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The Baja California road trip runs down Highway 1 from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. It’s one of the greatest stretches of road on the planet full of Baja adventures for kids of all ages! A thousand miles of excitement and discovery awaits those brave enough to make the trip, but don’t worry we included a Baja Mexico map to make it easy. Driving the Baja Peninsula fills your world with scenic beauty and cultural experiences. All of your senses come alive as you explore from the cold Pacific Coast to the warm Gulf of California and the amazing Baja Desert in between.

Boats on Loreto Bay

Baja Mexico Map

Below is our Baja Mexico map filled with our sixty-four (maybe more) DIY tips for creating your own Baja adventure. The Baja Peninsula is a land of outdoor wonders where you can camp out under the open sky, dive in the clear blue ocean, or swim with whales and whale sharks. Spend a little time clicking around here and take a virtual road trip with your mouse and, if it doesn’t load at first, hit refresh on your page.

 

Tijuana Toll Road to Ensenada (70 miles, 1:45 minutes)

If you want to push deep into the south of Mexico on your first day, this is the route for you. On weekends, the road to Ensenada can back up, so the best way to beat the crowds is to leave early and travel fast. Your goal is to clear the small towns south of Ensenada before traffic backs up. It should be smooth sailing once you leave the Ensenada Valley.

We crossed the border at first light. The lines as customs were empty and in no time we had provided proof of Mexican insurance and paid for our tourist visa. It was smooth sailing all the way to Ensenada, which took us about 1:45 minutes. Coming back, you want to check the border lines (check for an app or use the link at the bottom of this post). Tijuana / San Ysidro crossing is the busiest border in the world and the lines back can be hellish. Consider one of the alternate routes for the return home to avoid the lines at the border. Expected tolls are about $6 and need to be paid in cash so get some pesos in your pocket before making the crossing or use the ATM at the port of entry.

The toll plazas are:

  • Playas de Tijuana – $35 Pesos (appx US $1.82)
  • Rosarito – $35 Pesos (appx US $1.82)
  • Ensenada – $37 Pesos (appx US $1.92)
San Ysidro Border Crossing

Free Road to Ensenada (70 miles, 2:10 minutes)

This route lets us introduce some of the alternate border crossings, like Otay Mesa, which can save hours of border crossing time by driving 20 minutes out of your way. This is particularly important if you’re heading back to the US. Of note, you’ll have the option to join (or depart) the toll road at Rosarito, which is probably a good idea. There are plenty of Baja adventures waiting for you farther south, so I would not worry about spending four bucks in tolls.

If you’re not hauling ass to make it down Sur, you can stop and smell the tacos. We put out a Tijuana guide that features some cool stops and awesome adventures, like the forty-some tasting rooms at Plaza Fiesta showcasing Mexico’s craft beer scene, or the authentic shopping at Mercado Hidalgo. Albercas Vergel water park makes a great pit stop featuring their Youtube famous ride, the Slip N Fly. Since you’re not in a hurry, you should stop for lunch in Rosarito or Puerto Nuevo and try their world famous spiny lobster.

Going off the slip and fly in Tijuana
Authentic shopping at the Hidalgo Market
Plaza Fiesta craft beer scene in Tijuana

Ensenada via the Guadalupe Valley Wine Trail (70 miles, 1:40 minutes)

Perhaps the best way to reach Ensenada is through the Guadalupe Valley, the premier wine growing region in Mexico. It is comparable to Southern California wine towns like Temecula with a Mexican flair. Dozens of wineries flourish in the fertile valley soaking in the warm, dry Mexican sunshine with the perfect amount of moisture provided through irrigation. Many people travel down the coastal route and return through the wineries on a weekend foodie road trip. We only put the Museum of the Vine and the Wine on the Baja map, but there are plenty more out there.

The Tecate border crossing has significantly lighter lines than any crossing in Tijuana. You can save enough time to take the Tecate brewery tour. If you want to add an extra day to your trip, consider going to Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs. Camping there is epic. Every campsite has its own hot pool fed by natural spring water, and the intense drive across the dry lakebed (Laguna Salada on the map) will thrill the auto enthusiasts. Be warned, it’s a bit on an adventure to get out there. You want a high clearance vehicle and reservations are required. Check out our Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs article for all the deets.

Hot springs in Guadalupe Canyon, one of the best places for Baja camping

Ensenada Baja Adventure Highlights

Ensenada’s Mediterranean weather and sheltered harbor made it the capital of Baja for a little while. However, it’s just too difficult to ship goods in and out of the port, so Tijuana and Mexicali grew larger and more prominent. The port is still there beckoning boaters large and small to sail down to Mexico. It’s also a popular cruise port for the 3-day cruise out of Long Beach. Ensenada is a very cosmopolitan town where you can stop for a Starbucks or street tacos.

