Why Right Now May Be The Best Time For a Baja, Mexico Road trip.
Deciding whether or not you are ready to travel during this pandemic is a very personal choice. Even prior to Covid, one of my goals had always been to travel the entire state of Baja California via car. So being that I had downtime and that it had been almost 1 year since we'd taken an out of the country trip, like our favorite 90's R&B group, Jodeci, we were "feenin'"to get out of the local Southern California area. Since, Mexico is literally our neighbor (only 2.5 from Los Angeles) the choice was easy.
My husband was not able to travel with me, so I called one of my favorite people, my aunt who'd just retired from teaching, aka "Tia Ana". She'd been pretty strict about her quarantine and felt safe traveling with me, so off we were on our Mexican version of "Thelma and Louise"!
Departed LA at 7am and arrived in San Diego at 9:30am. I left my car at my mom’s house and she gave us a ride across the San Ysidro border into Tijuana, Mexico, where we rented a car, as I didn't want to put the extra miles on my car. After a lot of online research, I decided to rent a car Tijuana SIXT Rent A Car. We had requested an economy car, but to our surprise, we were upgraded to a KIA Rio which was one level above economy.
We follow the signs for Highway 1 towards the Playas de Tijuana/Rosarito bound road and make sure take the "Cuota" road, aka the toll road. Tolls are $2-3 USD per car and there are 3 tolls between Tijuana and Ensenada. When given a choice always take the toll road. If you aren't renting a car and heading directly south, as you drive into Tijuana from San Diego, stay toward the far right lanes and follow the signage below leading to Highway 1.
It is said the fish tacos were invented in Ensenada, thus it's always a great pit stop for lunch. Seafood street carts are abundant and always a win. I order an “Especial” seafood tostada while being serenaded by a sweet old man playing old school Mexican tunes on his clarinet. Everyone around us kept their social distance and had a mask on while we waited for our food.
3 hours we arrived in the town of El Rosario. Arriving at sunset, we checked into Hotel Cabanas Mama Espinoza. The rooms at Mama Espinoza were basic but super clean. However, due to Covid-19, we did our usual wiping down of all surfaces, handles and anything we might touch, and I sprayed the entire room, including bed linens with Lysol and removed the bedspread. I brought my sleeping bag and used that to keep war so I wouldn’t have to use the bed linens. Just an extra sanitary step. The bonus was the onsite restaurant also known as “Mama Espinoza’s” where we had the lobster chile rellenos. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m the queen of chiles rellenos, but I had never had lobster stuffed chiles rellenos. Unlike the traditional ones, they had no cheese just big chunks of lobster with a tasty red tomato broth. The restaurant was empty, but we ordered takeout and ate in the room.
The WIFI was a little slow, the room had a TV, but I couldn’t seem to figure out the remote. However, by the time we finished dinner, I was ready to shower and get some shut eye. BTW, the hot water was plentiful, and the water pressure was great! We would stay here again!
Check out the property below.
Woke up to the happy sound of chirping birds and left El Rosario at 7:30am.
A few things to note while on this route.
There are no gas stations between these El Rosario and Guerrero Negro so please fill up in El Rosario.
Make sure you stop and have some freshly brewed coffee and a homemade breakfast burrito from the small storefront (pictured below) on the right of the road as you are heading south almost out of El Rosario. Breakfast burritos are small so you might grab two. Chorizo and potato and chicharron were our picks and I think we paid under $5 USD for breakfast for 2 to go.
You’ll be driving down a lonely stretch of highway filled with mostly beautiful giant cacti. If nature calls and you have to use the restroom, you can either go out in nature or wait until you’re about 3 hours in and you will see a small roadside café called Restaurante San Ignacito (Below). The bathroom will cost you all of 5 pesos and is clean.
Remember to set your clocks one hour ahead in Guerrero Negro. This marks the spot where Southern Baja California begins (Baja California Sur) and you lose 1 hour moving from PST to MT.
Don’t be afraid of the military checkpoints. There are about 3 along the route. This is a normal procedure when driving in Mexico. Just tell them where you came from and where you're going and you shouldn't have a problem.
