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The Baja Renaissance

By Jim Pickell, CEO Baja.com

2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar for Baja’s indigenous neighbors. This timely transition neatly marks the blossoming a new era for Baja California. The region is undergoing an explosion of creativity and innovation. This is Baja’s Renaissance, being led by a diverse and eclectic group of Baja denizens, collaborating with pilgrims from the international community, many discovering and rediscovering this Mecca. Baja has a renewed lease on life, and there’s a tantalizing possibility that this one will not be fueled by an unsustainable bubble of cruisers and spring-breakers, but rather led by visionaries and philosophers, poets and professionals, artists and scientists, with the only common thread being their efforts to weave the Baja lifestyle into their vision.

Approximately 7.5 million people around the world Google the word “Baja” each month. What are they searching for?  Baja is experiencing a renewed interest in its landscape, artisans, its environment, its lifestyle and how its citizens achieve wellness. It’s touching the entire peninsula. The interest in Baja is reminiscent of the Arabic folktale, “The Man Who Became Rich through a Dream”. The protagonist traveled on a worldwide quest, on the faith of a dream, searching for riches. Imprisoned, broke and penniless, a sympathetic policeman gives him money to return to his home. It was there he discovered a great treasure, one that had always been buried beneath the fountain in his own garden

Look to the city many would perceive to be the least suspecting candidate, Tijuana. The world’s busiest border shapes the views of more visitors than any other region. Artistic murals are now being installed over the graffiti. Much like the flower became a symbol of peace in times of war; could this gateway one day reflect what Baja has to offer? Within Tijuana proper, restaurants the likes of Mision 19 have captured international acclaim as Mexican food is becoming one of the world’s favorites. Right beneath our palettes, Tijuana is becoming to food what Seattle was to grunge music, with rivals in other Baja regions. The city now boasts its first LEED certified building, drawing international attention with its “bridges and skylights, a vast airy central chamber, and an aluminum skin to filter out ultraviolet rays.”  And the Business Innovation and Technology Center launched several months ago, promising a steady stream of thought leaders.

The world is taking note. At the other end of the peninsula, San Jose del Cabo hosting the G20 this summer, a landmark event for Baja. While it may be a political ploy to send the message that the coast is indeed clear. The fact is, it just may work since the coast is clear. But behind any smoke and mirrors, something real is happening and it’s a people’s movement. California, long viewed as forward-looking in protecting the environment, is now finding itself struggling to duplicate the groundbreaking success that Baja California Sur achieved in recovering the sensitive marine zone at the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park. There are efforts in both Tijuana and Los Cabos to develop some of the leading stem cell centers in the world, promising the fountain of youth that many have believed could be found in Baja for decades. Out of necessity, Baja is home to among the most advanced drip irrigation in the world. And among the next generation, many “entrepreneurs by necessity”, there are new concepts surfacing in marine biology, LEED certified development, organic farming, experiential travel, voluntourism, nomadic schools, agrotourism, medical tourism, and yes, even novel ways of making us love fresh roasted Mexican grown, organic coffee.

Baja is a lifestyle brand but it’s so much more. Baja living is the caveman diet of life. And this is what attracts these creative forces. At its core it’s about simplicity and authenticity, reminding travelers why they travel in the first place. People who can think out of the box have learned what Baja has to offer beyond the all-inclusive resorts and beneath the sandy surface and that’s the draw. Baja has long been the benefactor of the worldwide brain drain of creativity, an exodus of artists that have left their homes for Baja. Charles Stewart of Todos Santos (may he rest in peace) was one of the founding fathers of this movement in 1985. Now Baja California is becoming a gastronomical geo-center for foodies and wine connoisseurs around the world. Anthony Bourdain recently referred to Baja as “the new Tuscany” at a recent speaking engagement. Almost 90% of Mexican wine, many vintages and varietals winning awards around the world, come from the Guadalupe Valley and surrounding region, an area still untainted by the commercialism found in other wine regions. In Los Cabos, artwalks and organic markets are now common place, with the once little known Flora Farms becoming an epicenter. “[T]here’s some awesome shit going on down there right now. They got tired of waiting for the Americans to come back and just started making really great, really creative food. . . . Something amazing’s happening” said Anthony.

