By Fred T. Metcalf

Here are some comments on driving the main highway down the Baja California peninsula (Mexico Route 1). I generally drive three round trips on the highway each year. The last trip I made was in January of 1996.

Note: This page is organized as a single document so that it may be easily printed (albeit as a large document). The links in the Contents jump to sections within this document.


CONTENTS (Links to sections on this page)

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ROAD CONDITIONS

In January '96, the road was in generally "good" condition down to La Paz. The surface was uneven and had occasional potholes in several sections between Ensenada and about 30 miles south of El Rosario. There are 18 miles of very good, newly paved (and striped!) road centered around Santo Tomas (watch out for the new speed bumps in town!). For about 25 miles north of the junction to Bahia de Los Angeles, the road continues to suffer some major deterioration - drive with caution! There is some evidence that the patching may now be moving faster than the patches can appear.

Watch out for vehicles dancing the "Pothole Polka," a step that causes them to weave erratically across the highway in an attempt to miss the potholes.

The road in the southern state is receiving much better care than that in the northern state. The repaving being done around Cd. Constitucion is of a quality I've not seen before on the Baja highway. The road in the northern state is suffering, possibly due to the political realities of that state having a governor from outside the "ruling party" (PRI).

Check-points: In January '96, I encountered four narcotics check-points between Ensenada and La Paz while driving south. This number was reduced to two on my return trip late in the month. On the way south, I was waved through three of these checks, while in the fourth a soldier "searched" my camper. The search was polite and the soldiers and police were in uniform - in contrast to the check-points of the mid-80's when the Federal Judicial Police manned some of the check-points dressed in very casual clothes, and looked like bandits with automatic weapons slung over their backs.

This is the first time I've encountered such check-points since the 1980's. At that time it was the U.S. government pressuring Mexico to help stem the flow of narcotics by using a tactic which simply ended up intimidating travelers. I hope we're not seeing a repeat of that sad fiasco.

Fuel: In January '96, I encountered shortages of diesel on both the trip south and the return trip. I did not hear if this also extended to gasoline, but it is an indication that, for some reason, there is either increased traffic or decreased supply, or both.

I tend to suspect increased traffic - especially on the trip north, I saw many more RV's than usual. There were two caravans with over 50 RV's in the first and over 30 RV's in the second. They act like a giant fuel sponge moving down the highway. To backup the increased traffic idea, the owners of the Aquamarina RV Park in La Paz (where I "live" in La Paz) report that they're having their busiest season ever.

The Pemex station at the junction with the L.A. Bay road appears to have been closed permanently in January '96. It is also reported that there has been no fuel in L.A. Bay for some time.

Best to play it real safe regarding fuel! Top off at all reasonable opportunities during this period.

Time Change: In the spring of '96, the southern state of Baja California Sur (and, in fact, all of Mexico) will begin observing Daylight Savings Time for the first time. The days for the time shifts will coincide with those observed in the U.S..

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OBSTACLES

There are plenty of natural obstacles which will keep your speed down on the Baja highway. Cows, horses, donkeys, and goats are frequent residents of the roadway, and they seem to consider vehicles as intruders to be ignored! (I have even seen deer on the road in the early morning hours.)

It is often cautioned that one not drive at night on the Baja highway. The major reason is that animals are attracted to the pavement at night because it retains heat long after the ground has turned cold. The other reason is the construction of the road itself: narrow (9 foot lanes in most places) with many sharp curves and, in some areas, a lack of stripes to mark the center and sides of the roadway. If you feel you have to drive at night, one trick is to position yourself behind a bus and try to keep up with it (this may not be so easy!). The bus drivers are better than the truck drivers - I've never seen a wrecked bus along the highway, but there are many trucks which have gone over the side.

If animals are on or next to the road, or there is some other obstacle to be aware of, drivers will frequently flash their headlights at oncoming vehicles to give them some warning.

One minor "trick" to anticipating the frequency of animals dining at the edge of the road during daylight hours is to consider the recent frequency of rainfall. If there has been no rainfall recently, there will be fewer animals dining at the side of the road. However, if rain has recently fallen, then the grasses will be especially lush at the sides of the pavement, and the density of cows and horses enjoying this treat will soar!

I can offer a personal warning about cows on the road between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. They are especially numerous, and in many places "caught" between fences placed about 100 feet back from the road on both sides (the fences are designed to keep the animals on the side away from the road, but this does not seem to work). In September of 1992, a friend and I were driving to San Lucas early in the morning (about 7AM) and managed to strike a cow at a low speed. All parties survived, but the car suffered a bent hood which now just barely closes. There were two cows by the road, one on the right and one on the left. The cow on the right was sticking out into the road slightly and I swung to the center to pass him/her - just then the other cow decided to join its friend across the road and dashed in front of the car - the car knocked the hind legs out from under the cow and the very healthy animal landed on top of the front of the hood, finally sliding off to the side. It then scampered away into the brush.

A common style of driving along the highway is to straddle the centerline of the road. This allows one to be more flexible in avoiding potholes, the most common obstacle. A variation on this technique is also frequently seen in the curving mountain sections of the highway where vehicles will use both lanes when between curves.

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USE OF THE LEFT TURN INDICATOR

There is a driving custom in Mexico which first-time visitors should be aware of. The use of the left turn indicator has at least two meanings. First, the traditional indication for a pending left-hand turn is used, usually in conjunction with a slowing of the vehicle and a flashing of the brake lights. A second, and possibly more common use, is to indicate that the "leading vehicle" considers it safe for the "following vehicle" to pass. This is extremely dangerous in the situation where the leading vehicle really intends to turn left, and the following vehicle interprets that it is OK to pass.

If the vehicle ahead flashes it's left turn signal, check for possible left turn points and pass only if there are no places this vehicle could possibly turn into. When a Mexican driver is going to turn left, there will often be some arm-waving and a movement of the vehicle into the other lane (if that lane is empty) - this allows you to pass by in your regular lane.

If you intend turning left, and there are following vehicles, then slow down and have your brake lights on when you activate the turn indicator. For good measure, open the window and use a hand signal as well.

In the past year I've noticed a third use of the left turn signal. It is used especially by trucks and busses when they are about to pass a large vehicle going in the opposite direction. I've not yet deciphered the meaning of this signal! It could possibly be an indication that they are aware of the coming vehicle and are to the right of the center stripe (if there is one).

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VADOS

One of the prominent features of the Baja highway is the "Vado" sign. The vados are the dips across the road through which water will rush when it rains. During the rainy season (generally, winter in the north and summer in the south) these vados can become very full! If you are in doubt about crossing a particular water-filled vado, wait until some hardier soul tries it - watch his path and the height of the water on the side of his vehicle. In some cases these vados can remain full for many days. Near the towns these situations will sometimes bring out groups of young boys who perch on rocks by the road like vultures waiting for their prey. They are of course waiting for a motorist to stall in the middle of the stream, at which point they begin negotiations regarding a push to higher ground. In this negotiation they are already holding the higher ground!

In December of 1992 I noticed for the first time some vado signs with names assigned to the vados! These names corresponded to the names of the storms which wiped out the road at that point.

Vados come in all sizes. But the smallest of them is a real "sneaker vado." It is located between Guerrero Negro and Vizcaino - look for Km. marker 151 or 152, depending on your direction of travel. The pavement is showing signs of numerous vehicles having scraped the bottom of this "dip," probably after "flying" off the top and landing very hard at the bottom. It is now well marked, but take these warnings seriously. I don't recall this particular vado beyond two years ago, but I have hit it too fast on a couple of occasions since it seems to have appeared. (Yes, I know it sounds silly - a vado that just appeared - but, really, I think it did!)

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GREEN ANGELS

The "Green Angels" are a government-sponsored fleet of assistance vehicles which travel the major highways of Mexico. They can be identified by their bright green color with white lettering on the side. In theory, there is to be a green angel truck passing any fixed spot twice each day. The driver and/or helper may speak English, and will carry gasoline and a few common spare parts. In the worst situation, they should be able to summon additional help. I've never needed their assistance, but they are quite evident on the Baja road. Its a great idea, and I try to give them a friendly wave when passing on the road.

In line with the idea of assistance, the Mexican Ministry of Tourism maintains an "800" number in Mexico City: 91-800-90-392. I've never used this, but they are reported to have some English-speaking operators.

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AGRICULTURAL INSPECTION STATIONS

At two points along the Baja highway, traffic is funneled through an Agricultural Inspection Station. The inspector may wave you through or may ask if you are carrying fruits or vegetables. Some fruits and vegetables may have to be confiscated, while others can be kept. As a general rule, all thin skinned fruits will be confiscated (oranges, apples, mangos, limes, etc.), and any other item which might be carrying fruit flies. There is a newer station at the state boundary just north of Guerrero Negro, and an older station just north of La Paz. My experience has been that the inspectors are very polite. A great ice-breaker with the inspectors is a Coke or similar soft-drink ("refresco") - if you have a supply on board.

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TOURIST CARD & CAR PERMIT

A temporary import permit is required for any vehicle being brought into mainland Mexico - it has not been required in Baja California. However, there have been rumors that this may change with the implementation of the NAFTA trade agreement (Baja California will no longer have any status as a "free zone" within Mexico). Also, a tourist card is required everywhere in Mexico except near the border and the Tijuana-Ensenada-Tecate region. In mainland Mexico, the import permit has now become part of the tourist card, much simplifying the paperwork problem. If you enter to the east of Mexicali, it will be necessary to get these permits validated at the border, and it will be much easier to do so. Since I'm almost always entering Mexico in the Tijuana area, I think of getting the tourist cards in Ensenada where it is more convenient. Since these permits are not required in Tijuana, it is not so easy to obtain them right at the border.

In order to obtain a tourist card you will need suitable identification. Note that a drivers license will not do the job. Either a passport, birth certificate, or voter registration card is required. The voter registration card may be a copy as long as it is stamped by the appropriate authority. An official looking stamp with a signature goes a long way in Mexico!

It has been several years since I've been asked for a tourist card in the mid-peninsula area, however, its better to play it safe in this regard. On very rare occasions, you might be asked to show a tourist card at a hotel. If you fly out of the country, you must produce a validated tourist card at the airport before boarding the plane. If your tourist card shows entry by automobile or boat, and you are flying out of the country, you may be asked to explain or document what is happening with the car or boat you arrived in (if you leave such a vehicle in Mexico, technically it must be left with a "bonded" storage yard).

NOTE: Beginning in January of 1992, there is a new insurance requirement being enforced on foreign cars entering mainland Mexico. You must be able to demonstrate that your car is insured (in the country of origin) for at least the next sixty days, or else post a "refundable" bond. As noted above this requirement may soon apply to Baja California as well (below Ensenada) due to the change of Baja California as a "free zone" within Mexico (a NAFTA side effect). The intention of this rule is to reduce the illegal importation of autos from the U.S.. Because of the impact on tourism, this rule may very well change over the coming months.

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INSURANCE

It is easy to get Mexican vehicle insurance at most border areas (Tecate is an exception). The insurance is rather expensive when purchased on a daily basis (about $5-$8US per day for an auto). There are plans other than the daily ones available at the border - ask about them. I believe that what they do at the border is charge you for the most expensive car on their list, unless you clearly negotiate the appropriate rate.

What I do is purchase annual insurance through an agency in Los Angeles. The coverage is good for all of Baja California and the northern states of mainland Mexico. The cost varies from $89US for a year of coverage on an old vehicle (with value <= $5000 = my '82 sedan) to $165US for a new pickup truck (my new Mexico-vehicle). This Mexican insurance is written through:



   Lewis & Lewis Insurance Agency


   8929 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 220


   Beverly Hills, CA  90211


   (310) 657-1112 (Voice)


   (800) 966-6830 (Voice)


   (310) 652-5849 (FAX)


The reason for having Mexican insurance is that Mexican law assumes all parties in an accident to be guilty until some sort of settlement is reached. An insurance policy will demonstrate financial responsibility even if guilty, and will allow you continue on your way (if possible). Just to protect yourself from the hassle of dealing with the Policia and their jail, it is a good idea to have at least basic liability coverage. U.S. auto insurance is not recognized in Mexico.

This topic is an important one, yet in over 35,000 (at least) miles of driving in Mexico I have seen only two accidents involving cars. Most of the road accidents involve trucks going off the road. I find driving in Mexico to not be a problem once I get back into the swing of driving as the Mexicans do:

BE ALERT AND SLIGHTLY AGGRESSIVE.
Especially, watch for obscure or missing (!) stop signs - the missing ones are spotted by the presence of a matching, and present, stop sign on the diagonal corner (or writing on the street). Don't expect other drivers to come to a complete stop at these stop signs (or even a partial stop!).

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FUEL

The price of fuel is uniform throughout Mexico, with the possible exception of some border areas where fuel may be priced to reflect competition across the border. The only seller of fuel is Pemex, the nationally owned "Petroleos Mexicanos" oil monopoly. Other companies may sell lubricating oil (e.g., Quaker State is quite popular), but only Pemex distributes and sells fuel (often through franchises). Note that they typically accept only cash at the Pemex stations (i.e., no checks or credit cards)!

