A Very Brief Overview of the Baja Peninsula

After dreaming about it for years we finally made the trip down the length of the Baja Peninsula. It so exceeded our expectations that we believe it’s one of the top trips for RVers in North America. But we found the planning a bit daunting so we decided to post some tips for RVers that plan to drive to Baja in the future. This first post is a very brief overview of the Baja Peninsula. Depending on the time you have available and your interests you can plan widely varying itineraries. Hopefully this will help you formulate your plans.

The Baja Peninsula is about 1,000 miles long comprising two states: Baja California in the north and Baja California Sur in the south.

It varies from hilly wine country to mountains to desert landscape to rocky and sandy beaches. The Pacific and the Sea of Cortez offer whale watching, kayaking, sailing, surfing, kite surfing, SUPing, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing and more. On land there is hiking, exploring ruins, visiting museums, churches, historical sites, birding, ATVing, 4-wheeling, horseback riding and more.

When we mention each of the main towns the highway passes through we will show the distance in miles from the border (in parentheses). Bear in mind that due to the condition of the road, you should be very conservative in estimating travel time (40 mph is a good average).

For the purposes of this overview we will list the towns in order from north to south although in reality we stopped in some of the places on our way south and others on our way north.

The Transpeninsular Highway

Federal Highway 1 goes from Tijuana on the northern border by San Diego to Cabo San Lucas on the southernmost tip of the Peninsula. Along the way it crisscrosses from the Pacific Coast on the west to the Sea of Cortez on the east of the Peninsula several times.

The Relatively Developed North

The northernmost part of Baja extending 100 miles or so from the border has large cities, pretty landscapes, beaches, and the famous wine country in the Guadelupe Valley. These make for an easy hop from California and Arizona, and there are various expat enclaves in the area.

Just south of San Diego is Tijuana and between there and Ensenada are Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo. These seaside towns are popular day trip destinations for Southern Californians.


We crossed the border in Tecate and then drove 69 miles south and west on Highway 3 to Ensenada where it meets the Transpeninsular Highway. This route goes through the beautiful Valle de Guadalupe which we hope to visit another time.

There is lots to do in Ensenada: restaurants from the exclusive and famous to food trucks, all kinds of shopping, many bars etc.

Lots of large grocery and other stores and service providers make it a good area to provision and make any last minute vehicle checks before heading further south.

There are some great surfing areas on this Pacific shore, a continuation of the California surf beaches.

The Transpeninsular Highway meanders along the coast and is generally in good condition and not too narrow (yet).

The Wild and Remote Center

South of Ensenada the less developed Baja begins. The highway gets narrower with tiny or no shoulders. Grocery and other stores are smaller and scarcer. For the next hundreds of miles the communities are small and often there are long stretches of remote and beautiful nature.

From Ensenada the road heads south along the ocean to the beach town of San Quintin (180 miles). There are some beautiful wide beaches with oceanside camping in this area.

More empty beaches line the road as you continue toward El Rosario (219 miles). At El Rosario the road turns inland (and uphill) towards the center of the peninsula and reaches the southern extension of the Sonoran Desert, with unique and cool endemic plants like the huge cardón cacti.

It is wild and beautiful with incredible views. After El Rosario there is the famous “gas gap”, a 235 mile stretch with no gas stations and no supplies.

Around the tiny town of Cataviña (295 miles) lies the Cataviña boulder field. This is the Valle de los Cirios, the funky looking Boojum trees. There is a small campground at Rancho Santa Ynez.  

This is a great area for hiking, with cave paintings to explore and many enticing 4WD tracks. Another place we hope to return to.

Somewhere in the middle of this stretch there is a turn off (~40 miles one way dead end) to Bahía de los Angeles (399 miles), a gorgeous bay and the first opportunity to head over to the beautiful Sea of Cortez.

It is a tiny town in an incredible setting and waterfront camping. One of our favorites.

Dolphins, birds, and sea lions dot the bay. There are several offshore islands, reachable by kayak or boat tours (both recommended). Most people visit in winter because it’s pretty hot in summer there, but sport fishing is popular between June and November and whale sharks come to the area to feed from July to November. 

