Travel down this breathtaking Mexican peninsula to its southernmost tip at Cabo San Lucas.
By Betty Cosley
Mexico’s beautiful Baja Peninsula is the longest peninsula in the world. It promises 1,000 miles of white, sandy beaches; magnificent mountain ranges; picturesque towns; historic missions; and some of the best fishing spots you may ever find. You can go wine-tasting, whale-watching, or explore ancient cave paintings in the desert. You can fish, swim, kayak, sunbathe, hike, or do whatever you please. And the more time you have, the better, for you will not want to leave.
Your first stop down the peninsula from Southern California is in Tijuana, the gateway to Baja. Once a gaudy, rip-roaring town, it is now a fine city with museums, galleries, restaurants, nightclubs, and duty-free shops. The famous Avenida Revolucion is a shopper’s paradise. While in Tijuana you might want to watch the spectacle of “matador versus beast” at the local bullring. Then, for a night on the town, try the Hard Rock Cafe or Senor Frog’s.
Once you’ve explored Tijuana (or decide to return another time), get on Highway 1, the Ensenada toll road. Not only is it paved better than the alternative, but the ocean views are downright sensational. Along the way you will pass Rosarito Beach. Its shops and sidewalk cafes will tempt you, and its beaches can’t be beat. However, unless you enjoy crowds, avoid it during college spring break. Like lobster? Then pause for a snack in Puerto Nuevo. Once a quaint primitive fishing village, it is now known worldwide for its lobster dinners at numerous eateries. You’ll like the price.
Highway 1 is very good and worth the three tollbooth stops you must make. The highway ends at Ensenada, a popular resort town overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It features art galleries, spas, and golf courses, with magnificent beaches and fine RV parks nearby. The harbor, the third largest seaport in Baja, is situated near the entrance to town. Here, the fishing fleet connects with the entire peninsula, wholesalers and tourists alike, and puts its daily catches on display. You can have fresh fish for dinner, and the price is good. You might also want to sample beverages at Hussong’s Cantina, one of the most famous bars in the world. And, too, you can avoid driving by touring the city in a horse-drawn carriage, which departs from Three Heads Park. This town offers more opportunities for wine-tasting, but don’t stay too long. This is only the beginning, and there is much more to see and do in Baja.
A few miles farther is Punta Banda, home to La Bufadora, a natural phenomenon that draws many tourists. If you’d like to see spouts of seawater spraying high in the sky, stop here. You also will be passing Estero Beach, another favorite site offering fine dining and sandy beaches to campers. In fact, you could easily spend your entire vacation in Baja’s Gold Coast Cities, enjoying their pristine beaches, RV resorts, and fancy time-share condominiums; however, this is Baja “Americana.”
For a real adventure, you’ll want to continue south. Ensenada is the last major stop for loading up on essentials, for they tend to get scarce as you enter Baja’s wide, open spaces. Stock up on extra water for drinking and cooking, and be sure to top off the fuel tank. It’s a good idea to always do this as you see fuel available along the way.
It’s also a good idea to travel with other motorhomers; that way, you have help in an emergency. We have made the trip to Baja at least 15 times, but we always travel with friends. The Green Angels, a fleet of trucks with bilingual crews that patrol Highway 1, offer aid to motorists also.
The rest of the way you will be on a regular non-toll road, called Mexican Trans-Peninsula Highway 1. The road becomes two lanes as it traverses the lush Santa Tomas valley, where grapevines and olive orchards cover the rolling hills. Pastel-colored adobe ranches dot the landscape, and cattle amble alongside the road. Be careful; it is a serious offense to injure a cow. And never drive at night. Not only is it more dangerous, but cattle often sleep on the warm asphalt.
From Ensenada south, small pueblos with elaborate churches, adobe shacks, dirt roads, and barefoot children line the route. Soon military inspections will occur from time to time. Usually (though not always) they consist of a quick look around by soldiers who are friendly and polite. Bear with it. The military checkpoints we experienced have been at Maneadero, Guerrero Negro, San Ignacio, and La Paz. Soldiers often just put out a sign on the road that says “Alto” (slow) and you stop and they inspect your vehicle. We have never had to “pay” during these stops, but it’s advisable to do so if a soldier puts out his hand or asks for money for “the bambino.” At an agriculture stop at one of the checkpoints, sometimes they make you pay for the cost of spraying “insecticide” on the bottom of your motorhome.
You can head approximately 140 miles to make your next stop at San Quintin and the bay there, Bahia de San Quintin, or travel another 35 miles from there to El Rosario. North of San Quintin is a visitors center where you can stretch your legs and pick up bulletins regarding nearby tourist areas. Since change comes often to Baja, this could give you needed up-to-date information.
Situated near the sheltered waters of the Bay of San Quintin, the village with the same name is well-known for fishing, clamming, and shell collecting “” you can find plenty of sand dollars. Since the bay is on the Pacific flyway, it is also home to numerous migratory birds. Although most of the beaches are not near Highway 1, they are accessible via dirt roads.
Somewhere around this region, I suggest you find an established place to spend the night. And do not camp with your motorhome parked in a lot by itself. Ask about Cielito Lindo RV Park near Desert Inn at San Quintin, or Posada Don Diego, a campground south of Colonia Guerrero “” both are located on what they call “okay” (not paved) roads. Then, treat yourself to a lobster dinner at the Desert Inn. Afterward, take a hike on the beach “” the best place to reach it is from the hotel.
In the morning, with a full tank of fuel, head out into the rugged Vizcaino Desert “” destination, Catavina.
You are now entering North America’s most unusual desert area, the Desierto de Bahia California. After snaking over narrow mountain roads, you’ll see huge boojum trees, cardon cacti, elephant trees, and house-sized boulders. They turn the landscape into a gigantic rock garden. Among these boulders is the tiny town of Catavina, a great place for a photo stop and snack at the Desert Inn Hotel. Hikes can be arranged from here to view nearby cave paintings created long ago by a culture lost to history.
Next is the Bay of California on the Sea of Cortez. Leave Highway 1 at the Bahia de Los Angeles sign and turn southeast to reach this bay, one of the most beautiful places in Baja. (The road is paved.) Bahia de los Angeles is a small fishing village, and offshore islands and campsites on the beach make it special. The campground there is primitive compared to others, but it rates high in enjoyment. Palapas (open-sided, thatched-roof structures) offer shade and a place to watch sea lions bask in the sun, dolphins play, and pelicans fish for their dinner. Unfortunately, each year this town becomes more civilized. Electricity was promised by the end of 2007; roads are being improved; telephone service is now available; and new restaurants continue to appear. Campers who enjoy the current surroundings would rather keep them the way they are.
One thing to remember about this “midriff” area of central Baja is that winter winds pick up with mighty force between November and March, sometimes arriving very quickly and leaving the same way. If you are towing anything, be sure it’s secure (along with your awnings, etc.). If you’re boating in the Bahia de los Angeles, be careful of these sudden winds. It may be best to hire a local guide first.
There is more to come. Retrace your route to Highway 1, and head southwest for the Pacific and Guerrero Negro. Soon you’ll see the giant Monumento Aguilla (Eagle Monument) outlined against the sky. Marking the 28th parallel, that imaginary line dividing Baja Norte from Baja Sur, it points us to Guerrero Negro, a town known as the world’s leading salt producer, and Scammon’s Lagoon, birthplace of California gray whales. From December through March, thousands of gray whales return here yearly to breed and train their young. After they’ve traveled 6,000 miles from the Bering Sea, they play and court each other in the tranquil waters of this lagoon. The best way to view the whales is from a tour boat.
Back on Highway 1, after miles of barren desert, you reach San Ignacio, an array of pastel-colored buildings nestled in a forest of date palms. Tours of wonderful old churches and mysterious cave paintings are available. Accommodations are excellent.
As for Santa Rosalia, the next town, no need to stop there unless you want to try the French bakery, said to be the best on the peninsula.