Area attractions include:

  • La Bufadora– the world’s second-largest marine geyser with some tourist shopping and dining around it.
  • La Calle Primera – Drinking, shopping, and dining for the tourist crowds.
  • Guadalupe Valley – Wineries abound in the Guadalupe Valley with the original vineyards dating back to 1703.
  • Las Cañadas Campamento – A fun campground in the mountains south of Ensenada where you can zip line, ATV, or waterslide.
Tourist market by La Bufadora
Ensenada sign from our Baja trip
photo of La Bufadora, one of the highlights from this section of driving Baja

Ensenada to El Rosario (152 miles, 3 1/2 hours)

Congratulations, you’ve left the toll road and cleared the last of the major cities in Baja Norte, but you’re still in civilization. The road pulls away from the coast, and you pass through small towns alternating with farms. Look for speed bumps as you enter each town and pay attention to cross traffic. You’re not on the expressway anymore.

El Rosario is a significant town along the Baja Road (Highway 1) because it marks the end of civilization for the next 200 miles. We’ll get to the Baja Desert crossing in the next section. For now, just know you shouldn’t try to cross here at night, and you want a full belly (we recommend Restaurante Pueblo Viejo) and a full tank of gas before leaving El Rosario. Our hidden gem for an overnight stop is the Mission Santa Maria near San Quintin. For a reasonable price, you get a comfortable bed and ocean side accommodations. Their Sunday brunch is pretty spectacular too. Sleep well, your real Baja road trip adventure is about to begin.

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Hotel Mision San Quintin, a great rest stop before driving the Baja Peninsula

El Rosario to San Ignacio (310 miles, 6 hours)

This is the Baja road trip segment you have been waiting for. Six hours through open desert surrounded by the magic and mystery of the Baja Desert. This is one of the most unique ecosystems on Earth. It hardly rains, but there is enough moisture from the fog to support a diverse and vibrant collection of life (over 500 species of vascular plants!). Certain plants, like the Boojum Tree, live nowhere else. Sections of this road get rough, and cows wander onto the road from the plains, especially at night. It’s wild and wide open. The Ángeles Verdes (Mexican roadside assistance) patrols this region, but good luck getting cell service.

The only town here, if you can call it that, is Cataviña. You’ll find gas stands along the roadside like the lemonade stands of your youth. There are a couple of places to eat and even a hotel – The Hotel Mission Cataviña– which is surprisingly decent. This town starts and ends quickly so make up your mind if you’re going to stop. Also, be careful of the wash entering and exiting town. If it’s rained recently the road might be covered with debris. The wash has been known to flood entirely, shutting down the road and washing away the occasional driver foolish enough to try and cross.

makeshift gas stations in the "town" of Catavina, good to know when you're driving Baja

Road Tripping Beyond Cataviña

125 miles past Cataviña you reach Villa Jesús María, which is noteworthy only because it’s the first real gas station past El Rosario. A little bit past that is the salt town of Guerrero Negro, a perfunctory industrial town founded in 1957 to support the salt industry. You’re now in Baja Sur and, even though you’ve only been driving south, the time zone has changed.  Another weird thing here is the agricultural inspection station. They will spray your car with what I presume is insecticide. Just pay the men and then roll up your window. It will all be over soon.

About 45 minutes later  you’ll enter the town of San Ignacio. Technically, the town is five miles off the highway, but it’s worth the detour. San Ignacio is a classic Mexican town with a central square and a Spanish Mission. We loved our stay at Ignacio Springs Bed & Breakfast and dinner at Rancho Grande just off the town square.  Most of all, we loved whale watching. Without a doubt, it’s our favorite Baja adventure and justifies the road trip all by itself. So much so, we’ll give you a quick rundown next.

Guerrero Negro whale watching boat

Grey Whale Watching on a Baja Road Trip

The lagoon by Guerrero Negro, Laguna Ojo de Liebre or Scammon’s Lagoon, is one of three grey whale birthing lagoons in the Baja Peninsula. Whale watching is phenomenal here in the winter months, but I would recommend whale watching in San Ignacio if you have time. The primary benefit of whale watching in Guerrero Negro is that you can easily make it a half day activity whereas San Ignacio is a full day or longer.