After the Bahía de los Angeles turn off, the highway meanders through more desert scenery as it turns back west to the Pacific and the border with Baja California Sur.

Shortly after crossing the border to Baja Sur you reach the town of Guerrero Negro (443 miles), a decent size town (the first since Ensenada) that is a great place to shop, do laundry, get gas after the gas gap, fill water containers etc.

The town is a gateway to the Laguna Ojo de Liebre, the first of several lagoons on the way south where you can see gray whales in the winter calving season. Whale watching tours run from December through April.

There are many tour operators in town. The boats depart next to the world’s largest salt mine which is kind of interesting. The experience of being up close to these magnificent animals was so emotional and unforgettable.  We went out multiple times.

Just south of Guerrero Negro there is a lagoon side camping area called Scammon’s Lagoon (464 miles). Beautiful and rustic dry camping with no cell nor wifi, and whale watching tours as well. 

 

 

The highway then turns back inland towards the east, here you pass the cute tiny inland oasis town of San Ignacio (530 miles). This is the access point to the San Ignacio Lagoon, the second gray whale watching destination (we didn’t get to go whale watching here due to windy weather).

The road then continues down an extremely steep and several mile long downhill, named la Cuesta del Infierno (the Incline from Hell), before reaching the mining town of Santa Rosalia (574 miles) on the Sea of Cortez.  On the way north, the Cuesta del Infierno is the steepest climb on the entire drive. We unhooked our tow car prior to climbing it just in case.

The highway then follows the shore to the tiny town of Mulegé (611 miles), another good place to provision. A lovely river runs through town. Mulegé is at the north end of Bahía Concepción, a 20-mile long bay where a number of scenic coves make for some of the best beach camping and kayaking on the Sea of Cortez.

We camped at Playa Santispac (624 miles). A dream spot. Some people spend the entire season and we understand why. Our eight days there felt short. Several other coves also offer beach camping and everyone has their favorite. Vendors came by in the morning with fresh produce, seafood, empanadas, and offering fresh water fills and pump out service.

The highway goes inland at the end of the bay and continues south to the beautiful colonial town of Loreto (695 miles), a Pueblo Mágico also on the Sea of Cortez. This was the site where the Spaniards started the first mission and is the beginning of the Camino Real.  A gorgeous little town.

 

The church in town is historic with a cool little museum about the Spanish missionaries’ history. And near Loreto is Mission San Javier, a stunning and ornate mission up in the mountains.  A worthy and scenic side trip.

 

Loreto is also home to lots of bird life along the shore and is also where a few of the largest animals on earth, the blue whales come to feed between January and March.

Shortly after Loreto, the road turns inland and climbs a giant hill to cross back over towards the west but not quite to the Pacific coast. It crosses the Magdalena plain where there are a few agricultural working towns like Cuidad Constitución (786 miles) with more opportunities to buy provisions. The town is also a gateway to Magdalena Bay, another lagoon where gray whales congregate.

There is a side road near here to the tiny fishing village of Puerto Chalet (832 miles). It is the newest of the official (but not yet well known) whale watching spots with almost no infrastructure (yet). It was absolutely wonderful.

The road then crosses over once again back to the Sea of Cortez and the good sized city of La Paz (915 miles). La Paz is beautiful with a miles-long malecón (boardwalk) facing a lovely bay and a large offshore island named Isla Espíritu Santo, a Natural Protected Area and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Whale sharks arrive to feed between October and February and several nature outfitters operate tours to swim with them as well as tours to swim with sea lions.

Great beaches are around as well. Playa Tecolote was the only place where we boondocked and it was absolutely gorgeous.

Although a bit touristy, La Paz retains a very authentic Mexican feel and affordable pricing. We experienced Carnaval there and it was quite the happening.

The Touristy and Beautiful Far South

The last 100 miles or so at the southern end of Baja are once again more developed.  The roads become wider and shoulders reappear as you head south past La Paz and approach the town at the tip of the peninsula, Cabo San Lucas (1010 miles).

Cabo also has the most resources for things like vehicle repair available since Ensenada in the north.

