Travel strategies

Travel Suggestions

There are two options for traveling to Baja California peninsula – to fly or to drive.  Flying involves travel to one of a few airports in the peninsula – the most convenient being that near the extreme southern tip at Los Cabos.  There are also flights to La Paz, those these tend to be slightly more expensive from US destinations, and a small number to Loreto.  There are many flights to Tijuana, but this is less recommendable since you must immediately travel though the largest city on the peninsula to get to interesting locations farther south.  Flying to San Diego is also an option, but crossing the border in a rental car many not be allowed and is more complex than flying to Mexico and renting a vehicle there.

Assuming you fly into Los Cabos, at the southern end of the peninsula, you are then faced with the option of how far to travel north to see “everything of interest”.  the farther you drive north, the longer the return drive to Los Cabos.  If you decide to travel to Tijuana to take a return flight home, you must make a one-way vehicle rental.  These are considerably more expensive that returning rental vehicles at your pick-up location.  If your available time is limited and you don’t want to drive an extra 1000 miles, a one-way rental is the best option.  If your time is less constrained, driving the peninsula both ways is a viable option.

Of course, if you live in the southwestern US, you may want to drive to Baja California and enter at one of the multiple crossing points.  Some are crowded (e.g. Tijuana and Mexicali) and others are less crowded (e.g. Tecate, San Luis (Yuma area).  There are two paved roads, one from the Mexicali side and the other from the Tijuana side, that join near Laguna Chapala.  The Gulf of California side route was not paved until relatively recently and has fewer facilities that the Pacific side route.

Independent of how to arrive and travel the Baja California peninsula, you should be aware that the main highways in Baja California, despite their lack of heavy traffic,  are not designed for high speed driving.  Signs mention this in various locations – the road is for economic development, not high speed driving.  The road for many years was paved in the north and in the south of the peninsula, but the middle section of about 400 miles was very rough dirt.  I did this dirt stretch various times in the early 1970’s – and it was very rough.

The road itself is narrow by highway standards and can be undulating because of the roadbed – often made of material pushed up from both sides of the road.  The road often/usually passes through scenic terrain, but the design of the road is anything but scenic.  During construction of many road stretches, something like 50 meters on either side was cleared of vegetation – and it has taken decades to partially recover.  Also, passing lanes are rare and scenic turnouts and wide shoulders almost non-existent, so drivers need to be constantly on the lookout for pull-off spots when driving through interesting terrain.  Fortunately, few fences prevent you from walking off into the surrounding terrain.  Unfortunately, this means that cattle might cross the road…

A golden rule for driving in many countries, and certainly in Mexico, is to avoid driving at night.  Lack of fencing on roads, cattle sleeping on roads, and lack of enough reflectors along the roads all make night driving more dangerous.  And this doesn’t even consider the possibility of road blockades by criminal groups – something that has existed for decades – existing even prior to the activities of recent years.  While rare, one such experience is enough for a lifetime.  Don’t drive at night; budget your time and your stops so you can arrive before dark.  In towns this strict rule doesn’t really apply, though street lighting at night in cities is not comparable to the US.

One thing that has changed since the completing of the paved road connecting northern and southern Baja California in 1974 is that tourism by Mexicans has greatly increased.  Decades ago, most drivers of the peninsula were Americans from California.  Today, the cities of Tijuana and Mexicali have large populations and many people with the economic means and interest to travel south to enjoy the beaches and waters of the Gulf of California in southern Baja California.  Our recent 2019 trip took place during the Semana Santa – the national week-long break prior to Easter.  Normally, we avoid this week – whenever possible in Latin America, because the hotels, highways and tourist attractions are crowded in the countryside.  And indeed, some areas – beaches specifically, were very full with local tourists.  But away from such attractions there were few people.




back to overview