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Five Great Baja Escapes

By Tom Gatch and Carla White

It is still and always summer in Baja!

Baja summer! photo by Edgar Lima

Ah, Baja:  Just the name evokes a smile and an instant sense of tranquility.  Why not?  Baja is a nearly 900 mile-long, narrow peninsula that is surrounded to the south, east and west by salty sea and sapphire blue ocean.  Encompassed on its terra firma are mountains and deserts, pine forests and wine valleys.  It is a year-round playground and retreat beckoning those who seek a stress-free getaway but who also need a nearby locale.  There are score of ways to recapture the summer magic.  Here are just a few!

Just an hour from San Diego, California….visit the Wine Country:

Of all the options that are available to travelers seeking a short seasonal getaway in Baja California, few are more easily accessible or more desirable than a quick trip down to Mexico’s famed wine country in the Valle de Guadalupe, which lies just a few miles to the northeast of the city of Ensenada. Reminiscent of a journey to Napa or Sonoma, the wine valley is just a few miles from the coast and thrives with its hot summer days and crisp coastal nights.

Many of the most popular varietal strains produced in the valley were originally developed in the Mediterranean region, where similarly dry and sunny weather entices marvelously rich Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and petit Verdot grapes to grow plump, ripe and juicy on the vine. Some of the most prominent and popular vineyards are Vinedos Malagon, LA Cetto,  Vena Cava, Vinisterra, La Farga, Tres Valles, Liceaga and Mogor Badan, but there are many smaller operations in the area that kick out some top flight products and also have regular tasting schedules.

Throughout the autumn, harvesting and crushing take place and it is a fine time to experience the wine country with fewer tourists.  Spend a Provencal kind of afternoon at the renowned Laja restaurant, sipping a crisp white wine, eating regional European-style quesos and enjoying the scents of rosemary and lavender!  You’ll return home renewed and ready to stage your own wine tasting party á la Baja, with sunny décor ideas to boot!

 

Fun and Sun in the Great Outdoors: Ensenada 

Picture yourself beside the cool waters of a countryside lake on a warm summer afternoon.  Branches of nearby oaks protect you from the hot sun overhead as you languidly relax with your fishing pole and bobber, patiently waiting for a nibble, while mentally drifting off with the dragonflies and June bugs that hover in the air just above the surface of the water. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are in Kansas, however, because this pastoral experience is right here in northern Baja!

 Just south of Ensenada, a few miles past the steadily expanding poblado of Maneadero, Las Cañadas offers a recreational retreat that is a bastion of bucolic delight, featuring lush groves of trees, picnicking and multi-day camping facilities, a swimming pool and, perhaps most importantly to anglers of all ages …a well-stocked lake!

In addition to swimming, picnicking and fishing, visitors can also enjoy a wide variety of other activities (tried zip-lining yet?). The beautiful scenery surrounding this lush compound offers an invigorating taste of the native flora and fauna that can be savored either on foot or from the seat of a mountain bike. There are guided bus excursions lasting about an hour for those with an interest in ecotourism. During this time, passengers will be treated to the impressive beauty of a region that also includes an interesting trek exploring the primitive splendor of the Canyon of Las Animas. This area is known for the Agua Blanca fault, considered to be one of the longest crevices of its kind in Baja California Norte.

The campground offers an amazing array of amenities for both single and multi-day use, and is located at KM 31.5 on the Transpeninsular Highway just south of Ensenada and Maneadero.  Whether you stay for a day or even longer, you’ll come home tanned, de-stressed, and ready to stage your own backyard Las Canadas picnic (maybe without the zip-lining) with a Baja flair!

 

La Paz:  An Aquatic Wonderland

 A tropical locale with warm turquoise waters.  Magical, right?  There is nowhere on the Baja peninsula quite like La Paz!

 Since its formal establishment in the late 1500’s, La Paz has been a virtual magnet for missionaries, pearl divers and pirates.  The latter were said to have regularly anchored in the beautiful bay to re-supply and refurbish their vessels, as well as to lay claim to any and all valuables that came within their grasp during sometimes lengthy visits.

Today, it is a thriving tourist center that, along with its spectacular scenery and many water oriented activities, was also referred to by Money Magazine as ‘…the number one place in the world to retire’.  The city and surrounding area offer a host of hotels, restaurants, fishing guides and boat charters, and even ferry boats that take visitors to mainland Mexico!

Just offshore, Isla Espirito Santo provides several spectacular, turquoise lagoons for those who like to scuba dive, snorkel or enjoy the sport of spearfishing.  For rod and reel anglers, the deep blue waters on both sides of nearby Isla Cerralvo are prime territory for seasonal pelagic gamesters such as marlin, tuna and dorado.  Inshore, the rugged underwater terrain can often harbor huge, tackle-busting pargo that wait patiently to snatch your bait, and then force you to desperately try to pull them from their rocky hiding place.

