proper documentation to temporarily import your vehicle. At the border you will be required to purchase a “Vehicle Import Permit”. This permit includes both a paper certificate and a silver hologram sticker that has to be placed on your windshield of your car in the top center – near your rear view mirror. The permit is valid for 6 months and allows unlimited exit and re-entry into Mexico with your car during this time.

It is important that you don’t lose the two vehicle permit documents because you must cancel your permit the final time you leave Mexico before the 6 months are over. If you do not cancel your permit, you will not be able to get another permit in the future and your credit card may be charged extra fees/taxes. For those who stay longer than 6 months, you must leave the country with your vehicle for 24 hours before you can reenter and apply for a new vehicle import permit.

Getting the permit can be a little complicated and time consuming – especially if you are not adequately prepared. This is what you’ll need:

  • Valid Passport
  • Drivers License
  • Vehicle Title In Your Name
  • Bank-Issued Credit or Debit Card In Vehicle Owners Name
  • Return Receipts for Previously Issued Import Permits
  • Mexico Car Insurance (optional)

Vehicle Title

It is very important to have the title to your vehicle and that it be in your exact name. The officials at the Mexican customs office are usually very strict about ensuring the name of the cars title matches exactly to your passport. People have been turned away by simply having a suffix of their name be wrong, such as “Jr”. If your car title has a lien holder or co-owner its important you have a notarized letter stating you have permission to leave the country with your car. If you have not finished payments on your car you must get a get a note from your bank stating permission to cross. While these rules are not always enforced 100%, its better to be prepared than to have long delays at the border.

Official vehicle title conditions and requirements (courtesy of Google Translate):

  • Title to vehicle registration, credit agreement or a valid invoice letter no longer than three months from the date it was issued by the company or institution that is funding the purchase.
  • Lease, in the case of leased vehicles, which must be valid, in the name of the person concerned and a letter from the lessor to authorize the temporary vehicle import.
  • If the title is in the name of her husband (a), son (s) or parent must present a birth certificate or marriage as applicable.

Official permit information from Mexican Government (Spanish) here.

Mexican Car Insurance

Mexican car insurance is not mandatory but is highly advisable because in the event that you have an accident you must show “financial responsibility.” If you do not have Mexican insurance to prove this you might have to go to jail until all the deputes and costs are resolved. The cost of your insurance will depend on many factors including the value of your car, the extent of your stay, amount of coverage, and the states of Mexico it is valid in. You can sometimes get cheaper car insurance by buying an entire 6 months than buying just several weeks, and you can also save by only getting insurance valid in the Mexican states that border the U.S. We encourage you to shop around and try different insurance features.

Suggested Insurance Companies

Fees At Laredo Crossing

Approximate Fees Pesos USD
6 Month Tourist Visa $268 $22.53
Vehicle Import Permit $422 $35.52
Photocopies Of Your Documents $24 $2
6 Months Mexican Car Insurance
($5000 valued car, valid on border states 9/1/2010)
$2,116 $176
Toll Road To Monterrey – 2 Axle Car (They only accept pesos) $186 $15.63
Laredo International Bridge Crossing Toll $3 – Cars
$4 – 2 Axle Trucks

*These fees are based on past experience but may be out of date or not applicable to your situation.

Laredo, Texas Passenger Bridges

Laredo International Bridge II and Colombia Bridge are the two crossing you will want to consider for driving into Mexico. Laredo is more direct and is connected directly to US I-35 while Colombia is perhaps safer because it is not within a city, is newer, and is usually empty. You must cancel your vehicle permit at the same station you received it.

Bridge Name Hours Lanes Notes
Laredo Bridge I – “Gateway to the Americas” 24 hrs/day 4 Requires you to drive through downtown Laredo. Better for crossing on foot.
Laredo Bridge II – “Juárez–Lincoln” 24 hrs/day 12 More direct and probably faster during non-peak hours
Colombia Solidarity Bridge 8am-Midnight 4 Usually the fastest lines, but requires more driving to get there

Laredo Bridge I

Laredo Bridge II

Colombia Solidarity Bridge

Toll Road To Monterrey

In the past it has been a choice whether to spend the extra $20 USD to drive the faster/better grade/safer toll road to Monterrey from Laredo. Now, with Mexico’s current crime problems, it really is not a decision. The smaller highways and backroads, although free, are well known to be very dangerous. It is common for the drug cartels to setup fake checkpoints – mainly to stop rival drug cartels but also for petty theft. The Monterrey-Laredo toll road, however, is guarded by the Mexican military and police.

Green Angels

Additionally, there are some other perks to driving the toll road. If you by chance have car problems, you will be quickly rescued by a group of mobile mechanics called the Green Angels, or Ángeles Verdes. They constantly patrol the road in green trucks and offer free assistance in the case of a breakdown (free labor and towing, replacement parts at expense of car owner). They can also help with tourist information. Services are free but tips are appreciated.

