Viva Baja! First Timer's Baja Impressions


Don’t go!
The drug cartels are having territory grabs and wars.
Mexico has the highest per capita murder rate.
Did you read last week about the tourists killed in a bar shootout?
You’ll step on a manta ray or be attacked by killer squids.

Etc. Etc.

On the other hand, friends who recently went to Baja and recent trip reports indicate that it is no more dangerous/safe than most other possible trips in North America, provided you exercise a little bit of common sense and do some basic research on what and where to avoid.

After Laurie and I started considering a Baja trip--and I read about all the interesting places and history and checked reports from travelers who had good experiences and saw photos of all the beautiful spots--we decided that the time was right. Given our recreational pursuit of remote travel and camping, it has been bugging me for the past few years to know that Baja is right on my doorstep, and the longer I wait, the more crowded, paved, and restricted it will become.

The trip turned out well.
Angry sea at Gonzaga Bay

Exploring San Ignacio (quaint little town in Baja Sur)

Beach camping on Bahía Concepción

Low tide at Ojo de Liebre Lagoon

Whale watching (and jelly fish gathering) on Ojo de Liebre Lagoon

Hot tub campsite at Canon de Gaudalupe
Background and Planning
Laurie and I usually take a camping trip over the New Year's break. Warmer is better, so, after weighing concerns, we decided that 2019 would be the year to ring in the new year in Baja. As a nice coincidence, the “Retired Old Farts,” an ad hoc group that does off-road adventures, posted about a Baja trip for the 2019 New Year. We thought it would be good to go with a group for our first trip, so we signed up. Even though we’re not retired, we met the “old” criterion, so I guess that makes us NYROFs (Not Yet Retired Old Farts). The ROF trip was going to be a multi-month escape. Unfortunately, as a NRYROF, I had only 11 days of vacation. So we would travel with the group on the way down and then split off by ourselves for the return.

Trip Participants
We were also fortunate that the guy planning the trip (Ace) has multiple trips to Baja (this was his 10th trip, going back to 1970) and even participated in early versions of the Baja race. Ace was very helpful in preparation hints (border crossing strategy, tent selection, Baja travel do’s and don’ts, etc.) and route planning. To my mind, we had the best kind of leader: the reluctant kind who just wants a good trip and works well with everybody to make that happen.

Our fearless leader, Ace, with his faithful sidekick Kenda the dog inside the vehicle

In addition to Ace, only one other couple joined the trip--Jeff and Wendy, and their dog Kuiper. They also have lots of Baja and offroad experience--they were doing “adventure” motorcycle trips before it was a thing--and we had many enjoyable conversations about their many overland adventures in Mexico and points further south.

Jeff, Wendy, and Kuiper at Gonzaga Bay

Personally, a large part of the attraction of remote camping is solitude, so we were pleased with the small group. We all got along well, and it was great to make new friends.

The Trip Part I: Travelling South With the Group
I’m sure our experience pales in comparison to the not too distant past when there were far fewer paved roads, but we still found lots of remote, unspoiled beaches, beautiful sea vistas, quaint small towns, helpful locals, good deals, and great times. Here are some of the highlights from the portion of the trip with the group.

We all met in El Centro, CA, for dinner the evening before we departed, and it was a great start to the trip--getting to know each other over good food and a couple beers.

Blast off! Meet-up in El Centro in the morning - everybody on time and heading to the border

The good news was that there was no wait at all for the border crossing. The bad news was that we inadvertently got into the “declarations” line and then all stuck together, so between that and getting the tourist visa, it took us a good hour to get through the border crossing.

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After navigating through the big city of Mexicali with only a few wrong turns, we were heading south on MX 5 toward San Felipe. The city transitioned to natural landscape, and it was interesting to see the delta turn into open, blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. Ace suggested camping at Pete’s Camp near San Felipe. We set up camp on the beach and enjoyed a nice campfire and went to sleep with a fabulous display of stars and the milky way and sound of waves on the beach.

San Felipe sunrise

Jeff and Ace setting up camp at Pete's Camp

It’s hard to get early starts this time of year, when the sun rises after 7 a.m., and nobody was hardcore about early starts, but when camping, you get up with the sun, and on travel days, we usually got on the road by mid-morning at the latest.

I understand that the road south of San Felipe was paved only recently. We experienced the best of roads and the worst of roads, due to washouts caused by last winter’s hurricane and torrential rains.

Beautiful road skirting the Sea of Cortez

Many washed out bridges, where we had to divert into the wash
Winds were pretty much a constant factor for our entire trip, and Jeff and Wendy recalled camping at Papa Fernandez, at Gonzaga Bay, where high dunes provided some wind break, so we camped there our second night.