Exotic and yet accessible, La Paz is a short flight from many US airports.  With a small town feel that has not been impacted by the more touristic developments such as Cabo San Lucas, La Paz is also cost-effective.  A few days in this friendly, tropical town delights and inspires and might leave you yearning to create the ‘La Paz’ effect – seashells, palms, coconuts and even a Margarita Party – around your own swimming pool.

 

Shopping and Eating in Baja’s Art Colony, Todos Santos

Todos Santos is a singular oasis on the western tip of the Baja peninsula, about an hour’s drive from La Paz.  Here, in an area surprisingly verdant with Palm trees, bougainvillea, and tropical vegetation, a quaint artist colony and village thrive with hotels and inns, galleries, restaurants and tiny shops.  What an amazing spot to cull interior design ideas, buy crafts and artifacts and to be inspired!

A mission was founded here in 1724, and later the region became a hub for sugar-cane cultivation and harvesting. Now, the Todos Santos area is a rich farming community where avocados, chilis, papayas and mangos are grown.  Within and around Todos Santos are many spectacularly beautiful beaches – often quiet, creating the perfect hide-aways for romantic picnics or thoughtful meditation.

But shopping is the most fun, here…colorful fabrics, gleaming jewelry and amazing art are everywhere and easily found! Joyeria Brilanti offers Taxco silver jewelry, many pieces of which would be considered collectible.  The styles are often unique and offer a different look than customers would see at many other jewelry shops.  Boutique Santa Maria appeals with its airy and loose cotton clothing for women…ideal for breezy afternoons at beachfront palaps and cocktail bars.  The Emporio at Hotel California is great for small mementos – tiny Day of the Dead vignettes, or hand-embroidered purses.  This is also a good place for an after-shopping cocktail, as is Bob Marlin’s.

From silver jewelry to colorful fabrics, Todos Santos is a shopper's paradise

And then there is the plethora of eateries…remarkable for such a small village!  From Shut Up Franks!, with its burgers, steaks, ribs and even veggie offerings, to Restaurant Café Santa Fe, with seafood and homemade pastas, there is a huge variety from which to choose.  But one of the most popular – and definitely  most atmospheric – choices is the Hotel Guaycura that is open for breakfast lunch and dinner.

It’s fun to stay in a hotel here in Todos Santos…but the vacation rentals, like CalyCanto, can be fun, too.  It’s a treat to see how owners have used Todos Santos inspiration – fabrics, iron and crafts, and paintings – to create a special Baja atmosphere.  Perhaps it is even something you can recreate in your own home…

Paradise, Do Not Disturb:  Mulege

Mulege is truly iconic:  the dreamer’s paradise under rustling palms by the Sea of Cortez, with nothing but the occasional pelican or dolphin to disrupt the sun-warmed hours.  Of course, what makes it a paradise is that it is a bit off the beaten path…accessible primarily by private plane (that’s how John Wayne used to get there) or by car or bus.

Founded in 1702 by Father Juan Maria de Salvatierra, Mulege has always seems like a stop between other locales…and yet, some people have stopped there permanently.  Why?  Because more than any other town in Baja, Mulege is tropical…and, in fact, a tropical oasis.  Situated at the mouth of the River Santa Rosalia, Mulege is the river’s portal to the sea.  Deep sea fishing, kayaking, beachcombing, bird watching and cave tours (to see ancient cave painting by indigenous peoples) are all popular.  And, in the sparkling green-blue waters of the Sea of Cortez, swimming is a delight.

This is not the town for fancy dining nor for wild nightlife.  The occasional Pig Roast at Hotel Serenidad or a Rotary Club fiesta are always fun…but the real attraction to Mulege is that it is a place to dream and to pamper yourself in nature. It is a place to sit on the beach, with a cool tropical drink.  Life as it should be, calm and stress-free…

Before heading home.

 

Tell us how you would like to escape to stress-free Baja!

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Todos Santos

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Down at the foothills of Sierra de la Laguna in the Baja California Peninsula lies a small coastal town that goes by the name of Todos Santos. Located at the Pacific coast side of the peninsula, Todos Santos is a burgeoning tourist vacation spot. A number of beaches are all around Todos Santos, and with a growing number of hotels for tourists, Todos Santos is slowly becoming a premiere hotspot for vacationing tourists! Surfers both professional and amateur frequent Todos Santos for the waves and beautiful beaches! The more popular beaches in Todos Santos are the Playa Las Palmas and the Playa Los Cerritos. These are beaches where the swimming is superb and where visitors most often come back to! Not only are the beaches its main attraction, but Todos Santos has its own unique charm that will surely attract tourists to come back! Full of history and never a dull place, Todos Santos give tourists the time of their lives!