BTW, most of the road will look like this. Click below:
Always check the sunset times for where you plan on stopping to spend the night, as we highly recommend you don't drive at night. Not only because of dangers that can happen anywhere, but because there can be huge potholes on the road. They are very easy to miss and can ruin your tires.
Arriving in Guerrero Negro at 1:30pm, we checked into the Halfway Inn Hotel, a lovely little hotel with pseudo Luis Barragan architecture. The rooms were big, beds comfortable, and great shower water pressure. Good water pressure is important to me! My only 2 complaints were that the room needed a bit more light and that they didn’t have any extra electrical outlets, so I unplugged the mini fridge and plugged in my own extension cord. That’s another tip, bring an extension cord, especially if you need to plug in multiple items like computer, camera, phone, etc. I was so glad I did!
What to see in Guerrero Negro.
Grey Whale Migration – This is the #1 reason to visit between December and March. Book a tour with Mario’s Tours and eat your meals at their adjacent restaurant. Due to Covid the place was completely empty, and we felt safe and comfortable eating inside the giant palapa. Mario’s is very professional and educational. Safety is their #1 concern and I wouldn’t book anywhere else. They are also a local company and we always want to do our best to support local, especially during these times when their livelihood depends on tourism.
Mario's office and restaurant.
DunasDeLaSoledad (The Dunes of Solitude) – These beautiful sand dunes will make you feel like you're somewhere in the Sahara. Located to the right of the tiny Mulege airport, they can be easy to miss. We recommend you ask a local to guide you toward the airport. Also, if you don't have 4-wheel drive, please only drive as far as you think your car can handle the sand. We parked to the side of the dunes and walked about 5 minutes. Trust me, my compact car has been stuck in sand before and it was not fun.
The Salt Mines – Unfortunately, due to Covid, they were closed to the public but our guide from Mario’s Tours stopped to let us take some pics to the side of the road where they were visible.
We woke up at 6am as we booked the early whale watching tour with Mario’s Tours. The tour left at 8am but we needed to be there early for an explanation on safety and an educational lesson on the whales and the migration. We saw well over 15 grey whales but only 1 that got close to our boat. Nonetheless it was an amazing experience. One thing to note is that whale watching is like fishing, you have to be patient and look for the whales, they aren’t just waiting for you when you take off on the boat. Trust me, I’m probably the least patient person, not a good quality, but I’m a work in progress, and even I’ll say this was worth the wait.
What an experience with Mario's Tours looks like. Click video below.
After the tour, we ate lunch next door at Mario’s and got started on our 5-hour drive to Mulege.
Arrived in #Mulege around 5pm and headed straight to our lodging, Clementines, booked through Airbnb. We expected a 1-bedroom cottage but when we arrived we found out they gave us a free upgrade to a huge 2-bedroom cottage with a full kitchen, big bathroom, living room and outside patio. The place was spotless, and everything was comfortable. Dinner was just OK, from Jim’s Restaurant, a 2-block walk from the cottage. Again, it was totally empty. We drove back out to get some groceries and decided we would be cooking for most of the time there since we had a nice kitchen and also thought it would be safer and cheaper. One word of advice if you book this room, do not arrive at night. It can be a bit hard to find, although the owner will send you good directions. Driving down the small dirt road in the dark is not a good idea.
Day 4 – Mulege
It was so nice to not have to get up early today, as we decided to stay an extra night in Mulege. Upon waking up we went for a walk by the adjacent river and came back to cook breakfast in our pastel colored kitchen.
Mulege Must See
The reason to visit Mulege is for its amazing beaches along what is known as Bahia Conception. Just drive south toward Loreto and within 15 minutes you will start to see beautiful turquoise beaches in what is known as “El Mar de Cortez” , There are at least 5 beaches that you can easily find driving down one of the dirt roads that you’ll see along HWY 1. Two of our favorites were Playa El Requeson and Playa El Coyote. Some charge around $50 pesos to park, so make sure you have some pesos in cash. The beaches were pretty much completely empty. We may have seen a total of 3 people all day, other than that we had our own private turquoise water beaches. Social distancing was not even a factor. Thus, this is why I think right now might be the best time to be here. If you're a beach lover, we recommend you spend at least 2-3 days in Mulege.