The unleaded gas in Mexico is called "Magna Sin." It is claimed that this gasoline has an octane rating of 92 (using some measurement). This unleaded is now offered at all stations and is sold from the green pumps. A leaded gas, "Nova", is still sold in Mexico from blue pumps. This fuel has an octane rating of 80 as compared with the 92 rating for Magna Sin. As a rule, unless your vehicle runs well on low-quality leaded gasoline, stick to the Magna Sin.

Diesel fuel is readily available due to the large number of trucks on the highway - however, don't confuse the green Magna Sin gasoline pump with a diesel pump as might be the case in the U.S.. The diesel pumps are purple or red, and are usually sited on a separate island - the marking is "Diesel Sin." The usual warning about water in diesel fuel applies more so along the Baja highway. Try to use only the large stations which have a lot of truck traffic that keeps the fuel from sitting in the tanks for long periods of time.

At popular times there may be gasoline supply problems, especially in the central region of the peninsula. One time to be especially careful is "Easter week" - a major travel time in Mexico. Another possibly difficult time is after Christmas when many U.S. RV's are heading back north before the new year begins.

Gauge the distance to the next station and the likelihood that there will be gas at that station - do not rely on the distance measurements printed on the blue or green gas pump signs along the highway. Imagine that the next station is out of fuel, and think about what you would do if that turned out to be the case.

Common gas station rip-offs to be aware of:

Some of the places where you can almost always find gas ("famous last words"??):



  Ensenada


  San Quintin (There are two stations - the town is in two parts.)


    (Often available at the La Pinta Hotel on the beach.)


  Guererro Negro (Two stations in town - often a long line.)


    (The La Pinta Hotel pumps are usually closed.)


  Santa Rosalia (Watch out for price rip-offs - this station has


    occasionally been closed by the Government for overcharging!)


  Constitucion and Insurgentes


  La Paz


  Todos Santos


  Cabo San Lucas


  San Jose del Cabo


Other stations which can be used:



  Santo Tomas, San Vicente, Camalu, Colonia Guerrero (These are all


    between Ensenada and San Quintin.)


  El Rosario (Usually the northern station is the only one open.)


  Catavina (Sometimes out of fuel.)


  Jesus Maria


  Vizcaino Junction (A major truck stop and usually crowded.)


  San Ignacio (Station on the highway outside town.)


  Mulege (One station is in the town and a second south on the highway.)


  Loreto (Two stations in the town.)


Diesel is usually available at:



  Ensenada, San Vicente, Camalu, San Quintin, Jesus Maria,


  Guerrero Negro, Vizcaino Junction, San Ignacio, Santa Rosalia,


  Mulege, Loreto, Constitucion, El Cien, La Paz, Todos Santos,


  Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo.


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BICYCLING THE BAJA ROAD

The idea of bicycling the highway down the Baja peninsula is one which seems to have reached its peak in the late 80's and early 90's. The groups cycling the highway under the direction of sponsoring organizations (both commercial and non-profit) seem to have vanished. It is rumored that this is due to a withdrawal on the part of the insurance carriers. I only see individual riders and small unsupported groups on the highway these days. From the point of view of being a frequent driver of the highway I could dedicate quite a few words to arguing the dangers of this activity to both the bicyclers and the people in passing vehicles. What I will do instead is simply present the basic arithmetic of the highway from the view of someone riding a bicycle - you may then draw your own conclusions regarding safety issues.





Basic Arithmetic of the Baja Highway

Width of the pavement: 19 feet Width of the shoulder: 0 feet Width of a truck/bus/RV: 8 feet Added width for mirrors: 1 foot Width used by two passing trucks/etc: 18 feet Safety separation used by two passing trucks/etc: 1 foot Room left for a bicycler: 0 feet

The highway was constructed to just accommodate two passing 8-foot vehicles, and no more! Many of the roadsides drop off anywhere from a few feet to a few hundred feet (in these extreme cases, there will usually be a low guard rail right at the edge of the pavement). Also, the edge of the pavement will often have chunks broken off or washed away, leaving "edge potholes" which have to be dodged.

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EXCHANGING MONEY

U.S. dollars can easily be changed for pesos at the border in San Ysidro, and the rate is about as good as you'll get anywhere. Note that most of these "Casas de Cambio" have two numbers of pesos posted for the exchange rate - often one is in LARGE letters (the higher number) and the other in small letters (the lower number). The higher number is the rate for exchanging pesos to dollars and the lower number is the rate for dollars to pesos.