Tijuana

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Welcome to the largest city in Baja California! Located in the northwestern most part of the peninsula, it is just along the border and is considered as the gateway to Mexico. Thousands upon thousands of tourists visit Tijuana every year. Whether to soak up the culture, or just to have a rolling good time, Tijuana is a fast growing city that is focused on making it a family friendly tourist spot. Attractions and activities of various forms are offered the visitor to Tijuana. The famous Avenida Revolucion is a place brimming with activity! From the teenage students from the United states to the preppy young businessman looking to unwind, Tijuana has a lot to offer in terms of giving a good time to its tourists. Aside from the bustling nightlife of Tijuana, shopping is another favorite here! Especially leather goods, like wallets, jackets, pants and what not, Tijuana is well known for its leather goods at prices well below than that found in the U.S. or anywhere else. Bullfights in the El Toreo arena are also a Tijuana staple that is a must see for tourists! A place for business and pleasure, Tijuana makes sure you get a good dose of the excitement!

Tecate

Along with Tijuana and Mexicali, Tecate is the third of three border cities one would find in the peninsula of Baja California, Mexico. Surprisingly though, the small city of Tecate resembles not its fellow border cities in Baja but has more in common with the small, rustic villages and towns usually found in central Baja California.

Compared to the international border crossing highways in Mexicali and Tijuana, that of Tecate’s is heaven in terms of traffic and pollution. The sheer amount of cars, buses, tourist shuttles and trucks that pass through the international border crossing highways leading to and away from Tijuana and Mexicali is just overwhelming. Millions of tourists, commuters and workers use these highways which can make the trip quite difficult specially on weekends and holidays. But if you use the one in Tecate, you would find a pleasanter and quieter, although longer, trip to and from Baja California.

But when you have already crossed the border and find yourself in Tecate, what do you suppose there is it see, experience and discover? Well another difference with Tijuana, Mexicali and many other Baja cities which Tecate has is the rather cool and wet climate that this small Mexican city possesses. Tecate City is located on a pretty high elevated ground which provides its with a cooler climate and more rainfall. Its location, being beside the Sea of Cortez, also provides it with very fertile soil and plenty of water supply. The desert ambiance that most Baja cities have seem to blend with a milder climate in this area, transforming Tecate into a city perfect for both agriculture and tourism.

And speaking of tourism, one would also find the city of Tecate to have a flourishing tourism industry. The peaceful, small-town feel of Tecate lends it a charming and quaint feel which its neighboring cities cannot offer to tourists, expats, retirees and locals. The fertile lands lead to the growth of lush greeneries which lend freshness and vitality to the cityscape. Tecate also has a very rich culture which tourists would of course feel naturally inclined to. Festivals and fiestas by their dozens are often celebrated in Tecate and these festivals include the Virgen de Guadalupe Festival on December of every year and Vendimia’s Party held every July.

Tourists would also be inclined to visit resorts, spas and recreational facilities especially when coming to any town of city in Baja California. Tecate City is also home to numerous hotels, resorts, restaurants, nightclubs and spas which tourists and vacationers are sure to love. Some of the most popular include the Rancho Los Chabacanos, Rancho La Puerta, Hacienda Santa Veronica and the Rancho Ojai. These resorts in Tecate are surrounded by the scenic and charming colonial houses and buildings which Tecate City, Baja California is known for.

San Quintin

What makes the peninsula of Baja California such a wonderful place to visit is the fact that it has several large and populous resort towns and cities as well as plenty small and charming villages and coastal towns. Now and again, tourists and vacationers may grow tired of the same luxurious beaches and emerald green golf courses and desire to be somewhere rustic and quaint. One such place that Baja tourists may go to is the coastal town of San Quintin in the municipality of Ensenada.

San Quintin is located at the western regions of Baja California where its white sand beaches line the vibrant blue waves of the Pacific Ocean. Surfers, fishing enthusiasts, scuba divers, swimmers and beach lovers in general are sure to take delight in San Quintin’s numerous bays and beaches, all of which are distinctly magnificent. This Baja town is also a haven for different kinds of birds which is why it is one of the very few places in Baja California where you can try geese or quail hunting.

Enjoy a relaxing morning of bird watching, a quaint afternoon of clam digging and an appetizing night of dining out while staying in San Quintin, Baja California.

