Escapar a la Baja, an Overlanding and Vanlife Meetup
Baja season is approaching quickly, and for those heading south of the US border this winter, you’ll definitely want to check out Escapar A La Baja Tres. This weekend-long vanlife and overlanding rendezvous at Playa El Tecolote (just 30 minutes outside La Paz) is scheduled for February 4-6, but it’s not your typical meetup. Instead of just being an attendee, use your creativity to offer a truly unique experience for your fellow travelers.
“We encourage attendees and caravans to be interactive: make a happy hour, teach windsurfing, crank up the music, [have] a yard sale, or host a morning yoga session…”
I’ve never been to Baja, but I certainly understand the appeal of relaxing on the beach and exploring the remote sandy tracks. I wanted to learn more about Escapar and what to expect on my first trip to Baja California Sur, so I caught up with Josiah Roe, one of the event founders and organizers, to ask some questions.
Josiah Roe on Campervans and Overland Travel In Baja California Sur
When did you first travel to Baja?
I went down a couple of times when I was younger, during high school and college, but that was just dipping my toes in and doing a little bit more of the tourist thing. But the second trip I wanted to go a little bit farther south, down to Ensenada—and this was Ensenada 20 years ago. I remember going south of town and hitting a taco stand on the beach and getting a sense that this is not like where I am from; this is absolutely magical and wonderful.
I climbed the road up to the top of a nearby hill, looked down the coastline, and thought, that goes another thousand miles; I need to see what’s out there.
About six years ago, the holidays were coming, and I tend to travel during that time of year. I had recently gotten [my Westfalia], and I’d always had this idea that I’d buy a vehicle that I could do the Pan-American [Highway] with, so the idea of going to Baja was part of that greater project.
What’s it like going farther south, past the typical day-trip spots?
I went down the Sea of Cortez side, I wanted to skip all the Tijuana stuff, and I remember getting into San Felipe, kind of the first town on the Northern end of the Gulf of California. The farther south you go, the more [the landscape] opens up. There are massive towering sand dunes spilling across the highway down to the ocean. Suddenly there are no homes or buildings, and it feels enormous, kind of like crossing Nevada on the 50, except this is in the middle of the ocean with bright blue water and towering cliffs and huge cacti everywhere.
Cell service goes away, and you’ll encounter highway washouts if there have been [heavy] rains the year before, and you’ll have to navigate around them. It’s empty and beautiful. There’s a moment when you go down Highway 5 south of San Felipe near Puerto Citos—it gets everyone. New folks [who are visiting for their first time] will stop, an enormous grin on their faces because it’s just so beautiful.
Is it easy to find places to camp in Baja?
The beaches are all public, and you can stay wherever you want; it’s vanlife and overlanding perfection in my book. I’ve yet to find another place like it anywhere in the world. And every time I go, I see things I’ve missed on previous trips.
There’s always a new side road or valley to explore, and you’ll meet other travelers that tell you about some beach they found down some crazy wash. There are some precautions that you’ll want to take when you head down, but once you figure out the details, there is so much you can do, even in a [low-clearance passenger car].
So this will be the third time you’re organizing the Escapar a la Baja event?
Yes. The last two have been small; we expect this one to be pretty large.
Because Baja is a peninsula, once you get far enough south, the highways come together, and it becomes a funnel for everyone traveling south. As you meet people, it’s easy to meet up again down the road as you continue south. Some folks you really connect with and end up caravanning together.
That was the genesis of the event. Once we had 15 vans on the beach, we thought, why don’t we call this something and have more people show up. Each year it has grown. Every day we’ve been getting a handful of additional RSVPs, and it’s looking like this year will be a big fun year in Baja.
Escapar is a different kind of vanlife and overlanding event, right?
We’re providing what we feel is a responsible amount of infrastructure for the location, so we’re getting toilets, trash collection, and we’ll organize some food trucks. Additionally, we may have some potable water just in case, although it’s not necessary because there are places to find that out there.
The nice thing about Baja and with this event is that you’ve got to be the type of person who’s willing to make the two-day drive down to where we’re [beginning]. It tends to select for more self-sufficient, on-top-of-it adventurous folks. It’s not a show pony show; other events closer to the border provide that type of experience. Escapar is for folks who want an adventure, who like to explore, and who want to hang out with other travelers from around the world.
If someone’s never been to Baja and they want to attend Escapar, what should they expect?
Be prepared to deal with your own initial unease at traveling in a country that has been the target of ridiculous nonsensical media [campiagns], and racist, xenophobic messaging about it being unsafe. Now, I’m not going to say that when you cross the border into Mexicali or Tijuana that it doesn’t feel intense because of all that border pressure, because that’s very real. And that’s where you might get shaken down by random federales for $20, but that’s the extent of what you’ve got to worry about.
If you are traveling in a vehicle with limited range, definitely be aware of where your fuel is at. There’s one little gap between Gonzaga Bay and Guerrero Negrowhere there’s no fuel; other than that, you’re on a paved road the entire way with hotels and free camping everywhere.
If you decide to leave the pavement, take a shovel, bring some MaxTrax, and understand the value of airing down your tires. An extra 5 gallons of gas will give you much more peace of mind. But the Baja locals are all extremely kind and competent; they can fix anything. When it comes to mechanical repairs, you should be fine.
5 Pieces of Essential Gear to Bring on your Baja Trip
For anyone that is planning to make the journey to Baja, here is a quick and dirty list of five essential pieces of gear that I’d recommend bringing:
- Insurance – I’ve worked with Baja Bound before and they are a great option worth exploring.
- Baja Maps from Benchmark – these maps are detailed and glorious.
- 5 Gallon Jerrycan of fuel – a pretty cheap insurance policy.
- Potable Water – Just like the extra fuel, bring extra potable water (and a filter in case you run out).
- Shovel – Chances are good that you’ll need to dig yourself or a friend out of the sand at some point. I really like the DMOS Delta shovel for this task.
** Extra credit: A Soundboks will help you throw a proper party on the beach.
The third annual (and free) Escapar a la Baja vanlife and overlanding rendezvous will be held, pending travel restrictions, at Playa El Tecolote on February 4-6, 2022. Learn more about the event at escaparalabaja.com.
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