You will need "Tourist Cards" (visas) south of Ensenada. While it is possible to secure these in Ensenada, in recent years it has been reported that there may be a surcharge imposed away from the border. Assuming that this is the case, it would be better to obtain Tourist Cards while crossing the border. However, in case you find it necessary to obtain the document in Ensenada, here are some hints at getting it done:As you enter Ensenada from the north, the road forks with Route 1 going to the left and the road to "Centro" branching to the right (this is Route 1-D on the map). Take the Centro route along the waterfront. You make a sharp left-hand turn at the dock area and eventually come to a stoplight. Make a sharp right-hand turn at the stoplight (this may not be possible for a large RV!).
On the right are the new Migración offices, just to the west of the Port Captains Office. They open at 8AM and close at 8PM - and may be closed during mid-day (1-3PM).
If you follow the above route into Ensenada (this is also the short-cut through Ensenada), follow the main street ("Blvd. Lazaro Cardenas") along the waterfront. Eventually you encounter a cross street Calle Agustin Sangines -- turn left. Follow Calle Agustin Sangines past the hospital (watch for the stop sign!) to the big intersection with stop-light, Pemex station on the left, and Gigante store on the right. Turn right and you are again back on Route 1, having avoided a long winding route through residential areas. If you have the AAA book or map of Baja you can trace this route on the local map of Ensenada.
If time permits a two-hour (or more) side trip, "La Bufadora" (the buffalo snort) is an interesting place south of Ensenada. As you pass through Maneadero (the southern suburb of Ensenada), there will be a stop-light and (perhaps) a sign for Punta Banda or La Bufadora. The road bears off to the right and continues out Punta Banda (which forms the southern side of the bay at Ensenada). At the end is pay parking and a host of vendors - plus, of course, the attraction: a sea-spout! If the surf is up, this can be a spectacular sight.
South of Maneadero, the road shrinks to two lanes for the next 800 miles or so.
There are two very large topes (speed bumps) in Santo Tomás as of Summer '95. The newly paved road in the area is great, but watch out for these topes - they are serious about slowing down the traffic!
This is an interesting area 120 miles south of Ensenada. It is a growing center of tomato production and packing. Each of the two towns has now sprouted a stop-light (1996) - a sign of progress which, I suspect, the locals will be slow to accept. In September '96, further signs of progress were evident in a widening of the road to four lanes as it passed through the southern town.
If I have a guest along for a first time ride down the highway, I try to stop at San Quintín overnight (at least stop for a long walk on the beach). The best place to reach the beach is from the La Pinta Hotel south of the towns (there are two versions of San Quintín - a north and a south). Follow the signs to the west to reach the La Pinta (about 2 miles off the main highway).
The beach can even be driven on if a "road" out to the beach can be found - follow the road to the Cielito Lindo and pass the entrance to find a track veering off to the left and leading to the beach (watch for soft areas!). There is also access from within the Cielito Lindo property by following their road towards the beach and taking the "Playa" branch. The beach is very wide and very flat, with many "sand dollars" to be found. At times of extreme low tides many locals will drive out on the beach and dig for clams - the beach can become a minor thoroughfare!
Beginning in 1997, there have been numerous reports of tourist-oriented crime in the San Quintín - El Rosario area. If you are stopping in the area, I'd strongly recommend that you either
stay in a hotel/motel or an established campground.
About 30 miles south of San Quintín, the road turns inland to enter the great Central Desert. South of El Rosario, the fantastic desert scenery begins. It reaches a peak at the "rock garden" of Cataviña.
There is available a book on Baja California plants which makes this section even more interesting (Baja California Plant Field Guide by Norman C. Roberts, Natural History Publishing Co., P.O. Box 962, La Jolla, CA 92037; 1989, ISBN 0-9603144, the cost is about $23).
The road briefly returns to the Pacific at Guerrero Negro. This is the site of the largest sea-water salt production facility in the world. Sea water is let into shallow basins and allowed to evaporate. When the salt crust is thick enough it is scooped up and transported by barge to Cedros Island some 30 miles off the peninsula. It is processed there and loaded on ocean freighters (which cannot enter the shallow lagoons around Guerrero Negro).