Toll Road Insurance

Lastly, driving the toll road automatically gives you toll road insurance. The back of your reciept from the toll booth should describe the insurance. There are two different coverage situations – if you are at fault or not at fault.

Coverage if you are at fault:

  • Damage to the road
  • Damage to other vehicles including medical payments for occupants and pedestrians
  • Medical payments and funeral expenses for occupants of your vehicle
  • There is no deductible if you are driving a car, but there are deductibles if you are driving a bus or a small bus or larger vehicle
  • The insurance will not cover damage to your vehicle if you are at fault

Coverage if you are not at fault

  • Damage to your vehicle including towing expenses
  • Medical payments for occupants of your vehicle including land ambulance to the nearest medical center
  • The above will be covered as a consequence of landslides, objects within the asphalt, holes, and substances that have been spilled on the road.
  • If tires have been damaged, lights broken, or glass breakage has occured to the vehicle, the insurance will only cover the damage if it is due to loose pavement on the road due to maintenence of the road.

Mexican Driving Styles

Driving in Mexico is a very different experience than in the United States or many other countries. The number one difference is that you must maintain a much higher level of alertness at all times. Lanes are not defined and “phantom” lanes can appear and disappear as cars are passing each other. When the lanes are well defined you still much exercise a lot of caution because they can suddenly end completely and abruptly or redirect you off your intended route. Additionally, always pay attention to obstacles including people, animals, pot holes and speed bumps – these are all very common in Mexico.

Dealing With The Police

There are a lot of local police, federal police and military on the roads in Mexico, especially with the current wave of violence in Mexico. Do not be too afraid of them – rather be glad they are around keeping you safe. There are sometimes random checkpoints setup by the Federal Police that require you to pull over and be questioned if you get flagged down by a officer standing next to the road. This is routine and not a big deal. As long as you have all your paper work ready they will usually only give you a passing glance before waving you on your way. They are usually very polite and amused if you speak bad Spanish. The general consensus is that the Federal Police and Military are much less corrupt than the local police.

If you get pulled over by the local police, expect some level of corruption. They will usually give you the option to either go to their police station and waste your day, or save some time by paying some outrageous fine/bribe. Unfortunately, it is customary for everyone in Mexico to pay bribes. However, if you do decide to pay a bribe don’t pay too much. 100 pesos is typically standard, 200 is generous. You’ll probably have to haggle with them but don’t be too obvious when paying the bribe – partially hide the exchange of cash. Be careful when dealing with the cops but don’t be too scared of them – they are usually friendly and enjoy a good laugh, they are just a little corrupt. If you’re really suave you can sometimes talk them out of any fine at all.

Inspection Station Red Light

If you get pulled over at one of the inspection stations with a red traffic light, don’t panic. The inspections are usually very fast and perfunctory. Often times they will only ask to see your car permit or visa. Sometimes they will ask you to pull out one of your largest bags and open it, but they will only give it a passing glance. Many times they will just wave you to continue. Overall, they are enforcing basic customs import laws.

Gas Stations

Gas stations are plentiful and modern in Mexico, and all owned by the same company Pemex. All Pemexes in Mexcio are full service and they will also often clean your windows for you. When pulling up, they will ask how much gas you want (getting a full tank is all that common for Mexicans) and they will ask you what color gas you want. Because all gas stations are owned by the same company, the color coding is nation wide – Green is 87 and Red is the premium version (89, 92?). No, the gasoline itself is not actually colored, just the pump handle. All you have to say is: “Verde, porfavor. Lleno.” (Green, please. Full.) Be sure to tip your attendant at the end – 5 or 10 pesos is standard. Its best to pay with cash in pesos because the credit card machines are a big hassle and not always available.

Returning to the United States

While the Laredo bridge is often faster when entering Mexico, it is much much slower when driving back to the United States. The U.S. border patrol is much stricter than the Mexican border patrol, so wait times are often over an hour and the line is huge. It is far more recommended to drive back into the United States via the Colombia bridge. There is usually zero wait time.

Other Notes and Advice

  • When asking for directions be sure to ask for “Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon” and not “Hidalgo Sabinas” which is a larger town. Often times people will not know where Hidalgo is so you can just ask for “Carretera Monclova”
  • Do not try to bring guns, ammo, empty shells because it is a felony that can result in jail time
  • Take care of any car maintenance issues you might have before leaving for Mexico. This will ensure you don’t have any unexpected break downs and be stranded.
  • Drive partially on the shoulder on smaller highways to allow people to pass. Its the norm in Mexico.
  • Left turn signals usually mean its ok for you to pass. But they could also mean almost anything.
  • Do not expect proper road signs or warning signs of upcoming hazards or road problems.
  • Expect to get lost at least once.
  • The speed limit in Hidalgo is super slow – 30kph/18mph. The town is slow paced so actually follow it.
  • Have patience.

