Ahhh Mexico…where the drugs are cheap, the liquor is free flowing and there’s a dentist on every street corner. Actually more like 5 or 6 dentists. That’s right, welcome to Los Algodones, Mexico- a medical haven for thousands of US and Canadian retirees who winter in southern California and Arizona. This tiny border town with less than 6,000 residents is home to more dentists, eye care specialists and pharmacies than most major US cities. Though it’s not the sheer number of services that prompt an estimated 3,000 people daily to flood across the border- it’s the cost. For roughly one-half to one-third of the price you would pay in the US you can get all manner of dentistry procedures, prescription glasses, prescriptions drugs and other various medical procedures.
If the thought of medical care in Mexico sounds scary to you, well you’re not alone. I admit to a healthy dose of skepticism at first. But the truth is that thousands and thousands of people take advantage of these services everyday with quite satisfying results. I perused a bunch of the online forums and reviews regarding Los Algondones and found that the majority consisted of glowing reports of quality work and professionalism. We also received an in-person report from some folks who had recently experienced their own Mexican dental experience. Nina and Paul from the Wheeling It blog, took their first trip to Los Algodones a few weeks ago for a variety of dental work. When we arrived out here on American Girl Mine Rd. where they were also staying, Nina was about to go back about for the second part of her procedure. The way she described it all sounded very safe, professional- and CHEAP. You can read her very informative two-part post about their full experience here. While we’re not quite ready to take the dental plunge yet (mostly because we both dread the any dentist visit- not because we’re weary of the Mexican system), the other services like eyeglasses and prescription drugs sounded intriguing so we decided to go check it out for ourselves.
It turns out that the other members of our motley band of roaming nomads were also interested in an afternoon spent in Mexico. So Tim and I, along with Brian, Cassie & Kris (Poor Leigh had to stay behind to work -yuck) piled in the truck and took the short ten minute drive over to the border crossing. We parked in a large lot on the US side and walked across. Los Algodones is very small- only about four square blocks so getting around on foot is a breeze. The first thing you notice are the men hawking dentistry and eye care services. “You need dental, how bout’ vision?” They wave fistfuls of business cards like dollar bills- trying to entice you to take the bait. The second thing you notice is just how many signs there are for dental and vision services.
A visit to the dentist was not on anyone’s list for the day, but we did want to visit one of the eye care centers in search of prescription sunglasses. Brian had read that Best Optical had a good selection and reputation so off we went. Luckily in such a small town it was not hard to find.
The selection of regular frames was quite good, and the sunglasses selection was just okay. I didn’t end up finding a pair but Tim did, and after a short wait while one of the sales girls ran over to the lab to make sure this particular pair could be fit the lenses he wanted, we were in business. Normally you can get a pair of prescription glasses on the same day (2-3 hour wait) but since it was already afternoon and the shop closed at four we needed to come back the next day morning to pick them up. No problem.
We also hit up the pharmacy where Cassie got a few prescriptions filled for a tiny fraction of what she normally pays in the US. I was so impressed that when we went back the next day to pick up Tim’s frames I brought my own prescriptions to be filled. The cost ended up being one-third of what I pay here! The whole procedure is almost too easy. You go in, hand your prescription to one of the many, many employees, they tell you if it’s in stock and how much it costs, then they get it for you right then and there. No waiting around for whatever it is you wait for at US pharmacies. There are some restrictions on what you can bring across the border as far as prescriptions go, but my run-off-the mill allergy medications were not a problem at all.
Besides medical care and medications the other popular spot in Los Algodones is the liquor store. They have a wide selection, especially of Tequila, and prices seemed to be a bit cheaper than in the US- depending on what state you’re used to buying from. The best part of the liquor store was the free-flowing samples. They had a couple stands set up with open bottles ready to taste. Kind of like Costco at the liquor store.
In between the dentists, optical stores and pharmacies the streets and sidewalks are littered with small booths and stands displaying all types of touristy goods. You want a leather purse, some turquoise jewelry, a ceramic turtle, hats of all kinds, a hammock, colorful clothing, hair accessories, stone lawn art, or a leather wrestling mask? You got it.
By far our most interesting purchase was a couple strips of Goat Milk Lollipops by request for Leigh. She has memories of her family buying them during their annual trip to Mexico and swears by their deliciousness. Hmmm…if you say so.
We really had a great experience in Los Algodones. Who knows maybe we’ll even get brave enough to go back to try out the dental care.