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Algodones has been mentioned in several places around the forum, so I didn't want to start a separate topic without something to contribute. But I know that prior to my first Algodones trip last week, I read all of the material I could find here and I still had some basic questions that I had to answer through word of mouth and my own experience. And in that time I heard of some other people who are nervous to go down alone. So, I thought I'd do a little write up.

Overview

If you haven't heard, Algodones is a little town in Mexico, just a few miles from Yuma, where a plethora of cheap dental, optical and pharmaceutical services are available on the cheap, catering heavily to visitors from north of the border. Its official name is Vicente Guerrero, although everyone refers to it simply as Algodones. Everything you might need exists within four square blocks right at the border crossing. The crossing from the US side is in CA, not AZ.

FAQ

These are the questions I had, which I hadn't found direct answers to.

Q: Should I expect to park in Mexico? Will my ride be safe?
A: The best bet is to park on the US side and walk across the border. Yes, it's all that close. There's a very secure fenced parking lot on the US side which is run by indians. Parking starts at $6 and goes up from there. They charged me $8 for my high top van, and I didn't take the time to work out why. (Trailers, multiple axle vehicles will be more.)

Q: Should I make appointments ahead of time?
A: Not necessary. Just walk over. Don't worry about not finding service - you'll have a hard time not finding service! Same-day work is advertised everywhere and they will work late to get your money if need be. If you establish a relationship somewhere and later call ahead for additional work that's at at your discretion.

Q: How do I find the right business to have my work done?
A: Many seem to like to read reviews online. I suggest don't bother. The "official" websites are run by the business owners. This is very much a buyer's market. Just walk around and turn down as many offers as you like until you feel comfortable trusting your instincts. Never answer "yes." Either refuse outright or say "I'm getting quotes."

Q: Will I be safe there?
A: Yes. The reports you hear about cartel crime and etc happen elsewhere in Mexico. Algodones relies on money from visitors and they can't risk any reports from locals endangering outsiders. Mexican police patrol as well. However, it's best to stay within the immediate four block area. (The "touristy" feel dissipates quickly beyond that perimeter.)

Q: How do I pay?
A: Cash. USD. Not sure about CAD.

Q: How much will [insert service here] cost?
A: Depends how willing you are to hunt around. But it should be less than half of whatever you'd pay for it in the US. Perhaps a quarter of the price for some services.

Q: What do I need for I.D.?
A: To get back to the states, you'll need your passport. If you have an Enhanced Driver's License that works also. Not all states issue those yet, but if yours does I suggest getting one.

Q: Will I be searched? What can I bring?
A: To get into Mexico, you simply walk through one turnstyle and that's it. Do not bring any guns or recreational substances. To get back to the states, you'll have to go through customs. That may be an hour wait or almost instantaneous depending on time of day etc. Returning to the US, you may bring 1 liter of alcohol, a 90 day supply of drugs, and in general up to $800 worth of stuff duty-free.

Q: When is the crossing open?
A: 6 AM - 10 PM Pacific time, since the crossing is in CA on our side. Make sure you come back through in time if you don't want to spend the night in Mexico.

My Experience

For any who prefer stories to lists of facts, here's a picture of my experience in a more anecdotal format.

From the moment rounding the corner past the border crossing, the stream of inbound visitors is met with a barrage of solicitation. Everyone in Algodones is a dentist, optician and pharmacist all rolled into one. My instincts told me to ignore this first wave of solicitation and so I did, walking by with only the occasional "No, thanks." (The ones pushing up front are there to catch the easy and unwitting consumers at the higher price.) Still, it's impossible to walk ten steps without someone trying to sell you. "Hey bro, you need a dentist? My doctor has twenty years experi... "Always look like you know where you're going. Walk quickly even if you don't know where you're going yet. As soon as you stop and look around you become a rube. I walked in this fashion past about 2/3rds of the vendors before beginning to entertain any of them with any significant response. At that point, I began saying I was getting quotes for a dental crown. As soon as I used any more specific terms such as asking about porcelain, out popped smart phones with stock photos. "Yeah man, porcelain. I got porcelain." [Scrolls to next images] "Zirconia? You want zirconia? I got it all man." Think used car salesman meets street hustler. If you're still speaking to someone he will keep trying to sell you something, so don't be afraid to walk away if you feel uncomfortable.