Where to Eat: Across from Playa El Burro there's an outdoor restaurant called JC’s. The food is excellent! Once again, we had the entire place to ourselves, except for the shaggy dog sleeping under one of the tables. I recommend the oysters and the raw scallops. I really wanted a beer but due to Covid-19, Mexico’s dry law is in effect in a number of places on certain days and Saturday just happened to be one of these days.
Today we drove about 3 hours from Mulege to Loreto. The first hour of the drive is amazingly scenic as you have the breathtaking Sea of Cortez to the left of the driver’s seat. Drive slowly, as you’ll want to make a few stops for pictures along the way. The last half of the drive is mostly cacti and mountains until you reach Loreto.
Driving into the town of Loreto, as in past towns, felt like we were arriving in a ghost town. Not only has Covid shut down the town, but February also happens to be one the slowest months for tourism. I felt like my aunt and I were literally the only 2 people in the entire town.
We stopped at a market and grabbed a few items to cook at our Airbnb and also stopped for some fish and carne asada tacos at El Rey Del Taco. This is the spot for both fish and carne asada tacos, one taco equals 2 tacos. The tacos were so good, I forgot to take a photo of them!
After checking into our Airbnb, which by the way was right in the middle of the town, we took a stroll to the town square and checked out some shops. Again, it was kind of surreal that we were the only 2 people walking around, other than 2 kids riding their bikes in the town square.
The next day we booked for a trip with Loreto Sea and Land Tours to Isla Coronado, one of the islands surrounding the bay to do some snorkeling and visit the Loreto Bay National Marine Park. Loreto is definitely a destination for water lovers like myself. We hear the diving is world class and plan to come back to get certified.
Day 6 – Loreto
#1 Thing to do in Loreto:
Visit the Loreto Bay National Marine Park. We met our guide from Land and Sea at the board walk at 9am and boarded our boat to Isla Coronado. It was a bit of bumpy ride. I don’t recommend you look at your phone while the boat is moving. If you get seasick, like I did, you need to look at a point on the horizon (look at something that is not moving) and make sure you are seated in the direction that the boat is moving, not backwards like I was. About 25 minutes into our bumpy ride we were greeted by dolphins, not one or two but a school of dolphins happily swimming, many jumping around and giving us quite a show! Loreto is home to dolphins year around and you are almost guaranteed to see them.
What a beautiful beach this was, and the water wasn’t as cold, so I took a dip. We spent about a 3-4 hours enjoying the beach. The captain brought out some snacks, and we just chilled. A Loreto must see for sure!
Later that evening we went back out the main square, did a little shopping and grabbed some tacos at Asadero Super Burro. The carne asada tacos were delicious! The place was empty, so we decided to eat inside the semi-outdoor patio.
In case you are wondering about Covid protocols, they're much stricter here than in the US. Upon entry to just about any establish the 3 following are a must:
1. Wipe your feet on the antibacterial door mat
2. Temperature is taken
3. Anti-bacterial gel on the hands is required
4. And of course, social distancing from folks
We left Loreto at 7am. I wanted to be in La Paz by 12pm, as today the weather was expected to be 77 degrees, good enough for me to swim in the ocean, so I didn’t want to lose any of the good sun rays. Along the way to La Paz, we stopped for a quick bite at a random roadside taco stand that happen to have fish and scallop tacos and once again, I was in seafood heaven. Mexico has the best roadside food stands, often much better than a sit-down restaurant.
Arriving in La Paz around 12:30pm, I gave my aunt a short tour of the city. I’ve spent a lot of time in La Paz, as my husband and I were married there and have gotten to know the area pretty well.
