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Baja, California – Mexico

Baja, California is that narrow strip of Mexico extending south of California for over 2000 kilometres. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Bay of California, it’s interior is a mix of mountains and desert, with a few volcanoes and oases thrown in for interest. Pristine beaches surround it’s shoreline. A road trip here is an adventure of a lifetime. This is the story of our epic 8,500 k journey from Vancouver Island to La Paz – and back in February 2023.

The Crew

Let me introduce the crew of our latest Baja adventure.

Tucker is our 11 year old furry mutt and likely the main reason we’re on road trips instead of jet-setting around the world. Mention “truck ride” to this little guy and his reaction says it all.

Tucker loves Mexico, the land of freedom for dogs. Here he can walk into a restaurant with confidence, knowing no one will bat an eye. He made a lot of friends with the Mexican dogs in the campgrounds

Princess Ray is my reluctant partner and driver on all my adventures. You would think from his behavior that he’s happiest at home in front of his tablet playing video games, but once convinced of a journey he is the best travel companion one could ask for. His nickname Princess comes from his penchant for clean bathrooms, not always a possibility in the Baja.

I am the ideas person. I’m also supposed to be the navigator but sometimes it’s hard to take photos and look at maps at the same time. When I can find WiFi I write blog posts and at the end of the day cook dinner for the rest of the crew.

The Rig

We are traveling with a pretty sweet set up these days. Our 4 cylinder diesel 4X4 Chevy Colorado has just the right mix of rugged economy to adequately tow our NuCamp 320 T@B boondocker, moniker The Ritz, pretty much anywhere you could imagine you’d want to go. We averaged just a little over 11 l/100k on the fuel economy, but still got into remote places like Agua Verde and an undisclosed desert location.  Space in the bucky allowed us to back bulky items like paddle boards and suitcases. It was great to disconnect on long stays and explore with the truck. We are 20 year Westfalia veterans so appreciate this particular perk of towing a trailer.

The Ritz was the perfect size for us. Inside we have a comfortable almost king size bed, kitchen, bathroom and entertainment system. The smaller size and weight allowed us to manually move her around when we found ourselves in spaces too tight to use the truck.

It’s a shame we needed it, but the Alde heating system in the Ritz was well appreciated more often than expected. It is a radiant heat system that works silently and equally well with propane or electricity.

Auto Insurance

One of the time limiting factors of our trip was the length of time we purchased auto insurance for. Neither Canadian nor US auto insurance provides coverage in Mexico. No one tells you this at the border, nor does there seem to be any law about purchasing extra insurance but travelers beware, you’d be screwed if anything happens down there.

On a personal recommendation we found the company MexPro  and they were super easy to use. Two weeks worth needed topping up half-way through. Once you have an account this proved to be simple. Both truck and trailer were insured for full replacement value.

The Journey

We completely underestimated the time we would need to adequately explore the Baja. One month in Mexico should have been at least two. We got as far south as La Paz before turning back towards home, electing to forgo the most southern loop of Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos in favour of a slower, more relaxed journey. Until next time.

Our stops are all documented with blog posts and include:

We entered Mexico through the border crossing in Mexicali, and left through Tecate.

Driving in Baja, California

The most dangerous part of a Baja, California road trip will be the actual driving. The roads here tend to be very narrow with no shoulders with often very steep drop offs. Everyone seems to have stories of nicking mirrors. We share the road with quite a few semi trucks, whose drivers must have nerves of steel.

The bonus to driving here are the speed limits. Rarely will you see a 100 kph speed zone. The norm is more like 80 kph. Drivers tend to be patient and polite, often signaling with their lights when it is safe to pass. Solid highway lines and stop signs in towns do seem to be more suggestions than actual laws.

Should you find yourself on a wider highway with shoulders, expect what I call African rules. People routinely pull onto the shoulder to allow passing, turning a two lane highway into three, and in a pinch even four.

Once you get a bit south of San Felipe there is only one highway in the state, and that road dictates the direction of your journey. We didn’t meet anyone who tried to off-road beyond the pavement any further than the odd pristine beach location (like Agua Verde).

If you can help it, never drive at night. There are often animals on these narrow roads. One night we camped very near the highway. Almost no one drives in the dark here.