South of La Paz there are a number of small beach towns that sit on the coast. The highway roughly forms a circle all the way around the “cape”. Todos Santos is a cute artsy village near the Pacific.

Time did not permit a visit to Los Barriles which is known for kite surfing nor tiny Cabo Pulmo, site of the largest reef on this coast, part of the Parque Nacional Cabo Pulmo. Both are on the Sea of Cortez.

Cabo San Lucas sits at the very tip where a dramatic rock outcropping and arch marks the end of the Baja Peninsula. A short but amazing boat tour takes you there.

Just to the west of Cabo sits San Jose del Cabo, a picturesque town with a bit more laidback feel than busy Cabo San Lucas.

There are beautiful beaches and many beach resorts in Cabo San Lucas and in the “corridor” between Cabo and San Jose del Cabo, the deep-sea fishing is world class, there are great golf resorts and lots more. Both are quite developed with high prices to match.

There are other areas on Baja that the Transpeninsular highway does not go through and that we did not visit, including the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, a large national park in the mountains of the north.

So there you have it.  Quite the varied selection of nature, wildlife, history, and culture. Two months wasn’t nearly enough time for us. There are quite a number of places we skipped over or that we could have definitely spent more time in.

Planning our trip

Hector and I are planners and we did our best to lay out the trip in advance. With a major move looming in our future, we decided we had 70 days total for the trip.

Our priorities were: kayaking and snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez, tours to see the gray whales and their babies on the Pacific side and whale sharks and blue whales on the Sea of Cortez side, and exploring historical sites and camping and just relaxing in beautiful settings.

We also wanted to spend time in the towns of Loreto and La Paz and although we weren’t much interested in the congested Cabo area we did want to make a day trip down to the southern tip of the Peninsula.

So Hector created a spreadsheet and we filled in the places we wanted to visit using Google Maps to assure that the drive time and distance between them was reasonable. Whatever drive time Google Maps estimated we adjusted up quite a bit to acknowledge we were in an RV and to allow for poking around along the way

We allocated time to each stop to make sure that we had enough time at each of them while making sure the overall trip ended on time.

But we also wanted flexibility so we didn’t make any camping reservations in advance.

 

Although we did wind up changing both the order of places we visited and the number of days spent in each, we still believe that our spreadsheet was a valuable tool as it kept us focused on our priorities and timeframe.

Each of the places above that we visited are covered in much more detail in the posts that we wrote along the way. To find the posts, use the search box on the upper right of the home page.

This is just Part I of our tips for Rving to Baja. Next up some more details on our preparation logistics and some resources we recommend.

Chilling at Playa El Tecolote

Our next stop was north of the city of La Paz, written up as the best boondocking spot in all of Baja California! Back to the Sea of Cortez, which is now one of our favorite bodies of water. It was time for chilling at Playa El Tecolote. Check out my review of  the  beach here.
This was another wide beautiful beach but with several beachfront restaurants in the middle. There were quite a few RVs parked on the east end of the beach but there was lots of open space. We parked about 100 yards away from the next RV in a nice private spot.

We took a walk on the beach and decided to have an early dinner. As we returned, the RV looked so close to the water that Hector kept checking to make sure that high tide wouldn’t reach us.

That evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset. And the next morning we awoke to a commanding view of the south end of the island of Espíritu Santo amidst beautiful turquoise water.

We hadn’t had much downtime and had covered many many miles so we decided to take it easy and relax and read for a couple of days.

The next afternoon a couple that we’d met at the RV park in Bahia de los Angeles drove in to spend the night.

We hung out with Chuck and Teri and their cute dog, Kokanee. They brought a little firepit and lit a nice fire that evening and we enjoyed another fabulous sunset.

Later that night Hector and I came back out to watch the stars which were beautiful.

The next day we walked over to one end of the beach where there’s a little trail up a hill and hiked up to a road that took us around the bend. And what was over the bend? Another beautiful little beach cove of course. That was the extent of our activity for the day.Some may have noticed that we’ve been wearing hoodies and coats. It’s been unusually cold in Baja but seeing the weather in the States we haven’t dared to complain. Here we finally found the warm weather! On a nice, calm and warm day we went for a paddle. 


