Beach Camping in Mexico's Baja California
Beautiful Baja: Where the Desert and Sky meet the Sea
Winter hits the North American Continent and for a lot of people that means cold, stormy weather. This is the height of a mass exodus as fair-skinned Americans and Canadians make an annual migration to the warm and sunny beaches of Mexico.
Mexico is a premier destination for all kinds of travelers. The mainland and the Baja peninsula are dotted with world-class all inclusive resorts that cater to the masses who have earned their annual two-week vacation. As the gringos begin to hit the airports and fill the four and five-star hotels along the coast, another type of tourist is driving down the interior seeking a different type of holiday.
Since the construction of the trans-peninsular highway, travel in Baja has improved considerably. Even in the day when travel to Los Cabos included a long haul down a dirt road, people have been coming to Mexico's Baja peninsula in search of sandy beaches, cheap cervezas, and the ubiquitous fish taco.
RVs are king in Baja, but they aren't for everyone
One way to see the vast and varied landscape of Baja California is by driving your recreational vehicle to a campground. There are hundreds of campgrounds in Baja that cater to the giant 'homes on wheels', however; there are as many disadvantages as there are advantages to these large vehicles. Sure it must be nice to carry a fully-equipped kitchen with you, as well as have your toilet available in times of need. The truth is, the larger your RV, the more difficult it is to travel safely down the narrow highway and the harder it is to find secluded beaches that are perfect for camping.
There are numerous beaches in Baja that can accommodate RVs. From the beaches of Ensenada to the luxurious RV parks near Cabo San Lucas, finding a place to stay with water and electrical hook-ups isn't too difficult. Referring to a good guide book is an absolute must. Mike and Terri Church have extensive experience in traveling by RV, and Mexico is a specialty of theirs. See Traveler's Guide To Camping Mexico's Baja for a detailed suggested itinerary.
For a more intimate experience with the desert, beaches and sea I recommend dry camping in a small camper or tent. Oh, the places you can go! Without the large dimensions of a recreational vehicle, you open the door to adventure, more secluded camping and a completely different experience.
Finding the Right Beach
The 1,076 mile trans-peninsula highway known as Mex1 will take you from the border towns near California and Arizona to the tip of the Cape in Cabo San Lucas. Along the way you will encounter many towns and villages. These are great places to explore as well as stock up on needed items for your adventure. From the Mex1 you will find roads that lead toward the Sea of Cortez on the Eastern coast of Baja and to the Pacific Ocean on the West coast.
Many of these roads are difficult to drive without 4-wheel drive, but they can take you to destinations you never thought you'd see. Road conditions change rapidly in the Baja: a decent road one year may be nothing more than a burro track the next. It's important to find someone who is knowledgeable about the route you plan to take who can give you guidance. As well, you should be adequately stocked with food, water and fuel before you commence your off-road excursion. I have found that roads less traveled don't necessarily mean that the road is in poor condition; often it means that you will encounter a place that few people go. There are miles and miles of untouched splendor to be found on the coast beaches of Baja.
A recent and detailed map of the peninsula is a must. As well, you might consider investing in a GPS device to aid in your off-road travels. There are a wealth of resources available to those looking for the perfect beach. Some beaches are found as you cruise along the highway; you can spy their perfect crescents below the rocky cliffs that barely contain the highway. As well, it is interesting to note that access to the water must be made available by Government mandate; you can follow an arroyo or dry river bed to the sea in almost all instances. This by far is the best way to find the most secluded beaches.
Guide books to read
What are the dangers?
The news media reports on activity within the mainland of Mexico as well as Baja. Stories of tourists as well as locals being victims of violence is hard to ignore. Tourists are well-received in the smaller towns away from the border, and the Mexican people are predominantly friendly. Recently I spent three months traveling the Baja peninsula and experienced no violence, no threat of violence and the only issue I had was with several American's dogs urinating in my camp. There is a wide military presence in place due to America's war on drugs, and military check points dot the highway with random variance. At first it is a bit intimidating, seeing young Mexican Military personnel with their automatic weapons and fingers resting on the triggers. They are mostly friendly and are just doing their job. Make it easier for yourself by not smuggling weapons or drugs across any border.
I cannot comment on the threat of banditos; those random people who would threaten tourists and steal from them. I encountered none of that, although I imagine that the incidents of robbery is likely higher in the tourist towns. As a beach camper, I was usually far from tourist destinations.
Local and Federal police are looking for people who break the laws. Stay within the boundaries of the law, and your trip will be much more enjoyable. Mexico is ruled by Napoleonic law which states that you are guilty until proven innocent. With that knowledge, it is best to obey all known laws, especially since the laws can be interpreted as the officer sees fit. Enforcement varies. Just be a "good" tourist.
Wild animals are another subject of danger. As with most camping, it is wise to not leave food out as doing so will encourage coyotes and wild cats into your camp on a regular basis. These creatures appear to be quite shy and didn't make regular appearances in our camp. As far as insects, scorpions and reptiles go, being safe is achieved by using common sense. In winter, the temperatures are relatively cooler, and the snakes aren't as active as in the summer months. That being said, it is wise to wear boots and long pants while hiking, as well as being aware of where you place your feet. Avoiding stepping on a snake is the best defense against attack. Scorpions are opportunists and will hide in your shoes and clothing if left available to them. It is a good idea to pack your clothes and shoes away each night and check your tent on a regular basis. An interesting note about scorpions: their exoskeleton contains a cuticle that helps them retain moisture. This cuticle glows bright fluorescent green under black light. Invest in a hand held black light and at night you can look in the trees, logs and firewood for the creatures. A fascinating look at nature!
Few people have traveled to Mexico without experiencing diarrhea, also known as Montezuma's Revenge. It sounds obvious, but don't drink the water. Buy and drink only purified water which is available in most larger towns. Also, peel your fruit and veggies or soak them in a solution of diluted bleach or iodine. It is simple to take the steps necessary to ensure good health, but sometimes even the most conscientious people may get sick. In that case, drink plenty of fluids to combat dehydration, and consider homeopathic remedies such as grapefruit seed extract, psyllium powder and raw garlic.
Have a great time!
Any time is a good time to go to Baja California. The excellent beaches, cheap food, warm climate and friendly people are waiting for you. What are you waiting for?
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