You can make local calls from public phones in most towns for just a few pesos. It’s almost always more expensive to make local phone calls from your hotel, which adds a surcharge. The larger cities also have public TelMex offices. Private telephone services, often available at Internet cafés and office/business centers, are another place to make calls. Yellow Ladatel pay phones accept TelMex phone cards for local or long-distance calls. You can buy these cards in many grocery stores, pharmacies, bus depots, and airports in 20-, 30-, 50-, and 100-peso denominations. These days, using Skype or another Internet phone service is much cheaper and easier than navigating the public phone system.
Area Codes and Local Numbers
Phone numbers in Mexico follow the same format as U.S. numbers, with a three-digit area code (except for Mexico City, which is 55/) followed by a seven-digit local number. The difference is that numbers are not hyphenated according to any standard format. In this book, we’ve adopted the U.S. convention of a slash after the area code and a dash between the middle three and last four digits. Prior to 2001, numbers followed an older format, which some businesses still use.
To dial long-distance within Mexico, use 01 before the area code. Calling cards from Sprint, AT&T, MCI, Bell Canada, and British Telecom can also be used. Each has its own access code (usually toll-free) in Mexico for direct dialing. To reach toll-free 800 numbers in Mexico, dial 01 first.
Most of the Baja Peninsula now enjoys reliable mobile phone access through two competing companies: Telcel and Movistar. Telcel has better coverage and lower rates. For extended stays in Baja, during which you plan to make a number of local calls, buying a low-cost GSM phone and prepaid cards can make sense. Using it to call the United States, however, will cost a fortune, unless you are an AT&T customer in the United States.
Two U.S. carriers offer North America plans that include calling to and from Mexico and the United States: AT&T charges US$4.99 a month and US$0.59 per minute, or no monthly fee and US$0.99 per minute, for roaming in Mexico. There are plans that offer data services for smartphones, such as BlackBerries and iPhones, that start at US$25 a month and US$5 per MB transferred. If you travel with your phone, make sure to disable the features on your phone that automatically check email and download data or you may find yourself with a sky-high roaming bill. SMS messages cost US$0.50 to send; receiving them is free. Picture or video messages cost US$1.30 to send via SMS. You can activate the international service over the phone, but you need to call before you leave the country.
Verizon (www.verizonwireless.com/international) partners with Movistar to offer North America calling for US$60 a month for 450 minutes, and US$0.45 per minute after the monthly allowance. International roaming on a standard U.S. plan through Verizon costs US$0.99 per minute. Remember to call Verizon before you leave the United States to check if international roaming is activated on your phone. SMS charges are US$0.50 for each message sent and US$0.05 for each one received.
In 2007 rates for calling a Mexican cell phone from the United States jumped to US$0.17 cents a minute due to changes in the Mexican government’s regulation of the telephone industry. Also, a caller-pays policy began in 2006. When calling a Mexican cell phone number from the United States, it’s now necessary to add a 1 after the country code: 52 1 612/xxx-xxxx. Within Mexico, you need to add 044 before the area code: 044 612/xxx-xxxx.
To dial an international number from Mexico to the United States or Canada via TelMex, dial 001 and then the area code and number. Rates are about US$0.25 per minute. For international calls to other countries, dial 00 followed by the country code, area code, and number. To make an operator-assisted call, dial 09 before the country code.
In areas with reliable high-speed Internet access, voice-over-IP (VoIP) calling is quickly replacing the need for satellite phones and Ladatel cards. Skype (www.skype.com) and Gizmo VoIP (www.gizmovoip.com) are two of the many service providers out there. Rates are about US$0.01–0.03 per minute, plus an account setup fee of around US$10. Some companies include a free U.S. number for family and friends back home to dial while you are on the road.
Long Distance the Old-Fashioned Way
If you don’t have access to the Internet, you can dial access numbers to reach operators from AT&T, MCI, or Sprint for calling-card or credit-card calls. Beware the no-name phone companies that try to get you to call the United States collect or via credit card. They are notorious for overcharging, and some have forged partnerships with hotels that get a cut when guests use their inflated services.
For the many areas of Baja where there are no regular telephone lines, no radio phones, no Internet, and no cellular phone service, the only solution is satellite phone—assuming you have to stay in phone contact at all times. California Baja Rent-a-Car (9245 Jamacha Blvd., Spring Valley, CA 91977, U.S. tel. 619/470-7368 or 888/470-7368, www.cabaja.com) rents GPS-satellite phones, as does Discover Baja Travel Club (3089 Clairemont Dr., San Diego, CA 92117, U.S. tel. 619/275-1836 or 800/727-2252, www.discoverbaja.com).
Email and Internet Access
To the surprise of many first-time visitors, high-speed Internet access is almost ubiquitous in Baja these days. Hundreds of miles of fiber-optic cable were buried alongside the Transpeninsular Highway in 2002–2003, replacing the need for slow dial-up connections in most towns and connecting Baja residents and visitors to computers and websites around the world.
Reliability is another matter, however. Even the most well-equipped business centers have trouble keeping their connections up 24/7. If all you need to do is check your email now and then, this won’t be a problem. But if you intend to run business processes remotely while on the road, it may be difficult to find a good setup.
Five-star resorts, espresso bars, marinas, and RV parks all have set wireless antennas for guests who travel with their own laptop or other Internet-enabled devices. Some charge extra by the hour or day; others throw it in for the price of a latte. In the larger condo complexes, you may be able to find an open (unsecured) Wi-Fi network to use. And for those traveling sans computer, there are dozens of Internet cafés in hotels, real estate offices, and business centers with desktop machines, as well as printers, copiers, and scanners for imaging needs.
Rates vary widely, from free with a food or beverage purchase to US$8 an hour at one of the hotels in San José del Cabo.
In more remote areas of the peninsula, some residents and RV owners have costly satellite Internet service through providers like HughesNet (formerly Direcway) and Starband.
The Mexican postal service, Correos de México (www.correosdemexico.gob.mx), is slower than you’re used to at home, though letters and postcards do arrive eventually (usually within 10 days).
Most towns in Baja have a correo (post office), where you can receive general-delivery mail. Correspondents should address letters in your name (capitalize the last name), followed by a/c Poste Restante, Correo Central, the town name, the state (BC or BCS), and the country (Mexico). For example, Nikki Goth ITOI, a/c Poste Restante, Correo Central, Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Mail sent this way is usually held up to 30 days. If you know the postal code for the town or city, add it after the state name.
Many visitors who are seasonal Baja residents forward their mail to a hotel or RV park. You can rent a post office box at the larger post offices, but the application process may take several weeks. Some of the larger towns also have private mail companies that rent boxes to visitors.
The Mexican post office offers express service (domestic and international) called Mexpost. UPS, Airborne Express, DHL, FedEx, and other courier services operate in some of the larger cities.
A few English-language newspapers are published regularly in Baja, but they tend toward tourism marketing. For real news, you’ll need to read Spanish or visit the Internet. In Southern Baja, the Gringo Gazette (www.gringogazette.co) has a long and colorful history of covering local news and issues from the expat perspective. El Calendario de Todos Santos (www.todossantos baja.com/elcalendariotodossantos.htm) covers the West Cape. In Northern Baja the Baja Times (www.bajatimes.com) is a free biweekly, also published online.
In tourist hotels, you may be able to find day-old copies of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, or USA Today.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition