Exploring Baja California

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Contributor II

Hola amigos!

Following DezertRat's suggestion at Recent trip info for Baja I've decided to start this thread where we will try to share with you guys some information we will be gathering about Baja California during the next days on road conditions, possible places to visit, etc.

We've entered Baja via Tecate and will exit by ferry from La Paz. The idea is to be in Baja for around 30˜45 days and the rough route plan is as below. Expect some changes though as we are pretty flexible and often take advice from locals or simply decide to explore tracks.

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Also, I guess many of you have been to Baja before, so please don't hesitate to shoot some ideas and suggestions at us! We would love to hear them.
 

Contributor II

Section 001 - Tecate to Ensenada

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Crossing the border at Tecate was just as easy as anticipated, at least until we parked the car and walked back to the immigration office to get our visas and vehicle permit. We were required to do so as we are not driving back to America, but exiting through Belize instead. If I ain't wrong Americans who will be visiting Baja only and then driving back are only required to register their entrance in Mexico but not to obtain a vehicle permit.

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For those who are curious, obtaining the vehicle permit is very straight forward. You have to pay 59.16 dollars + a refundable bond between 200 and 400 dollars depending on year of manufacture. We had a bit of a drama as the Department of Transport of Western Australia, where the vehicle is from, placed a plate on top of the original chassis number. So the border officers wanted to double check and all... totally understandable and something I had anticipated already.

Carretera 3 - Ruta del Vino

From there to Ensenada it was all highway driving. All the way along Carretera 3, also known as Ruta del Vino. We are no wine experts and never heard of Mexican wine being one of the best, but it's actually a pretty pleasant drive and maybe a good way to relax a bit before hitting the chaos Ensenada has to offer. I would recommend a stop in one of the wineries for a nice lunch and maybe even stocking up aye?

Arriving in Ensenada

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We arrived in Ensenada together with a cruise ship, not to mention it was a Friday, so the whole place was super busy. Most hotels were sold out and it took us a good couple of hours before we found the only place which had vacancy for the day. We ended up staying at Mission Baja Hotel, a rather simple place but comfortable with a swimming pool and nice showers. The next morning they even let us stay in our car close to security for free as there were no vacancies anywhere in town.

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We spent the day in Ensenada absorbing a bit of the local culture and trying to acclimatise ourselves before continuing our journey. Nothing a couple of margaritas and putting the effort into trying to communicate in Spanish won't help. Even managed to get window tinting installed to the entire van for 700 pesos (something like 40 USD). Next we are heading south to some proper overlanding!
 
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Contributor II

Section 002 - Ensenada to Punta Cabras

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We started our day early and headed to La Bufadora (the blowhole) where we would meet with Oliver Charni, a fellow overlander we meet on Facebook who is taking his KTM 1190 from Alaska, USA to Ushuaia, Argentina. Our plan was to spend the day exploring the area between Ensenada and a hostel called Coyote Cal's, where we would meet some other friends we made in San Diego who were riding down for the weekend.

La Bufadora

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La Bufadora is far from a must-see spot, but if you are around the area and have the time (or like street markets) you might as well go see it. On rougher days the spray seems to go as high as 100 ft. We went there in the morning and the mar was rather calm... still got to see some action. You might want get there around 9 though to avoid people traffic at least on your way in. On your way out you might just have to deal with it.

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Our way to Punta Cabras

Instead of driving the easy way to Coyote Cal's - where we would meet our friends - we decided to take a detour from Santo Tomás, through Rancho El Refugio, to Punta Cabras. Then down along the coast to the popular hostel, where beers and tequilas would be waiting for us.

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The road is unpaved all the way and in some places pretty corrugated, but mostly in good shape. It gets rocky towards the end and sandy on the way down. I would say neither 4WD or low range are necessary, but they are always welcome. High clearance on the other hand will save you from scrapping the whole underneath at sections.

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We didn't take any photos of the rougher sections but it does get considerably rockier than the one above. Other than that the drive is rather pleasant. It cuts though some hills covered in desert vegetation and you will also pass some ranches. Once you reach the coast it only gets better and you will find many nice beaches as well as some pretty attractive wild campsites.

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Watch out for other drivers

It doesn't matter how careful you are or how well we drive, guys... we were almost hit on our way to Punta Cabras by someone taking the entire road. Something that could have put an end to our round the world trip right there.


