Updated Nov. 2013. Day 1: Tijuana route to Ensenada & Tecate route to Ensenada.
The following travelogue is aimed at those with few if any Baja drives under their belt. It covers your drive from the border down to Baja’s East Cape as well as places to eat and spend the night. The places to stay were picked only on the basis of ease of access and security for the gear in your vehicle overnight and to minimize any nighttime driving. If you have recommendations send them to email@example.com.
After many dozens of trips down Baja I think it is safest and fastest to spend the in San Ysidro at the border unless you live in the San Diego or Los Angeles area. There is a Motel 6 within a half mile of the Border in a safe neighborhood with good parking:
160 East Calle Primera
I-5 at Via de San Ysidro
San Ysidro CA 92173
Phone: (619) 690-6663
For any new details about the new TijuanaEl Chaparral border crossing see the first page of this guide.
If you are going the Tecate route be aware that you have to spend the night closer to San Diego then head to Tecate in the morning.
For first timers going through the border area is scary. With the new El Chaparral crossing at Tijuana and the easy access to Hwy. 1D toll road there really is not any reason to use the Tecate crossing on your way down Baja. But you still want to use in going northbound.
The maps and photos to the right will make it easy to get through the Tijuana border.
I highly recommend getting your tourist card at the Tijuana or Tecate border.
There pay the fee and then return the paper work to the previous office to have your tourist care stamped.
If you are bringing in any new appliances etc. that are going to stay in Mexico this is the time to ask where to go to declare their importation. If you have al lot of stuff have a spread sheet list with prices etc.
Once your form is stamped get back in your car and drive towards the exit.
If you are going the Tijuana route and you did not get your tourist card at the border you will have to get your tourist card validated at the Migracion Office and try to pay your bank fee in Ensenada.
I highly recommend getting your forms in advance from the Vagabundos del Mar (see tourist card page) If you are not in a rush get your tourist card then find a bank and pay the fee to get you tourist card stamped. Otherwise take care of it at a bank further south.
One way or another you now have a tourist card. Continue on Boulevard Lazaro Cardena passing many hotels and tourist traps. After about a mile, go left with most of the lanes onto a street named Calle Agustin Sangines and continue several blocks past a hospital. After one block there is a big intersection with a stoplight and a Pemex station on the left and a huge Soriana sign and shopping center on the right. Make a right and you are now you are back on Highway 1. Stay on this road for the next 800 odd miles.
The next 30-40 minutes are spent going through ugly urban sprawl with many intersections and heavy traffic. At Maneadero Highway 1 makes a veer to the left. For years there were eight sets of speed bumps or topes in this area which could damage your car if you did not see them. The topes have finally been removed.
South of Maneadero, Highway 1 shrinks to two narrow lanes for the next 800 miles. You now enter a attractive mountainous part of Baja centered in the wine production area of Santa Tomas.
Tecate route to Ensenada Once you have your FMM and paid your bank fees follow the signs to Ensenada via Mex 3. The drive takes you through scenic wine country and rocky mountains. Once you hit Mex 1 head south a few miles to Ensenada.
Day 1: Santa Tomas:
After about an hour you drop into the Santo Tomas valley and pass through the tiny village. If you are off schedule and it is getting late spend the night since there is no place to stop for the next few hours. If you are spending the night look for the the one and only restaurant and gas station on the right, pull over. On your left is a steep driveway entering the Palamor RV park. It is a bit noisy since it is on the highway but still the only safe place to stay in the area. Weirdly there is a zoo in the RV park. The restaurant food is passable. The motel above the restaurant is pretty crude, noisy and lacks any security.
If you are on schedule continue through town watching for the two very large topes or speed bumps. If you go over them at much over 2 MPH your trip may end prematurely. After the topes you will climb a large hill and wander through more mountains for an hour.
As you enter Ensenada from the north, the road forks with Route 1 going to the left and the Route 1D to Centro (Downtown) branching to the right. Be sure to go Right to the Centro route and proceed into town. Continue to the first major intersection. To your right is the road to the Migracion Office. On the north side of this road between the 4 tall palms is the Migration office. If you did not get your FMM at the border this is you last chance. They open at 8AM and close at 8PM. It is a good idea to bring a blank Tourist Card form with you from the USA as a backup. If they are out of forms in Ensenada you may be delayed or sent back to Tijuana.