It is in one of the shallow lagoons near Guerrero Negro that the California Gray Whale was almost wiped out. They go there to bear their young each winter and, when first discovered in the lagoons, were slaughtered almost to extinction (first by Capt. Scammon after whom the largest lagoon is named).
There are a number of hard-packed roads which may be used by any type of vehicle in this area. Drive through town to the point where the headquarters of the salt company (Exportadora de Sal) is located on the left-hand side (south) - there will be a four-way stop. Taking a right hand turn here gets you started on a very interesting drive along the west side of Guerrero Negro Lagoon to Puerto Carranza, the former salt loading site ("Puerto Viejo"). The road follows a dike through a bird sanctuary and marsh lands, ending at the ruins of the loading facilities. About one mile after starting on this road, another road branches off to the left and may be followed to the gated entrance of the new loading facilities on Scammon's Lagoon.
This area is part of the Vizcaino desert - an especially dry region. Much of the vegetation around Guerrero Negro survives because of the common morning fog (a possible hazard if you are driving in this area in the early morning hours). This desert, in some rough sense, separates two weather zones, and for that reason gets very little precipitation.
Just north of Guerrero Negro is the giant "eagle" monument marking the boundary between the two states of Baja California (to the north) and Baja California Sur. The northern state observes Pacific Standard and Daylight time just as in (Alta) California, and the southern state observes Mountain Standard and Daylight time. You will encounter a one hour time change here. (The southern state converted to using Daylight time in the Spring of 1996.)
A real oasis, complete with a small lake created by a dam! The date palms go back to the first mission settlement times. Drive into the town to really see the full oasis - Highway 1 just passes by on the north side.
The mission in the town center dates back to the late 1700s. An interesting building to walk around and check out what looks like construction with large blocks. The town square is another interesting spot, especially in the evenings.
An old French copper mining town right on the Gulf of California - the first town on the Gulf while driving south. Lots of interesting remnants of the mining facilities.
The "French Hotel" on the hill to the north is especially interesting as an old wooden building, and for the photographs displayed on the walls. There is a bakery in town which many claim to be the best on the peninsula. I usually find it to be very crowded.
If you can find your way up the hill to the south, the view from the cemetery is outstanding. If you find such places interesting, this one is perched on the edge of a hill right over the town.
Another oasis, but this time right on the gulf. Even if just passing by, stop and drive out to the river mouth. This is Baja's only regularly working river (at least it looks like a real river - much of it may simply be a tidal area). There are steps leading to the top of the hill ("El Sombrerito") at the mouth of the river - a nice view from the top. This is reached by driving through town and out to the Gulf on the north side of the river.
One of the most spectacular sections of the Baja highway - many views of beautiful bays and rocky cliffs. Lots of beaches with minimal facilities available for RVs. The northern end is also a popular haven for boaters during the winter months. One of the best views is available by parking at the bottom of the service road for the microwave tower ("Tiburon") at the northern end of the bay, and walking up the road (about 1 mile).
The old mission in Loreto is worth a visit. The waterfront area has been recently been rebuilt (1993?), and offers a very pleasant walk along a "Malecón." With a spectacular ridge of mountains rising steeply to the west of the city, this is a very beautiful location.
The new tourist development is about 5 miles south in Nopoló, complete with a golf course in this very arid environment. There are some very nice beaches there. This development has had a real struggle in getting going, and the hotel has passed through many hands.
Further south of Nopoló is Puerto Escondido, the most protected bay in southern Baja California. During the summer months the bay will be filled with boats sitting out the summer hurricane season in this "hurricane hole." It is about a 1/2 mile drive to get into the area from Highway 1.
Regarding places to stay, there are many choices in the scope of the entire peninsula, but often few choices when you get down to the individual small towns.
- The La Pinta Hotels were constructed as the reasonably priced hotels for the early driver of the paved highway. In recent years they have become rather expensive ($55-60/night) compared to the bargains they used to be. However, they are there and they are clean. Also, I often find it convenient to stop at one for breakfast.
- Ensenada: Numerous tourist hotels and local hotels.
- San Quintín: La Pinta on a wonderful flat beach south of town. One mile north is the Cielito Lindo ($35/night ??). In town is the Motel Chavez which has been about $20/night. The Old Mill is on the inner bay, and is reached by a four-mile gravel/dirt road heading west from the highway south of town (fishing, lodging and dining).
