Road trip through Baja California, Mexico

Here’s my advice if you are thinking about traveling throughout Baja…

  1. Stay as long as you can
  2. Invest in some good tires, a gas can, and a car jack- the roads suck!
  3. Get Mexican car insurance (I used baja bound)
  4. Download the ioverlander app, this will help you find safe camping
  5. Have a good map with you, cell phone service is only in larger cities
  6. Have a basic understanding of Spanish
  7. Don’t throw toilet paper into the toilet (I know its weird)

I’ll admit it, we were a little apprehensive about camping in Mexico. No one we knew had been there, yet everyone told us how dangerous it is. Don’t get me wrong, you always want to be aware of your surroundings when you are traveling. We didn’t drive at night, we didn’t flash around our money, and we did our research before we left to find safe camping spots. We had such an amazing time and I hope this post will encourage others to visit as well!

Day 1- Mountain Palms campground near Mexicali Border

We took 8 West from San Diego to find a spot closer to the Mexicali Border. It was quiet and beautiful there, and best of all free! There wasn’t any water or trash there but there were some pit toilets.

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Day 2- Mexicali to San Felipe

I’m not going to lie, the border was a hot mess. It was a mixture of us not knowing what the hell we were doing and no proper signage at the crossing. Anyway it all worked out just fine but just be aware if you have to stop at the migration office, its on the right and just cut on over there and get into the parking lot or it’ll be too late.

Side note, if you are going to be staying in Baja for over 10 days or going so far from the border then you need to get a tourist card (about $20 per person), from the migration office. Also we took our dog with so we needed to show proof of vaccinations and good health, although no one actually looked at it at either border crossing.

Anyway we figured it all out and made it to our first destination after about 2.5hrs of driving. We stayed the night at La Palapa Rv resort. We had ourselves a spot right on the beach, a 2 story Palapa, electricity, cell phone reception, and running water! Living the good life! We walked into the town with some other travelers and had some amazing food. We would have loved to stay there longer but we had to keep moving.

Day 3- San Felipe to Puertecitos

It took about 1.5 hours to drive but the road wasn’t that bad. However always be on the lookout for potholes and speed bumps while driving in Baja, they like to come out of nowhere.

Our spot was right on the beach again, and we had it all to ourselves. We initially passed it up because it didn’t really look like a town. There is a sign that points to the left off the main road that says “Puertecitos”, follow that and then keep driving. The road will end and just become dirt but you will then see a white wall that also says “Puertecitos”. The campsite is right on the bay, you can’t miss it. Just a short walk to the hot springs there, absolutely gorgeous! The attendant did not speak English but we were able to get by with my limited Spanish. Ask him about “Las Aguas Termales” (hot springs) and he will tell you how to get there and what time to go. You have to wait until the tide goes out a bit, otherwise they will be covered up.

Day 4- Puertecitos to Guerrero Negro

This ride was rough. Like I wouldn’t go this way again, rough. The drive took about 6 hours, 3 of which were on a bumpy dirt road. No we weren’t lost, that was the highway (it looks like its been under construction for years). Its about 30 miles of rough road, from south of Gonzaga Bay and past Coco’s corner, until you get back to route 1. Keep in mind we had a trailer behind us so we had to go a little slower than others. If you don’t have really good tires then I would suggest airing down. On the plus side, we played a fun game of “count the flat tires on the side of the road”, we got to 150!

We stayed at Mario’s restaurant overnight. Its a really nice place to get some good food and drinks. There is a clean bathroom and hot water in the showers. The parking lot in back is pretty big and has a bunch of RV’ers. If you go here then you NEED to go on the grey whale watching tour! Book it in advance, its $50 (US) per person and well worth it. http://www.mariostours.com

Day 5- Guerrero Negro to San Ignacio

This was one of the most amazing days of my life! We did the whale watching tour in the morning (from 8am-12ish). Had a delicious breakfast at Mario’s, and they drove us through town to Ojo De Liebre, which is the lagoon that they grey whales stay. The grey whales migrate down to this lagoon to mate and give birth. This is 1 of 3 places that they go, and hunting has been outlawed there since the 40’s so they are not afraid of people.  We were lucky enough to have come during peak season (February), and all of the babies had been born so there were whales everywhere! We had 4 whales come up to our boat! Everyone on the boat was able to pet them and they kept coming back for more! It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. The whales were actually turning around for us to pet their other side, then a mom pushed her baby up to the boat so that we could touch it!! They are like big ugly dogs, I swear! I’m totally amazed by these creatures. This alone is reason enough to visit Baja.

When we got back we didn’t feel like driving too far so we decided to stop in San Ignacio, which wasn’t initially on our places to stop. I’m so glad we did because this was one of my favorite cities! It only took a couple hours to get there, and we found a real nice campground called Petates. It only cost 150 pesos and we were the only ones there. Our site was right on a little lagoon and there were some kayaks laying around that we used. Manuel (the owner) even brought us firewood for free (even though we paid him anyway). Now I wouldn’t use the water or take a shower, but there were toilets that were ok enough to use, you have to flush with water.

Day 6- San Ignacio to Bahia de Concepcion

San Ignacio is a pretty neat place. You are driving for so long in desert and then all of a sudden there are a bunch of palm trees everywhere, because of the river running through the town. The town itself is small, very old, and has a nice town square. There were some shops, good food, and people walking around. And right in the town there is a gorgeous old mission. The church was finished in 1786, and is just amazing to be able to walk through it.