I brought $500 cash with me because I didn't know what to expect. My concern was mostly for getting my crown done that day. After finding a peddler who wasn't pushing me too hard and whose shop I liked the look of, I allowed things to escalate with an "examination." This was done right in the lobby. I showed my broken tooth to the doctor, she looked at it briefly, considered, and said "I can do for... $175?" I could tell by the upward inflection in her voice and the hopeful look on her face that I could have offered less. But I felt that was fair and she was guaranteeing to have the work done within hours. So we went straight to her chair (behind a partitioned wall of eyeglasses, mind you) and started first of all with a quick disclaimer form and medical history. I filled it out in a cursory fashion and no ID was requested. She only cared that I'd signed it. She did ask me twice if I was taking any medication, had any conditions, or if I was sick. I personally enjoy that they rely more on my word than on paperwork, although I suppose some might not. With tools in hand, she asked me if the broken tooth previously had a root canal. I said, "I don't recall, but I suspect yes, because it doesn't hurt." That was sufficient for her and she told me she would give me anesthetic only for work on my gums. Once again I prefer this real-world approach: In my US dental experiences, I've previously asked dentists NOT to use Novocaine when I knew a tooth was "dead," and they refused to do the work without it. My Mexican dentist started grinding right away. The tools appeared identical to what would be used in the US, and disposable items came from the same bags that are irradiated for sterilization.

She then took two impressions, and said "Okay, I cannot fit a temporary because bleeding, but when you come back in a few hours I will have tooth made." Perfect. I picked up my bag and left the partitioned area to the front office. There was very little ceremony about any of it. Owing to how informal everything had been, and to the fact that no one was paying any attention to me, I was headed to the front door and was almost outside when the girl at the front desk apparently remembered what her job is.

"Wait! ....Sir?"
"...Yes?" I said, leaning back in the office.
"Can you pay.... something?" She asked with that same upward inflection and hopeful tone as the doctor wore when quoting me a price. Although at this point all that had been done was grind my tooth to a nub, I realized that they likely would not want to produce a tooth at "the lab" without some money upfront, probably for fear the next guy down the street would offer to finish the job for $165.
"Yes," I said, and this time with a smile. Although I'm certain I could have given her a $20, I instead produced two $50 bills (while not opening my wallet to her sight) and put them on the counter. "Hundred a fair start?"
"Okay!" she said, immediately looking relieved and excited at the same time. "So that's a hundred now and seventy-five when you return." She handed me a receipt to that effect, which had been hand-written in curiously prompt fashion during our brief exchange. From the time that the doctor saw my tooth in the lobby to the time that I received the receipt, perhaps 15 minutes had passed.

At this point I had hours to kill while "the lab" produced my tooth, so I set about wandering the town, keeping to my tactic of never appearing without direction. And, this time, as I'd put money down on dental work, I truly had no reason to entertain any offers from any of the merchants. But that won't stop them trying. "No, thanks" and "I'm all set" came to represent the majority of my speech. And I learned another fun aspect of Algodones: If you keep saying no, they'll keep finding other stuff to sell you. "You need dentist?.... You need glasses?... You need pharmacy?... You need girlfriend?" These people are very sharp, and they will notice your behavior and remember you to adjust their sales pitch. One will overhear you deny an offer and the next will make another. Having denied most of their offerings, the merchants were now offering me senoritas. Now, somewhere between paranoid and naive there exists the right presence of mind to realize it's no coincidence that, with the shift of dialogue, suddenly the same very pretty young Mexican girl was walking past me on every couple streets, each time making eye contact and smiling as she passed. I can guess at the conversation and how it would have transgressed, had I opened my mouth, and so I kept it shut, only returning a nod of acknowledgement and continuing my stride.