Excellent food may be had at the restaurant "Costa Azul" (near Motel Chavez - but on the east side of the highway). Also, the restaurant at the Cielito Lindo is renowned for outstanding seafood, especially the cracked crab plate. In February, 2000 Ron Mader reported an outstanding meal obtained at the "El Paraiso" located at the north end of San Quintín, and on the west side of the highway. (I've not had a chance to try El Paraiso due to being hooked on the food at the Cielito Lindo.)
- Cataviña: The La Pinta is the only regular hotel/motel for almost 200 miles. Rough rooms and good food may also be found at Rancho Santa Ines about two miles south of Cataviña. The rooms are very crude and over-priced. They also used to sell aviation gas at the Rancho which could be used if other gas supplies in the area dried up. Fortunately, this is not as much of a problem as it used to be.
- Guerrero Negro: There are numerous motels in this town, as well as a La Pinta just to the north. I have stayed at the El Morro many times ($28/night for two). The newer "Don Gus" has been recommended by several people (turn left at the radio tower as you enter town). There are several excellent restaurants in town. Coming from the north, the first is La Espinita, just north of the Eagle Monument. Driving into town you will encounter first the Puerto Viejo. This is followed by the slightly more expensive Malarimmo. There are also some comfortable cabins for rent at the Malarimmo restaurant.
Here is some information from the phone book:
Hot water - 24 hours
TV with remote control
Parking with watchman
Laundry and cafeteria
Motel El Morro
- San Ignacio: A La Pinta in the town (about 1 mile off the highway).
(November, '98) Richard and Mary Lou Adcock report a new motel about 1/4 mile south of the turnoff into San Ignacio. Driving south it is on the right-hand side of the road, and is slightly hidden by some trees. There were six brand-new rooms available, plus a restaurant attached to the house next door. Cost was $15US for one night, and the name is "Baja Oasis."
- Santa Rosalia: Numerous local hotels in the town area. The French Hotel up on the hill is interesting because it is an old wooden hotel built when this was still a French mining town. There is a more modern motel on the south edge of town, the "El Morro" ($35/night), a sister motel to the "El Morro" in Guerrero Negro. The rooms are large and reasonably clean (except for bugs), but the restaurant was not especially good the one time I ate there in 1992. The motels tend to fill up on those nights when the ferry from Guaymas arrives.
There are a few restaurants along the highway as you pass through town. For years I've had breakfast at the yellow restaurant on the water side just south of the Pemex station (where you don't want to stop!). I've also tried the newer "El Mirador" at the south end of town and found the food good, but the over-charging irritating.
- Mulegé: Several motels in the area. The best are located on the two sides of the river at the mouth. On the south side is the Serenidad ($70US for two in November, 2000) (http://www.serenidad.com) and on the north side is the Vista Hermosa (about $45/night - I've not stayed there since 1992). The restaurant and bar at the Serenidad are exceptional (closed during September). The Serenidad also has a pig roast each Saturday night during the season - an event I can highly recommend ($15US per person in November, 2000).
There is a new (low cost?) motel on the left just after entering town. For meals I would first recommend the Serenidad, and secondly the Equipales Restaurant (enter town, take the one-way street to the right, turn left at the Pemex station, and after a second left look for the Equipales on the second floor).
Uzelle Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org) offers the following comments about a place between Mulegé and Loreto (April '97):
George's Ole - Located in a tiny cove near the highway. Multi-level: suites ($65), nice clean rooms ($55), cabañas on the beach with a hot shower nearby (150 pesos), or palapas.
- Loreto: Several hotels in town. The La Pinta is to the north on the beach. The Mision de Loreto is on the beach right in town. I can recommend both of these (around $50/night). To the south at Nopoló there is a former "El Presidente" hotel - it is now called the "Loreto Inn Hotel." In recent years this has passed through several owners. (Feb. 2002 - the hotel is reported to be closed.)
- South of La Paz: Uzelle Williams (email@example.com) offers the following comments about a place on the East Cape (April '97):
Maxey's Guest House: About 14 miles north of San José del Cabo. Nearly outside living, but with a roof over your head. Very quiet and beautiful. $15 per night with the option of excellent $5 dinners. You need a car.