The extension southwards of the Mex 5 highway is making the Cortés coast beyond San Felipe far easier to access in conventional vehicles, and hitherto isolated places are now within daily reach. We took a drive down there to see for ourselves how far we could get and return on the same day. We set off in a VW Golf (with a tent, just in case we needed it!) one morning from San Felipe......
Just fifteen kilometres south of San Felipe you can find one of the Baja California peninsula's most interesting yet under visited locations: El Valle de los Gigantes. Its name translates into English as "The Valley of The Giants", which to me sounds like the name of an Irwin Allen produced 1960s sci fi series. This place would indeed make a magnificent location for sci fi, though in this case the giants in question are the centuries old cacti which dominate the landscape. The largest of the cactus species here are the tallest in the world, and can grow to more than 17 metres in height, but the mystery for me is which species are they?
The northernmost settlement of any size on Baja California's Cortés coast, San Felipe just might be the peninsula's most under-rated resort. Easily accessible via the border crossings at Tijuana, Tecate and Mexicali, this fishing village sitting at the end of the Mex 5 highway has up to now been relatively isolated, with access south restricted to those with a lot of patience and a high clearance vehicle. This situation is due to change, however, with the highway being extended south to eventually connect with the Mex 1 transpeninsular route, meaning San Felipe can more easily be integrated into a tour of the whole peninsula. What then does San Felipe have to offer its visitors?
Some of the guide books refer to it as the Cantú Grade, after an ex governor, but the spectacular mountain road which connects Mexicali to Tecate and Tijuana is known locally as La Rumorosa. The name comes from the whispering winds which blow through the Sierra de Juarez and can spell instant disaster to those who don't drive with due diligence through its twisting path.
Located half way down the Baja California peninsula, Guerrero Negro lacks the palm tree picture postcard appeal of San Ignacio to the south, but it does have its own attractions which make it an interesting place to visit.
La Paz may share its name with the world's highest capital, but this city's attractions are all at sea level or below...
Most attention on the southern part of the Baja California peninsula goes to Los Cabos, the burgeoning tourist enclave at the peninsula's southern tip, which is becoming a serious challenger to Cancún as Mexico's top resort. For the more discerning traveller, however, La Paz has at least as much to offer, particularly if history, culture and nature are amongst your interests.
Declared a Pueblo Mágico by the Mexican government in 2012, Loreto is a pretty, relaxing coastal town of barely 10,000 people, which despite its small size offers plenty for visitors, whether on land or sea. Its main claim to fame however is historical...
Tijuana's Revival: Part Four
"So where are we going for lunch, then?" I said as we pulled away from La Revo in the centre of Tijuana. "Los Cabos" came the reply. "Eh? That's 1,000 miles away, this car will never get there and back, and we all have things to do tomorrow!" I responded. "Don't worry" I was told "we'll be there in no time".
Tijuana's Revival: Part Three
Much has been written about Tijuana's sleazy reputation (not least on this blog), and it is on Avenida Revolución ("La Revo") and surrounding streets that this reputation was largely built. What then of the reality of the situation, in light of the revival going on elsewhere in the city? We decided to take a look for ourselves...
Tijuana's Revival: Part Two
The appeal of the Tijuana area extends well beyond its city limits, and by heading south just a short distance along the Mex 1 highway many other places of interest can be found, not least Popotla, a no nonsense fishing village off the beaten track which is attracting attention for its excellent fresh fish and seafood.
Part One: Xolos and Tacos
Things are changing in Tijuana, and people on both sides of the border are noticing. Shorn of its traditional clientele after the triple blows of worldwide recession, narcoviolence and swine flu in 2008/09 scared people away, San Diego's southern neighbour is reinventing itself as a culinary and cultural destination, and may finally shed its unenviable reputation as the city with the worst reputation in the world (CNN June 2012).
Of all the tremendous attractions the Baja California peninsula offers the most unique has to be whale watching. The opportunity to get up close and personal with these friendly giants is an unforgettable experience, and it is this proximity which sets Baja whale watching apart from the cetaceous encounters available in other parts of the world. The Grey Whales complete an annual migration from the Bering Sea near Alaska down the Pacific coast past Canada and the US to reach their breeding grounds on the peninsula. At 5,000 - 6,000 miles (16,000 - 19,000km) it is the longest known migratory pattern.
Situated just 70 miles south of the US border along the spectacular Pacific coast, Ensenada offers a relaxing alternative to Tijuana, its more boisterous big brother on the border. That's not to say you can't have an action-packed visit though, with a variety of attractions within easy reach.
Usually the mere mention of Mexicans painting on walls conjures up images of the magnificent murals which sprung up from the 1920s onwards, particularly the work of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Anyone who's ever visited Mexico City and seen the Palacio Nacional or Palacio de Bellas Artes amongst others, will know exactly what I mean. However, the muralist tradition in Mexico goes back several thousand years before the country came into existence, and no finer examples of early rock art can be found than on the Baja California peninsula.
The first sight of the Sea of Cortez on a southbound trip along the transpeninsular highway (Mex 1), Santa Rosalia certainly is a unique place. Founded by a French copper mining company in the 1880s, who then left in the 1950s, its architecture is like no other on the Baja California peninsula, and reminders of its French origins dominate the town. Whereas most settlements on the Cortez coast are associated with beautiful beaches and related aquatic activities (San Felipe, Bahia de Los Angeles to the north and Mulege, Loreto, La Paz, etc. to the south) Santa Rosalia has always been an industrial port with little concession to the diver, kayaker or fishing enthusiast. This difference from the norm does, however, make it a fascinating stopover on any transpeninsular tour.