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Share your Baja Mexico experience


NAXJA Member # 101
My son Gary and i are seriously talking about a 4 week adventure down through the Baja peninsula in Oct 08.

Were looking to do some remote beachfront camping, fishing, snorkeling, party'n...the whole enchilada. We want to take in some of the missions and experience the local ways of life. Catch some Halibut/Yellowfin,have a few cold cervesa's with Lobster and fish taco's.. :worship:

Plan is to travel as much backcountry as possible all the way to Cabo. Once in Cabo we want to take in a concert with Sammy Hagar and celebrate his Birthday with him. Then do it all over again on the way back to the border.

I'v read and seen alot of trip reports elsewhere of others experiences watching the sunsets on a secluded beach in Bahia de Los Angeles, Conception, La Paz etc. Now i'd like to hear your personal experiences.

Photo's if you have them, experiences with locals and Federal's, favorite watering hole or just general info/warnings all appreciated. If you would prefer to keep your favorite site from public knowledge please PM me and tell me about it.

"Face down in Cabo...kissin the ground" :cheers:
I used to go down to Mexico a couple times a year. But the hassles from the Federales, corrupt local police, and a really, really bad (!) case of food poisoning has kept me on this side of the border.

I'm not saying that everyone has the same experience. I know a few people who absolutely love Baja and have had no problems. But you asked...

Vaya con dios y buena suerte.
In July '04 the wife and I drove down (long, long drive from Denver in a lifted XJ on 33s - young and dumb I tells ya) to Baja. Neither of us speaks Spanish, and I'd recommend at least learning enough to read highway signs/maps.

We were strongly advised to purchase "Mexican insurance" before we crossed the border, for a couple reasons - 1)Your US ins. provider may not cover you in Mexico, and 2) If pulled over, the Mexican police may not recognize your US insurance as valid. Might be a scam, but on the US side of the crossing (south of San Diego) there were several places to buy Mexico insurance for around $10 a day - gets you documents in spanish, and an 800 number to call if you get thrown in jail. Oh, and a window sticker that said "TURISTA" - I only put this sticker in my window until I returned home (for the "I've driven to Baja, bitch" pride factor) - no way I'd advertise my gringo status while in Mexico.

We had no clue where we would end up, but all we knew was that we wanted to camp on a beach in Baja for a few days. We went as far south as Ensenada, but the day was fading, and we had been strongly warned about driving at night. So we doubled back north a few miles to a privately owned campground called Playa Saldomando (sp?). It was a nice place to stay, right on the coast. Cost ~$10 or $15 a night, but was safe and in a beautiful spot. I'd definitely recommend it for a stay, even thought it's not as remote/isolated as it sounds like you're looking for. I believe they have a website, even. The highway south of Tijuana is a toll-road, but is a nicely paved 4 laner (saw more California plates than local on this stretch of road).

On the way back north, we passed a checkpoint operated by the Mexican Army/Federales/Gang with army fatigues and M-16s. Apparently us gringos looked okay and they just waved us through, but they were tearing apart several other cars - don't fool around with transporting drugs, I guess.

When we hit Tijuana on our way back to the USA, I figured it'd be a simple job of navigating the same way back that we came in, and at first there were plenty of signs indicating how to reach the border crossing. Especially with the wife doing a great job of keeping an eye out for the signs and calling out "Left!" or "Next Right!" But at some point, the signage failed us, and we ended up heading south on a highway frontage road, and none of the California-plated cars were around us anymore. Guess I should've invested in buying a map of Tijuana at our Mexican insurance shack back in America.

At first I wasn't worried - this frontage road took us past Home Depot (ironic, no?), Wal-Mart, Staples and Office Depot box stores. Then it dumped us onto a south-bound freeway. I made the astute observation to my wife, "uh, we don't want to keep going south," and took the next exit and turned to the east. After crossing over the highway, I turned north, and ended up in some Mexican town. Still no reassuring Cali-tourist plates in sight, but plenty of transmission and exhaust repair shops along the street. Not a "ghetto" but definitely not part of the way back to America.

