baja california norte by jeep
April 18, 2017
One of the first of many road trips I have taken was from San Francisco to Baja California, Mexico, about 12 hours each way, several years ago now. I had just gotten my very first camera of my own, which arrived in the mail the day before we left, and I could not wait to use it. Granted, I had no idea how, but I figured it out and did my best. So with that, Greg and I headed south of the border by way of Tecate, and arrived in Ensenada just as the sun set.
The next day, we each got a Forma Migratoria Múltiple, which is required to travel outside the border zone, south of Ensenada. Then we headed out to La Bufadora, which turned out to be a disappointing geyser in an overwhelmingly touristy area, but with a beautiful drive to get there.
On the way back to Ensenada, we stopped in a village called La Salina, and met a bunch of ex-pats from the States who told us about retired life there over some beers at the Cantina. And you better believe we ate the best fish tacos we’ve ever eaten at a roadside stand. The best.
We had intentions of driving across the peninsula the next day, over to San Felipe, a small fishing village on the eastern coast of Baja we’d heard about. But then, as often happens when we travel, our plans changed. It was somewhere between tequilas that evening that we decided we were having way too much fun in Ensenada to leave—so we stayed. We bar hopped, met people, and followed each bartender’s suggestion of where to go next.
The following day we explored the western coast of Baja, ate many more tacos, and spent time trying to get a feel for where we were. There was something magical about it, a unique kind of beauty in its simplicity and humility. A roadside mechanic reading the Bible next to his camper/business. A man selling burritos under a tent. Run down storefronts and streets, still bursting with vibrant color.
We drove down about 10 miles or so of dirt road, following hand painted signs in search of some hot springs we’d read about in San Carlos. We drove through massive puddles of mud in the Wrangler, and only passed a few other cars, but wondered how they had made it without higher clearance and 4×4. Then, just as the sun set, and we began to wonder if there really were any hot springs at all—there they were. We half expected a bunch of tourists overcrowding the place, but we were the only ones, along with a dozen or so locals. It was perfect.
We got up the next day to get a start on the long road home, and stopped at Rosarito Beach en route to cross back over at Tijuana. We rode horses on the beach, led by young boys, and sat on the shore while vendors came by with everything you might possibly want to buy. We used up our pesos and went on our way to a very different border crossing experience than we’d had in Tecate, where you just drive over and wait for a red or green light to let you know whether you need to stop or not. Tijuana was a bit more overwhelming, to say the least. There is however the added pleasure of passing by one of the largest Jesus statues in the world, so that was pretty impressive.
Baja is one of those places you can go for a couple of days or get purposely lost in for a couple of months. It has so much to offer, and everyone there is so happy to see you. Locals explained that the tourism industry there is struggling to combat the fear that gringos, as they call us, have been led to associate with Mexico. All I can tell you is that in my experience there, I met only wonderful, welcoming people, and drove some of the most beautiful roads I have traveled—and I have been down quite a few. I can’t wait to go back and drive the whole peninsula—but the little slice of Baja Norte I did get to explore was nothing short of amazing.