Should you need assistance, help comes in the form of the Green Angels. Luckily we never needed to try them out, but they are kind of like our CAA here, except run by the Ministry of Tourism of Mexico. I had their telephone numbers in my contact list just in case.

Where to Stay / Word of Mouth

Our planning began with a couple of National Geographic road maps. We actually started with only one, not realizing that it only covered the north, but we managed to score the Baja Sur map in Washington as we drove through. The maps are wonderfully detailed, with icons of snorkelers, kayakers and whales that are big hints as to what bays to visit.

Our app iOverlander is the digital key to where to stay. Every traveler we met in the Baja was using it.  It’s almost a bit much. If a place gets a good rating on iOverlander here, expect it to be full of campers.

Google maps are always the go to for navigating but in the Baja you have to be careful. Google put a lot of places in the wrong spot. I think they need to do a new sweep of the entire peninsula – and I bet there’s some google staff just waiting for that opportunity.

Word of mouth proved to be the most powerful tool for us. There are a lot of repeat travelers out here that are full of expertise. We listened to them. We also collected friends that went ahead of us, reporting through Facebook messenger on where to go, and what could be given a pass. We were never steered wrong.

Water

Tap water in Mexico is not potable. Most established campgrounds do have tap water available and many people filled their campers with it. Some people would throw in a little hydrogen peroxide, others just avoided drinking their on board water at all. There is another choice.

filling up with water

There are water stores all over the Baja, many with hoses equipped to fill up your water tank. We elected to keep the tank clean and only filled with potable water. The cost of a fill ranged from 20 to 40 pesos. It’s hard to imagine how they even pay the staff that served us with that price.

We found the water on iOverlander. Sometimes we had to drive around a bit to find appropriate stores, but it proved not to be much of a problem. We carried a 20 litre water bag that was a back up, and could also be used in a pinch to fill the tank when the hose was not available. Unfortunately it sprang a leak halfway through. We will replace it with something sturdier.

If you decide to spend a significant amount of time in an RV park you’ll probably just have to suck it up and use tap water.

Fuel

We carried a spare can full of diesel fuel throughout the whole Baja peninsula but it proved to be unnecessary. Fuel is more plentiful here than on highway 3 in Saskatchewan, and almost every station carries diesel. The price in February of 2023 was about the same as in Canada, and significantly less than in California. Most stations accepted credit cards.

Cost

Finally, and for many not insignificant – what does a road trip to the Baja set you back? We kept very detailed notes on this. The total cost of our just slightly more than one month Baja adventure was approximately $5,730.00 CAD. That’s a bargain for the adventure that awaits you, and would not double if you doubled the time frame.

  • Total fuel costs for our 8,500 k journey from Vancouver Island was $1,700.00 and that’s at a time of record high gas prices.
  • Camping set us back about $750.00 or just a tad over $20 a day. We stayed in a very expensive RV resort in California one night to visit a friend that skewed the results. There were plenty of opportunities for free boon-docking in the Baja.
  • Other travel expenses, including auto insurance and ferries because we live on an island added up to $1365.00.
  • Food and alcohol, and we do like both quite a lot came in at just a little more than $1900.00, which is less than it costs us to stay home in British Columbia.

Getting There

Our jaunt through the United States was straight up the I5 from Blaine, Washington to El Centro, California. This year it was incredibly expensive, and not just the fuel. One lunch stop at Subway set us back over $30 – for a couple of sandwiches! Luckily we stocked up on soups and salads before leaving home.

The weather this year was unusually cold. What should have been the start of some good weather turned out to be evenings spent inside with cards and movies. We even got stuck in the great California snowstorm of 2023.

We paid for camping every night but one. Our last night on the road was spent in an Oregon Rest Area, where 12 hour parking is allowed. I think we’d use those a little more next time. Washington and California post 8 hour limits but I’m thinking that can be stretched.

This Baja, California road trip turned out to be one of our top trips of all time. The only regret was not having enough time down there. The best thing about it is the ease of planning, which means it’ll be a great one to repeat.

You can check out this photo journey on YouTube:

https://youtu.be/heYDkD6v6F0

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