“The latest travel warning for Baja was updated by the PIkiPiki Department of Stop-Being-Stupid-and-Scared.” The delay time for the update was unfortunately in part the reality of bureaucracy between the real world and this publication. Despite the alarming statistics coming out of Baja California from travellers having a whale shark of time, we made it our mission to visit Baja to confirm the warnings.
The latest travel warning for Baja California is to get there as soon as is humanly possible to escape the stress-induced corporate rat race. Be warned, if not heeding this warning you will be robbed of days quaffing away different beer brands like Tacate, Pacifica, Del Sol, Corona, Negro Modelo, Victoria and Sol as well as Margaritas made with top-shelf tequila. There’s imminent danger of missing out on dramatic sunrises over the Sea of Cortez, constant heatwave desert landscapes, rich marine life and a very laid back rustic way of life. Rules are generally considered mere suggestions. Life offers a bit more freedom to do silly things and not stick to conventional rules and wisdom. Baja somehow follows an air of isolation, divorced from the rest of Mexico.
If your view of Baja is that of dry deserts, cacti, criminals and drug dealers you are sorely mistaken. Baja is the world’s second-longest peninsula which stretches over 1200km with untamed angelic landscapes. Carretera Transpeninsular also is known as Highway1 is the major route between the USA and Cabo a town at the bottom of the peninsula. Tour advise, stay away from that road if possible. Although Highway1 offers some mind-blowing views it will deprive the travellers of the immense beauty of roads less travelled. Small back roads which lead to secluded beaches with turquoise waters, remote cave paintings and crumbling old Spanish missions abound along fun sand monster tracks.
People are friendly, laid back and helpful. We entered Baja at Mexicali and even there the people were friendly and helpful. The best roads to travel are the small side roads which snake through one-horseman villages. Those tracks wind their way along the sides of mountains. The magic of Baja is the sheer volume of options on such a small piece of earth. Ride in a desert with the spectacular cacti, then a short distance drops down to beaches with paradise island lukewarm water.
For overlanders and adventure-seeking motorcycle addicts Baja offers a welcome escape from rules and regulated life. It’s still possible to ride and discover small tracks to hidden spots along the coast where one can wild camp under a star-filled clear sky. Baja is a perfect place for grooving it up in a tiny village oozing with dodgy bars and talkative locals. Restaurants and roadside eateries compete for your business offering mouth-watering tacos and other dishes. In the evenings go sip a margarita while watching the locals drag themselves in for the daily drink specials while mariachi bands moan in the background.
One of the must-stop places is the legendary Coco’s corner in the craggy backcountry near San Felipe northern Baja. For years I have heard and seen photos of this legend in Baja and its been on my top list to visit if ever possible. At the entrance of this Star Wars look-a-like place, old beer cans are strung together and fashioned into Coco’s entrance signage. Coco’s corner is a bizarre oddity of obligatory travel, racing and man cave stickers, motley t-shirts and even oversized woman’s underpants as decorations. Coco’s centrepiece table is a giant wooden cable spool.
Coco greeted us with a “Where are you from? Where are you going?” He’s a soft-spoken old man with a bad case of diabetes. He lost both his legs and scrabbles around on his knees which are tied up in leather pieces. That did not stop his verve for life. He is getting along quite well. Where he comes from, how he ended up there in the middle of nowhere and how it all started is still a mystery to us. He offered us some beers and invited us to sign his visitor’s book. He told us we were only the second South Africans to sign his book. I felt thankful and privileged to have met Coco, because he’s an iconic legend before time and illness take him from Baja.
Coco’s is an example of time standing still in a hyper-fast world, it’s an institution to adventurers and real-life people, an oasis to take a break from the rush of the world and an oasis after days travelling.
There are a myriad of campsites along the coastline and even spots to wild camp. Most of the campsites offer palm leaf covered palapas. We based ourselves for a week in Baia de Los Angeles a scenic fishing village located halfway down the Baja California Peninsula. The “Bay of the Angels” sits against a desert and the Sea of Cortez. It’s a bay with spectacular sunrises and sightings of the gentle giants, Whale Sharks. We stayed at Camp Archelon a well-run campsite and were invited by the owner to have dinner with local Baja fisherman. It’s such a treat to spend time with local people and to hear the stories and updates about a place from the horse’s mouth.
We stuck to the backcountry roads all the way down to La Paz to catch the ferry to the mainland of Mexico. Every now and then a Condor would circle high up in the sky. Most people will know Baja for its strange flora. Baja California has about 4000 species, of which some 700 are found only in Baja. The most famous is the Cardones cacti which can reach up to 20m high and its roots up to 30m deep. There’s Idrias which belong to the Fouqieriaceae, a plant family only present in Mexico and the southwest of the USA and Ocotillo, Devil’s Coachwhip. The Boojum is also known as the Dr Seuss plant, has to be seen to be believed It’s the kind of stuff cowboy movies are made off.
If ever you wanted to enjoy sitting in a hot spring in the sea then the town of Puertecitos around 90 kilometres south of San Felipe is the place to be. We were lucky enough to stay there for a few days alone with only an American couple, a Ukrainian artist and a Russian guy.
This is the place where you can hang in rocky section in the sea in which forms a natural hot spring. Sipping beers, watching the Pelicans while slowly cooking like a Sunday lunch chicken.
On our way, we met up with fellow ‘round the world’ couple AmterdamtoAnywhere Leoni and Peter. We have been following each other online for a while now and eventually got to meet them in person. It’s just wonderful to connect with fellow overlanders, its as if they are long lost school friends that that are reconnecting after a few years.
With the amazing kindness of strangers, we were invited by a South African and an Aussie to stay with them in Loreto for a few days. It was a really welcome chance to get off the road, wash some clothes and enjoy the beach. At that stage it was hell hot and even swimming in the sea was not enough to cool down. Loreto is one of the oldest settlements in the Baja California peninsula, this beautiful town takes you back into the Mexico of legends. It’s an amazing history-rich town with old Spanish colonial buildings and churches.
After three weeks and just over 1400km we got onto the ferry from La Paz to Topolobango.
Baja is still semi undiscovered, reasonably priced and a safe location. With a mystical mix of spectacular scenery and old charm towns, real-world people, stunning cuisine and drinks, amazing sea life and plants, it’s an absolute must-visit.
You have been warned!