  • waffleguy4

    I did it!

  • Great looking site! To anyone interested in driving to Potrero… DO IT! Driving in Mexico is fun, but it’s quite different than the US. Lots of news stories about corrupt cops and drug cartels though. Fear not. Cross the border early in the day and enjoy a pleasant drive to Potrero.

  • Manny

    We drove to Mexico City by way of Potrero Chico. The toll roads were perfect, no potholes or traffic. Money well spent.

    Bribes were cheap and we had to pay at most 200 pesos; it was our fault they pulled us over each time. One thing I would recommend is to buy a plate and put it on the front of your vehicle to blend in with the Mexican autos.

  • Wow, nice job with this page. Really quite informative, and excellent maps and directions.

    I’ve driven to and from Mexico from Texas literally dozens of times, and more than 7 times this winter alone, and I just wanted to say that it’s much safer than the media would have you believe.

    I definitely recommend crossing the border during the day, using the toll roads, and keeping stops to a minimum between Nuevo Laredo and Hidalgo, but still, I haven’t had any problems whatsoever, nor have I seen anything especially sketchy on the way.

    It does help to speak some Spanish though (;

  • mara

    wooowww, excelente trabajo, todas las instrucciones, cada una de ellas con todos los detalles.

  • chris durchholz

    So, you recommend Laredo Bridge I?  I’m confused, on the map at the top it looks like your route is for the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge (Laredo Bridge II).

  • Chris, thanks so much for pointing out the mistake. Laredo Bridge II is the better one and it has been updated on this page.

    The currency exchanged on the Texas side of Laredo are all pretty standard with similar conversion rates. Any of them really work.

  • MikeZ

    In light of recent violence in Nuevo Leon, Laredo, and Monterrey, will it be safe to drive down to El Potrero Chico around January 4th, 2012?

  • Nothing is guaranteed in life, but you should be fine.

  • Natgus

    Is anyone planning on driving down to El Potrero Chico in the beginning of February?  I am hoping to find a ride down and can provide entertainment, gas and bribe money etc. etc.  

    I am in Northern NM but could meet someone in ABQ or Las Cruces.  

  • Ttnelson4188

    I am driving down on the 28th of Feb. 2012. I am in Durango, CO so I can pick you up if you are still interested. 

  • Nicholas Golden

    Does anybody have any recent update news about the violence in Nuevo Leon. im thinking about driving down there for chrismax and new year..Any beta would be fine thanks

  • I flew in 3 weeks ago and everything was fine – I didn’t see any signs/hear any stories of violence from my recent experience 

  • Ttnelson4188

    Stay on federal highways PERIOD. Other then that you should be good to go! And please trust me on this I’m talking from experience

  • Mixolydian64

    Hi, I’m planning an impulse trip from Alberta, Canada to spend a week in Potrero Chico starting Dec 19, I’ll be flying into Austin the 18th and driving to Hidalgo. If anyone’s interested in acquiring a belay slave and willing to share gas etc that would be great. I’m not hung up on male or female and know how to behave myself if you’re female, ciao 

  • Drea

    It’s too bad you are going in late Feb.  I am a fellow Durangotan and will be spending a month in EPC.  I don’t have any partners lined up.  If you decide to go earlier, let me know!

  • Morrislc

    I am driving down to EPC from Portland. Would anyone like a ride? I leave this week and I will be crossing through idaho, utah, NM, and texas

  • Eduardo Enriquez

    I know of another car insurance company called BestMex, and in my experience, not only it has the best prices of that market, but also have the best coverage for all kind of vehicles, not only car, I leave the website in case anyone is interestes: http://www.bestmex.com

  • Thanks, this might be pure advertising but I’ll add your link anyway 🙂

  • Danny Hainley

    My father signed over my cars title to me. Do you guys think I would have a problem crossing the border with a title that was issued to his name but signed over to me that he has reassigned the vehicle and that I am now the owner?

  • No problem at all. My first time driving to Mexico I forged my Dad’s signature on the title selling it to me, while in the border patrol office, and they let me through.

  • Mia

    Great, informative page. I just want to add some info to people driving their family’s or friend’s car (without them).
    The best would probably be to do all the paperwork online beforehand and have it shipped to an address in the US (need to be done at least 10 or 20 days before entry).
    If that is not possible (time-wise) and you are driving a family-member’s car, you do need proof of it. They seemed to only really accept copies of birth certificate, but maybe copies of passports would do if you share the same last name and so on. A signed letter from the owner could help, but it is certainly not always enough.
    Driving a friends car, you do need to either bring the car title and put your name on it, or get a temporary registration at a DMV office (30 days, 30 USD). To do that you need the insurance papers, the car registration and your passport. Can be done at the tax office in Laredo, 1110 Victoria St, Laredo TX.