Although I would repeat my advice about sticking to the four block touristy area, I disregarded as much for myself. I was curious what the town looked like beyond the vendors and I needed a break from solicitation. And I'm not one to feel physically threatened too easily. I walked down a road out of the shops. The area becomes a much more authentic Mexico in a very brief fashion. Only a few streets over, houses can be seen made of adobe with open doors and dirt floors. People cooking over wood fires. Barefoot children. Dogs roaming. No one speaking English. It was readily apparent that I stood out as a white person after only a half mile or so, but I continued walking down a dirt road for 2 or 3 miles more before turning back. I did a few more things in town - bought lunch (table service, fish tacos, drink, complementary house made chips and sala, total of $7), bought liquor, sat in the park (I was the only non-local in the park). At one point I walked past a barber shop and when I did, the owner rushed out the door and called after me, "Hey! Hey sir! You need haircut?" Anyone who has seen my picture on the forum knows what's off about this proposition. "Come on, man," I returned. "I'm bald!" The comment killed his sales pitch and he went inside his shop, grinning genuinely.

Back on the streets, one of the more ambitious vendors from earlier had taken to following me around on a bicycle, trying to pitch more wild offers. I had to firmly tell him I wasn't interested before he would go away. However with this escalation, the keen masses had even abandoned trying to sell me girls. "Hey man, you wanna buy something illegal?"

Finally enough time had passed that my crown should be ready and I returned to the same place I'd had the work started that morning. I did have to wait a few minutes for it to be brought over from "the lab," but once it was in hand the doctor again wasted no time. I was in the chair again, this time with no numbing while she pressed the crown in place, holding the back of my head for leverage. Before fixing it in place she wanted to know if I was happy with the color so she had me look in a mirror (not a hand-held mirror, mind you, but simply to walk over to one that was in the lobby near the eyeglasses). "The lab" could make a new one if I wasn't happy, she said. The color was fine with me (only a tiny bit whiter than my natural teeth) but I needed the bite adjusted. No problem, she took the crown out and ground some material from the backside. We repeated this process a few times until it was right, and moments later she had the crown permanently installed, sending me off with the final parting comments that I shouldn't eat for two hours and that the tooth is guaranteed for a year. I paid another $75 at the desk (without producing my receipt from earlier) and was on my way. This time it was perhaps a 20 minute affair.

I went straight back to the border crossing. The line was long, and so I chatted with some other visitors while waiting. One story I heard illustrates the security concern well: On a previous visit, this man said, he'd refused jewelry from one vendor, only to later get drunk and get duped into buying similar trinkets from a different vendor. The first vendor saw him wearing the stuff and called out, "You said you don't wear that stuff - you liar!" The man (again, a bit drunk) took this personally, and started shouting "Don't you ever call me a liar" and etc. At this point he said the Mexican police came and hauled off the vendor who had called him a liar. A few minutes later, the vendor came back and apologized to him! They know their money comes from tourists and they don't want any bad press. It seems the police are there to keep that message. Crossing the border itself was simple, I just showed my EDL and when asked what I'm bringing back, answered "A tooth and a bottle of Mescal." He waved me through without even looking up from his screen. I'm pretty sure I could have had just about anything in my backpack. (Although there is an x-ray somewhere around there.) One of the other fellows I'd chatted with says he crosses frequently and would probably go to secondary inspection. Sure enough, I saw him get pulled aside as I was leaving. Apparently some factors affect your odds of getting searched.

