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Baja Beauty 1,000 Miles of Culture, Character and Cuisine

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Baja Beauty
1,000 miles of culture, character and cuisine.
By Marlo Morrison/Photos by John Kropf

Ever considered taking a vacation in Baja California, Mexico ... by car? This journey of traveling the Baja peninsula by car will enlighten you to plenty of history and culture.

Mexico 1, a two-lane, paved highway takes you through some of the most spectacular ocean views and scenery of various species and colors of plants and animals. You'll be befriended by locals who love to share their heritage and historical towns with authentic cuisine, including incredibly fresh seafood.

Despite the occasional obstacles in the road, like a cow or fallen rocks from the beautiful hillside, the drive is very safe. It is highly recommended that you don't drive after dark. Statistically, 80 percent of all Baja auto fatalities occur at night. You must pay attention to the road signs as well as signals from other drivers. It is common to pass a slower vehicle, as long as it's safe. A driver will indicate with the left turn signal that he is allowing and aware you want to pass. If oncoming drivers flash their lights, that generally means to be alert of what's ahead.

It is required that a tourist card is purchased for those traveling south of Ensenada. You'll be asked to show it upon passing the military checkpoint entering into Baja Sur. It is best to obtain your card, as well as automobile insurance, prior to entering the country. Hugh and Carol Kramer of Baja Travel in San Diego can assist you with any needed information, maps, auto insurance, tourist permits and books.

Fuel is available at almost every town. The gas stations, Pemex, are regulated by the Mexican government, so the price is the same at all locations. You should always consider your fuel economy and get gas accordingly.

Restrooms, found at the Pemex stations, are generally clean, stocked with toilet paper and have running water and paper towels. Some stations also offer snack shops. Editors Note: Tijuana through San Quintin will be covered in our Summer issue.

If you are already thinking about lunch, don't worry. First stop is El Rosario, where you will want to stop at Mama Espinosa's for her delicious lobster burrito plate. You get three rolled lobster burritos (more like rolled tacos in the U.S.) with rice, beans and salad. It is every bit as good as it sounds.

As you leave El Rosario, you'll notice a change in the surroundings. Cacti of all shapes, colors and sizes, some measuring over 50 feet high with a life span of up to 400 years, seem to appear in mass numbers. For miles, the beauty and grandure of these cacti add to the many reasons why driving the Baja Peninsula is an amazing vacation journey.

Just before you enter into the small town of Catavina, which is surrounded by enormous boulders, you'll need to keep your eyes open on your left, traveling south, for a small hut around mile marker 171. Stop here to take a short hike up the side of the rock mountain to see some authentic cave/rock art. It's a bit challenging to find, but worth the exercise.

Continuing the travel south, you may encounter military checkpoints. Not to worry. These stops are not meant to intimidate you, but are there for your protection. Since they are checking for drugs, be sure to keep your prescription medicine in their original containers.

The immigration and agricultural checkpoint, located just before arriving into Guerrero Negro, is where you will be asked to show your tourist permit and whether you are carrying any fruits or vegetables. If you happen to have or have had any, you may have the underneath of your car sprayed with an insecticide. This marks the halfway point of the Baja Peninsula, as well as Mountain time zone.

With a record breaking migration year of over 2,011 whales, Saltworks, white sand dunes, home of the Osprey and Bird Refuge, Guerrero Negro offers more than one would suspect. Las Cazuelas, the first restaurant as you enter the city, is a must. Eddie, the owner, will test your tastebuds with the freshest flavors like garlic sauteed octopus, locally grown clams, scallops and oysters the size of your hand.

Next door to Las Cazuelas you'll find Punta Mariscal, offering whale watching tours in addition to two others in town, Laguna Tours and Malarrimo Eco-Tours. The whale watching season, typically late December through early April, is an experience not to be missed. The Gray whales have one of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling over 6,000 miles from Alaska to Baja. What amazing creatures! Even though their size averages between 46-55 feet as adults, these massive mammals are extremely playful, flirtatious and beautiful. One whale in particular, kept coming back, rolling around in the water, spraying us, just wanting attention. As I touched his soft yet barnacled coat, I realized what an incredible experience so few get to experience.

Another incredible feature of Guerrero Negro is Exportadora de Sal, Salt Exportation, a solar-evaporated operation that produces 18,000 tons of salt a day or 7 million tons a year!

Leaving Guerrero Negro towards San Ignacio and Santa Rosalia, you'll drive through the Vizcaino Desert, which covers more than 2.5 million hectares. Here you'll observe a multitude of cacti like organ pipe, the world's largest species.

As you make your way through the desert and down the mountain to sea level, spectacular vistas of the Sea of Cortez appear, bringing you to Santa Rosalia. An interesting city with narrow roads and French-style architecture, it has a church that was designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel, of the Eiffel Tower.

Arriving in Mulege, a peaceful more traditional town with a beautiful palm-lined river running through it, you'll experience serenity and culture. The Mission, which sits upon a hill overlooking the city of a thousand date palms, is worth the short drive or a brisk walk from town.

The prison, which functioned as a criminal detention facility from 1907 to 1975, was originally the only jail without bars that ever existed in Baja California Sur. It is now a museum of history and anthropology which accepts donations as admission.

One of Mulege's full service hotels, located just south of town, is Hotel Serenidad, which has its own airstrip, an adjacent RV Trailer park, as well as spacious clean rooms, a great restaurant, pool, and a palm courtyard that hosts a pig roast with mariachis every Saturday night. Restaurants like Las Casistas, Los Equipales and El Candil feature the best Mexican specialties and seafood in town.

