By Rodrigo Manterola
Baja California Mexico, or Baja, as some like to call it, is one of the most magical places in the world and here are some reasons why:
Whales, sharks, mantas, sea lions, and thousands of tropical fish all around you. Baja’s marine life has no parallel, period
You can travel Baja on any budget without missing anything. From top luxury resorts, Airbnb, small traditional hotels and hostels; you will find your dream vacation here.
Baja is by far the best place for whale watching in the world. Blue whales, humpback whales, and the amazingly friendly gray whales, amongst others, come to the warm waters of Baja California every winter, and during this time there are tons of whale watching tour operators to choose from particularly in Cabo, Loreto and the lagoons of San Ignacio, Magdalena, and Guerrero Negro
Read this article about the Friendly Gray Whales of San Ignacio Lagoon
Baja California Sur is considered the world capital of Marlin but the catch of the day can be Yellowtail, Mackerel, Yellowfin Tuna, Calico Bass, Rock Cod, Red Snapper, Whitefish, Bonito, Barracuda, etc
Baja California is famous for the food and particularly for fish tacos Baja style, but there’s more; you will find delicious food all around like chocolate clams, (They don’t taste like chocolate, but they are delicious) birria, and much more! You can find some recipes here
If you like the outdoors and marine life, you must go kayaking in the most diverse sea on the planet.
There are long excursions available for those who want to get lost in the Sea of Cortez, camping in desert beaches for days! Not mentioning kayaking with thousands of dolphins and other sea creatures
Hundreds of years of history of the Californias lie in the deserts, valleys, and mountains, stretching from Cabo, in the south, all the way to the border with the US, in the North
From soldiers to missioners, thousands of stories of the creation of Baja from the arrival of the Spaniards to this day.
Cave paintings and petroglyphs dated thousands of years old are dotted all along the Baja California Peninsula. Hop on a mule and wander the deserts and mountains to find this millennial rock art. You can find one day or several days tours to enjoy camping in the sierras and ranches of the peninsula as you explore the canyons of Baja.
Read about our trip to te Cave Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco here
…horseback riding on the beach, sailing and many more activities are available all along its thousands of miles of beautiful shores.
Baja California’s is rising in the world of craft beer and wine producers with world-class home brands like Baja Brewing Company and Xecue Vinicola, beer and wine respectively
Deserts, mountains, wildlife, great fish tacos, amazing history; from Baja’s volcanic origins to the top travel destination it’s now. Baja California has it all
You can read this article on Road trip to Baja, or this article about our experience whale watching in San Ignacio Lagoon, or read about our trip to the Cave Paintings of San francico
But let’s start from the beginning…
What does Baja mean?
Baja is short for Baja California or “lower” California, which historically refers to the peninsula stretching south the Colorado Delta in the Gulf of California, and the city of San Diego on the Pacific Ocean side, a peninsula that is longer than Italy but half the width of Florida.
Alta or “higher” California is everything north of that same division, now the US and Mexico border, and the American state of California
In the novel, The adventures of Splandian, written in the early 17th century by Garci de Montalvo, the author describes a faraway island inhabited only by women, and where the only occurring metal on the island was gold. The island of California.
This is also where the name “California” was coined for the first time.
Where is Baja?
The Baja California Peninsula contains two of the 32 states that shape Mexico’s geography; Baja California, and Baja California Sur.
So who owns Baja?
Less than 30 years after gaining its independence, and at the end of the Mexican American war in 1848, Mexico almost losses Baja California for the first time
Mexico included The Baja California Peninsula in the list of states Mexico ceded to the US in the treaty ending the war, but the United States wasn’t interested in Baja alleging its proximity to the Mexican state of Sonora across the Gulf of California, also known by Mexicans as El Mar de Cortez, or “Sea of Cortez”
…in the end Baja stayed in Mexico.
In 1853 Mexico almost lost Baja again when William Walker, an American journalist/filibuster, invaded Baja with an army of 50 mercenaries in an attempt to annex it to the US; his effort didn’t pay well as he had no support from the American government.
He was eventually arrested and sent back to the US. He would die years later in Central America,
…and Baja was still Mexico.
By the end of 1952, Baja California (North) was officially a state of Mexico, and by 1974 Baja California Sur (South) became a Mexican state as well.
Where is the Sea of Cortez?
The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, is the youngest and biologically richest sea in the world. Formed some 5 million years ago in a volcanic and seismic turmoil that split the Baja California peninsula from the mainland of what’s now Mexico, and flooded by the Pacific Ocean waters
The Sea of Cortez bears the name of the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez; conqueror of the Aztec empire. This sea was also known as The Vermilion Sea or Mar Bermejo in Spanish.
37 Major Island and more than 900 islets are scattered in its 62,000 sq. miles with depths of more than 3000 meters or 9,800 ft.
The Sealife of Baja California is impressive, endemic and migratory species call Baja home, making it a must for marine life and outdoor enthusiasts.
Some of the species you can find in Baja include.
Marine mammals like; Blue whales, humpback whales, Gray whales, killer whales, at least 8 different species of dolphins, one type of endemic porpoise known as vaquita marina (sea cow) found only in the waters of the Sea of Cortez and now endangered.