Camping along the coast


Free camping is available all the way along this section of the coast. You will find hundreds of cleared areas as well as fire pits waiting to be used. The first night we ended up staying just anywhere along the coast as our friend coming from San Diego got stuck at work and only made it to Coyote Cal's at around 7 PM. At which stage we were already 2 margaritas down and not really fit to go find a better spot.

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The next morning we took the vehicles exploring and ended up spending the night at Punta Cabras. It's a pretty busy spot but if we take the northern end you are likely to have the whole beach for yourself. Just like we did.

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Exploring the area

Exploring wise, there is much to see both North and South of Punta Cabras. Terrain varies and you will find anything from rocks to very soft sand. The beaches themselves look very compact and easy to drive (we didn't actually do any beach driving), but you will also find very soft sand and super rocky areas.


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We are on a journey around the world so decided to limit our exploring on that day to taking our rider friend for a drive over the small dune.

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Contributor II

Section 003: From Punta Cabras to Bahia de Los Angeles

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We did this section in a couple of days as we usually don't drive more than 400 km in a day. We stoped in San Quintin to spend one night at Cielito Lindo RV Park before we continued. The RV park only cost us 85 pesos and they had shower facilities and WiFi! So if you are planning an overnight anywhere around that area I strongly recommend driving to Cielito Lindo.

Road condition: Carretera 1

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The Carretera 1, while not in terrible shape, was covered in potholes pretty much all the way between Punta Cabras and Bahia de Los Angeles. We did see one crew traveling along the road covering the holes, but I doubt they are doing the whole thing.

While any bigger tires will do just fine over the potholes, the danger lies on drivers of smaller cars trying to avoid damage and all of a sudden throwing their cars towards you. So be alert during the entire time as the road is rather narrow.


Things to do along the way:

The day we were driving was way too hot for any desert hiking. We did see there is some rock art and other things to see along the way but nothing caught our attention more than the cacti forrest!

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I had never thought of a forrest within the desert, but that's exactly what it is. And those cacti are MASSIVE! Some were over 4 times as tall as our van!

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Exploring the area:

There are many tracks to explore off the main road, just like anywhere else in Baja. And, like anywhere else in Baja also, if you are gonna go off-road make sure you take plenty of water and means to survive in case of emergency.

We took a road through the dry forrest for a couple of kms just to take some better photos of the cacti and it's just beautiful. Some of the tracks will lead to hot springs and all, so it's well worth the go! For now we just wanted to get to Bahia de Los Angeles.

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Camping at Bahia de Los Angeles:

There is nothing to be said about Bahia de Los Angeles. It's one of those places you have to go and see yourself. We spent 3 nights at La Gringa and it's just AMAZING. And it's also free.

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Contributor II

Extra: Swimming with the Whale Sharks

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Bahia de Los Angeles is a paradise. The warm and tranquil waters are perfect for snorkeling, swimming or simply camping by some amazing backdrop. But what brings most people this way is the easy access to whale sharks, THE BIGGEST FISH ON THE PLANET.

There are few places on Earth where you can actually swim with them. We've been to three of them and here was the only one we decided to do so. Reasoning? In Australia it cost over 400 USD per person to do it (way over our budget) and in the Philippines they are known to feed and herd those animals closer to tourists (we didn't feel like supporting such practices as nature is to remain natural).

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At Bahia de Los Angeles it costs 500 Mexican pesos (~30 USD) for a 3-hour tour which will take you not only to swim with the whale sharks but also with seals and even explore an old beached wreck. The way the tour is done also felt proper. They don't feed any animals and have rules as to what can and can't be done. If you are looking for a tour operator, we recommend Ricardo's Diving Tours, which is close to the main roundabout right beside Alejandrina's Restaurant.

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Needless. to say that swimming with those gigantic creatures is nothing short of an amazing experience. But for those who feel uneasy about being in dark waters with such massive animals, don't worry. They are so gracious and majestic you will be instantaneously transported to a different dimension and forget any fear you might have right there.

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Michaela is actually fish-phobic and panics whenever she is close to the smallest fish. So I couldn't believe when she wanted to jump in the water for the 8th time to swim with them again! Below is a photo of her in the water. Does she look scared?

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Unfortunately our GoPro took in some water and we don't have many usable underwater shots, but believe me... it's worth it!