By a turn of luck, my sharp-eyed wife spotted a small sign indicating a US interstate was "this way" according to the sign's arrow. Now that I'd been lost in Mexico for a good 2 hours, I was driving like a local, so it was no problem to put on my right turn signal, toot my horn, and swerve across two lanes to make the right turn. It didn't make me feel good to see the street I was now following home to the "land of the brave" was called "somethingsomething la Industriale." Industrial Ave/Blvd/St in most US cities means a rough area.

But, the signs continued to appear, and we followed them until we came to an obvious border crossing - several lanes of gridlock, surrounded by street urchins hawking bottled water and porn. We showed our ID, crossed the border, and quickly realized we had not re-entered America where we left her. At the first gas station in America, we consulted our trusty Rand McNally atlas, and discovered that we had actually crossed back into the US from the city of Tecate. Whoops. Oh well, we made it back and it was a fun adventure.

Oh, and the signs we followed through Tecate with the US interstate symbol also included some Spanish words that we assumed meant "border crossing." Nope, turns out the signs referred to the San Diego County Jail - yup, for miles and miles, the Mexican highway dept makes sure all the locals know how to get to the SDC jail...to visit relatives, I'd guess? And that's our adventure. Have fun!

Edit: It was an odd experience to pay more attention to the little "KPH" markings on the speedo than the big "MPH" markings.
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I have a cousin who is a doctor in Ensenada. I haven't been there since I was a kid, but all I remember is that the whole town smelled like fish.
John, that sounds like a WHOLE lot of fun! I figure if I ever find myself jobless in the winter time that would be a good place to pass the time. I went on this trip last year that my employer paid for:


I also enjoy reading this guy's blog, he travels with a Unimog to Mexico quite often and he is good with a camera:

Go down about a month later, and you can catch the Baja 1000. I'll be down there with Honda, and there should be plenty of SoCal guys there.
Calo...thanks for that..was entertaining. Kept waiting for the part where the Federali's tossed ya in the slammer, or you were hijacked and held for ransom.

xjohnnyc....sounds like you traveled Baja solo? Most reports i read where they have had problems such as yours were either alone or in small groups. I'll be traveling with probably 2 other vehicles.

Handlebars...that looks like an awesome experience! Is your employer hiring?! :roll: IIRC, didnt you take a summer off and travel the country a few years ago? Thanks for the link, i have some reading to do.

WarWagon....thanks but not what i'm looking for on this trip. I want to get away from crowds, espescially in camp.

I'v heard there is a coastal highway being built that alot of the travelers are not looking forward to. It'll bring more people to their favorite areas, losing the solitude they seek. The Mexican government is probably looking forward to increased revenue for tolls and taxes on land sales this highway will create. (total assumption on my part)

I also find we now need passports and possibly a tourist pass?

Anyone know what the weather is like in Oct? I know August is blistering espescially on the sea of cortez side and a little cooler on the pacific.
Oh no, I'd never go down there solo. I've always gone with a group of people. If the local cops see a group, they figure they've got to have at least a few hundred dollars among them.

Once, in Puerto Nuevo, a group of about 12 of us were leaving a lobster restaurant. Three people carried out plastic cups. As soon as we were in the street, a couple of cop cars pulled up (we think the restaurant owner tipped them off).

They threatened to take my friends (one guy and two girls) to jail. The restaurant owner "talked" to the cops and told us that we could pay now instead of going to the station. $600!

Luckily, another friend had spent the whole day at the race track and won a lot of money. He whipped out his wad and paid them off.

And there's just something very unsettling seeing teenage soldiers manning machine guns at checkpoints. They stopped me once to search the Jeep. I stood by with my arms crossed staring at a kid searching my ashtray. He looked up and saw me giving him the stinkeye and let me go. I just wanted to make sure they didn't try to plant something.

I was always paranoid about driving my Jeep down there. Because if someone decides they like your Jeep... It does happen.

And if you think Californians are bad drivers, you ain't seen nothin'. It can be very scary. And you don't want to be involved in an accident in Mexico, even if you have Mexican insurance.

