By Tom Gatch and Carla White
It is still and always summer in Baja!
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.
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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