San Jose del Cabo

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One of the more popular tourist destinations in the Baja Peninsula is Los Cabos. Frequented by surfers and students from the U.S. out on spring break, Los Cabos is a place full of wonder and excitement. When you visit Los Cabos, you will discover that there will never be a shortage of things to do. If you�re a nature buff, there are ecotourism tours available, land tours and marine tours. Looking to add more excitement to your life? You can try your hand at sport fishing, or scuba diving, or water sports such as jet skiing, para sailing and many more! Los Cabos can also accommodate your relaxing needs. You can dine out in one of several high end restaurants dotting the city, or take a stroll or simply lounge around in one of the pristine beaches in Los Cabos. Looking to party after a day�s worth of activities? Then look no further for the nightlife in Los Cabos is one of vibrancy and excitement too! In Los Cabos, whatever you need, or desire, it can be found.

San Felipe

Are you looking for a possible hangout this coming spring break? Why not try Baja California’s very own San Felipe? If people living in Western U.S. states like it here, chances are you will have a grand time in San Felipe as well. Besides residents of Western U.S. states, San Felipe also has tourists coming from Northern Mexico, not just during spring break but all year round.

You may be wondering what does San Felipe has to offer.

Of course, there are the beaches. Spring break is not really a spring break without the beach, sun, sand, bikini-clad ladies, and hot lifeguards. San Felipe has enough beaches for locals and tourists alike. Plus, there are nightclubs and bars within walking distance. Partying day and night is not entirely a new idea in San Felipe. In fact, it is almost a tradition.

In case you had your fill of beaches, San Felipe can still be a worthy destination. One interesting trivia about San Felipe is that it is situated right where desert meets the sea. So if you are tired of water, you can always set a camp on the desert. There are campsites and RV parks available for all nature lovers out there.

If you are a fan of off-road racing events, you are most welcome to San Felipe. This city is popular for off-road racing events like San Felipe 250 and Baja 250. Considering its own-of-a-kind ecosystem of desert-meets-sea, it is not that surprising to learn that sports enthusiasts prefer racing in San Felipe’s terrain than any other place.

While all these sound wonderful, nothing beats the real thing. So book a flight and experience San Felipe.

Rosarito

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Situated in the northwest part of the Baja California Peninsula is a city with beautiful beaches, mild climate and a whole lotta sun! A beach city for tourists, Rosarito gives visitors the chance to experience 20 miles of coastline with sandy beaches, awesome mountains and gorgeous cliff-tops. Vsitors in Rosarito can enjoy surfing, water sports, fishing and can take part in the world famous annual Rosarito Bike Ride! Bask in the sun in Rosarito Beach, or enjoy good food with the various restaurants in Rosarito like the Azteca Restaurant and in the famous Papa�s and Beer! Or if you are looking to play a round of golf then drop by the world class Real del Mar Golf Course and the Baja Mar Golf Course that are both in the vicinity of Rosarito Beach. After a round of golf and lounging in the sun, cap it all off with an exciting night about town with Rosaritos bustling nightlife in the Mango Deck or Club Tequila! The best vacation spot that offers what you need, come to Rosarito and experience life as it is meant to be!

Mulege

Traveling to the town of Mulege in Baja California Sur is like traveling to another time in history. Unlike the rapidly developing cities and villages in the Mexican peninsula of Baja California such as Tijuana, Los Cabos and La Paz, the town of Mulege seems to have changed a little since the time when it was still a small fishing village centuries ago. And it is this paradise-like simplicity and the natural beauty of its surroundings that makes it such an appealing place to visit any time of the year.

Nestled in a valley between two hills and cleaved by a sparkling stream that opens up to the abundant expanse which is the Sea of Cortez, Mulege is blessedly located amidst such an amazing environment. Here in this Mexican paradise, vacationers can enjoy swimming, scuba diving, sea kayaking, mounting biking and many other recreational activities. Mulege is most well-known for its world class sportfishing since the abundance of the Sea of Cortez combined with Mulege’s advantageous location makes for an unforgettable fishing experience!

Come away to the town of Mulege where old-world charm, splendid natural surroundings and a rich Mexican culture transforms this sleepy little nook into a vibrant paradise community!

Mexicali

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Bordering the richest state in the United States is beautiful Mexicali, the capital not only of the municipality of Mexicali but of the whole of Baja California, Mexico. Come and visit this fine city full of history. Discover why none other than the legendary band, Grateful Dead, paid tribute to the city with their rock and roll classic �Mexicali Blues.� Soak in the rich culture Mexicali has to offer by visiting Teatro del Estado, Teatro de Casa de Cultura de Mexicali and many more! Shopping? The city boasts a diverse array of shopping malls like the Plaza La Cachanilla wh ere you can find a host of local Mexican products as well as the latest imports from the world over! If it�s music you�re into, then the Baja Prog festival is for you. A four day concert that feature 20 bands from all over the world in a series of progressive rock concerts! Truly, Mexicali has a lot to offer its tourists, so make your next vacation stop Mexicali!