One way or another you now have a tourist card. Continue on Boulevard Lazaro Cardena passing many hotels and tourist traps. After about a mile you will see a Pemex station on the left and the entrance to a Navy base on the right. Turn LEFT with most of the lanes onto a street named Calle Agustin Sangines and continue several blocks past a hospital. After one block there is a big intersection with a stoplight and a Pemex station on the left and a huge Soriana sign and shopping center on the right. Make a RIGHT and you are now you are back on Highway 1. Stay on this road for the next 800 odd miles.
The next 30-40 minutes are spent going through ugly urban sprawl with many intersections and heavy traffic. At Maneadero Highway 1 makes a veer to the left. For years there were eight sets of speed bumps or topes in this area which could damage your car if you did not see them. You now enter a attractive mountainous part of Baja centered in the wine production area of Santa Tomas.
Tecate route to Ensenada Once you have your FMM and paid your bank fees follow the signs to Ensenada via Mex 3. The drive takes you through scenic wine country and rocky mountains. Once you hit Mex 1 head south a few miles to Ensenada.
Places to stay: After about an hour you drop into the Santo Tomas valley and pass through the tiny village. If you are off schedule and it is getting late spend the night since there is no place to stop for the next few hours. If you are spending the night look for the the one and only restaurant and tiny gas station on the right, pull over. On your left is a steep driveway entering the Palamor RV park. It is a bit noisy since it is on the highway but still the only safe place to stay in the area. Weirdly there is a zoo in the RV park. The restaurant food is passable. The motel above the restaurant is pretty crude, noisy and lacks any security.
If you are on schedule continue through town watching for the two very large topes or speed bumps. If you go over them at much over 2 MPH your trip may end prematurely. After the topes you will climb a large hill and wander through more mountains for an hour. Highway 1 shrinks to two narrow lanes for the next 800 miles.
Day 1: Santa Tomas to San Quintin Area: Driving and where to stay.
Leaving the mountains, you drop into a long coastal plain. This part of Baja was virgin desert 20 years ago now it is ugly agricultural sprawl exporting winter vegetables to the USA.
Expect to spend a lot of time behind trucks and school buses full of workers. If you timed it right today is Sunday and you will same a lot of time without buses.
Places to stay: If you have a camper stay at Don Diego’s RV park. Don Diego’s RV park is a short distance north of San Quintin in the roadside town of Colonia Vicente Guerrero. It is tricky to find the first time. When you are about 172 miles (4-5 hours) from the border look for a small Pemex station on the right. Get gas here even if you do not need it. Then drive slowly south for about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile. If it is still daytime, look for a roof that has a sign painted on it saying Posada Don Diego. If it is dark, look for a huge propane complex on the right with a white wall going to the west. Just past the roof and just before the white wall, turn down a dirt road heading downhill. If you have a large RV don’t worry… there is plenty of turn around space ahead. Ignore the RV at the start of the dirt road on the right. It is noisy, has a poor turnaround and has poor food. Keep going for 1/4 of a mile on the main dirt road. Pull into a huge quiet RV park. If you are in a car or truck you can also stay at one of the large trailers in the park. Pay your fee, say Hi to Eddie and take a warm shower. The food and drinks are good.
If you want something more classy and much more expensive continue further south just past San Quintin. There are several places on the right a mile or so off the highway. The La Pinta Hotel is very nice and always almost empty. However there is no security for your rig and you are a long walk to your room. The prices are $90 USD range.
Hotel Jardines: Immediately after leaving San Quintin you pass through the small town of Cardenas and, a few miles south, there is a large sign over the highway indicating a right turn for “B. OF SAN QUINTIN” (Bay of San Quintin). Turn right. Go about 1 mile, where you will see a sign for Hotel Baja Jardines. Turn left. The hotel is about one-half mile down on the right. The restaurant is on the same road just past the hotel. Very nice rooms USD $35 to $50/night
Day 1: San Quintin to Cataviña. Military inspection and places to stay.
You are now leaving the agricultural area along the pacific coastline. If you are traveling leisurely or don’t want to drive at night this can be a slow day that will allow you to stay at beautiful Catavina. If you are in a rush you can make ugly Guerrero Negro by dark.