Cold and windy but beautiful scenery

Sunrise at Gonzaga Bay

Past Gonzaga Bay, the pavement mostly ended as we continued south. There’s grading work being done to extend the highway, but I understand that it’s progressing slowly, and I’m sure the hurricane damage slowed things further. Personally, I was glad when the pavement ended. Our route took us past Coco’s Corner of Baja 1000 fame, and we stopped in for a beer and signed Coco’s register. The building interior is decorated with off-road stickers, and I gave Coco a Land Rover 75th Anniversary patch. As we left, he was affixing it to cardboard to go on the wall. It was nice to take a break from the dusty, windy trail and chat with other adventurers.

Group shot at Coco's Corner

With the howling wind and slow going on the trails, we decided to head into Guerro Negro, where the experienced members of our group knew of a nice motel/RV park. The 2 couples got motel rooms while Ace got an RV spot and stayed in his trailer. We all enjoyed a warm, non-windy dinner together in the motel restaurant. The rooms were cheap, clean, and nice. Showers were great (at least the other members of the group were glad that I took a shower)! Our room didn’t have any heat, so I brought our Little Buddy heater in to break the chill getting ready for bed and in the morning.
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After the motel stay, we continued south and east, crossing from the Pacific side of Baja to Bahía Concepción on the Sea of Cortez side. It was gradual, but it struck me today that we were in authentic Baja - not touristy stuff. The little towns had that authentic feel. We stopped at old mission town of San Ignacio. We arrived on a Sunday morning, and it was interesting to see the church packed.

The town square opens to the Mission

Church is letting out - note the bell rope

Hewn rock paver steps

Beautiful interior--it seemed there was a christening, and family and friends were taking pictures with the baby

Continuing to the Sea of Cortez, we next stopped at Santa Rosalio, which was established as a mining town by a French owned company. The French influence is evident with a church designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) and a good French bakery.

The Santa Rosalia church was built in 1895

The Eiffel church was built as a prefab in France and transported to Santa Rosalio

French bakery with a cool old VW bug

After that, it was a pretty drive along the sea to our campsite - a beautiful location where Ace had stayed previously on Bahía Concepción. The group planned to stay here for a number of days.

The winds stayed strong, but we set up camp to minimize the effect and enjoyed the beauty of the bay. And we enjoyed crystal clear nights with a fabulous star displays! There’s no “light pollution” on Bahía Concepción.

Not a bad place to spend a few days--or weeks

The year 2018 gave one last nice day. The winds died and the day warmed up! The entire group paddled to a nearby restaurant/bar for lunch. Then we rowed around Requeson Island and back to camp.

Jeff and Wendy in the foreground, Ace leading the way to lunch

Laurie exploring the mangroves on Requeson Island

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with a roaring campfire (thanks to Jeff for kayaking to the island to scavenge wood), champagne, and Chinese lanterns. It was a great evening with new friends. Feliz Años!
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The Trip Part II: Solo Travels North
Laurie and I had a choice to make: either stay with the group relaxing and enjoying Bahía Concepción and then beat it for home in a couple days, or head out sooner and do more exploring on the way back. By now, we were comfortable with Baja and not too concerned about travelling solo, and there were lots of interesting things we wanted to check out, so we decided to head out on our own.

After visiting Guerrero Negro on the way down, we wanted to take a whale watching trip, so we headed out to the whale sanctuary at Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, which is where the grey whales spend the winter. Travel was uneventful and beautiful. We had to enter a checkpoint for the Lagoon, presumably to make sure we didn’t have harpoons in the vehicle.

The salt flats are big business and a big contributor to the local economy

Camping on the beach at Ojo de Liebre Lagoon

On the way in in, we passed an LR3 going very slowly and waved as we passed. There is camping right on the beach, with very big, sturdy palapas that served as a wind-break where we could cook and enjoy the evening. When traveling, there’s a little ad hoc community, and as we walked along the beach, we came upon a well outfitted Tacoma with a nice couple that we met in Bahía Concepción the day before and the LR3 we passed on the way in. The LR3 was driven by a nice young couple from Israel heading to South America. Turns out they were having some suspension problems, so I told them the trick of bridging the positive and negative terminals to do a hard reset. Hope it helped. And they didn’t have any hardcopy maps, so we gave them our National Geographic map of Baja Sur, as we were heading north from here and wouldn't need it.

Wind, wind, wind! The wind howled most of the night at the lagoon, but died down with daybreak. I had interesting negotiation for the whale tour. The price at the beach was the same as in town, which included the bus ride out. So they agreed to a discount if additional people showed up. Nobody did, but we were glad to pay full price, so we could have a private tour with just the 2 of us on the little “pango” boat. It was too early in the season for prime whale watching, but we were here now, some whales were here, and we had a great trip, although we didn’t have the experience of whales coming right up to the boat. We saw a juvenile whale up close, a large one further away, and an undetermined-size whale spouted a couple times nearby.

Thar she blows! This whale spouted nearby

The dolphins are always good company, and we had numerous instances of them playing in our bow waves and circling around the boat, just checking us out and playing around it seemed

I also wanted to take the side trail to San Borja Mission, an abandoned early mission dating to the 1600s, but we had to cut this out due to the lengthy whale tour.

