Baja California Sur stretches some 1,150 miles south of Los Angeles and offers unique and worthwhile experiences. A Baja road trip down the trans-peninsular highway is one of the most popular ways to explore the area. From cactus-covered mountain sides to green oases, historic missions to the peninsula ‘s oldest bakery, here are our tips on where to go.
Explore the Baja California Sur
Drive down to Los Cabos
If you are unable to fly to Cabo San Lucas, try a road trip round-trip. Travel from Southern California down to Los Cabos on Mexico Highway 1 for the first leg of your journey, and simply enjoy the beautiful scenery and surroundings. This stretch of highway is one of Mexico’s most amazing destinations, with its deep blue sea coupled with majestic mountains and cactus-spotted desert land. However, it’s a 22-hour drive from Los Angeles so you may want to schedule a few more days along the way to rest, relax and enjoy the beach. If you are looking for to stay, AMResorts has a range of all-inclusive resorts to meet everyone’s needs from adults only and a sophisticated ambiance to families and spirited travelers.
Live it up at the Hotel California
You’ve turned around now, and in your rearview mirror is Cabo San Lucas. First stop is Todos Santos, approximately one hour north. Founded in the 1700s by the Jesuits, the city today is known for its great surfing, local art scene and a hotel that has come to be associated with one of the most popular rock ‘ n ‘ roll songs in history. Start with old photos and faded murals at the cultural center and end with a cold margarita at the bar inside the Hotel California.
See the Sea Lions in La Paz
Veer away from the Pacific Ocean and keep going down the four-lane highway to the other shoreline of Baja, the one running along the Gulf of California, commonly known as the Cortez Sea. The state capital of La Paz is a mere hour drive. Upon arrival, park your car and take a walk down the famed 3-mile seaside boardwalk of the city, The Malecón, as the sun goes down. La Paz is home to a wide range of offshore excursions, from kayaking along the brightly colored cliffs of Espiritu Santo Island, snorkeling in Los Islotes with a giant colony of playful sea lions, and hiking up picturesque sand dunes at Magdalena Bay. Most of these are multi-day adventures, but if you have only a few hours, you can swim with the whale sharks just off La Paz before continuing your Baja road trip.
Stop by the Agricultural Center
Continuing north on Highway 1, scrubland desert yields to agricultural fields near Ciudad Constitución. This is a nice spot to fill your tank before proceeding on to the tiny hamlet of Loreto for the remaining 75 miles. In 1697, the Jesuit Missionaries set up their first mission in Loreto. Today, the restored church is open to the public, with its magnificent bell tower and next door museum. Consider taking an offshore voyage to seek out the blue whales, snorkel, or sink your toes into a beautiful beach on one of the many islands.
Visit Iconic Sights
Leaving Loreto on your Baja road trip, San Ignacio is 170 miles northwest of your destination. You could drive there in about three and a half hours, but it’s better to take a whole day as there’s plenty to see along the way. North of Loreto, the hilly landscape brings notable changes in vegetation. Cardon cacti, the world’s largest cactus species, jut up towards the sky from the volcanic pinkish-red dirt. When the atmosphere is still wet with dew early in the morning, you’ll witness the classic sight of Baja – turkey vultures perched on top of cardon cactus with their wings stretched wide to dry in the light. The road overlooks the most spectacular view at Concepción Bay: an azure blue sea with white cove beaches and dotted with arid islands. When the road sinks down to the shore, pause for a cool swim or have a meal at a fishing eatery on Santispac Beach.
See the first bakery in Baja
You will arrive in the historic French city of Santa Rosalía after another hour. In the end of the 19th century, in exchange for the city’s construction, Mexico’s president invited a French firm to mine a rich copper deposit here. The French used wood and attached porches rather than building houses with cement in the local style. The Metal Church, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel for the World Fair in 1887, is just as fascinating. The El Boleo bakery – the oldest in all Baja – still cooks in two of its four original mesquite wood-fired ovens from 1901 to bake its baguettes and sweets.
Behold 5,000-year-old rock paintings
Leaving Santa Rosalía, the road climbs and turns around volcanic cinder cones and ancient lava fields. Watch out for cows; they ‘re free ranging across the state. You’ll hardly believe your eyes when you pull into San Ignacio an hour later – it’s so lush and fertile. Jesuit missionaries planted date palms and orange groves in the 17th century, when they decided to settle here. Visit the preserved mission, constructed from thick volcanic rock blocks and adorned with intricate carvings and saint statues. On the leafy city square adjacent you’ll find tour companies in the surrounding mountains providing tours of the 5,000-year-old rock paintings. (The road is off-limits for rental cars, so you’ll need a guide.) With a selection of hotels and restaurants, San Ignacio is a great spot to spend the night. Enjoy the seafood lasagna at the Desert Inn’s eatery if you are tired of fish tacos.
Finish with whale-watching before returning home
It’s a two hour drive southwest from San Ignacio to the lagoon of the same name, your final stop. Every winter, gray whales migrate from Alaska to mate here, giving birth in the warm , shallow waters. Some of those gentle giants are known as ‘friendly’ and surface right next to whale watching boats. Reach out and touch them-not only is it permitted, it is encouraged!
Give yourselves a minimum of a week for this rewarding Baja road trip, better than 2,000-mile round-trip road trip – the slower, the better. And, until you can actually visit, experience Baja California Sur from the comfort of home.
Brad, I enjoyed reading about your road trip through Baja. If you have more surreal experiences to share with us, please do so. I would be thankful to you for all the great content.