San Ignacio is my choice for grey whale watching, and I would recommend going with Kuyima. Check out Kuymima’s 5-star reviews here! Ideally, you’ve made a reservation ahead of time and can stay at their whale watching camp by the bay. Day trips are possible out of San Ignacio, but it’s a couple of hours each way to get to the lagoon and back. Once you reach the lagoon, you’ll find the friendliest bunch of whales on the smallest body of water. By friendly, I mean that they routinely approach your boat to be kissed and petted. These whales that come back to birth in San Ignacio have been dubbed ‘the friendlies’ due to this unusual and lagoon specific behavior.

The third grey whale watching lagoon is Magdalena Bay. This bay shares a drawback with Guerrero Negro in that it’s just too big to have a high density of whales. Also, it’s very close to the population and tourist centers of La Paz and Cabo. No matter which lagoon you go to you’ll see the grey whales. Make sure you use a reputable and environmentally conscious company for this unique Baja adventure. Under the watchful eyes of government conservationists and internet activists, most companies try their hardest to keep their reputations clean.

Whale watching season runs from about January through April depending on location. The males are the first to arrive and the first to leave. Later in the season, the mothers are less protective of their calves. This time is also the peak season for whale watching on the Sea of Cortez where you might find blue, fin, humpback, or even sperm whales.

Grey whale watching was our favorite adventure from the Baja California road trip
grey whale coming to our boat to be petted
Grey whale watching - our favorite adventure from the Baja California road trip
I kissed a whale and I liked it - a true Baja experience

Highway 5 to Mexicali (250 miles, 6 hours)

This is an alternate route along Highway 5 which utilizes the Mexicali Port of Entry. I would have put it on the Baja Mexico map, but I ran out of layers. You’ll have to use your imagination. This route features the fishing village of San Felipe, which has grown up quite a bit recently and a long stretch of coastal road. Hot Springs Aguas Termales is a beautiful hot spring right next to the ocean with a little campground to boot. Be warned Highway 5 suffered recent hurricane damage in 2019. Check our road condition link at the bottom of the post to get an idea of how long this drive will take. Six hours might be a very optimistic driving estimate.

While we’re talking about side trips in the Baja Desert, let’s throw in the sleepy village of Bahia de Los Angeles. This village is what the Baja was like in the ’60s before the rise of tourism. In the summer, whale sharks outnumber the tourists here. Also, the Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco are one of the most outstanding collections of rock paintings in the world.

Exotic plants of the Baja Desert

San Ignacio to Loreto (167 miles, 3 1/2 hours)

Crossing from the Pacific side to the Gulf of California side of the Baja is nothing short of dramatic. It’s like going from cold California beaches to warm Florida Gulf beaches in three hours road trip. Along the way, Las Tres Vírgenes volcano park makes an interesting stop to stretch your legs. Cresting the hill and dropping into Santa Rosalía you’ll catch your first sight of the aqua blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. The road contours the coast from Santa Rosalía to Loreto with each turn revealing a bay more beautiful than the one before. This section of road features secluded coves with idyllic ocean side campsites.

Loreto is home to the Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Blue and Humpback whales congregate here in the winter. We also had a chance to see a school of mulba rays jumping out of the water. When we visited so many rays were jumping out of the waves it looked like the ocean was boiling. In the summer months, the bays are filled with whale sharks.

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With such fantastic sea creatures, it’s no wonder that diving and bay tours are popular. Almost all of these tours feature a stop at Playa Isla Coronado, an island/beach in the bay that looks like it came straight from a Hollywood movie set. Loreto embodies the warmth and tranquility of Baja Sur. So much so, that some people turn around here and even take the Santa Rosalía ferry to Guaymas to form a combination mainland / Baja Peninsula road trip.

Loreto town square - a must do Baja adventure

Loreto to La Paz (220 miles, 4 hours)

The beautiful coastal views continue for a little bit past Loreto before you climb away from the coast and drop down into the farmland surrounding Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitución. These towns are reminiscent of farming in the California Imperial Valley with large green irrigated field alternating with dry brown land in fallow. The Transpeninsular Highway snakes along the middle of the Baja peninsula until you return back to the Gulf side at La Paz.

La Paz offers diving, whale, and bay tours similar to Loreto, but there’s a difference. La Paz is a medium-size city (~250,000) and the blue whale and whale shark seasons overlap. You can see both of these giants during the winters in La Paz. The ferry routes to Topolobampo and Mazatlán enable you to take your Baja road trip to the mainland. La Paz offers a full range of hotels and an exquisite beach camping spot. Beach camping at Playa Tecolote is close enough to town to go out for dinner with views of Isla Espiritu Santo, La Paz’s eco-tour destination island.