It will be difficult to get $ exchanged between Ensenada and La Paz; however, $US are acceptable in many places (at the merchants rate of exchange). If $US dollars are offered in payment, expect to get any change in pesos.

WARNING: Watch out for the "commission rip-off" at the "Casas de Cambio" - they will quote you a good rate and then quietly tack on a 10-15% "commission." At such places I just walk away and look for a more honest Casa de Cambio.

NOTE: In January of 1993 the "new peso" was introduced. This was simply a stripping of the last three zeros from the "old peso." The bills are identical except for the elimination of the "000"s (old bills continue in circulation at the new rate; e.g., an old 10000 peso note has a value of 10 new pesos). There are new coins which are quite different from the old coins. As with the old bills, the old coins remain in circulation with a new value assigned to them.

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TIJUANA - DRIVING SOUTH

If you are heading south from San Diego, Tijuana is a necessary evil (unless you invest 35 more miles of driving and cross the border at Tecate). The best (and quickest) route is to take U.S. 5 or 805 south to the San Ysidro border crossing.

After crossing into Mexico, follow the center/right lane as it loops up and over - then very carefully follow the signs to Ensenada Cuota (the toll road). It is very easy to miss the turn onto the correct road here - the road splits into several parts as it curves to the left and enters an underpass with a concrete barrier separating lanes (painted orange in '95 and green in '96).

Best to go slow and let the other drivers honk at you. If you miss a turn, keep in mind that the general idea is to parallel the border fence west towards the ocean until the road ("Calle Internacional") bears to the left and merges with a major highway heading west - this highway shortly becomes the Ensenada toll road. Shortly after this first barrier, there is now a second barrier which should be passed using the lane for Ensenada Cuota (toll road).

MISSED TURN: If you take the turn to the left of the barrier, you should proceed as follows: at the first stoplight turn right, continue through one stoplight and the street will "T" at "Calle Internacional" - turn left and you're back on track. Ignore all the hawkers trying to get you into an upholstery shop!

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TIJUANA - DRIVING NORTH

When driving north through Tijuana, I am always entering Tijuana from the Ensenada toll road. There are two border crossings: San Ysidro and Otay Mesa (the newer crossing). The traditional San Ysidro crossing is the larger and busier of the two - on Sunday afternoons and on holidays expect at least a one hour wait at the crossing (it could be shorter or longer). While Otay Mesa is quicker to cross, it is more difficult to reach on the Tijuana side. To my mind its a toss up during the crowded times. If it is not a crowded time, then San Ysidro is probably faster. In either case, be prepared to prove to the U.S. Customs agent both your citizenship and the prices of purchases you made in Mexico. The probability of having to do this may be slight, but it is something you should be ready for.

About 3/4 mile after the Ensenada toll road curves right (to the east) and becomes a local four-lane divided highway, a connector road with a sign to San Diego will exit to the right. Follow this connector road down a hill to merge with the circuit highway around Tijuana ("Circuito Independencia").

San Ysidro Crossing: After merging with the circuit highway immediately get to the left lane and make a U-turn at the first opportunity, i.e., head the other direction on the circuit highway - there will be a small sign to San Diego. Bear off to the right and follow the signs to San Diego or to the "Garita" (border crossing). The road ("Calle Internacional") eventually parallels the border fence and drops you in a congested area. Stay in the left two lanes in this congested area - you will have to make a left turn at a corner which is only fairly well marked. After turning left at this corner, remain in the left two lanes - at an underpass, a concrete barrier will separate lanes.

The lane to San Diego is to the LEFT of the barrier.

The rest is well marked and easy (except possibly for fighting off the hordes of vendors while waiting in line).

MISSED TURN: If you take the lane to the right of the barrier, you will be shunted off towards downtown Tijuana. Follow the main street until you reach a large traffic circle, and use the circle to make a U turn and return towards the border area on the same main street. Follow the signs to San Diego.

Otay Mesa Crossing: After merging with the circuit highway follow this large divided highway through Tijuana until it becomes a regular city street in a congested commercial area. The way to the border is not well marked, but the idea is to tend to the right (northeast) and rise up on the mesa. The major Tijuana bus station will be passed on the right. Follow only main streets and any signs to the "Garita de Otay" (Otay border crossing). Signs to the airport may be followed until a traffic circle is reached up on the mesa; exit this circle heading EAST (the airport is north) and continue about 3/4 mile before turning left at a stoplight onto the road leading directly to the crossing. Do not enter the separate crossing for "vehiculos pesados" (heavy vehicles = trucks) which comes first. You want the crossing for "vehiculos ligeros" (light vehicles = autos, RVs, etc.).