But other than all that, it's a fine place to visit.
The last time I went down to Baja was in about 2001 or 2002. Drove a 1977 Renault LeCar all the way from L.A. to Ensenada and back. About the biggest problem I had was blowing out not one but two tyres and the local tyre shops not being able to deal with the three-lug pattern Renault had used. Not much different to L.A., really.

Don't bother with Rosarito, or as I like to call it, "TJ By The Sea". Press on down to Ensenada - much nicer, though it can be pretty touristy. Never really had any trouble down there, but know it can be bad on the wrong day. Don't camp out on the beach in secluded areas. Don't leave anything on display or on the roof, but if someone wants to get in they will regardless. An immobiliser would probably be a good idea in case someone decides they like your XJ enough to take it home.

Definitely pick up some Spanish before you go. "Tengo que hable con mi abogado" - "I need to speak with my attorney." Remember that ;)
Geez John...fishing trips in Montana...Baja...

Are you guys thinking Baja instead of chasing trout? Either one would be an incredible time. Hope you guys get it all put together.
riverfever said:
Geez John...fishing trips in Montana...Baja...

Are you guys thinking Baja instead of chasing trout? Either one would be an incredible time. Hope you guys get it all put together.

Noooo...Teton's,Yellowstone and the Bitterroots with a quick stop in the Badlands SD this Sept.

Baja would be next year....you in?! :party:
I can't go that late. Our first day with students is mid-August. We're talking about heading northwest. We've got 2 months to blow so I'm not sure what will happen. There's A LOT of water to cover.

Alex...those pics on the Caid site are amazing. Thanks for posting that link. How did you come across him?
I love baja. My GFs parents have two condos in Rosarito. My unlce, cousins, and I have gotten pulled over down there. We speak spanish so its a little easier for us over some but anyways, he gave us a ticket said it would be $400, we asked him if we could pay it here he said sure. WE told him we only had $27 dollars which is what my uncle pulled out. He said that wouldnt do, then we said well we'll go to the station with you and see what we can do about it, he refused and kept asking if thats all we had, everyone ofcourse said yes. He then asked if he escorted us to the ATM how much more could we get out, we told him we didnt have any credit card/ATM cards on us. He finally took the $27 dollars and took off, not 300 feet up the road he has another dude oulled over (cali plates). So from what my Uncle says, pay them at most $30. They'll take it, its a good amount of money for about 10 minutes work.

other then that... Mexico is super cool go there like twice a month. Oh mexican insurance is pretty much a must, if you havent driven down there, they are crazy litteraly. and Jeeps our sought after vechicles there, especially pretty lifted ones so be on the look out day and night and lock it up good. Any other questions let me know. Have fun!
Oh Tacos Baja Jr. in rosarito has THE BEST FISH TACOS anywhere down there. Its on the right side coming down through the town off the scenic route (I believe its route 1) white building big sign, cant miss it.
riverfever said:
Alex...those pics on the Caid site are amazing. Thanks for posting that link. How did you come across him?
Somebody else posted it on another site... It is worth sharing! I have it bookmarked, whenever it is dead at work and wanderlust creeps in I go have a look. That Altair Desert is the closest thing to howling wilderness that you need a 4x4 to get to and get youself back out alive.
It may sound a little overkill, but I know of more than a few race team guys that will literally take the rear driveshaft off their chase trucks at night. Keep that in mind.
TheWarWagon said:
It may sound a little overkill, but I know of more than a few race team guys that will literally take the rear driveshaft off their chase trucks at night. Keep that in mind.

Hell, i do that when i spend the night in Philly! :yelclap:

I read about reports in Mexico of muggings and the like, but i have to wonder what the percentages are of being a victom of crime here in the US of A and abroad. Personally i bet the odds are higher in the big cities of our own country.
I spent a year of my life down there. I lived in the city of La Paz in 2004 improving my language abilities by taking classes and working at a scuba/ecotourism company. But I sure spent a lot of time exploring the back country and spearfishing and snorkeling. So I am pretty familiar with the southern Baja area. It is changing though, Baja is becoming more developed. Cities are growing, roads are getting paved. I guess thats inevitable for a place like La Paz. As late as the 60s the only way in was charter boat or private plane then the place got exposed suddenly to the world when they got ferries and the highway competed in the 70s.