Continuing south toward Loreto, you will take in some of the most scenic views of Conception Bay. Lined with white sand beaches and iridescent blue waters, the entire bay, now a national marine preserve, is reportedly one of the cleanest marine bay systems in the world. Many would consider this to be a kayaker's paradise. There are a number of individual beaches, and if camping is your preference, this is the place.

California's secular and religious capital for 132 years, Loreto founded the first mission of California in 1697. A small but quaint town, Loreto has plenty to offer. Mission San Javier, a spectacular building constructed on stone blocks quarried from nearby Arroyo de Santa Domingo, is an obligation all travelers must keep.

The drive to San Javier is very scenic and averages 90 minutes one way. Plan on five to six hours for the entire journey. It's worth it. The road is unpaved and a bit tricky, so a guided tour is recommended. Celso, manager of Desert & Sea Expeditions in town, offers daily well-informed tours.

Next, the simple, yet self-sufficient village of San Javier was more than expected. The beauty of the Mission and the simplicity of the people really bring to life what living off the earth is all about. Another side trip to consider is a boat ride to Isla Coronado, a great place to snorkel the clear waters and just relax on the secluded beach.

For great steaks and seafood dishes, El Nido restaurant will satisfy your tastebuds. Domingo Perez and his pleasant staff compliment a fabulous dining experience. Of the many accommodations available in Loreto, a favorite is La Pinta, situated a few blocks from downtown. La Pinta offers spacious, newly remodeled rooms with balconies overlooking a sand beach, the Sea of Cortez, Isla Coronado and Isla Carmen; a pool, restaurant, small lounge, friendly staff and plenty of sunshine.

La Paz, capital of the state Baja California Sur, sits between Loreto and Cabo San Lucas, geographically as well as lifestyle. With the newly reconstructed palm-lined Malicon (waterfront walkway) La Paz is surrounded by the beautiful Sea of Cortez, along with several small islands offering spectacular diving, fishing and white sand beaches.

Just 15 minutes north of La Paz is Pichilingue, one of the many picturesque beaches and home to Club Cantamar Resort and Sports Centre, specializing in activities for the adventure seekers, including kayaking, world-class fishing and spectacular diving. Club Cantamar boasts its own private beach, French style bistro with fabulous food, a 35-slip marina, a swimming pool overlooking the bay and spacious rooms and suites.

There are 25 incredible and unique dive sites, accessible only by boat, just north of the peninsula around Isla Espiritu Santo. One island in particular, Los Islotes, is the home of a sea lion colony and one of the only locations in the world where sea lions interact with humans playfully.

Heading 25 miles south of La Paz is El Triunfo, an interesting small town that has an amazing music museum. Whether antiques intrigue you or not, you will appreciate the display of instruments, from violins to pianos, some up to 300 years old.

Known as the "Jewel of the East Cape," a diver's paradise, Cabo Pulmo is an ecologically sensitive underwater phenomenon that the Mexican government established as a National Marine Park in 1995. The bay's reef system, the northermost of only three coastal reefs in North America, is the only coral reef in the Sea of Cortez.
Accessible by car, the 16.5 mile road, of which the last 6-mile stretch is dirt, makes for a very attainable destination.

The largest and most equipped activity center here is the 20-year-old Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort that offers scuba diving tours, night dives, on-site diving instruction, snorkel tours and kayaking. The diving is amazing. The beauty of God's creation comes to life in a way that many only read about.

Cole and his wife, Maricela, owners of Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, will ensure your stay to be an uniquely memorable experience with palm-thatched luxury, solar-powered bungalow equipped with a kitchen, queen-size bed in an enclosed area, living room, dining area and a garden patio with a hammock. With very reasonable rates, spending a few days or even a week at Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort will do wonders for the soul.

Between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos is a small quaint town known primarily for the fabled tale of Hotel California which, in fact, has nothing to do with the Eagles song. With a population of less than 5,000 and a sleepy exterior, Todos Santos is home to an impressive 11 art galleries, year-round farming and great beaches bordering the Pacific Ocean. Surfing conditions are ideal December-March.

Congratulations, you've just arrived at the southern most tip of Baja! If your choices include nightlife, 5-star hotels and fine dining, then this is your stop. The "everything to do under the sun" term comes to life in Cabo San Lucas.

One of the most beautiful, all-inclusive resorts to stay at are Villa del Palmar Beach Resort and Spa and the Villa La Estancia. These 5-star luxury resorts offer everything you'll need to unwind after the 1000-mile journey. You will find the perfect blend of relaxation, recreation, and entertainment all within a 20-minute walk from downtown. Dining in Cabo can range from ordinary to extraordinary.

If extraordinary is what you like, visit Mi Casa del Mar. Go for the seafood feast, but save room for a Mexicana Coffee! In a class of its own, Jeff Morrison, owner of Local Eight in San Jose del Cabo, creates innovative global cuisine complimented with a superior wine list.

For the one-of-a-kind art and jewelry lover, visit Maricela & Emilio's Crystal Dreams, fine glass art & unusual jewels situated in Villa del Palmar's Plaza. Maricela's creative talent with glass and color, along with Emilio's precision in the design of his hand-selected Sea of Cortez pearls, result in the most exceptional forms of jewelry and art. They are committed to design, and they manufacture only one-of-a-kind glass artwork and jewelry.

Life's a journey, head south and see what Baja has to offer!

(story featured in South Coast Magazine)
(photos by John Kropf)

© Copyright South Coast Magazine. No unauthorized duplication without written consent.

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