Perched on the edge of the Bahía de Todos Santos, 100km south of Tijuana, the attractive port of ENSENADA is far calmer, cheaper and smaller than its northern rival, making for an inviting pit-stop and jumping-off point for the wineries to the east. Like Tijuana, Ensenada is a relatively recent creation by Mexican standards, despite being officially “founded” (ie discovered by the Spanish) in 1542; nothing much happened until 1872, when gold was unearthed in nearby Real de Castillo. Ensenada was gradually developed as a port, the modern town effectively planned and developed by American investor George H. Sisson and the British-owned Mexican Land & Colonization Co in the 1880s. The town remained a backwater, however, with tourism and modern development only taking off in the 1950s. Note that US cruise excursions to Ensenada are booming, so be prepared for crowds on days that ships are in port (mainly during the summer months).
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While you're here, don't miss the Mercado de Mariscos (aka Mercado Negro) at the northwest end of the Malecón, where you'll find numerous stalls selling the day’s catches. The diversity of what’s on display – from squirming eel and smoked fish to giant abalone – is impressive, and it’s a good place to try the town’s lauded fish tacos, which were supposedly invented in Ensenada and have been served at the market since it opened in 1958.
Valle de Guadalupe
The vineyards of the Valle de Guadalupe, just east of Ensenada, are not quite Napa Valley standard, but the region is clearly on the right track, as illustrated by growing international acclaim and the pioneering work of French-trained winemaker Hugo d’Acosta since the 1990s. Though you can show up at the major wineries without a reservation, it is best to call vineyards before visiting, especially if you’re coming in the warmer months (July–Sept). The villages of San Antonio de las Minas in the southwest and Francisco Zarco and El Porvenir in the northeast are the centres of the valley’s production.
Baja wines: five of the best
Once derided for watery grapes and poor vintage, Baja wines have gathered a loyal following since the late 1990s thanks to small-production, high-quality boutique wines. These are five of the best:
- Vino de Piedra, Casa de Piedra Tones of black fruit lace this blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Viñas de Camou, Château Camou Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
- Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Monte Xanic Smooth, dark-red wine with a peppery aroma.
- Special Reserve Chardonnay, Château Camou One of the best white wines in the valley.
- Gabriel, Adobe Guadalupe Another exquisite red-wine blend (55 percent Merlot), produced by Hugo d’Acosta.