About 30 miles south of San Quintin, the road turns inland to enter the great Central Desert. On this stretch of road you will stop at your first military inspection. If this is your first drive this may look at bit scary with troops with automatic weapons etc. But in really they are just nice young guys who have the duty of trying to stop all the drugs pouring into the USA. They will ask you in broken english where you are going and if you have any guns or drugs. Just say La Paz and no to the questions. Almost always going south they then just wave you through saving the searches for northbound traffic. Rarely they may do a cursory inspection southbound. There have been a few isolated reports of theft at these inspections. So I always keep my camera, passport, laptop in a backpack. Then when I am stopped I put the pack on my shoulder. I then open one door at a time for inspection and watch as they glance into the car. Whew! That was easy.
You now climb through some low mountains and drop down a canyon to El Rosario. YOU HAVE TO GAS UP HERE. The main Catavia gas station has been closed for more than a decade. An the one pump station at the hotel is often out of gas. Unless you have a large tank or an economy car you may not make it. The gas station in El Rosario is nice and has the best gas station bathroom in Baja. There is a small but nice restaurant, Mama Espinosas, a hundred feet south of the gas station.
Places to stay:There are several places to stay in El Rosario. My favorite is the Baja Cactus Hotel which in on your left just as you pass the gas station. Gated secure parking and nice rooms at around $40-50/night USD. Eat next door at Mama Espinosa restaurant. The Turista Motel and the Hotel Yauco are just down the road and are also nice and less expensive.
A few miles out of El Rosario you enter a several hundred mile stretch of the “real” Baja. This area is pristine just like it was 20 years ago. The fantastic desert scenery slowly builds in beauty reaching a crescendo at Cataviña. South of El Rosario you will see your first Boojum plant that only grows in this area. You will know it when you see one. To your right the famous face on the mesa looks towards 40 miles of rugged dirt road to the wavesailor’s mecca of San Carlos. But you are bound for the East Cape not wavesailing paradise. Wrong time of the year and wrong guy to tell you how to get there anyway.
After about 70 miles you will enter the Cataviña area. If you are moving slow or do not want to drive at night stop and spend the night at the La Pinta Hotel on the right for about $90USD. In the USA Cativina would be a national park. Even if you are in a rush find a place to pull over and wander among the house size rocks and exotic cactus.
There is a good chance the one pump Cataviña gas station is closed. If you are running low you may be able to buy expensive gasoline from drums near the hotel. There is a good mechanic here working out of a shack north of the empty gas station and motel. This is a great place to spend the night and you should have enough time to explore the beauty.
Day 2: Guerrero Negro to San Ignacio.
The road leaving Catavina continues south slowly fading in beauty and finally leads you to the huge, flat and barren Vizcaíno desert. This is one the world’s driest deserts and you can really make up for all the twisty roads that have slowed you. The road is running parallel to the Pacific and you may see a marine layer in the distance. After another hour or so you will pass the turn off to L.A. Bay. The gas station will be closed here but you will see some guys selling gas from barrels. If L.A. Bay is your destination, head east. The first 1/3 of the road will be in OK conditon. After that it sometimes has many potholes.
Continue southward on Hwy. 1 and the first station you reach since El Rosari is at Jesús María. After miles of nothing but a flat horizon a huge sculpture of a stylized eagle looms in the middle of the road at Guerrero Negro. Finally there is a huge gas station open next to the eagle however the once beautiful hotel has been closed for decades. The eagle is at the boundary between the two states of Baja Norte and Baja Sur. Baja Norte observes Pacific Standard and Daylight time just as in California, and Baja Sur observes Mountain Standard and Daylight time. Adjust your watch one hour.
Just past the eagle, you will undergo agricultural inspection and have your underbody (the car’s not yours) sprayed with insecticide. In 2007 they automated the process and the car is sprayed by pipes you drive over.
At the inspection they will take all of you fresh fruits. It may be tempting to hide some but please remember that there are nasty larvae and eggs in fruits from the USA especially if they are “organic”. And since they do not have native predators in Baja Sur they could wreak havoc with the fledging fruit industry.
Rarely you may be asked to show your tourist card. There are rumors you can get your tourist card here from 8AM to 8PM. Personally I think it is best to get your FMM at the border. Technically you only have 72 hours from leaving the border to get a tourist card here. Just keep your toll road receipts for evidence in case they ask.
If you need supplies take the right past the inspection season into town. There is a gas station on the right and good markets and bakeries in town.