 Ultimately a big component to the direction this takes comes down to tourism. Contrary to assumptions one may draw from US headlines, Mexico was recently ranked the 10th most traveled country in the world. It’s also the second most rapidly growing country in Latin America, even while weaning off its GDP’s dependence on oil. And as impressive as Mexico’s rise through the ranks, Baja is one of its fastest growing regions in Mexico, whether defined by tourism or industrialization. Did you know Ensenada  boasts the highest preponderance of advanced academic degrees… in all of Latin America? Historically Baja California has been more integrated with the United States than just about any region in Central America. And while there’s no dispute that travel from the US has declined in recent years, the rest of the world is largely ignoring the US media. Travel from Canada grew over 50% in the last five years. More rapid growth is being experienced from Asia. And visitors love what they are discovering and the more adventurous stay.

Not only do Baja Californians make incredibly kind hosts, Baja has a plethora to offer, both natural and manmade. Baja California is home to a World Heritage site, the Gulf of California, which contains 39% of the world’s species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean. Baja is home of the Picacho del Diablo, a 10,154 foot mountain that’s a challenging climb; the oldest cave painting ever discovered on this continent; Catavina national park that rivals any in the world. There’s a plethora of wildlife, pristine natural wonders, one-third of the world’s whale species, endless sunshine and warm and mesmerizing, crystal clear waters, making Baja one of the best locations for sea kayaking, scuba diving and whale watching in the world.

Baja has a chain of missions that could keep any archaeologist occupied for a lifetime. The 1000 mile drive from the northern- to its southern-most tips, done right, is arguably the best road trip on the planet. From the Vendimia wine harvest in the Guadalupe Valley, to the Baja 1000, to the Todos Santos Film Festival, Baja has among the most unique and interesting ways to spend your time in the world, whether measured with a barometer of culture, gastronomy, history or merely a scale of pure bliss.  It’s exhausting just trying to describe what you can do and see in Baja. And yes, you can do absolutely nothing and literally witness the hands on your watch stop moving as we all have experienced, the double edged sword of time which takes on a different meaning in Baja.

While there are those lamenting about the continuing “crisis,” there’s an undeniable flurry of innovation at work within the region.  The most novel are worrying about “becoming too big,” as they struggle with not only how growth affect s their own goals, but also the region as a whole. In the foreground, Baja has quietly become increasingly prominent on the world stage, as a symbol of what the future might hold for us all, in ways that could not have been predicted even a decade ago. It’s Baja’s time.

About Baja.com
Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel advice to Baja California, Mexico, supported by a full service travel agency. The site offers travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps, and articles about day trips, surfing, snorkeling, diving, fishing, kayaking, art galleries, whale watching, eco-tours, shopping, attractions, local events and news. Travelers can book directly online or utilize Baja.com’s state-of-the-art contact center, which provides bilingual customer support, expert information and sales 7 days a week, 365 days a year. To access the information and receive newsletters and invitations to special events, register at Baja.com. You can call us at 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@Baja.com.

Baja.com represents a team of local bloggers, regional travel experts, photographers, artists, Baja aficionados and marketing and technology gurus. The only common thread among the group, as each member of our team will tell you, we are all fanatics about Baja.

 At Baja.com we’re always looking for meaningful way to harness and accelerate this creative energy that surrounds us in Baja. Consistent with our commitment to the region, we have created several programs to stimulate and support change agents within Baja. The first is called the “Baja Ambassadors”, a group of unique and diverse individuals who are positioned to shape the next decade of Baja. Among this group are people like Tim Means who worked with the World Heritage Foundation to repurchase the now protected Espiritu Islands; Luis Palacios, a young, energetic, Harvard-educated, marketing director for Baja California Sur’s Board of Tourism; Serge Dedina, the Executive Director of Wildcoast, sponsor of what was called the “best ocean campaign in human history” widely credited with saving the grey whale; and Andrea Tomba, an offroad racer and guide who symbolizes and embraces the Baja lifestyle. On another front we are collaborating with the Board of Tourism on a program we call “Baja Scribes”. This is designed to encourage top writers to visit Baja to create original content about Baja and help educate the world. Finally we are working with many non-profit organizations in accordance with our own commitment, including by giving a significant portion of our revenues to local charities and are committed to becoming a carbon neutral company by purchasing carbon credits. Our mission is to have a large impact with a light footprint and to continue to fuel the Baja Renaissance in any way we can. If you have an interest in these programs, please contact us. 

About jimpickell

James Pickell, CEO & President
Self-confessed serial entrepreneur. Addicted to challenges. Bores easily. Baja denizen and afficionado.
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