There were fish jumping out of the water and of course pelicans and gulls. There were also a lot of frigate birds flying above us which are so interesting with their forked tails.

The water was a beautiful turquoise and swimming pool clear. Just like the pictures we’ve seen that made us want to come to Baja in the first place.

It was a relaxing paddle and a great way to end our restful stay at this lovely beach but  the time had come to hit the big city and their Carnaval celebration.

 

We’re off to Baja California!

Hi everyone!  We are back out on the road for a couple of months.

Ever since sometime in the 90’s, we dreamt about visiting Baja California. The peninsula is 1000 miles long, with remote deserts, lonely beaches, Pacific views, Sea of Cortez kayaking in crystal clear waters, whales, and more.

We planned to go around a business trip Hector had to San Diego while we lived in Miami but something came up and that trip never happened. 

So when we started fulltime RVing in 2012, I tried to add a trip to Baja California to our plans, but Hector did not want to drive our Class A motorhome down there. It turns out he was right, more on that later.

After selling Island Girl two years ago, we bought a nice Winnebago View on a Sprinter chassis from some friends of a friend. One key selling point was that it was “Baja ready” and could take the “dirty” diesel that is still sold in parts of Mexico which more modern diesel engines cannot.

In fact, this rig had already been down to Baja and to other parts of Mexico.  She is also a “skinny Winnie”, the nickname referring to this class C RV being narrower than most which would prove helpful on the narrow Baja roads.

We named her Island Time.

We went on some long and fun shakedown cruises which we did not blog about and then we planned our trip to Baja,  Now we were finally ready.

And we were off!

Our route plan was pretty simple, first an overnight boon docking stop in the Agua Caliente BLM area outside Phoenix, enjoying the always entertaining desert SW and Route 66 stuff along the way. Check out our review of the BLM area here.

And then down to Tecate, California to cross the border into Mexico.  It is a bit out of the way down a pretty windy road which makes it one of least busy crossing points. It is also a convenient place to take care of getting our tourist visas.

When you fly to Mexico your fee is included in the airfare and you fill out the little immigration paper on the plane. If you drive in, you need to go inside the immigration office at the border to fill out the FMM form and pay a small fee ($32pp).  Parking is very limited at the border crossing and doing this transaction in an RV can be complicated. So we camped on the US side, drove our car to the border and parked on the US side, walked across, got our papers in order and walked back that afternoon.   The US border agent asked how long we had been in Mexico, answer = about 6 minutes :-).

We had a fun dinner that night with friends who live in the mountains outside San Diego close to Tecate and stayed at Potrero County Park which is just a few miles from the border.  Check out our review of the park here. One last systems check and dropping off of produce with the park ranger the next morning and …

With our paperwork in order, crossing the border was pretty easy. We had one other RV in front of us, which the border patrol officer waved on. This made me think that they would stop the next one (us), and I was right. She boarded Island Time briefly, looked in a couple of cabinets and asked where we were going and where we came from. Then she poked around in the car and asked what was in our five gallon jug – water. That was it. She then waved us on.

My first experience in Mexico was some friendly construction workers waving and smiling at me.

And just like that we are back in Mexico and off on our next adventure!

Stay tuned.

Hector and Brenda

Fun with Friends in Moab, Utah

We made a few more stops after Bryce Canyon and before the end of our walkabout…After leaving the beautiful canyon, we headed east across the dramatic Utah landscape where we planned a brief stop for some fun with friends in Moab, Utah.

As was the case in many of our later travels, our route to Albuquerque from Tucson was turning out to be quite loopy. But since these were the last weeks of our walkabout, we could not pass up the opportunity to see some of our RVer friends once again.

We wanted to boondock in Moab, but weren’t sure about our options, so we reached out to our friend Amanda (WatsonsWander). She told us that several of the better known boondocking areas were pretty full, but suggested Klondike Bluff Road just up a couple of roads from where they were boondocking.

We found a great spot, with 360 degree views and 4 bars LTE signal no less. Check out my review of Klondike Bluff Road here.

