Motorists view of the road curving along the hillside with an expansive cloud-filled sky.

Motorists view of the Ensenada Scenic Route. Photo by Poncho Equihua licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

One of the most popular ways to explore Baja is on a road trip down the transpeninsular highway. Driving the full length of Mexico 1 from Tijuana to Cabo is a rite of passage memorable for its diverse landscapes, scenic small towns, historical and archaeological sites, and friendly people.

Day 1

86 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes

Drive across the U.S./Mexico border in Tijuana and down the Pacific coast along Mexico 1. Enjoy the impressive Pacific views from the highway as you cruise into the port town of Ensenada. Check into Corona Hotel & Spa in town or Las Rosas just north of town, where you’ll enjoy sweeping ocean views. Head to the heart of Ensenada to the Mercado de Mariscos where you can browse the fresh fish and enjoy a fish taco from any of the stands outside. From here go for a stroll along the harbor to see the fishing boats and cruise ships that dock in Ensenada. Two blocks east of the harbor, López Mateos (Calle Primera) is the main street in Ensenada where you can do some shopping and have dinner. Cap off your evening with a margarita at Ensenada’s oldest bar, Hussong’s Cantina.

Side Trips

Drive 30 minutes inland, heading east on Mexico 3, from Ensenada to the nearby Valle de Guadalupe wine region and spend the day wine-tasting at boutique wineries and eating farm-to-table cuisine at outdoor campestre restaurants. Spend a night in the valley at La Villa del Valle or Bruma so you can fully take advantage of the relaxing atmosphere and some of the 120 wineries now in the area.

Or, south of Ensenada at San Telmo, turn off of Mexico 1 at Km. 140 and head east into the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir to enjoy a different landscape of high peaks and pine trees. Enjoy a night or two in the foothills of the sierra at a working ranch like Rancho Meling and visit the National Observatory, hike among the pine trees in the national park, and do some stargazing at night.

Desert road flanked by cacti in Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

Cardón cacti provide a beautiful backdrop for road trips down the peninsula. Photo © Jennifer Kramer.

Day 2

229 miles, 5 hours

Get an early start from Ensenada to continue south on Mexico 1 through San Quintín and into the central desert, what many consider to be the heart of Baja. Take a short detour to see the sea lions at La Lobera before heading to El Rosario to enjoy a lobster burrito for lunch at Mama Espinoza’s. Don’t forget to fill up the gas tank in El Rosario. Continue south and stay the night amid the cacti and boulders in the heart of the desierto central in Cataviña at the Hotel Misión Cataviña.

Side Trip

Take two days to visit Bahía de los Ángeles. Turn off of Mexico 1 at kilometer 280 and drive 65 kilometers (on a paved road) east to the Sea of Cortez. Spend some time relaxing along the bay, check out the local Museo de Naturaleza y Cultura, or head out with a local panguero to spend the day fishing or exploring marinelife. Campers will enjoy a rustic stay on the beach at Camp Archelon, or get a room at Costa del Sol. If it’s late summer or early fall, ask around with local pangueros or at Villa Bahia about going out in a boat to swim with the whale sharks. History buffs shouldn’t miss a day trip to Misión San Francisco de Borja Adac, a beautiful stone mission nearby.

Day 3

236 miles, 5 hours

Take an hour to check out the cave paintings at Cataviña before getting on the road to head south. When you cross the state line at Guerrero Negro, stop in town to take a tour of the saltworks factory and grab some fish or shrimp tacos for lunch at Tacos el Muelle. Continue south to the colonial oasis town of San Ignacio and check into Hotel La Huerta. Enjoy an evening walk around the small town to check out the colonial architecture, the plaza, and the mission before dinner at Tootsie’s Bar & Grill.

Side Trip

If it’s gray whale season (Jan.-Apr.), make advanced arrangements to have a friendly encounter with these mammoth sea mammals. Both Guerrero Negro and Laguna San Ignacio are annual winter destinations for the gray whales, who come to the shallow and warm waters of Baja California to breed and calve. Visitors go out in small pangas to have up close encounters with the gray whales where they can pet and even kiss the whales in the wild. Guerrero Negro whale-watching can be done in one day, while Laguna San Ignacio usually requires a multiday stop.

Day 4

86 miles, 2 hours

Stop in the morning at a local Tortillería La Misión to stock up on fresh handmade tortillas before heading out of town. When you get to the Sea of Cortez and the mining town of Santa Rosalía, stop in town to find Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, a church designed by Gustave Eiffel. Line up with the locals for a chile relleno taco at Tacos el Faro Verde before continuing on to the oasis town of Mulegé. Spend the afternoon visiting the beautiful stone Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé, perched on a hilltop overlooking the palm trees, river, and town. Check into Hotel Hacienda in town or Hotel Serenidad just south of town.