On to Mulege, another oasis. After the hot desert, you’ll enjoy this sleepy tropical village. A charming riverside town, it offers numerous facilities: laundry, groceries, bakeries, and fuel. Don’t miss the weekly pig roast at the Hotel Serinidad. If you are a serious beach lover, continue on to the Bay of Concepcion and its multitude of uncrowded, golden beaches on the Sea of Cortez. It is a camper’s paradise.
Loreto is next. It boasts modern hotels and a marina for boat launching. Good fishing, too.
Then, head on to La Paz, the capital of Baja Sur. This large town features a great oceanfront promenade, and a town square where you can relax and people-watch.
Your final stop should be around Los Barriles or San Jose del Cabo. The RV park at Los Barriles is great and the beaches perfect. Pick a spot and set up your motorhome for the last time before returning home. From here, you can visit famous Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the peninsula, shop the boutiques, find a spot on a secluded beach, or take a water taxi to Land’s End. You could even stroll the harbor’s pedestrian walkway and admire cruise ships and yachts, or stop by the Giggling Marlin Bar & Grille for a dynamite margarita. It’s a rich and exciting town. You’ll like it. And numerous RV parks can accommodate you, if you want to stay.
Still, at the end of the day it’s nice to return to peaceful Los Barriles, relax on the sand, and watch the waves roll in and the Baja sky turn from rosy to a star-studded black.
This is the life! You may never want to leave.
Mexico Tourism Board
E-mail: [email protected]
This is not a complete list, so please check your favorite campground directory or Web site(s). Please note that if you make a call to Mexico from the United States or Canada, you must first dial 011-52 and then the number listed.
Estero Beach Resort and RV Park
482 W. San Ysidro Blvd.
San Ysidro, CA 92573
E-mail: [email protected]
San Quintin/Colonia Vicente Guerrero
Posada Don Diego
Apartado Postal 126
Colonia Guerrero, Baja, Mexico 22920
E-mail: [email protected]
Bay of Los Angeles
Apartado Postal 83, Guerrero Negro
BCS, Mexico 23940
E-mail: [email protected]
Malarrimo RV Park
E-mail: [email protected]
Villa Maria Isabel RV Park
Apartado Postal 5, Mulege
BCS, Mexico 23900
Rivera del Mar Trailer Park
Francisco I. Madero 100 N., Loreto
BCS, Mexico 23880
E-mail: [email protected]
Aquamarina RV Park
Nayarit St. Apartado Postal 133
La Paz, BCS, Mexico 23094
Martin Verdugo’s Beach Resort and RV Park
Apartado Postal 17 C.P. 23501
Los Barriles, BCS, Mexico
E-mail : [email protected]
Cabo San Lucas
Vagabundos del Mar RV Park
P.O. Box 197
Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico
Crossing the border is generally hassle-free; however, remember you are now in a foreign country “” with a different language, different laws, and different customs. Mexican entry laws are simple. You cannot bring guns or illegal drugs, and you should have Mexican auto insurance and proper entry credentials.
Passports will be required for land entry to Mexico and/or land re-entry into the United States as of certain dates in 2008; specific dates for both countries were not defined as of this writing. Play it safe and obtain a passport. In addition, bring vehicle registration information and make duplicates of everything.
Mexico requires all visitors to pay for a tourist card if they plan to spend more than 72 hours in the country and travel to the locations mentioned in this article (south of a border zone). You must keep this card with you at all times and return it when you re-enter the United States. Tourist cards can be obtained at the border crossing or in Ensenada at the immigration office. You then pay your fee at the nearest Mexican bank.
Spare parts for the motorhome and towed car may come in handy, as will an English/Spanish dictionary. Money changing can be done on either side of the border. Check out the Mexican traffic laws and learn the meaning of traffic signs and hand signals before leaving.
Owners of diesel-powered motorhomes with 2007-model or newer diesel engines will want to note that these engines require ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD) for regular operation. ULSD is not available in Mexico at this time. However, regular diesel fuel is available throughout Mexico.
Informative Web sites regarding border crossing and laws are listed below. You also can call the Mexico Tourism Board, (800) 446-3942, as well as the other tourist sites listed in this article.