We went a ways down the trail to San Borja and went through a Boojum Tree forest

That's a big Boojum Tree!

The road approaching Bahia Los Angeles

The winds steadily picked up to force 2 “howling” stage as we traveled toward Bahia Los Angeles. As seasoned Baja travelers by now, we had discovered that Baja motels are reasonable, so we stayed in a motel at Bahia Los Angeles. We got a very nice room, right on the beach with gorgeous views of the bay.

Can't beat the view

We spent a pleasant morning watching pelicans hunting

The winds continued all night and got so severe that power to the entire town was knocked out. The next morning there was no hot water for showers, and we had to pull out our camping equipment to make breakfast. Also, the gas pumps weren’t working. I carry a couple extra tanks on the roof rack, so that gave peace of mind because gas stations are few and far between in this part of Baja.

By this point, we were beginning the end game for the trip, and we wanted to camp at Canon de Guadalupe for the hot springs on our last night, so we retraced large sections of the route we took on the trip down. I must say, travel is much faster when going solo, and the beautiful views didn’t get old - from the gravel trails through the middle of Baja to the roads along the sea.

We camped again at Pete’s Camp near San Felipe. It was still pretty early, so we went to the bar for happy hour and met a nice ex-pat couple originally from San Diego who gave us in insight in that lifestyle.

While at the bar, I overheard a snippet of conversation from somebody complaining that they have seen weather as cold and windy as this but never for so long. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves the entire trip, but I’m sure it would be even better if we had calm, clear weather with highs in the upper 70s. Maybe next time.

For our final full day in Baja, and we didn’t have a lot of travel, so we enjoyed a leisurely morning and walked along the beach for while.

Low tide in the morning

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The route to Canon de Guadalupe hot springs involved some highway driving, but then it’s 37 miles or so of gravel trail with many pretty sights along the way to the canyon.

Sandy section

Some water as we neared the canyon

The hot springs camping was definitely worth it. The area is beautiful, and the secluded campsites each have their own hot spring. The water was too hot at first, but then we figured out how to adjust the temperature. We hiked up the canyon and then returned to our campsite and enjoyed our private hot spring! There was no wind either, and we had a great last night in Baja.

Our hot springs campsite

With hot spring!

All good things come to an end, and we headed for home. Between the Garmin and downloaded maps on the tablet and Laurie navigating, we made our way through Mexicali and found the line for the border crossing. This was during the U.S. Government shut down, so I’m not sure if 2-hr wait is normal. But we waited and eventually crossed back into the U.S. and then had smooth sailing back home.

All in all a great trip. Wonderful memories, new friends and adventures, and a taste for Baja that will bring us back.

-> For more photos, view the Google Plus album from the trip
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Nice write up too bad about the wind. We were there last January and not any wind at all. Hoping for 3-4 months down there next winter.
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Scotty D

Active member
You paint a rosy picture but I am down here right now and I can tell you its no picnic.
I have been knifed several times since I got here and picked up numerous STDs even though I have had no sexual contact whatsoever.
No one with any sense would come down here.
Its just not safe .
Stay home.
Try Hawaii instead.

Oh and the manta rays have been jumping non stop also. They can get over 12 feet out of the water and onto the beach and have been stinging tourists right in the face.


Very nice trip report; thanks. I was paddling and camping in the islands off Loreto last January and it was intermittently very windy, and very calm. I found the app Windfinder useful for wind forecasts.
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New member
Great write up. We have also experienced the winds, but only had one night on the pacific side that we ended up sleeping in a nearby palapa instead of our RTT. It's a magical place that keeps calling us back.
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Active member
You paint a rosy picture but I am down here right now and I can tell you its no picnic.
I have been knifed several times since I got here and picked up numerous STDs even though I have had no sexual contact whatsoever.
No one with any sense would come down here.
Its just not safe .
Stay home.
Try Hawaii instead.

Oh and the manta rays have been jumping non stop also. They can get over 12 feet out of the water and onto the beach and have been stinging tourists right in the face.
Nicely done, sir. I actually had to think about whether my sarcasm meter was going off the charts or not.


You paint a rosy picture but I am down here right now and I can tell you its no picnic.
I have been knifed several times since I got here and picked up numerous STDs even though I have had no sexual contact whatsoever.
No one with any sense would come down here.
Its just not safe .
Stay home.
Try Hawaii instead.

Oh and the manta rays have been jumping non stop also. They can get over 12 feet out of the water and onto the beach and have been stinging tourists right in the face.
Please don't forget all the beheadings...

Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
Great report. Always nice to see myself in a trip report. Enjoyed your company and it would be nice to travel with y’all again some day.

A couple of corrections. It’s Pete’s Camp and only my tenth trip in Baja going all the way back to 1970.

I didn’t really do much extensive travel. I stayed at San Basilio for 32 days. Why would I want to leave this?

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