May 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
South of Ensenada, the scene tends to become a little less America, a little more Mexico. While technically the border is 70 miles behind you, many make the argument that the corridor from Tijuana through Ensenada is just a large suburb of San Diego. All of that begins to change, however, once you leave the Costco’s and the Home Depot’s of Ensenada behind you.
Not far after Ensenada is the town of Maneadero, where, if you will be traveling south from here, it is required that you obtain a tourist card. Maneadero also has some roadside taco stands that put up a fight for some of the best on the peninsula.
The major feature of this area is the large turn off to the right for Punta Banda and the famous La Bufadora blowhole. Heavily trafficked yet still worth a visit, the actual “Bufadora” is an enormous blowhole set out on the Pacific coast that occasionally explodes in a fit of fury depending on the swell and tide conditions. Hordes of merchants ply their wares amongst the spectacular crowds, though even amongst the chaotic scene the tranquility of rural Mexican farming villages in somehow maintained. This area offers a large amount of camping, snorkeling, kayaking, and surfing opportunities, and there are a number of hidden campsites back over the mountains if you know the right people to talk to…
Continuing on past Maneadero, the road winds its way over rolling hills and dry canyons and ravines–the first real sign of the Baja countryside for anyone traveling south from the border. Not long after climbing up and over an impressive mountainside with a military checkpoint, the road gradually eases its way into the dramatically scenic valley of Santo Tomas. This entire area is notorious for its long rows of wine vineyard, and for being directly on the course of the Baja 500 offroad rally, and there is a fairly large gringo presence in the surrounding settlements.
While Santo Tomas itself is a nice enough town, the coastal areas surrounding Santo Tomas are what make the area legendary. This is also the northern turn off for the fabled surfing spot Punta San Jose, a windswept point that lies at the end of an hour long bumpy dirt road where rustic camping, fresh lobster, stiff winds, and cold water surfing is the name of the game. To get to Punta San Jose, look for the narrow dirt road on the righthand side of the highway leading up from the main supermarket in Santo Tomas, restock on beer and food, and get ready for a bumpy ride.
Another way to get to Punta San Jose–though we shall call this the long way around–is to head south of Santo Tomas to the (paved) turnoff for the small community of Erendira and the coastline leading north from there. Erendira itself is a quaint little coastal fishing community with a fairly evident gringo influence, as shown by spots such as Castro’s Camp (fishing) and Coyote Cal’s (drinking). A nice little outpost town for sure, if you continue up the unpaved coastal road heading back north, there are a number of secluded spots for camping right along the ocean, expat surfing communities such as Punta Cabras, and eventually the road will take you all the way back up to the lighthouse on the cliff overlooking Punta San Jose.
Back on the main highway heading south, places such as San Vicente, Colonet, and Camalu will quickly come and go. While there is a lot of activity going on on the side of the highway–and it’s obvious that these aren’t exactly small areas–sadly, I can really find minimal reason you would ever want to hang out here. There are some curious roadside markets, and a number of decent taco stands, but the crime is stiflingly high, and it just isn’t a “great part of town”, if you will. The one place I would recommend checking out if you’re a surfer in this area is the Cuatro Casas area just outside of Colonet, which has come decent lodging and an unforgettable wave.
Any further driving from this area will invariably bring you to San Quintin, a longtime getaway for northern gringos, and home to one of the nicest bays for fishing on the entire Pacific coast. While San Quintin may not seem like much from the highway, if you head west down to the old part of town down by the water you will find the charming little getaway and the reason it draws so many crowds. Personally, I like to hang out a little further down the road at a spot called El Socorro, a somewhat forgotten little fishing commune at the base of massive sand dunes tucked up right against the coast. Though recently prone to some modern development by the highway, if you continue down the only dirt road in town, there is a small campground run by an elderly woman who will charge you $10/car and let you camp in a protected area right at the base of the dunes. A good surfing spot in the winter, some of the best sunsets on the Baja peninsula can be experienced from atop the sand dunes, an ice cold Tecate in hand, a large group of friends, and no cares in the world.
Finally, once you leave the simplicity of El Socorro behind, it’s not far until you get to El Rosario and “turn the corner” (literally and metaphorically) into the wild deserts of Baja. Prior to the 1978 completion of the Transpeninsular Highway, this was the end of the paved road in Baja–a place ventured beyond only by the intrepid or the foolish. For most modern-day Baja travelers, El Rosario means only two things–PEMEX, and Mama Espinosa’s. Anyone continuing further down the peninsular from here is going to have to fuel up, because it’s a long drive until another reliable source for gasoline (Guerrero Negro, 225 miles), and anyone who is hungry would be foolish to not stop in at Mama Espinosa’s for a lobster taco and a cold one in the shade. Anyone looking for a good place to camp around El Rosario can head out towards the coast to Punta Baja, a tiny little fishing community where life moves slow and the waves move fast
Congratulations on making it this far down Mother Baja…there is so much more that awaits you for those who continue to venture on…