Jewels of the South Baja California Highway
The Baja Peninsula: A truly unforgetable areaClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Baja Peninsula is Very Special
The nearly 1000 k journey by road from San Diego in the United States to Cabo San Lucas, in the extreme south of the Baja Peninsula, is a long, hot and wearying trek, relieved by few places worth a stop.
Because of this, many die-hards make the trip in one exhausting leg, and arrive nearly dead - often really dead - at their destination after a 20-hour road-race. (Literally scores of people have been killed on this road since it opened - metalled - in the 1970’s)
Driving anywhere in Mexico is not for the faint-hearted. The Baja main and only artery - Highway 1 - taxes the most mature and experienced drivers: it has little or no shoulders for much of the way; potholes and often rocks left on the surface by kids using them as goal posts. Few Pemex service stations and petty rip-offs with change and the amount of gas you get in the ones you do find. These days, large trucks hurtle along, expecting you to get out of the way, even if there is nowhere to “get” to. Overtaking them and convoys of travel trailers is irksome, to say the least. We won’t mention nightime hazards, because no sane Gringo drives after dark anywhere in the Republic, except large city streets, and then with caution.
Your best bet is to drive down all of Baja Norte (north) in one day, staying in Guerro Negro, on the north/south Baja border. There are motels and restaurants there; famous for whale and bird-watching.
South Baja California.
You can keep the northern half of the Peninsula, as far as I am concerned. The strip between Ensenada and the US border is OK, with the fleshpots of Tijuana available. Many Americans live here, mainly just south of Ensenada and around Rosarita. The discerning, who don’t need the convenience of the States on their doorstep, usually choose to live in the “south of the south,” in the Cabos, La Paz, or Mulege.
The first little oasis and a peaceful place to visit, overnight and even take a swim - water being at a premium anywhere in this desert region, is San Ignacio.
Here, you can take a trip to see the famous Painted Caves,” or head back west to Laguna San Ignacio, to see the whales. The mission in San Ignacio is the best example of the Jesuit churches. The walls are four feet thick and there is a charming, ornate exterior, much added by the Dominicans some years after the initial construction.
There is a wonderful, shady zocolo (square) here, the sun kept at bay by huge Indian Laurel Trees, shading the only small shops in town.
As you enter from the highway, you will pass some small bodies of water to your left: these are permanent lakes, fed by water underground from the three volcanoes to the north. The water is quite clean enough for a refreshing dip. The whole town is planted with thousands of date palms which add a tropical feel. Nothing at all to do, and that’s the beauty of San Ignacio.
From here, you head on south east and then south, through Santa Rosalia - a strange little boat-shaped town, and the ferry port to the mainland, which is sometimes open; sometimes not. You might want to have a nose around what was one of the largest copper mines in the world 100 years ago: if not, saddle-up and head down to my next jewel of the journey, Mulege.
Mulege, as the scores of Americans and Canadians who live their or visit every year, is a special place. A genuine oasis it is, with the only real “river” in the south, the Rio Mulege (or Rio Santa Rosalia). The stream is fed with fresh water from the mountains to the west; the town end ebbs and flows with the tides.
You feel as if you are well into the tropics here, although there is actually another 400 k to go before entering the Tropic of Cancer, just past Los Barriles. The atmosphere is engendered by persistent heat and the thousands of date palms, as well as the laid-back life of residents whom bring to mind ex pats in some Indian or African equatorial enclave.
Conception Bay (Bahia Conception). This long and calm inlet leading south from Mulege for more than 22 k is one of Mexico’s largest bays and its tranquil beauty is mind-blowing. A mini-paradise for boaters, snorkelers, fishermen and campers, the Bay is home to snowbirds every year who enjoy it’s almost free facilities and permanent sunshine.
For a really out-of-the-way spot, head around the southern end of Conception and up the seaside arm of the bay, on either side. You will probably not see another soul; roads are rough and unfinished.
From Mulege, on to La Paz, the lovely and relaxed capital of South Baja, California, and further south to laid-back San Jose de Cabo and hedonistic Cabo San Lucas.
This author lived in La Paz for 5 years (In Mexico for another ten). Not a day goes by that I don’t sigh for Baja and wish I was back. Take a trip and you’ll see why.
North Baja. A reader accused me - rightly - of discounting North Baja in this small article. I admit to that, and it wasn't fair of me really, as this area has its own wonders which are worth visiting. I just don't know the North well, and should have said so. I stand corrected...Bob