Driving the Baja Penninsula
When my brother and I were still too young to stay home alone, my parents packed up our Toyota minivan and headed for south of the border. The goal? To drive from our home in Colorado to the tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula. Crazy? Yes. A great trip full of adventure? Also yes. An easy drive? No. However, the transpenninsular highway does stretch from northern Baja all the way to the southern tip, with the most desolate regions in the middle. The drive is not always an easy or forgiving one, but the peninsula has beautiful beaches, scenic landscapes and sleepy little towns along the way. Most of Baja remains one of the unspoiled regions of Mexico, where travelers can still visit seaside towns without being lost between towering resorts and swimming pools. If you are looking for a unique Mexican adventure, this could be the trip for you.
Baja is a peninsula extending into the Pacific Ocean from the U.S. border at San Diego and stretching hundred of miles south to Cabo san Lucas. On its eastern shore is the Sea of Cortez. This region of Mexico has some of Mexico’s most dramatic sea and landscapes with everything from vast, remote deserts to dormant volcanoes, to scenic beaches to picturesque old mission towns.
Baja is a great destination for those travelers looking to see more of Mexico than the inside of an all-inclusive resort. As much of the Baja peninsula is sparsely or unpopulated, there are a plethora of great camping and hiking opportunities. There is also world-class surfing, whale watching, sailing and deep sea fishing opportunities. The region also has its own unique mixture of culture and lifestyle, which differs from mainland Mexico.
Beaches and Things to Do
As you travel down the peninsula, you will find a huge number of spectacular beaches. In general, the beaches on the Sea of Cortez are less exposed to the open sea and tend to have calmer surf and sandy shorelines. The Pacific side offers visitors amazing surfing, fishing and whale watching opportunities.
Both sides of the peninsula are also some great snorkeling and dive opportunities. There are also companies that offer some great sea kayaking trips in the wilderness islands of Loreto National Park.
Transpenninsular Highway Tips
This highway, which stretches the length of the Baja peninsula, is generally well-maintained, but is very narrow and winding in many places. The middle section of this road is the most desolate and remote as it journeys into the most sparsely populated desert regions of the peninsula. That being said, here are some tips if chose to drive down this Mexican highway:
- There are no lights along this highway and driving at night is not recommended
- Horses, cows and other wildlife cross and stray onto the road frequently. Beware.
- Mexican drivers have a reputation for being a touch on the reckless side. Trucks in particular seem to pass with no abandon. Drive defensively around these guys.
- The gas stations along the way sometimes are closed or run out of gas. Make sure you always drive on a full tank whenever is possible as you never know which gas stations may not be able to fill up your tank and some regions are super remote. Not an ideal place to run out of gas.
- There are numerous check-point manned by the Mexican Army along the way. Don’t try to drive through these as soldier have the right to shoot if you do. They have the right to search your car and ask your final destination. Make sure you have your passport and Mexican tourist card ready. Once they determine you are not smuggling drugs, they usually send you on your way.
Eat and Drink
The Tecate brewery is located in Baja and many other major Mexican breweries sell beer by the case. It’s cheap and safer than water, so drink up. Keep the bottles for the deposit, they wash them out and reuse them!
Santa Thomas region south of Ensenada in Baja is also known for its many wineries. Stop and sample some Mexican vino.
As it is a part of Mexico, you will also find some great, local tequilas. A favorite Baja cocktail is tequila and sangrita, which is a spiced fruit punch.
Baja is the birthplace of the fish taco. They are delicious, can be found everywhere and are cheap. I could eat these things easily every day of the week.
As would be expected, there is lots of great seafood in Baja. Take advantage of the fresh seafood along your journey.