I decided to drive to what is possibly in my top 3 of the world’s prettiest beaches, Playa Balandra. However, much to my disappointment, when we arrived, we were told due to
Covid, it was at capacity. They only allow 120 people inside per day and even if someone leaves, no new person can go in. The guard suggested I arrive at 5am the next day and wait in line, but I said no way, been there, done that, I have other beaches to see. So, we headed to Playa Tecolote, one of my favorite beaches for swimming in La Paz. This beach had more folks than any of the other beaches we'd been to, maybe 20 folks and they were all very spread out so social distancing was not a problem. PlayaTecolote is like swimming in one giant aqua colored pool!
If you only eat at one fine dining establishment in La Paz, make sure it's Las Tres Virgenes. They have a beautiful outdoor garden patio and once again, my aunt and I were the only ones there. It felt a little weird to have about 5 waiters just staring at us while we ate. Nonetheless we enjoyed every single bite!
Las Tres Virgenes
After dinner we took a walk in the neighborhood. La Paz is a walking city. You can walk to great restaurants, the Malecon (aka the beach front boardwalk), the town square, etc. I realized how much I miss living in a city where I can walk to just about anywhere.
La Paz – Day 8
Today was one of those days where we didn’t have to get up and drive anywhere and it was nice to just lay in bed. Because we were on our last leg of our trip, we splurge a little and got a nicer Airbnb. The apartment was located in the center of everything and were able to walk to just about anywhere in town. We were 3 blocks from one of my favorite coffee shops in La Paz, Doce Cuarenta. My suggestion, order a freshly baked cinnamon roll, big enough to share. We even took one-half home. Get there before 10am, otherwise it gets crowed. Lucky for us we got there at 8:30am and it was empty. It's also a great cafe to work.
Don't forget to take a stroll, La Paz has amazing murals.
I was very excited about today, as I'd planned to take a ride on a sea plane with Ocean Life Flights. What is a sea plane? It’s a small airplane that takes off and lands in the ocean. The plane only seats one, beside the pilot and is completely open, windowless.
This was one of the most fun activities I've ever tried. My now deceased father loved airplanes. As I rode up in the air, I thought about him and how much he would've enjoyed this ride. I definitely felt him watching over my shoulder. I felt free as a bird! I spent 30 minutes in the air, but I could've easily spent all day. The views were priceless and I will do it again!
La Paz – Day 9
Today I arranged to go swimming with whale sharks with Whale Shark Mexico. Although I've done this excursion on 3 other occasions, it’s always such an exciting experience. They're the biggest sharks in the world, which is why they're called whale sharks, but they're really gentle giants who are vegans.
I had a wonderful female guide, Fatima, who helped me navigate my way around the shark, as the person swimming in front of me kept making too many water bubbles with their fins and made it hard to see. The area regulates the amount of people and time spent in the water with the sharks. We were lucky and got to do 5-6 jumps, 3 of which I had excellent visibility of the whale shark.
Fatima is the best guide.
Chasing whale sharks wiped me out! You have to be a decent swimmer, as the sharks move fast and you want to be able to keep up with them to get a good view. It’s an excellent workout and you'll certainly feel it afterwards.
After such an active morning, the rest of the day was spent sunbathing on the beach. We ordered ceviche takeout from El Molinito, and found a small off the beaten path beach about a 20-minute drive from the town center. You need to drive to get to the beaches in La Paz and I highly recommend you rent a car when flying in. Local taxis, buses will drive you there but having a car lets you explore so much more territory. So rent the car even if only for a day or two, your experience will be a lot better!
Last day in La Paz. Today we decided to do some shopping and head to the picturesque town of Todos Santos, 1 hour and 15-minute drive south of La Paz.
The first time I visited Todos Santos, a few years back, I left like I'd discovered one of Mexico’s best kept secrets. However, it seems that the secret is out and therefore I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the town. As a lover of art, I love all of the art galleries and artists vibes. Although these days, it seems that the galleries have less of an indie artist feel and more of a commercial vibe, selling pieces reminiscent of something you’d purchase at a pricey NY gallery. The same can be said for many of the shops and restaurants. Tourist buses from nearby Cabo drop off bus loads of folks and are changing the vibe of the town. I was also very disappointed to see a number of mainly Caucasian tourists walking around without their masks on (this warrants an entire separate blog post). I did say something to them and a few of them put their masks on and some just ignored me.