Guerrero Negro is the site of the world’s largest ocean salt production facility. In one of the shallow lagoons near Guerrero Negro, the California Gray Whale bear their young each winter.
Places to stay There are several places to stay in Guerrero Negro. For dinner and decent rooms drive towards town watching for the Malarrimo Motel with enclosed but not gated parking. In the saker are on the south side of the road is the Hotel Cowboy. The office looks very tacky but the in the courtyard next door are attractive and modern. Very secure gated parking with an all night guard.
Leaving Guerrero Negro you hit a long stretch of straight road. Any where near Guerrero Negro there is a chance of radar speed traps so watch your seed. Finally you enter an area of buttes, distant high mountains, dormant volcanos that interrupted by ancient lava flows. After several hours, you will come upon masses of palm trees and enter the outskirts of San Igancio. At San Ignaicio you will see a spectacular oasis complete with small lakes and thousands of date palms. The town plaza, about 1 mile inland, has a spectacular plaza with huge trees and an amazing old cathedral. If it is mid to late afternoon this is your best place to stay until you get to Mulege.
Places to stay the easiest place to stay is called Rice & Beans which has secure access and is right on the highway. It has nice rooms, RV parking and tent areas. There is also a nice restaurant. Watch for the signs as you near town. If you have a large RV or a trailer you may not be able to make the sharp right turn so head to the gas station and turn around and go back to Rice and Beans. Alternatively continue towards town and take the right at the gas station and whale skeleton and drive towards town. On your left you will see Ignacio Springs B&B with really nice yurts located in a veritable jungle. However do not go here if you have a trailer or large RV. If you would rather stay at a hotel there is the former La Pinta now known as the Desert Inn on the left as head into town. It is classy and and expensive at $90USD but very nice. Take a walk into town and see the plaza and mission in the town center that dates back to the late 1700s. There is a very good restaurant one block down on the street leaving the southwest corner of the town center.
Day 2: San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia
Leaving San Ignacio continue southward passing several large volcanos. As you near Santa Rosalia you will have to drop down two very long twisty, steep hills with no shoulders and a vertical drop of hundreds of feet. Keep in low gear. Watch for your first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez and perhaps white caps.
As you drop down to the sea you enter the dreary and run down outskirts of Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia is an old French copper mining town which, despite its outskirts, is full of scenic old wooden buildings with wooden sidewalks and a metal church designed by the designer of the Eiffel tower. (It was shipped here by mistake and was never shipped back!) You will pass the gas station on the right across from the Ferry terminal. Do not stop at this station. It has a 30-year reputation for ripping off visitors. Passing this station continue heading south to Mulege.
(If you are going to Punta Chivato as your final destination look for a is a sign “Palo Verde” which is a tiny cluster of houses at the entrance to the 15 mile dirt road to Punta Chivato.
Once on this road continue to a fork. Then follow the sign “New Road” to the beach. They have reopened the hotel restaurant and the food is very good. They are building a second restaurant near the airstrip. This is a scenic camping site but it can be very cool, windy and sandy on the beach when El Norte blows.)
Day 2: Mulege area
This is a beautiful oasis and river town on the beach. You will pass through the edge of the town and over a bridge crossing the river and continue towards Loreto where you will spend the night if you are still on schedule. If you are running late you can spend the night here. About a mile past the bridge, begin looking for a sign on the left saying Hotel Serenidad. Drive about a mile down the gravel road which will lead to a gravel airstrip. If you want a hotel room stay at the Baja classic Hotel Serenidad. Beautiful place, great food and secure parking.
But the best place by far to stay in the area ins the Casa Granada. Classy huge house with large rooms each with a separate entrance, WIFI and great prices. For $10 USD you can have an amazing breakfast cooked by Lena. See photo next to this text. San hello to Lena for me!
Even if you are in a rush in the morning take a 5-minute walk through the palms and bananas to the river.
Leaving Mulege, stop at the gas station just out of town on the left. This station has some problems so watch the filling process carefully. Then head south along a coastal plain with high rugged mountains to the west. As you begin to climb the low mountains ahead, have your camera ready. You are in for some spectacular views.