Having contacts sure helps when looking for these special out of the way places.

We’ve been turned onto more than one killer (and FREE) campsite through the kindness of fellow RVers.

Thanks Amanda!

Our friend Mona Liza (The Lowe’s RV Adventures) had planned a get together with several folks that were staying in the area on the day after we were due to arrive, and since she knew we were on our way, invited us as well. So that evening we met up with friends for dinner at a restaurant in town.

Amanda and Tim were there with their parents, along with our friends Pam and John (Oh, the Places They Go!). And we met Susan and David (Beluga’s excellent adventure), whom we had heard about from several other RVer friends.  It was a fun time, as it always is with our RVer buddies.

The next day Hector and I took one of our sunrise drives over to Arches National Park. We visited this beautiful park a number of times when we lived in Colorado, but it is another of those places that you never get tired of.

Hector’s ankle was still not doing so well, so we just drove on the park road and stopped for short walks along the way.

Later that afternoon we returned to the park with Angel for a slightly longer drive. This time we drove over to Salt Valley Road which goes to a more remote area of the park. It’s a dirt road with very little traffic, so we had the place virtually to ourselves.

After we had driven for quite awhile, Hector spotted some burrowing owls. Shortly after we realized that this area was also a prairie dog colony. Burrowing owls frequently live amongst prairie dog colonies due to the abundance of insects, one of their preferred foods. They also modify unoccupied prairie dog burrows to lay their eggs.


The burrowing owl are sometimes alerted to predators by the prairie dogs alarm calls. Another one of those very interesting symbiotic relationships in nature. These owls are declining in some areas partially due to prairie dog control factors, as well as habitat loss and car accidents. They are considered endangered in Canada.

We spent a lot of time watching the owls, they are so incredibly cute as they peek out of their burrows! These little guys provided our entertainment for the afternoon. 

Angel got a few walks alongside the road, since there was no traffic.  It was a fun afternoon for all of us, especially the photographer.

The following day Mona Liza and Steve had a little dinner party at their campsite. She made her literally world-famous lumpia (Philippine eggrolls) as well as some pancet, a noodle dish. We had never tried either of these before. Delish!

Pam and John and Susan and Dave were there, and we met two more RVers, Joe and Gay (good-times-rollin) All wonderful people and we truly enjoyed spending time with all of them.  These impromptu gatherings were one of the very best parts of the RV life.

We entered the park one last time for a sunset drive. So beautiful.

The weather had been touch and go and it rained all night the night before we left. This made for quite an exciting exit from our perfect boondocking spot. One of the scariest drives from our entire walkabout. VERY wet and muddy as in – whatever you do, don’t stop! But we made it.

Stay tuned for a few more posts, as we explored a couple of new places on our wandering route before our landing in Albuquerque.

~ Brenda

 

 

Zion National Park

zion-56zion-54I was finally on my way to Zion National Park, a place I tried to visit a couple of times previously without success. I love all of the National Parks and felt very fortunate to be visiting my 37th!zion-4

zion-5Zion National Park protects 229 square miles and is known for its steep Navajo Sandstone cliffs and narrow canyons. It is hard to believe that 250 million years ago those same cliffs were sand dunes in a vast desert.

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Lake Powell

Lake Powell-19Lake Powell-1Many years ago, we spent several nights in a houseboat in Lake Powell and fell in love with its multi-colored rock formations and the beautiful light reflecting from the sun into the canyon. So on this visit we were hoping to spend some time on the water once again, kayaking or renting a boat, or hopefully both.

Lake Powell-4Lake Powell-9We read about a beach that allowed camping right by the water, Lone Rock Beach. We also read that it had several areas with soft sand so we carefully scouted the beach in our car. And we found a lovely site on hard packed sand and gravel. Check out my review of the campground here.

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The Grand Canyon in One Day

GC Conspiracy-64

In the early part of the year, we realized that our planned four day visit to the Grand Canyon was going to coincide with our friends Katherine’s and Erik’s arrival in the canyon. They live in Atlanta, and every year they travel to the Grand Canyon to join a group of their friends and backpack into the canyon for a week.

