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Tips for Visiting Baja in 2013

Tips for Visiting Baja in 2013

by Jessica Wray

Jessica Wray is a 24 year-old San Diegan traveling, teaching and eating her way around the world! She writes about it all in her blog Curiosity Travels.

My last two posts have all had to do with previous and current roamings around Baja California, and now I’d like to help others explore the area independently as well.  With the help of a “Baja Calfornia travel expert” (my Dad), I have compiled a post with current information for anyone planning to travel to Baja in 2013.  My Dad has traveled independently and extensively throughout the area for years, and has seen the region go through booming tourism to a slow trot, due to the influx of media reports on violence.  Now, we both agree people should stop being so scared of Baja and start going back.  Though the violence in Mexico has been devastating for the lives of thousands, business, and tourism, there is one silver lining — travel to Baja is now a completely local and authentic experience.

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In my Dad’s opinion, “Baja Mexico (and not Cabo, that’s  not the real Baja) is a magical place. You can drive, or better yet ride a motorcycle, for a 1000 miles through a beautiful desert void of crowds or development.  Each day you can eat fresh inexpensive seafood, or authentic Mexican cuisine , camp or or get a hotel right on the beach, kayak in the ocean, get close to the grey whales, golf on the coastline, party at a real cantina or just sit back and be part of authentic Mexico.  For those of us who continue to go south regardless of the northern media bashing (yes, there is crime along the border) Baja is special because it has barely changed, even since the highway was completed in 1972.”

Crossing the border and methods of transportation

By car: Crossing the U.S. border into Baja Mexico is fast and easy. You can cross at Tijuana or Mexicali, and visit several villages and towns with only a passport, a U.S. drivers license, vehicle registration and Mexican liability insurance for your vehicle. Be sure to purchase Mexican liability insurance at the border, or better yet from the internet and print a copy before you leave. If you are in an accident, regardless of fault, you will need this policy or go to jail until fault is determined. You can also purchase full coverage for your vehicle that includes Mexican legal service.  You pay for each day of travel but it’s well advised.

If you plan to visit Baja for more than 72 hours, or travel farther south than Ensenada or San Felipe, you also need a tourist card (FMM). Tourist cards can be obtained quickly, usually within minutes, at the Mexican immigration offices at the border. Simply park right past the border check and the officers will point you the way. However, my Dad has made several trips through Baja and has never been asked for the card.

To get to most coastal Baja destinations: From the San Ysidro border crossing, follow the signs to “Rosarito/Beach Cities” and take the toll roads down Coastal Highway One.

Highway One along the coast of Baja California Mexico

Highway One along the coast

By bus: One easy and non-threatening way to see some of Baja is by taking the Mexicoach bus from the border parking in San Ysidro. These red  Mexicoach buses go into Tijuana and also Rosarito.

To travel further south, Ensenada and down the Baja Peninsula, you can take an ABC bus from Tijuana.  Walk across the border at San Ysidro to the Plaza Viva.  Buses for Ensenada depart every half hour from 6 am to 9:30pm and cost about $15 U.S. dollars.

Tip: Sit on the right side of the bus for ocean views.

All of these bus options above should lead to a safe, hassle free option of exploring a bit of Baja.

Safety in Baja

Though drug related crime has been a serious problem in Mexico in the last 7 years, still the question of safety is often debated on the internet. Everyone traveling into Mexico for the first time should do their own research, but take media reports of violence with a grain of salt.  Sometimes, the U.S. media reports on violent crime in Mexico more than the crime in our own cities.  From some various articles I’ve read around the internet, Tijuana could be considered a success story in fighting drug-related crime in the last few years. Research will also show that Baja is currently the safest area of Mexico. As reports of violent crime have gone up in the last few years in other parts of Mexico, reports of violent crime in Tijuana has been going down.   To get a first hand view, you can read about my recent experience in Mexico.  Gadling also has a great article about safety in Baja, and some local’s personal experiences, here

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There are a few simple safety rules for Baja, but most involve just using common sense and being aware of your surroundings.  Not being out past dark in Tijuana or Rosarito is one way to avoid problems.  The farther south you go, the safer you will be.  Also, do not drive on the highways  after dark– black cows on a dark and black highway is a sure recipe for disaster.  Taking just a few precautions will go far.  Don’t flash money or jewelry, cause attention to yourself, or get too drunk.  If you look easy to take advantage of, the higher the risk you will be.