Day 3: Bahia Conception to Loreto
Conception Bay is one of the world’s most beautiful desert vistas. The bay is about the size of San Francisco Bay but with hundreds of beautiful coves, beaches, and islands backed by rocky cliffs and mountains. Many of the beaches have some facilities available and will probably be jammed with RVs. This is a beautiful place to camp if you like crowds but no wind. If you like light wind sailing try Punta Arena / Playa de Los Naranges. Watch for the very wide turn off on the right and a sign just before see Conception Bay. Go several miles along the narrow dirt road to a camping area. You want to be in the area where the cobble stone beach faces east. The wind will be light and offshore in the area with all the shacks and a sandy beach.
But most of you are hot to get to the East Cape so continue southward.
Continuing southward you will next encounter the resort area of Loreto. Loreto 20 years ago was a sleep village a mile or two west of the highway but it has now expanded westward and it’s unattractive outskirts have spread past the highway. The old mission in Loreto is worth a visit but otherwise the town has little to offer a wind-focused traveller. There is no gas station along the highway until you are just past the town where there is a new station to the right.
Places to stayThere are many hotels here but the Loreto Bay Resort hotel a few miles south of town at the Nopolo resort complex is the easiest place to stay. There is a guard 24/7 and enclosed parking area. It’s very modern and on the water the with swimming pools and restaurant. Follow the map to get there. Price is about $90.
If you are driving an RV there is a very nice RV place in Puerto Escondido south of Loreto.
Day 3: Loreto to La Paz
You are now on your last day of the drive and if you make good time you may be sailing in the late afternoon. South of Puerto Escondido, you climb up spectacular canyons surrounded by craggy mountains. Enjoy the view for the next hour since there is little spectacular scenery the rest of the day until you get south of La Paz.
Leaving the mountains, you enter a broad agricultural plain and go through the small cities of Constitución and Insurgentes. These are affluent towns and there is a classy gas station on the right. Gas up here so you can make it to La Paz. The newer Pemex North ( West side of road) of town is well known by the locals to short-liter you. Some cops in Constitución prey on gringos so drive extra slow through town preferable behind a slow moving local. But don’t follow that slow moving local as they run stop signs.
Heading south, you pass through miles of agricultural fields and then a long stretch of desert, so you can make good speed in this area. As you get closer to La Paz, the terrain becomes hilly
but still rather plain. Finally you can see the huge La Paz Bay with steep mountains in the background. You will enter a large agricultural inspection outside of La Paz. Continue towards La Paz. After you pass the international airport watch for a huge white monument that looks like a cross between a whale’s tail and a dove. If you are going to Los Barriles or Cabo Pulmo, stay on Highway 1.
If you are La Ventana-bound turn right at the monument onto Boulevard Las Garzas (also called Agustin Olachea). Follow it to the first stoplight where you will turn right on Boulevard Luis D. Colosio. Continue out of La Paz and it turns into Hwy 286 to SJ de Los Planes. You will know you are on the right road when you pass the Pepsi and Coca-Cola bottling plants. Then the road heads up the mountains and drops down an endless hill into the Los Planos valley, where you will have your first view of La Ventana and see flashes of mylar sails. As the hill flattens out take the left at the sign for El Sergento. As you enter the tiny village of La Ventana you will see Ventana Windsurf on the right. Several hunderd yard futher is the campground. Capt. Kirks is about a 1/2 mile further on the road.
If Los Barriles is your destination, keep heading south. You will enter some low mountains and pass through some scenic canyons and tiny towns. The vegetation becomes much more lush with hints of the tropics. Shortly after you drop back to the Sea of Cortez you will see signs for Los Barriles. Turn left into town.
Los Barriles to Cabo Pulmo
If you are going to Cabo Pulmo keep on Highway 1 for another 30 minutes or so. Leave Highway 1 and head east at the turn off to La Ribera. Continue until you enter the town. If it is late, go through town until you come to a “T”. Go left and continue until you see an RV park on the right. You can spend the night here with lush vegetation, showers, and full service. If it is blowing drive through the RV park towards the sea. There is great wavesailing on the sandbars several hundred yards off the beach. If you are going to Cabo Pulmo, go right at the “T”. You will see a gas station on your right. Be sure to gas up since there is no gas at Cabo Pulmo. Brace yourself and head down the long road to Cabo Pulmo. The dirt road is often corrugated to an extreme. I have had door locks fall out my truck door during this drive. There may also be washouts along the way. Keep going until you head down a hill and drop towards a spectacular beach. Try to find camping with bushes to the west of you for wind protection. Say Hi to Barry and Koni.