LOS ALGODONES – NOT YOUR TYPICAL BORDER TOWNBy: Stan Usinowicz
Once, the standard experience a “Norte Americano” would experience at a Mexican border town centered around shopping, haggling with a merchant over the price of a piece of pottery or wrought iron art, cantinas and food. The visitor’s knowledge of Spanish sometimes extended only as far as how to order a Corona or a Pacifico beer.
And years ago, if you crossed the border into Los Algodones, you would find 48 cantinas, the usual open air markets, shops and hawkers encouraging the visitor to experience the joy of barter.
Gone are the 48 cantinas, replaced by dental offices, opticians’ offices, medical offices and “pharmacias” dispensing prescriptions. Present are the waves of American and Canadian visitors in search of bargain – compared to home – dental care. Root canals, fillings, cleanings, implants and more – they’re all offered here. How many dentists? National Public Radio reported two years ago that there were 400 of them in this town within the five-block commercial district.
The impetus came from the efforts of Dr. Bernardo Magana, U.S.-trained, who came here in 1969 and opened what has become a highly successful practice. His success attracted hundreds of others over the years, and as mayor of the town he shut down the cantinas and the brothels, NPR reported in 2011.
What can you get for $3,800? One man told NPR he had a total of “four root canals, four crowns, five fillings, a teeth cleaning, a deep cleaning, and laser whitening.” The cost if he had it done at home in North Dakota? $20,000, he estimated.
U.S. dentists have challenged the quality of care available in Los Algodones, and noting the lack of regulations in the competitive environment, where hawkers try to persuade you to choose one dentist while sometimes disparaging another.
And, NPR reported, the cheaper prices are due to cost of living in Mexico; no need for malpractice insurance; little administrative costs tracking down insurance reimbursement; and not as much student debt.
There has been movement by some insurance companies to cover costs in Mexico.
If you’re interested in prescription medicine and you don’t have a prescription for your drug of choice, if legal to bring back, a “pharmicia” will write one for you. You will need a prescription for penicillin now, and you can’t bring painkillers back across the border. Limit of prescription quantities: three months.
And there’s no need to convert to Mexican currency – the dollar is welcome. There are open-air cafes in the plaza, sports bars, and more to attract tourists, and merchants plan several festivals in winter.
If you’re driving, the fishing town of El Golfo on the Sea of Cortez is south of Los Algodones. The village is quaint and friendly, the food is great, and the road conditions are good. Baja California and pristine beachfronts are nearby, with the Sea of Cortez on one side of the Baja and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Further south is Rocky Point, another popular vacation spot for those wanting both the water and the sand dunes for off-road enjoyment.