So that was my day. Maybe it'll help anyone who's interested. The FAQ should suffice as the TL;DR version.
Good report. Reflects my experiences, as well. Many medications can be bought w/o a prescription in Los Algodones. The pharmacist writes you a prescription then sells you the drug. I bought antibiotics there a couple of times for myself and for my husband. Because I am an RN I know not to abuse antibiotics but I also know when they are needed.
That's an excellent write up, thank you.

On the subject of passport vs EDL:  You are right that only a few states issue Enhanced Driver's Licenses that are valid for border crossings.  However, there is a third option - a passport card, which is cheaper than a regular book type passport.

The EDLs and passport cards are perfectly valid for ground crossings into and back from Canada and Mexico.  However, they are NOT valid for flying back into the country, even from Canada or Mexico.  Not usually a problem for most of us, BUT, if you were somewhere deep in Mexico or Canada on a trip and some family emergency at home came up where you suddenly needed to fly home quickly, you'd be SOL without a passport book.  Just something to keep in mind.

I know Bob and a number of other people here go over regularly for services.  Perhaps they could name names of the business's they use and are happy with.  Such recommendations could simplify things for the newbies.  Maybe this thread could then be made a sticky.

how about it, TMG51, want to start it out by telling us which dentist you went to?

Regards
John
TMG51:

An excellent account. Wonder what they would try to sell an old lady. Can you tell the name of your dentist, please? I need to have three crowns done.
Of the 3 times me and Vic have had work done,the dentist took a check without batting an eye.Each time was with a different dentist.
(01-04-2016, 02:07 PM)Optimistic Paranoid Wrote: [ -> ]I know Bob and a number of other people here go over regularly for services.  Perhaps they could name names of the business's they use and are happy with.  Such recommendations could simplify things for the newbies.  Maybe this thread could then be made a sticky.

how about it, TMG51, want to start it out by telling us which dentist you went to?

Regards
John

I'm certainly happy with this becoming a reference or anything that helps people, however, I'm still not sure I went to a dentist! At least not ostensibly on the outside. The storefront was advertised as "Sol Optical." I'm not sure I would return to the same business on my next trip. Not for any negative experience (like I said in the narrative, I even appreciate the brevity of these exchanges) but I would just want to get other samplings around town. If you do need a cheap crown though, I'm sure you can get one from the same Sol Optical with no problem.

I just looked them up on Google Earth, and apparently they didn't exist whenever the street view was taken! It seems it was a goat pen or something. (Not really, but, definitely or something.) Never forget Google Earth, guys. It's great for scouting everything from new towns to parking spaces to private beach spots. Here's an overview of Algodones, with stuff I mentioned circled in red.

[attachment=5737]


And here's the not-really goat pen where Sol Optical exists now.

[attachment=5738]


...and here's a shot of the opposite side of the street. This is a great example of Algodones - a strip club juxtaposed with a dentist's office the size of a closet.

[attachment=5739]


And really, if you're not familiar with Google and street view, check it out. Click this link (made tiny with tinyurl) and it will put you with your back to the border crossing as you first enter Algodones. You can digitally walk around the streets and see what it's like. If you have a limited bandwidth connection this will use a bit of data as it's just loading a bunch of images in succession.

http://tinyurl.com/jhczuw5
(01-04-2016, 02:17 PM)PatsyG Wrote: [ -> ]TMG51:

An excellent account.  Wonder what they would try to sell an old lady.

I'm sure they could come up with whatever you need! Big Grin If you want to find Sol Optical you should be able to locate it with my images and description above. But I encourage anyone to go down there and see for themselves. As long as you're not afraid to do some negotiating you have nothing to fear in Algodones.
Tourists are their bread and butter so the town is not likely to let anything happen that would send them away. Plus, you are literally only steps from the border & border patrol. While I haven't tried the restaurants there, I understand some are very good.
So do I understand correctly that I could get a crown and a lap dance at the same time across the street?

I think I may be overcoming my fear of dentists Big Grin
Shrimp tacos and Pacifico!Nuff said.
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