Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Tijuana, Rosarito, and Tecate
As the peninsula’s largest city, Tijuana is a high-risk, high-reward place. Outstanding cuisine, trendsetting nightclubs, and bargain shopping attract loyal weekenders from Southern California. But the stories you hear of drug and sex trafficking, corrupt cops, rip-off artists, and predatory cab drivers are not urban legend. On the Pacific coast to the south, Rosarito draws surfers and college students on spring break. East of Tijuana, Tecate offers a more relaxed border crossing and pleasant town plaza, and serves as a gateway to the Valle de Guadalupe wine country along Mexico 3.
Ensenada to El Rosario
South of the border region, Ensenada has hopping clubs and bars at its north end and a quiet and more upscale malecón (waterfront promenade) downtown. Nearby are boutique wineries and empty beaches along Bahía de San Quintín. El Rosario marks the gateway to the Desierto Central that makes up the peninsula’s interior.
Mexicali to San Felipe
Mexicali is the state capital of Baja California (Norte), a regional center of agricultural commerce, and a supply depot for travelers passing through to points south. Its Chinesca district offers a Mexican twist on Chinese cuisine. Nearby are hot springs in the Cañon de Guadalupe and a sizable expat community in San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez. You can hike among towering cacti in the Valle de los Gigantes or camp on secluded beaches near Puertecitos and Bahía San Luis Gonzaga.
Desierto Central to Bahía de los Angeles
Here begins the quintessential Baja. You’ll drive through miles of undisturbed desert terrain. Stop to stretch your legs in Cataviña and walk among the boulders. Head west to find waves at The Wall in San Borja or east to explore the timeless fishing outpost of [node:19112 link Bahía de los Angeleson the Sea of Cortez.
Guerrero Negro to Bahía Concepción
Guerrero Negro marks the state line between Baja California (Norte) and Baja California Sur. From mission towns to mining towns and prehistoric rock art sites, this region is rich with opportunities for cultural exploration. On the Pacific coast are two lagoons where gray whales come to bear their calves. On the Gulf coast, the shallow bays of Bahía Concepción are ideal for paddling, snorkeling, and cruising.
Loreto and Bahía Magdalena
The site of the first permanent Jesuit mission, Loreto has a deep-rooted history. Today it is becoming a government-sponsored tourist corridor that entertains visitors with full-service resorts, sportfishing charters, and a national marine park. Nearby, San Javier gives a taste of life in the isolated interior. Across the peninsula, on the Pacific, gray whales congregate in Bahía Magdalena during the winter months.
La Paz and Vicinity
Known for its beautiful sunsets and lively malecón scene, La Paz is an authentic Mexican city with a strong mainland influence. White-sand beaches along the Pichilingue Peninsula invite relaxation, while Isla Espíritu Santo and other protected islands offshore support a rare and fragile ecosystem.
The East Cape and the Sierra de la Laguna
Travelers with a passion for water sports and a willingness to rough it will find paradise along the Gulf coast. This is a place of solar power, dirt roads, panga boats, and palapa restaurants. The Sea of Cortez offers secluded beaches, steady winter winds, abundant game fish, a living coral reef, and 30-meter visibility underwater in summer. Inland, the Sierra de la Laguna attracts hikers and horseback riders with cascading waterfalls and 2,100-meter peaks.
Los Cabos (The Capes) refers to the towns of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. One entertains the young and young at heart, while the other offers a more sophisticated scene of gourmet restaurants and fine art.
The West Cape and Todos Santos
Along the Pacific coast, a rugged shoreline extends from Cabo San Lucas north to the growing artist community of Todos Santos. The West Cape remains the least-developed stretch of coastline on either side of the peninsula south of La Paz.
When to Go
Northwestern Baja enjoys a mild Pacific climate, which makes it comfortable year-round. High season is May–October, when the sun shines the brightest and beaches are warmest. To get away from the crowds and enjoy low-season prices, visit October–April. December–February can be chilly and cloudy.
Summer is the season to hike in the Sierras, as temperatures stay comfortably cool above 1,500 meters (5,000 ft.). Expect a winter-like climate at higher elevations October–April.
The desert is prettiest after the rainy season, usually in November, when flowering cacti fill the landscape with splashes of color. Daytime temperatures are dangerously hot May–October, but the rest of the year is fine for exploration. Remember that nights in the desert can be cold at any time of year.
Sea of Cortez Coast
Along Baja’s Gulf coast, moderate temperatures prevail October–mid-June. In summer and early fall, the weather can be uncomfortably hot and many businesses close while their owners flee to cooler temperatures in the north. The busiest tourist season is November–March, even though for most visitors the northern stretch of coastline is too cold for swimming at this time. You can pursue a variety of water sports year-round from Loreto to Cabo, even in the winter. Fishing and diving are best in summer.
The tip of the Baja Peninsula, from San José del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas, is pleasantly warm throughout the year. The best travel season for Los Cabos depends on your activity of choice. Anglers and scuba divers prefer summer, when the game fish are running and the Sea of Cortez reaches its warmest temperatures. The air on land can be intolerably hot this time of year. Head to the Pacific coast if you need to cool off.
Surfers flock to beaches on the Pacific in winter to catch the north swell, and they choose the Corridor or the East Cape when the summer swell rolls in from the south. Winter brings gray whales to the shallow birthing lagoons along the Pacific. It’s also the windy season for kiteboarders and windsurfers.
Before You Go
Passports and Other Documents
Passports are now required for U.S. citizens. If you are driving your own vehicle, bring two copies of your Mexican auto liability insurance policy, plus road maps and at least a basic auto repair kit.
Buy round-trip airfare to San Diego, Tijuana, Loreto, La Paz, or Los Cabos. Reserve a rental car for pickup at the airport, or plan to take a shuttle or taxi into town and use public transportation to get around.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition