As soon as you cross the border into Baja, driving becomes less formulaic and more instinctual. Suddenly, you notice the lack of access to the things we take for granted as you realize you have no idea how to call a tow truck, hospital, or the police. You remember that the police are the villains in most of the stories you’ve heard about Baja, and you start dividing up your cash and stashing it in the soles of your shoes, under your car seats, and inside your cars manual in the glove box. (Note, if you’re stashing it in any of those places they will find it.) Of course, you’re smart so you also remember to keep just enough money in your pocket to convince them that that’s all you have in case they want a bribe.
In spite of all this the thousand mile drive between San Diego and the southern tip of the Baja peninsula is still one of the greatest road trips in North America. If it was easy it wouldn’t be the adventure that it is.
Honestly times have changed, but the reputation of Baja hasn’t caught up. It’s now possible to drive entirely on narrow but well paved roads, though you’ll miss out on some of the best adventures if you do. The “dangerous” parts of Mexico tend to be in the border cities, and I saw more military patrols on the road than police. I’ll let you decide if that’s an improvement or not, but in my mind there’s far less to go wrong unless I find out one of my passengers decided to bring their “stash” along.
Even with all of that to consider, Baja is worth it. Empty surf spots sit at the end of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, climbing areas yet to be developed pop up at random throughout the drive, and the price of tacos drops by the mile.
Paddle Boarding in Bahia De Los Angeles
Bahia De Los Angeles is one of the largest bays on the Sea of Cortez side, and offers some of the more incredible vistas. If you’re driving a 4×4, it’s worth heading north along the coast from town where there are a series of secluded beaches, each slightly harder to get to than the last. It’s easy to find your own spot here, and if you’re there in the right season you may be able to paddle out to see whales who come in to the protected bay.
Climbing in Cataviña
Cataviña marks about halfway on the drive, and was the place that I was most excited to explore. The terrain is similar to Joshua Tree national park, save for the giant cactus that dominate the landscape. The rocks aren’t quite tall enough to make you rope up, but when this place gets discovered by the bouldering community it is going to become a world class destination. It’s worth bringing your climbing shoes and a pad for sure.
The Guerrero Negro Sand Dunes
If I do the drive again, i’m going to plan to stop for a night in the sand dunes outside of Guerrero Negro. It would be an incredible place to do some astrophotography. It’s certainly worth walking along the coast where the dunes meet the water regardless of wether you plan to spend the night. My phone didn’t work very often in Baja, so I actually ended up here by accident while looking for the salt flats.
Surfing Southern Baja
South of Scorpion Bay is a swath of sandy beaches punctuated by a series of point breaks. The main road never quite makes it to the coast here, so you have to find one of a few dirt roads that cut across about 10 miles of desert to reach the coast. It’s a hard place to predict, but if you score, you’re going to score big.
Swim with Whale Sharks in La Paz
I’ve swam with sharks before, but all of them are of the toothier variety. I love the experience of being in the water with these animals, watching them in their element is entirely different than the feeling that the media might lead you to believe you’ll have. Experiencing what it’s like to be so close to big animals is truly humbling. They may not have teeth, but swimming alongside a shark the size of a bus is intimidating in its own way.
If you’re looking for a guide who can put this (and the next) adventure for you, I highly recommend getting in touch with Cabo Expeditions.
Diving in Cabo Pulmo
When Cabo Pulmo was designated a marine national park, the local fishermen adapted and became tour operators. A healthy ecosystem would promote the tourism that would support them so the marine life that they once hunted, they began to protect. Now, twenty years later, the biomass in Cabo Pulmo has increased by 900% and there are schools of fish that can block out the sun. Diving here is an eye opener, and makes us realize what the oceans could be like if we were to do a better job protecting them.
Rethinking Cabo San Lucas
I’ve always thought Cabo was a spring-break destination, but on this visit my eyes were opened and I realized how much more it could be. The water here is crystal clear, and within a few minutes drive in any direction there are empty stretches of coastline to explore. The surf can be world class, Cabo Pulmo and La Paz are only a few hours north, and right in town you can rent paddle boards and take a morning trip out to the arch. I recommend doing the paddle at sunrise to avoid boats and have the calmest water. It wasn’t meant to be a destination on my trip, it was simply where I’d turn around. But I ended up staying in Cabo for a full week so that I could better explore the area.
We stayed at an awesome spot called the Bahia Hotel, and paddle boards are available through their Beach Club, SUR. If I go back I’ll definitely be staying there again.
Last Minute Advice
- If you’re planning this drive, make sure to download and cache the maps into your phone that you’ll need. Much of this drive is far from any decent cell coverage, and without those maps you may not be able to find your destination. Here’s a link that explains how to do it.
- There are some long sections of the drive where you won’t be able to get gas for a few hundred miles. Take an extra tank of gas, and fill up every time you’re half empty.
- Every day at sunset, the desert begins to cool off. This brings out the cattle that have been laying in the shade all day and they begin to wander the roadside. The roads are treacherous at night too, being absurdly narrow at points, I recommend just planning on being somewhere you want to explore by sunset and avoiding driving after the sky begins to change color.