Nonetheless, it's still a very picturesque town worth visiting. So, if you visit, I suggest the following:
Please support the local Mexican owned business not the fancy boutiques often run by foreigners. When in doubt, ask.
Whenever possible, do your best to buy directly from the artists.
Walk a few extra blocks outside of the main touristy zone to find a local spot to eat. The food will often be much better and less expensive. Alma and Manny's was a great find recommended by a local. Chile relleno
Avoid the weekends and visit on a weekday.
Grab some ice cream from Neveria La Paloma
End. your day with coffee at Doce Cuarenta Todos Santos.
It being our last night in La Paz, we treated ourselves to some fine dinning at El Cardon Restaurant. So why am I talking about fine dinning when I just preached about supporting small local businesses? Well, the key to our travels is combining high and low, it's about balance. We do the best to support small local business, love street food, shop small whenever possible, but it's also OK to enjoy upscale dinning and upscale dinning can also be a locally owned business.
Day 10 –North bound– La Paz to Loreto (4.5 Hours)
Today we started our return back home. The plan was to get home in 4 days, averaging about 5-7 hours of driving per day.
Here are our some recommendations for places to hit on your way up north.
Stop at the viewpoint in Loreto, right off the highway and grab a cold coconut.
· Beach stop at Playa Juncalito in Loreto.
· Check in at Hotel 1687 literally in the town square.
Day 11 - Loreto to Guerrero Negro (6 Hours)
Left Loreto at 9am
Stopped for a quick last look at these amazing beaches. Playa Los Cocos, another good option in Mulege.
· Obligatory last beach stop at Playa Requeson also in Mulege.
Lunch stop at the French mining town of Santa Rosalia with a stop at their famous bakery El Boleo, named after the French company El Boleo who established the town in 1884 and exploited the local copper mines.
Grab lunch at El Muelle, around the corner from El Boleo. The steak from Sonora is excellent.
The influence of the French can be seen in the architecture of the entire town, giving it the feel of an old film set.
Finally arriving at 6pm, we checked into the Halfway Inn in Guerrero Negro for a good night’s rest.
Grab roadside breakfast at Restaurante El Rey, about 90 minutes south of Guerrero Negro, right side of the road.
Stop to appreciate the beauty of the desert on your way to San Quintin.
San Quintin is a small coastal agricultural town. It was also very dusty, as you will notice along the main road. We hear there are some nice beaches and also good bird watching but we simply used it as a place to get some rest after the long ride.
Check in at Hotel Jardines Baja. Upon driving up, you will enter a lush green paradise. We were the only ones there and felt as if we had paradise all to ourselves.
The hotel has orange and lemon groves for their guests to enjoy.
And our favorite part, the chirping hummingbirds singing all day long.
Dine at Eucalipto Restaurant next to the Old Mill Hotel and after dinner walk around the small pier and watch the local fishermen.
Wondering what whale bones look like.
Day 13 – San Quintin to San Diego (4.5 hours)
Last day of our 2-week journey.
Breakfast at La Moreliana Burritos. As you get back on Hwy 1 they'll be on your left hand side on the main strip of the town, grab 2 as they're pretty small. I recommend the chorizo with potato and the chile relleno burrito.Tortillas are freshly made before your eyes.
Caffeine break in Ensenada. Also a great pit stop for rest, gas, lunch. All services available
Returned car and used ladies room, as the wait at the border can be brutal.
My mom picked us up at the car drop off and headed to the border crossing for a 3 hour wait.
Things are changing daily, but as I write this post, you'll most likely still,
Have most beaches, restaurants and other tourist attractions all to yourself.
Experience that social distancing is easier with fewer tourists.
Save money on lodgings and sightseeing tours, as prices remain low.
Have zero traffic
Appreciate the quiet and stillness of Baja even more.
Feel safer, as Covid-19 protocols in public spaces are much stricter in Baja than in the U.S.
Support communities who's livelihood depends on tourism.
As all good things come to an end, we've reached the end. I hope you've enjoyed this journey and consider why this may be a very good time for a road trip to Baja.
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