Police safety

There is no doubting the presence of corrupt police officers in Mexico. If trouble arises with one, don’t be afraid to go to the police station (or tell them you will meet them there later) to settle the issue. If you have not broken a law, it is unlikely that you will pay a fine. Most likely, the officer will tell you to go on your way or hold your license and give it to you when you go to the police station. Some use an expired license for this issue and never go back to claim it. Most officers will want a small bribe to quickly settle the issue, and while it is illegal to take or offer a bribe, it is still done frequently.  Try not to take this route, as you are only making the situation worse for others in the future, making it easy for police officers to expect bribes.

To do your best to avoid these situations, don’t break laws on the road or do anything to attract attention to yourself.  Tip:  A family friend was pulled over in Mexico while talking on a cell phone while driving.  Whether it is technically illegal or not, best avoid it.  

Health Safety

Street food in Mexico is delicious and filling, but use the same cautions as you would when traveling to other countries.  Eat street tacos from busy taco carts or shops where the food turnover is fast and nothing is sitting out.  Only drink bottled water, and be careful with juices or ice made without filtered water.  Coffee in upscale areas is usually safe but when in doubt, opt for bottled water… or better yet a Corona.  

Other tips

  • Know some  Spanish:  Before the war on drugs, tourism in Baja was huge and the use of English was widespread.  Nowadays, most tourists are not coming from the U.S., but mostly Europe and other parts of Mexico, therefore English is used less often.  Learn some basic phrases to not only to make your time in Baja a bit easier, but to also be respectful of the local culture.
  • Currency: Most parts of northern Baja still accept U.S. dollars and you can also use U.S. currency on the toll roads.  If planning to travel more extensively throughout Baja, it is best to find a “casa de cambio” or use my preferred method for getting currency in a foreign country– just withdraw from an ATM.
  • Souvenirs:  Shopping in Mexico is fun, and haggling is encouraged.  For the best deal, walk away and wait for the person to shout a lower price to you.  Don’t always haggle too hard, remember that many of these people have gone through rough times with the decline in tourism.  Spending a little extra money on a souvenir will probably help them more than it will hurt your wallet.  Also, try and buy souvenirs or items made by local artists.
Baja local artist shot glasses

Some shot glasses we bought that were painted by a local artist

 

Best of:
For great fresh seafood try: Ensenada, San Felipe, Loreto and La Paz.
Best beach camping: Bahia Concepcion, South of Mulege.
For whale watching: Scammon’s Lagoon
Must do’s: Lobster in Puerto Nuevo, hanging out in downtown Mulege, golfing in Loreto, visiting the old Spanish missions of San Ignacio, Mulege and Loreto.

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With crime levels down, more Americans should be taking advantage of the foreign country we have so close. But visit soon, it won’t feel untouched and authentic forever…

Jessica Wray is a 24 year-old San Diegan traveling, teaching and eating her way around the world! She writes about it all in her blog Curiosity Travels.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals(our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurants,hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles aboutevents, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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About Carla White

Carla White is a freelance writer, public relations/marketing consultant and event organizer based in Ensenada, Baja, California. Carla and her husband Jim moved to Baja in 2003 from the Los Angeles area believing that, thanks to the internet and satellite communications, they could continue working from home while enjoying a richer, more affordable lifestyle. So far, they’ve been right. Connect with Carla Google+

Comments

  1. Thanks for this well-written article and your advice. I would caution readers about this:

    “However, my Dad has made several trips through Baja and has never been asked for the card.”

    Although I haven’t experience it myself, I have heard reports that they do ask for this card at Guerrero Negro as you cross into Baja California Sur. And if you don’t have the card, the fine is around $125 per person. Best to get the card at the border to avoid this costly fine. It’s easy to obtain.

  2. Bert Skurman says:

    Dear Carla,

    I very much enjoyed reading your article. We have just recently purchased a residence in Bajarmar,Ca and have devide our time between the two places San Diego, Ca. We have enjoyed our time in Bajarmar so much that we are planning to live there ful time now.
    Pleas keep me on your mailing list and send any new information that you gather.

    Sincerely,
    Bert

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