I had my XJ down there which was perfect for exploring remote beaches. I found a lot of nice places even just outside of town that you can't reach unless you have a 4x4 (although locals insist on having arrived in ordinary passenger vehicles) and can't find unless someone shows you through the myriad of trails.

I have been up and down that highway 1 a good number of times. If you want to know what its like go find a rural, winding mountain pass road and drive it back and forth for 1000 miles. Its a tedious drive but you pass many beautiful and interesting sites a long the way. Here is a synopsis of how I usually travel.

I generally dislike the border area it attracts the worst social elements from both countries and I think a lot of the problems of harassing tourists is mostly in that area. I try to leave early in the morning and get the hell outta there. Ensenada is a nicer little city but has its traffic jams too so I try to get there before moring rush hour and stop for road supples at the Gigante supermarket. From there to San Quintin is fairly congested with SLOW trucks as there is so much agriculture now around there.

After El Rosario the real Baja begins and the climate is noticeably drier the traffic becomes sparse. Towns are few and far between. This is Mexico's Empty Quarter and semi a semi-protected reserve (Valle de los Cirios) Unless things have changed you are looking at a 200 mile drive to the next gasolinera and I have gone seeing other traffic every half hour or so. This part of the drive has a lot of serene, beautiful desert scenes. Pull over and if its not a busy trucking day the silence and emptyness is haunting. Stop at a cafe in the hamlet of Catavina for lunch. There are also some remote, well preserved missions in this area. The dryness helps preserve them.

I'm not including Bahia de los Angeles because I have been there once and only a few hours. Its a longer drive from the highway that it seems. Small coastal Baja desert town I guess. By the way no sunset over the water because its on the wrong side and no sunrise because theres an island. I like the southern half (Baja California Sur state) of the peninsula better anyway.

I don't like the town of Guerrero Negro or the area around it. The lagoons with the whales are here. To me its a big salt flat where they mine salt (big percent of the worlds salt production) and very depressing. Everything is rusty and ramshackle and no vegetation. I don't care to stop. The town of San Ignacio down the road is nicer, small town with an old church, its an honest to goodness oasis too, makes you feel like Lawrence of Arabia after crossing the bleakness of the Guerrero Negro area. I would stay here if its getting late but the tiny town has little to offer.

Further you come you will see a sign "Cuesta del Infierno" - "Hill from Hell." do what the truckers do, come to a complete stop at the top then proceed. At the bottom is your first experience with the Sea of Cortez. And Santa Rosalia which is was a French mining town and is chock full of old mining equipment and such. Also, it is built in largely the French colonial style, not Mexican. I hate this town. Sorry but I think the Parisian attitude rubbed off. Plus if its not hot as hades the wind is blowing too hard. There always seem to be a lot of drunks wandering about, stray dogs and near accidents. This is also the only place where the highway police and locals have proven to be unfriendly.

About another hour is Mulege and it makes up for all the things wrong with Santa Rosalia. It is a great place to spend a few days and camp, fish, hike, swim, etc. The town an oasis. Its on a river lined with fruit trees (rare for Baja) and is very peaceful. Also, to me it seems like a mainland Mexican town not a Baja California town. If all goes well, I can make it to Mulege from San Diego in a good long day of driving and only have to drive from Santa Rosalia in the dark. La Paz is another seven hours, Cabo is 3 from that. From here to Loreto are a lot of beaches worth visiting in this jagged coastline but the area is becoming fairly popular with American retirees so not exactly the unspoiled Baja. Loreto is also a nice place and the oldest settlement in the area. It used to be the capital of everything from Cabo San Lucas to Oregon. I have spent the night here, its good a good place to stay and to eat but otherwise I don't know much about the area.

