The Twisted Vagabond

Get your teeth fixed in Los Algodones, Mexico

Zenith City Weekly

Duration: Whatever the dentist orders
Cost: Depends on the number of crowns
Travel style: Open wide!
Adventure factor: 1 (out of 10)

Los Algodones, Mexico is right on the convergence of the Arizona, California, and Mexico borders, ten miles west of Yuma, Arizona. From October through April, visitors balloon Yuma’s normal population of 50,000 to 220,000, mostly snowbirders over age 65.

While US seniors have Medicare, it has limited dental, vision, and prescription coverage. The Mexican medical community figured this out and, all along the 1,969–mile border, you’ll find qualified healthcare professionals offering treatment at discount prices on the Mexican side.

Most border towns are too dangerous to visit because of feudal drug wars, but Los Algodones is situated where the Colorado River enters Mexico. The border crossing has no commercial customs and is only open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Quechan Indian tribe owns land on the US side and they don’t allow development on their reservation.

This combination creates a lousy situation for drug–dealers and gun–runners. There has never been a violent cartel–related incident in the area and Los Algodones may be safer than many places in the US.

The town is about the size of Moose Lake, Minnesota and, within the city limits, you’ll find over 40 dental clinics, 25 optometry offices, and 15 pharmacies, many of which are more advanced than those in the US.

The dentists are a small, close–knit community and they’re very competitive. When one gets a new piece of equipment, within weeks the rest will install the same model and acquire the training to use it.

Most dentists and optometrists received their schooling in the States. Economics and taxes are such that medical professionals may reside in Yuma while practicing across the border. A lot of them are US citizens.

Every dentist uses filtered water and many run efficient operations where, to maintain their competitive edge, customer service is the focus rather than profit.

Oral exams, including cleaning, cost $30 and a typical crown is $160–200. A crown can be obtained in one day during tourist season, same day in the off–season.

Eye examinations are free if you buy a pair of glasses, which typically run 70 percent less than in the US. Turnaround time is one day and a regular exam is $25.

Los Algodones has a smattering of medical doctors and holistic options. Pharmacies here are a godsend to seniors on a tight budget, much more competitive than their neighbors to the north.

English is the language and the US dollar is the currency of choice. Every business accepts Visa and MasterCard. Most professionals offer a US–cash discount.

The fun part is "it’s Mexico." After your appointment, you can dine on fresh fish or shrimp tacos and a cold cerveza. Or venture into the cantinas for some tequila.

If your medical work requires additional days in Yuma, you’ll find warm southwestern hospitality. In the off–season, you’ll likely be the only tourist at the famous Yuma Territorial Prison Museum. Cactus League games, played daily in Phoenix, are a necessity for baseball fanatics and tickets are only about $25.

Budget rooms in Yuma from May through September run $30 a night. Phoenix is three hours away and flying there from Los Angeles is almost the same price. A one–way car rental from the Phoenix airport to LAX allows you to make an adventure of it. After your medical work, head three hours west to San Diego or five hours to LA. You can lounge on the warm sands of a southern California beach to recuperate.

So, next time your dentist insists you need a few crowns, be sure to do your math. You can get all the work done competently, inexpensively, and quickly—with a sunny vacation thrown in—by choosing a professional in Los Algodones. Just remember to bring some sunscreen along with your passport.

Nomadic since 2001, Ken Gunderson rarely resides in one locality for more than three months or returns to places he’s visited before. This lifestyle traveler occasionally visits Gringo Trails, but not as a practice, and his travel tales always have a twist. So far this year, he has slept in 38 beds. He can be reached at