View from atop a hill of Bahia Concepcion in Baja.

The clear waters and white sand beaches of Bahía Concepción lure snowbirds, kayakers, and swimmers. Photo © Jennifer Kramer.

Day 5

83 miles, 2 hours

Enjoy a beach day along the white sand beaches and crystal waters of Bahía Concepción. Spend the morning kayaking or snorkeling at Playa Santispac, or just sunbathe and enjoy the beautiful setting. Grab a burger and a beer at Playa Buenaventura before you leave this beautiful bay. Then continue south to Loreto and check into your hotel at Las Cabañas de Loreto or Coco Cabañas.

Day 6

24 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes

Get an early start and drive into the mountains for a day trip from Loreto to the village of San Javier. Check out the mission, see the 300+-year-old olive trees and have lunch at La Palapa restaurant. Head back to Loreto and spend the evening around the town plaza, visiting the Loreto mission, enjoying two-for-one margarita happy hour along the plaza, and savoring dinner at any of the restaurants in town.

Day 7

267 miles, 5.5 hours

Drive south to the colonial artist town of Todos Santos. Stroll around the historic district and have dinner at any of the quaint restaurants in town like Café Santa Fe or Los Adobes de Todos Santos. Stay along the beach at the stunning Villa Santa Cruz where you can spend your evening stargazing from the hot tub or enjoying a rooftop bonfire.

Day 8

46 miles, 1 hour

Go for a morning walk along one of the beautiful Todos Santos beaches before driving south for an hour on Mexico 1 to Los Cabos. Stay in the historic district in San José del Cabo at Casa Natalia where you’ll be right in heart of town with its bustling plaza and vibrant art galleries. Head out to enjoy a relaxing dinner and drinks at any of the restaurants along Boulevard Mijares.

Todos Santos Plaza. Photo © Jennifer Kramer.

Todos Santos Plaza. Photo © Jennifer Kramer.

Day 9

49 miles, 1 hour

Get out of the bustle of Los Cabos and head northeast on Mexico 1 to the tranquil East Cape. Stop in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna in the small town of Santiago to explore some of the nearby natural hot springs or the impressive waterfall at the Cañon de la Zorra. Spend the night along the Sea of Cortez in the town of Los Barriles or nearby Buena Vista where you can enjoy family-friendly beachfront accommodations at places like Rancho Leonero or Hotel Buena Vista.

Side Trip

Divers and snorkelers will want to spend a few days in Cabo Pulmo, exploring one of only three coral reefs in North America. Snorkelers can head to Los Arbolitos to snorkel right from the beach while divers can take a boat from town to get to the best spots. Stay at Baja Bungalows for comfortable and relaxed accommodations.

Day 10

65 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes

On your drive north to La Paz along Mexico 1, stop to explore the old mining town of El Triunfo where you can walk around the mining grounds up to the lookout and have brunch at Caffé El Triunfo. Continue on to La Paz and spend your afternoon out at Playa Balandra or Playa El Tecolote, taking advantage of some of the city’s best beaches. Stay in town at a B&B or along the beach at Costa Baja.

Day 11

Spend the day in La Paz going out on a boat to Isla Espíritu Santo where you’ll have a chance to swim and snorkel with sea lions, whales, tropical fish, and other marinelife. In the evening, grab a bite at one of the restaurants along the malecón and go for a stroll along the promenade after dinner.

Day 12-13

683 miles, 13 hours

Spend two days driving north back up Mexico 1, stopping to spend more time or stay the night in any towns you missed on the way down. Plan on your last night being at Baja Cactus in El Rosario or Hotel Misión Santa Maria in San Quintín.

Day 14

220 miles, 5 hours

Just north of Ensenada, turn off of Mexico 1 and head east on the northern branch of Mexico 3 to the Pueblo Mágico town of Tecate. Stop in Tecate to take a rest, listen to the mariachis on the plaza, and enjoy one last taco. Be sure to swing by the famous El Mejor Pan de Tecate to fill up a tray of pastries and baked goods before crossing back into the United States.

Alternative Northbound Route

Those with four-wheel drive vehicles can take the Mexico 5 north from Laguna Chapala to spend your last two days on the road along the northern Sea of Cortez. The route is unpaved for the first 40 kilometers (24 mi.) after turning off of Mexico 1. Stop in for a beer at Coco’s Corner, relax at Bahía San Luis Gonzaga, visit the giant cardón cacti in the Valle de los Gigantes, and spend the night in the fishing town of San Felipe. Head up Mexico 5 to cross back into the United States through the Mexicali/Calexico border.


Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Baja.