The road out of town is winding. Oh nevermind it has been the same way since you left Ensenada. By now you are convinced Mexican engineers added extra curves so you have to by extra Mexican national gasoline. The next city is the Comondu area (towns of Constitucion and Insurgentes). This is a farming area although Constitucion is a big local center- first stoplights since Ensenada it offers little to the traveler besides turn-offs to some other places along the coast. Not really that different from your average American heartland town. Farther along there is a relatively untouched mission.

The drive from Constitucion to la Paz is barely tolerable. Its bleak desert, flat, featureless. Parts of this highway are treeless and when I was there not even telephone poles or stripes on the road. This makes it really hard to estimate your speed or how much time has passed. Finally you descent from the hills to the city of La Paz.

La Paz is a (mostly) beautiful waterfront city. The sun sets over the water despite being on the wrong side because of the geography of the bay. This is where I lived. The locals, though rustic are helpful. I think its a great base to explore the rest of the southern end of Baja. If I were planning a trip I would use this city as a base and I would go out to the different parts of the cape region as they are all an easy drive and camp here and there.

Cabo, I hate Cabo. Sorry to burst your bubble but seriously Cabo San Lucas is way to California. Its like the took a slice of Orange County and stuck it in Mexico. I mean, why drive 1000 miles from the border if its southern California all over again [/rant].

Personally I would stay in La Paz and travel out to the Sierra de la Giganta, East Cape, Todos Santos, La Ventana areas, etc. and visit Cabo for the Van Halen experience.

Anyway, I could write a book about all the things you ask about. If you want more information just ask. The Lonely Planet book is actually pretty good and fairly accurate. Feel free to private message me. I am horrible at PMs and email so if you message me I will give you my phone # for questions.

Some more tips:

There are topes (gigantic Mexican speed bumps large enough to scrape an XJ oil pan) in every town. Go really slow when you come to a town.

You will run in to the police, I guarantee it. I was pulled over about 50 times when I lived there. Just keep your nose clean, obey local laws and speed limits. Remember the locals don't respect cops like Americans do. Be polite and stand your ground. Eventually the cops will leave you alone or demand a more reasonable bribe.

The highway cops are not as corrupt as local cops and take their jobs more seriously. There are military checkpoints everywhere. The 18 year old M16 toting conscripts will be very interested in your Jeep and all the unusual goodies inside it. They will want to look through everything (especially on the way back up). I think they are more curious than anything so long as you aren't trying to pull a fast one. They are not as corrupt as the nefarious local cops.

Off roading does not carry the same stigma as in the US (thank God). Introducing yourself and asking about someones family is appreciated here. A box of powdered donuts from the US goes a long way.

Drive carefully. I have personally come across dead bodies in wrecks on this highway. Don't speed and don't drive late at night or tired.

People think Mexico is all freestyle. Its really not, don't do things you wouldn't do in the U.S.

Get Mexican insurance and remember locals ignore most traffic laws like stopping at a red light. Its ok to be a little paranoid.

Enjoy Baja while it lasts its not going to be the same place forever.

BTW. I will try to add pictures or more tips. If you are driving cross country to Baja you are invited to stop by my place.
Awesome input bajacalal...thank you much. Yeah,Baja changing is one of the driving forces of me wanting to get down there. I'll probably only do it once in my life and i'd like to do it before it gets to developed.

I have also read before that planning to run from the border through the northern areas is a must..we'll push through very similar to what you mention.

Everyone i talk to also mentions not to drive at night, we should be in a camp before dusk on any given day. Plan is to leisurely travel south, i dont want to rush down to Cabo. Speaking of Cabo...i plan that exactly...take in the VH experience and head back north. Thats why we are planning this trip for late Sept through late Oct. How is the weather that time of year?

Camps will be on the pacific coast and the Sea of Cortez, so i'll have some sunsets to look forward to.

If you could provide links to your picture albums that would be great.

I'm going to do some more research on the areas you mention and start to put together a plan, i'm sure i'll have plenty more questions to ask of you and others who have visited. I have better than a year before this trip happens so their is no rush. And again, thanks for the great input. On the way out i'd love to buy you a cervesa.