Whale Shark via Canva

La Paz to Cabo San Lucas (100 miles, 2 hours)

You’re in the home stretch now. The road heads straight south out of La Paz, and the tip of Baja is only 100 miles away. You reach the Pacific coast at a surf town called Todos Santos. The breaks here are known to roll on and on before finally closing out. You hug the coast for a little while before reaching Cabo. My route has you passing all the way through town until you reach the public beach and the marina.

If you want to go all the way to the Cabo San Lucas Arch, you can catch a boat here. Other adventures in Cabo San Lucas include scuba diving to see the unique Sand Falls at Pelican Rock or even a liveaboard trip Socorro Island where large pelagic sightings are commonplace. You can also just chill out at one of the mega resorts and enjoy a margarita. You’ve earned it after completing the road to Baja.

Cabo San Lucas via Canva, the end of the Baja road trip

Baja Camping

If you really want to experience a Baja adventure as you’re driving the peninsula, consider camping. Campsites range from primitive campsites on the beach where you can hear the surf breaking to desert camps under a blanket of stars. On the other end of the spectrum, RV parks offer full hookups and wi-fi. Some campgrounds provide unique features like zip lines or hot springs. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite campgrounds in Baja.

  • Guadalupe Canyon Oasis: A remote campground where every campsite has a pool fed by a natural hot spring.
  • Villarino RV Park: Ensenada camping near La Bufadora.
  • Las Cañadas Campamento: A very convenient campground with cabins, zip lines, and ATV tours.
  • Serenity Beach: Beach camping near San Felipe.
  • Hot Springs Aguas Termales: A beautiful ground with a hot spring on the beach.
  • Catavina Pinturas Rupestres: Numerous roadside pull-offs are in this area for primitive camping under the desert skies.
  • Playa La Gringa: Remote beach camping near the remote town of Bahia de Los Angeles.
  • Laguna Ojo de Liebre Campground: Beautiful views and whales, bay front camping where you might be able to see whales from your tent flap.
  • Camping y Ecoturs Los Petates: Camping on a desert oasis close to San Ignacio.
  • Campo Cortez: Ecotours from San Ignacio offer these campgrounds to their whale watching guests
  • Playa Santispac: One of many small bays and campgrounds along the coast between Santa Rosalía and Loreto.
  • Loreto Shores Villas and R.V. Park: Beach camping where you can walk to dinner in Loreto. It doesn’t get better than that.
  • Magdalena Whale Camp: Whale watching and camping.
  • Tecolote Beach: Beach camping near La Paz.
  • Campestre Maranatha: No on the water per se but very clean and convenient camping close to La Paz.
  • Pescadero Surf Camp: If you love surfing or want to try, this is the campground for you.
  • Cabo Pulmo National Park: Cabo Pulmo National Park is a national marine park on the east coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula where you can camp out and escape the tourist scene.
Baja camping on a secluded Baja beach

Airports in Baja California

There’s enough Baja adventures that you don’t have to be driving the Baja peninsula from tip to tail. Loreto, La Paz, and Cabo all have international airports if you want to turn Baja road trip into a weekend adventure. We do have a couple of pro tips for you.

  • First, if you’re coming out of Southern California look into departing from Tijuana. You park your car in the US and take a private border crossing directly into the TJ airport. These flights to the Baja are now domestic, and you’ll save about $100 a ticket.
  • Second, Loreto doesn’t have daily flights so look for one-way tickets each way, so you don’t confuse your flight app.
  • Third, on the subject of confusing flight apps, consider flying into Mexico City and book a second ticket into the Baja. For whatever reason, this allows you to book two cheaper flights that your app couldn’t find on its own.

Road Trip Travel Tips

  • Top off all your car fluids, keep 1 gal of potable water and extra engine oil with you.
  • Make sure you have enough gas to reach the next station with margin, especially during the desert crossing at Catavina.
  • Be careful driving through the desert, especially at night. Cows, potholes, and debris on the road can occur at any time.
  • Expect speed bumps entering every town.
  • Have a car charger and keep your phone charged. Know the Green Angles number for roadside assistance in your area (see link below).
  • Have your papers in order – Mexico insurance, car registration, and tourist card.
  • Don’t carry a gun or ammunition. They are illegal in Mexico and strongly enforced.
  • Do have snacks and drinks.
  • Do pack your toiletry kit: (toilet paper, booty wipes, hand sanitizer, tampons, ibuprofen, Imodium, caffeine pills, and decongestant).
  • Do check the links below before embarking on your trip.

Useful Links For Your Baja California Road Trip

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Baja Mexico Beach

Camping on the Baja Peninsula

Boats on beach and whale shark in Baja Sur

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