Sharks like: Great white sharks, bull sharks, mako sharks, hammerhead, leopard sharks, amongst other, giant mantas, Mobula rays, stingrays, whale sharks, marlin, tuna, plus all kinds of tropical fish amounting more than 900 different species
Sea turtles; 5 different species of turtles nest in Baja; Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green Turtle and Olive Ridley; all of which are still in the endangered species list.
Incredible coral reefs perfect for scuba diving, snorkeling and much more.
Cabo Pulmo; Scuba divers heaven.
In 1995 Cabo Pulmo became Baja California Sur’s little jewel by creating, by presidential decree, a sanctuary for all types of reef-dwelling species like groupers, turtles, and sharks, becoming Cabo Pulmo National Park.
By 2005 the UNESCO named it a world heritage site and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance by 2008.
Only 10 years after its creation, the Cabo Pulmo project returned amazing results; from an overfished small coastal fishermen village to an oasis teeming with marine life, with a 400% increase of biomass.
Today Cabo Pulmo is far away from the overfishing days, as it is now one of the top scuba diving destinations around the world. You won’t find more or bigger fish anywhere else.
Small diving resorts and vacation properties are available for rent, but you need to remember one thing, the amount of people allowed to scuba dive in Cabo Pulmo is very carefully controlled by the park authorities. Make sure you have all permits checked by going with local dive shops in Cabo Pulmo.
Some dive shops in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo also offer this service with properly Cabo Pulmo certified dive masters.
The lagoons of Baja and the friendly Gray whales
Amongst the many visitors in the winter months, the gray whale, calls some of the lagoons along the west side of the peninsula home for a while.
From late January and sometimes up to May, San Ignacio and Ojo de liebre lagoons, and Magdalena Bay, to the south, are magical baby gray whales sanctuaries .
In these lagoons, thousands of Gray whales gather after a 12, 000 miles round trip from the Arctic Circle to have their babies and mate in the tempered waters of Baja California, in what is known as the second-largest migration of any mammal in the world (second only to the humpback whale’s migration).
To experience their presence near your boat is out of this world. Read about it here
Is it safe to drive in Baja California Mexico?
Getting around Baja is relatively easy if you keep in mind a few things, and look at each one as a different creature, as driving in Cabo or La Paz is different than driving to Loreto or San Ignacio; small towns with different driving habits.
There are some fantastic stories about driving across Baja, but if you just want to know some good old Baja practical knowledge just follow these simple steps:
- Drive Baja’s Transpeninsular highway 1, only during the day
- Drive slow, animals and slow transit vehicles are always present on Highway 1
- Make sure your car can take the roads, the heat, and the distances of Baja
Driving to all the magical spots in Baja it’s easy if you understand Baja; long distances, implacable weather, unforgiving roads; it’s all there…
Can I drive my car to Baja or should I rent a car?
The answer is simple; whatever suits your needs best.
If your vacation is in an all-inclusive resort in Cabo, maybe you just rent a car for a day or two and go explore the natural wonders surrounding Cabo San Lucas, like Cabo Pulmo.
Rent the car only for the number of days you need it, and that’s it; I’m sure you’re going to spend some time sipping margaritas by the pool; it’s an all-inclusive resort after all, so why to pay for a car sitting in the parking lot while you clearly not thinking of driving.
In the other hand, if you own a 4X4 all-terrain vehicle or an RV and want to explore and camp Baja, or you are the adventurous one who only needs a pick-up truck, a sleeping bag, a surfboard and a weak excuse to go driving down to San Juanico for the weekend to catch some fish or waves, then yes, you should drive Baja California from north to south.
No permits needed but you need an insurance
You do not need a special permit to drive your car down the entire Baja California Peninsula and some areas of Sonora, as these are considered “Free Zones”, but you still need to show the Mexican tourist card “Forma Migratoria” (FMM), you will need to show your passport or proof of citizenship, proof of ownership of the vehicle, and pay the refundable deposit, and the non-refundable fees.
If you want to read more about driving your car into other parts of Mexico read more in the link below
Mexican valid insurance company
A valid Mexican insurance company is required by law, luckily we found that Bajabound offers the more comprehensive insurance for you while in Mexico
Follow the affiliate link below if you want to know more about the different options Bajabound has to offer.
Are American cars allowed in all states of Mexico?
Yes, Mexico allows temporary import American cars into Mexico for up to 180 days.
Any time longer than that is subject to different criteria depending on the year of your car. The vehicle must be at least over 5 years old and not older than 10 years.
Remember; it’s illegal for a permanent resident of Mexico to drive a foreign plated car.
There are ways around this, and if you are planning to stay in Baja, you may not need to go through all of this, and in general, you are better off selling your car and buying a car in Mexico.
If you are interested in permanently import your car read more on the link below
Steps to import your car into Mexico. Click here
There are so many reasons why you should come and enjoy Baja’s remoteness and beauty.
You will find a destination for any and everyone, from the party towns to the yoga retreat. Baja has it all.
See you on highway 1