Baja California is that long strip of land running south of San Diego and west of mainland Mexico. Until recently I didn’t really know anything about it. Baja isn’t a place that is mentioned much in the news and it’s not somewhere full of ancient ruins or famous cities. So, we drove across the Mexican border on 1 August free from preconceptions and expectations.
We started the journey in the port town of Ensenada, where we studied intensive Spanish for a week. We finished the last lesson at 2pm on a Friday and then jumped into the van to began the drive south. And so began our fortnight tale of two coasts. Being a long skinny peninsular Baja is pretty much a strip of desert and mountains bordered on the west by the Pacific and the east by the Sea of Cortez. There’s one main highway that traverses the 1,200km length of Baja, and it zigzags its way from tip to toe. It’s a good road, sealed the whole way with the odd military police checkpoint, but no tolls. We took about two weeks to finish it, with the final destination being the ferry terminal at La Paz, where a big ferry runs back and forth to mainland Mexico. The hearts on the map on this blog post show the places that we stopped.
The first couple of nights we were on the pacific coast. One night we parked the van outside a seaside fishing restaurant in the parking. We ate in the restaurant and the owners let us sleeping in the parking area. They had super cheap Oysters. A dozen for about A$7.50. At night it got pretty cold, maybe 15deg, and the next day it was foggy. Sleeping in a van is comfortable in those conditions. By the third night we’d crossed the peninsular and camped in a beach campground in Bahia de Los Angeles, on the Sea of Cortez. The snorkelling was amazing, the beach fantastic and the scenery was wonderful. Imagine Mars with an ocean and some cactus. During the day it got into the mid 30s and at night it didn’t cool down much at night. Sleeping in the van was horrible, even with our little fan running. By the second night we were sleeping outside and under the stars, just to enjoy the small amount of breeze that cooled things down a little.
We’d learnt our lesson. If we were on the Pacific Coast then we’d camp on the beach and enjoy the cooler evenings. If we were on the Sea of Cortez side we’d find a hotel and spend the night in a nice comfortable air conditioned room. Even in the afternoons it was sometimes too hot to go out, and we’d just hole up in a hotel room and wait till sunset.
Once we’d figured out how to deal with the summer weather Baja proved to be one of the best road trips we’ve ever done. It’s not at all busy in summer. The deserts are amazing and filled with giant cactus, lizards and all sorts of birds. The water in the oceans is warm like a bath and filled with all sorts of coral reefs and fish. Most of the good snorkelling sites can be reached directly from the beach. The locals are super friendly. However, if you stray off the main roads (and there is really only one main road) then bring a high clearance vehicles as you’ll often find yourself driving 50km down some dirt road with potholes the size of bomb craters. Down south there’s a few yuckie super developed tourist centres like Cabo San Lucas, but overall Baja is very down to earth and chill.