 

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Our breakfast spot in town

After visiting the town, we headed out on the road again (about 3ish more hours). It took 6 days to get there but boy was it worth it!! The waters were that perfect turquoise color, so clear, and we got a spot directly on the beach for 150 pesos a night.

Day 7- Day 9 Bahia de Concepcion – Los Coyotes

Now there are quite a few beaches to stay at, south of Mulege. We picked Los Coyotes because we got a great spot and it wasn’t too crowded. But really any of the places would have been nice. There were a lot of people that we met there who had been traveling to that beach for many many years. They told us that Los Coyotes is more of a social beach, which was definitely true as we made many friends there. So if you are looking for more seclusion, maybe pick a different one. Also there are a lot of snow birds from the US and Canada at the south end of the beach, and they stay there for months at a time.

We spent our days laying in the sand, reading, wading through the water (February happens to be sting ray mating season, be careful where you step). During the day vendors came to sell their items, including fresh fish, potable water, fresh made tamales and empenadas. In the evening, we went to Pollo Bertha’s and had some amazing, cheap food. Everyone was so friendly, inviting us to use their kayaks, exchanging stories of their travels, one guy even made us fresh sushimi from the tuna he caught. We could have stayed there for weeks, it was so relaxing.

We went into Mulege (about a 30 minute drive) one time. I also really liked this city too. There were a lot of ex-pats there though. We went there mainly for the “lavamatica” to wash our clothes. But they had some nice shops and restaurants there as well.

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Mulege

Side note- there is no electricity or running water at the beach. The pit toilets are the grossest ever but you just have to suck it up

Day 10- Bahia de concepcion to Guerrero Negro

Alas it was time to head back up to the states. It took about 4 hours to get back to GN, where we stayed at Mario’s again. And after 4 days of not being able to shower, the bathroom was a dream!

Day 11- GN to El Pabellon

On the trip back north, we headed towards the west coast. We initially meant to stop at a campground called “Rancho San Yez”, because I heard that you can hike out to some cave paintings from there but we somehow missed it and didn’t feel like turning around so we kept going north. We ended up staying at Fidel’s El Pabellon RV park, just before San Quitin. It was a long drive that day, maybe 5 hours.  We turned onto the dirt road that leads to the park and all of a sudden this truck pulls up next to us. The drunk guy in the back of the truck is like “Hey are you going to Fidel’s?” and we are like “yeah” and he yells “That’s me! I’m Fidel! Follow me!” Later that night he was outside dancing to Pink Floyd. Needless to say, Fidel is awesome. Stay at his place if you are in the area. It was a large lot, our spot was facing the ocean and it had a large palapa too. There were another 2 or 3 trailers there. The showers were warm and they had flush toilets too.

I know that there are a bunch of places on the west coast that you can just park and stay directly on the beach for free. However I did read that this area is notorious for overnight break ins and assaults so I would suggest just going to an actual campground. Fidel’s was safe, and he lived right on the property.

Important side note- Make sure to fill up your tank in Guerrero Negro, the last place to get gas is Villa Jesus Maria (Just north of GN) before getting to Rosario de Arribe (just below El Pabellon), so that’s about a 4-5 hour drive. We drove with a 5 gallon gas tank on top of our car just in case. We heard from fellow travelers that sometimes the gas stations will run out of gas so don’t always depend on one being there. There were some people along the way who were selling gas out of a large bucket, however I’m sure it was pretty pricey.

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Day 12- El Pabellon to Ensenada

This was such a gorgeous drive! It was unlike the east coast of Baja, which is more of a flat desert. The drive was through green hills, wineries, and farmland. They recently had a lot of rain so the wildflowers were going crazy. We stopped and had a good breakfast at a little place in San Quintin, but the city itself wasn’t all too impressive. We drove through Ensenada and it reminded me a lot of San Diego, palm tree lined streets, and right on the ocean. We kept going, and took route 3 north, onto “Ruta de Vino”. This whole section of road was filled with wineries! It was a 4 hour drive from where we had stayed the night before.

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We stayed overnight in the parking lot of LA Cetto winery. Right when we pulled up the guard saw our trailer and asked if we were staying for the night. He told us to go to the parking lot on the left, as this parking lot is gated and guarded all night. There is no extra charge for staying, but be aware that the restrooms close at 5pm so you must have your own toilet with you. Also you should buy some wine from them, its delicious and cheap! This winery is the oldest in the area and we were able to take a tour of the winery (it was in Spanish but the guide was nice enough to translate for me) and get 4 tastings for 25 pesos! That’s roughly $1! Most of their wine was around 100 pesos. So we bought some wine, cheese and crackers, and had ourselves a lovely evening. What a perfect way to end our vacation.

Day 13- Back to the states

We exited through Tecate, which was maybe an hour from where we were. Easy peasy exit, they asked us what we had with us, didn’t check the dog papers, and we were on our way!

 

Overall we went about 1200 miles in 12 days (although 1 day was spent just north of the border). We got out of our comfort zone, ate a lot of good food, explored a large portion of Baja, and met a lot of fellow travelers. It was quite an adventure.

If you are reading this because you are planing a road trip through Mexico’s Baja peninsula, I hope this has helped. Make sure you give yourself enough time to have “days off” while traveling, because relaxation is just as important as exploration.

 

 

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