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TECATE

If you are avoiding Tijuana or driving from the east, then Tecate is where you catch the road south to Ensenada. It will not be possible to exchange $ here - Tecate is not a tourist or "border town" (even though it is on the border). The road to Ensenada is 1 or 2 blocks south and east of the border crossing. The drive from Tecate to Ensenada is a lovely one over the coastal mountains. The road intersects the coast just on the north side of Ensenada.

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ENSENADA

You will need "Tourist Cards" (visas) south of Ensenada. There is now an easy way to get these validated in Ensenada, at least during normal business hours. 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 then pass over several(!) sets of speed bumps ("Topes"). Just before the street bears off to the right, a new "Migracion" office has opened on the right, with parking in front for automobiles. They open at 8AM and close at 8PM - and may be closed during mid-day (1-3PM). Of the two offices there, you want the one on the right as you face them. If possible, it is advisable to have blank Tourist Card forms with you. If they are out of forms in Ensenada you may be delayed or sent back to Tijuana. I have obtained batches of blank forms when at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego - they were for crew members on a boat, but I always got many more than I needed. They may also be available through a U.S. "motor club."

If you follow this route into Ensenada (this is also the short-cut through Ensenada), continue to the right after the Migracion office and follow the main street ("Blvd. Lazaro Cardenas") along the waterfront. Eventually you are forced to turn left. Follow this street ("Calle Agustin Sangines") past the hospital to the big intersection with stoplight, 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.

NOTE: In January '96 I noticed that the main street parallel to the water in being extended. What has been a forced left-turn is about to become optional. At this time I'm not sure what will be the best route.

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MANEADERO

If time permits a two-hour 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 stoplight 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.

There are eight sets of speed bumps ("Topes") which have been placed across the highway in Maneadero - in many cases the warning signs have vanished - exercise caution. In August '94 the car ahead of me did not spot the last bump in town (unmarked), and this lead to my hitting it as well, and the car behind me - like tumbling dominos! My camper took quite a bounce.

South of Maneadero, the road shrinks to two lanes for the next 800 miles or so.

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SANTO TOMAS

There are two very large topes (speed bumps) in Santo Tomas 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!

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SAN QUINTIN

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 (1996) sprouted a stoplight - a sign of progress which, I suspect, the locals will be slow to accept.

If I have a guest along for a first time ride down the highway, I try to stop at San Quintin 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 Quintin - 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 - look on the back side of the La Pinta for a track to the beach. 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!

About 30 miles south of San Quintin, 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 Catavina. 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).

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GUERERRO NEGRO

The road briefly returns to the Pacific at Guererro Negro. This is the site of the largest sea-water salt production facility in the world. The sea 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 come into the shallow lagoons around Guererro Negro).

It is in one of the shallow lagoons near Guererro 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 a stone sign on the north side of the street announces the salt company: Exportadora de Sal. The road to the right (behind the sign) goes to the airport on the east side of the Guererro Negro Lagoon. Following the main street for a short ways further, the headquarters of the salt company are on the left, with a gated entrance. Taking a right hand turn here gets you started on a very interesting drive along the west side of Guererro 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 Guererro Negro survives because of the common morning fog (a 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 Guererro 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 is converting to using Daylight time in the Spring of 1996.)

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SAN IGNACIO

A real oasis! 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 in another interesting spot, especially in the evenings.

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SANTA ROSALIA

The hill outside town which drops down to the Gulf from the northwest has the steepest grade to be found on the Baja highway. Check your brakes when approaching from the northwest! Check your engine and coolant when departing Santa Rosalia to the northwest!

The town has a galvanized iron church designed by Eiffel (of tower fame) - a curiosity worth stopping to see. Remnants of the old copper smelter also abound. There is a bakery here which is considered to be one of the best on the peninsula (it always seems to be very crowded).

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MULEGE

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.

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CONCEPCION BAY

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.

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LORETO/NOPOLO

The old mission in Loreto is worth a visit. The new tourist development is about 5 miles south in Nopolo, complete with a golf course in this very arid environment. There are some very nice beaches there. Further south of Nopolo 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.

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WHERE TO STAY

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.


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Baja Life Online would like to Thank Fred Metcalf for his work in gathering this information and creating this page. Thank you Fred!

Copyright 1995-1996 Fred T. Metcalf