 
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ASNOBODY

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Thanks! It's a pleasure to share this. I hope it encourages more people to come down here...
I've been all over Baja for several different reasons / vacations but have not driven down myself for more remote exploration. I look forward to doing this and may bump it up in the grand schedule of life! Thanks for the inspiration :)

Sidenote: Never walk naked on a beach in southern Baja without lathering up in sunblock. Even your wiener…ESPECIALLY your wiener. *reflects upon horrific life event (that totally didn't do any long term damage but was very embarrassing)*
 
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Contributor II

Section 004: Bahia de Los Angeles to Guerrero Negro (via San Francisco de Borja)

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We regretfully left Bahia de Los Angeles and hit the road back to the Pacific Coast. This time instead of following the Carretera 1 all the way we decided to drive through the Valle de los Cirios and visit the northernmost Catholic mission in Baja, Misión San Francisco de Borja, dating from mid-1700s.

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You will leave Carretera 1 just 20 kms away from the center of Bahia de Los Angeles to turn left onto the unpaved road that will take you all the way back to Carretera 1 through the mission, that time on the other side of Baja. Immediately upon leaving the pavement you will be presented with some more amazing cacti forrest and incredible scenery which will be with you all the way.

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Road conditions are fine, yet very rocky. But nothing that would stop even a 2WD from progressing through it. We had the car in 4WD during the whole time just so we felt safer to drive faster. Again, high clearance is very welcome specially if you are driving your own car as opposite to a rental one. Otherwise seat back and relax the ride... it's beautiful.

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The Mission:

La Misión is quite something. It was active for less than 100 years between the 1760s and the 1810s, during which period it changed between Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans. At its peak it housed more than 2,000 people, mostly indigenous, but during the 1810s yellow fever and other diseases claimed most of the locals. It also coincided with the struggles of the Mexican fight for independence, which meant no more resources were going that way and the whole thing was soon abandoned.

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The amazing part of the story is that for 200 years now the buildings have been maintained by nothing but the love from those who inhabit the area. And, considering how isolated the place is, one would have thought life would be busy enough for them to find time to spend on secondary things. Especially when you talk to them and realise they aren't actually that religious and don't even see the church as a place of worship.

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José or any other from the Gerardo family will show you the place and tell you the entire story for a donation to help with the constant renovation work required to keep the building standing. They told us even though money is set aside by the Federal Government to help with the renovations, it never actually makes past the local corrupt politicians... unfortunate reality in Latin America.

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We got the chance to spend plenty of time with the Gerardo family and once again were amazed by how generous and lovely the Mexicans are. I even offered my two cents worth of mechanical knowledge trying to help José fix an issue with quick acceleration on his 4Runner but the lack of tools and resources didn't allow me to do much. On that note, something they don't have is access to parts, so if you happen to be going that way soon PLEASE LET ME KNOW as they need a coil relay for one of their ATVs and it would be super nice if you could take one to them.

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Now back to the road, on our way to Guerrero Nego:

As you head out of the Gerardo's property take the little road across the river instead of the wider one. This will take you through some less improved ways for a couple of kms before rejoining the main road out, which is always more fun to do. The way to Guerrero Negro is quite different from the other end actually, instead of rocky it's rather sandy and corrugated. You will even get to drive on the river bed for a bit. Enjoy the shade of the trees... we haven't seen that very often here in Baja.

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Ah! Be warned... the roads get super dusty and if you, just like Michaela, enjoy the fun of driving through it fast, you might want to close your windows well and put the fans onto full blast to create some positive pressure inside!

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Another good day in Baja... WE ARE LOVING IT!
 

Contributor II

Got coords to the gerardo fam? Heading over in november
Sure thing!

Misión San Francisco de Borja Adac
Baja California
28.744361, -113.754260

He needs one of these, if you send me your address via PM I can order and get it delivered to your place. He will be eternally grateful as someone quoted him 8,000 pesos (450 bucks) for one and his ATV has been stopped for a couple of years now due to it being super difficult for him to get that part.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/IGNITION-COIL-FITS-ARCTIC-CAT-3430-055-/281828371904

Unfortunately there is no postal service to his location and to get one of those delivered to him I would have to send it to Guerrero Negro and find someone willing to take it over.
 

phlfly

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I know it's old thread. But it's amazing trip you have done guys.
Question is safety in Mexico in such remote places? Reaction local people on us, like Americans, even I have not born and raise here in US?
Also dog transportation over the boarder?
 

Stepsride

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I am sitting here in the Midway Airport and asking myself... WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING! Thank you for letting me live vicariously through you guys!!! OLD thread or not still fantastic
 

cA12Lo

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I'm about to do a similar Baja trip right after the Expo at the end of this month. Looking forward to this trip for sure. Question, other than the vehicle permits, what other fees do I need to anticipate prior to the border crossing?