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Williams is home to the Grand Canyon railway

GC Conspiracy-3Our plan was to drive to the Grand Canyon immediately after we left Tucson and meet them the night before they began their hike into the canyon. Hector was especially eager to see them, as he was not able to make their daughter’s wedding in Puerto Rico, which I attended.

As time went by our schedules shifted a bit, but it still looked as though we would have a chance to meet. Then we realized that we needed to make a slight detour after Tucson.GC Conspiracy-7

Our detour was to Congress, Arizona, where Vern, of Penner’s Mobile RV Repair resides in the winter. We needed to replace an intake valve on Island Girl. Vern worked on Island Girl in February and we were happy with his work so we decided to have him handle the install.

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Desert Tumbleweeds

Tumble-9Tumble-2After leaving San Diego, we headed to the Arizona desert where we planned to make several stops before landing in Tucson in March. For the next month or so, we moved to six different locations, met friends, had a medical scare (everything turned out ok), had maintenance issues, met more friends and enjoyed the desert. At times we felt like desert tumbleweeds. Oh, and I flew to Puerto Rico for ten days during that time – more on that in a later post.

Tumble-13Tumble-1Our first stop was Quartzsite, our third visit in three years during their annual RV show. This year we arrived only a few days before the end of the show, since our main purpose in going was to meet friends.Tumble-4

Tumble-12Tumble-8Tumble-3Tumble-11During our drive to Quartzsite I received a call regarding mammogram results from my medical exam in San Diego. Something showed up in the first mammogram, and the doctor wanted me to have a second one and maybe an ultrasound. Medical issues while RVing are always a challenge, but we continued on while we thought about next steps.

We boondocked in the Dome Rock area of Quartzsite, the area where we stay every year. During a quick walk through the show we met our friends Jack and Karen and made plans to meet a few days later.

Meanwhile, we had to figure out a way for me to get a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound. And, for various mostly insurance related reasons, we decided that it would be best to return to San Diego for the additional tests. Hector had the idea to double back to Anza Borrego State Park, not too far from Quartzite. This would put us day trip distance from San Diego, so we could drive our car to my appointment, thus avoiding crossing the mountains again in Island Girl.

We had a couple of days to socialize so we spent part of our time hanging out with our friend Vince who was staying at “our” regular campsite nearby. And we watched some beautiful sunsets.Tumble-14 Continue reading

To the Arctic Circle and Back in 2015

What a year!  We travelled to the Arctic Circle and back in 2015.

cartoon529-2Be warned, this is a looooong post.  But we hope you enjoy a quick tour back through this most wonderful year with some of Hector’s favorite images.

Island Girl traveled a total of 12,345 miles.

We stayed in 88 campsites (29 of them were overnights and 61 were dry camping).

Visited 10 States, 2 Canadian Provinces and 1 Canadian Territory. And 6 veterinarians in 5 states and 1 Canadian Territory.

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Chasing the Aurora Borealis

Kluane Aurora 13Our original plan was to head to Hyder, Alaska after Haines, with a stop in Whitehorse but we made a few changes. We were now chasing the Aurora Borealis. There was a forecast for a strong Aurora on the evening of the day we left Haines.

Kluane Aurora 4We had to head out on the Haines Highway once again, since we made quite a detour to see Haines, which was totally worth it. Leaving quirky Haines was definitely bittersweet but driving through the spectacular Haines Highway a second time was certainly not going to be a hardship.Kluane Aurora 5

Kluane Aurora 2As we left Haines, we drove along the Chilkat River, the other beautiful river in town. So much beautiful nature there.Kluane Aurora 1

We were now leaving Alaska once again and crossing back into Canada. Going through customs was quite easy, with just a couple of the standard questions and a wave through. For some reason, it is still always stressful for me.Kluane Aurora 8

Kluane Aurora 16Kluane Aurora 6The weather continued to be cloudy but the views from the Haines Highway were still beautiful. We had a slightly better view of the mountains this time around and the clouds were much prettier.

Kluane Aurora 10Kluane Aurora 9Some of the peaks that were bare when we drove into Haines were now covered in snow. Winter is coming. Continue reading