Graced with tantalizing desert landscapes, lush oases and rich marine life, Baja California is one of the most compelling and popular destinations in Mexico. Its human history is no less enticing, with a legacy of remote cave paintings, crumbling Spanish missions, top-notch beach resorts and fabulous seafood. Yet even today, Baja maintains a palpable air of isolation from the rest of Mexico. Much of this remoteness can be attributed to geographical factors: the peninsula lies over 1300 kilometres west of Mexico City, and the sheer distances involved in traversing its length – it’s over 1700 kilometres long – are not conducive to quick exploration.
Baja was virtually ignored by the Spanish until 1697, when Jesuit missionaries under Juan María de Salvatierra began the painstaking process of establishing isolated churches across the peninsula. By 1840, the indigenous population was virtually extinct thanks to disease, and Baja remained a desolate place well into the twentieth century. Popularized by American adventurers in the 1940s (author John Steinbeck among them), Baja underwent sluggish development until the completion of the Transpeninsular Highway (Hwy-1) in 1973, the first paved road connecting the north and south. Since then development in its two states –and Baja California Sur – has largely been restricted to the areas that lie within easy reach of southern California and to Los Cabos, but you need to explore the interior to experience the peninsula at its most captivating.
Between December and April, visitors flock to the peninsula’s west coast, near Guerrero Negro, to witness hordes of whales congregating to calve. Further south, you’ll find turquoise waters and white-sand beaches; most coastal towns in Baja California Sur offer fantastic opportunities for diving, fishing and kayaking, but Loreto, La Paz and the remote settlements on the East Cape are the standouts among them. Right at the end of the peninsula, a booming resort industry in Los Cabos attracts crowds that fly in for week-long stays at self-contained hotels.
If you’re entering Mexico from California with the intention of heading to the rest of the country, there’s a straightforward choice of routes: down from Tijuana through the Baja peninsula on Hwy-1 and onwards by ferry from La Paz or Santa Rosalía; or sticking to the mainland via Hwy-2 and Hwy-15. If travelling by car, Baja’s Hwy-1 is generally safer and less busy, and the narrow strip of land that it traverses ranks as one of Mexico’s most beautiful drives.Read More
The Transpeninsular Highway (Hwy-1)
The Transpeninsular Highway (Hwy-1)
The Transpeninsular Highway stands as one of North America’s last great road trips. Part of the thrill comes from the long spaces separating major towns, the narrow segments of highway that snake along precarious cliffsides and the animals and washouts that can block the road. But the biggest draw is the near-constant beauty of the desert, mountain, sea and ocean vistas and their illumination by brilliant blue skies and starry nights. The times below include necessary stops for petrol and army inspections; all cars and buses are searched at military checkpoints stationed between Tijuana and Ensenada (2); north of El Rosario; north of Guerrero Negro; north of San Ignacio; and north of La Paz.
(week before Lent; variable Feb–March). Celebrated with particular gusto in La Paz and Ensenada.
Fiesta de San José
(March 19). Saint’s day celebrations in San José del Cabo with horse races, cockfights and fireworks.
(Sept 16). Celebrated everywhere. Tijuana has horse and motor races, mariachi, dancing, gambling and fireworks, as does Ensenada.