Explaining the Urban Myths of Adventuring in Baja California

Imbibing in a few margaritas on the streets of Baja.

I’ll never forget the first time I was pulled over by the Mexican police force, the federales in Baja California. Growing up in Southern California you hear lots of stories of how terrifying it is to go on holiday in Mexico and even more terrifying if you get pulled over by the the Policía Federal Preventiva (Federal Preventive Police). When I was pulled over at eighteen years old, my first time driving in Mexico, my heart was racing like I was going to have a panic attack and I was positive I was going to go to jail even though the only crime I had committed was driving two miles over the fifty-five kilometer speed limit. Luckily for me, the federales decked out in full gray combat fatigues and heavily armed, just wanted to hit on the American girl with the ojos azules. (Blue eyes) In my first experience in Mexico, I took out of this scary but harmless experience that most Americans are overreacting about how unsafe Mexico is. (And also Policía Federal Preventiva are just as horny as American cops)

The winter months in California are the perfect time to visit Baja California. Especially if you are a budget-friendly traveler. A little timid about travels to Mexico? I’ve got your back bro! Here are some helpful travel tips from my over twenty years of experiences exploring Baja California and beyond.


Baja California beaches; So dog-friendly

I’ve been traveling to Baja California since I was a teenager and I’ve had so many adventures, good times and life experiences trekking through this coastal region. I would say the vast majority of Americans when traveling to Mexico go via cruise ship. In my opinion, setting out on a Mexican cruise to Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta does not emerge the traveler in the cultures of Mexico in any way whatsoever. I’m a off the beaten path kind of traveler, a road tripper and an outdoor wanderlust seeker. Baja California has always felt like an adventure to me. That is why I feel that exploring Baja California or Mexico as a road trip is the only authentic way to go. You can really get the feeling of living in one of these authentic Baja towns when you rent a house or villa for a week and they are so cheap thanks to Airbnb! And you can bring your dog! Do you know how awesome the Baja California beaches are to a dog? All the beaches sur are dog-friendly!

Immerse your American self in the Baja California culture!

The beginning of winter is a great time to take a budget-friendly trip to Baja California. Before the Christmas season, you can find very cheap lodging and empty beaches. The local economy is dying for you to spend some pesos in their cantinas also! When your wanderlust takes you south of the American border it gives the California adventurers a chance to immerse themselves in urban culture; shop where the locals shop, eat at the local taco stands and yes, of course, enjoy a few cold cervezas at local watering holes. You might even find some Mexican kittens to play with in a mercado. (The crazy cat lady in me just loves Baja California)

No vacation to Baja is complete without mercado kittens.

I wouldn’t trade my years of journeying through Mexico for anything. So many Americans are afraid to head south of the border by what they hear on the news every night. Afraid to travel to Mexico? Watch too much FoxNews? Click this link to see if your Mexico vacation zone is safe to travel today!

Baja California is such a great destination for the frugal traveler as lodging is very decently priced for any budget year-round. (But that first week of December is cheaper than most months) Tacos and margaritas are also cheap and the ocean is right there; Hours of free fun in the sand and surf! The beaches of Baja California are a gorgeous place to swim, snorkel, enjoy deep sea fishing and even swim with whale sharks in the south of Baja Sur in the Bahia de los Angeles in the fall. Want to get off the beaten path? The Bahia de Los Angeles didn’t even have cell service until 2007!

There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a margarita on the veranda of a beach villa (I mean besides swimming with whale sharks) These rentals for beachfront properties are ridiculously low-priced compared to beach property vacation rentals in the United States. When we are not traveling with our pup, we prefer to stay at the beachside Rosarito Beach Hotel. Although, in this day and age many travelers do prefer the luxuries of an Airbnb with a full kitchen.

The sunset from our suite at Rosarito Beach Hotel

When researching Airbnb rentals you can rent a two-bedroom beachfront home north of Ensenada for over one hundred American dollars a night! What are you waiting for? Adios! Tell your boss you are going on holiday today!

If you talk to friends, neighbors and colleagues about traveling to Baja or farther into Mexico expect terror and disbelief at your choice to travel to a third-world country. But don’t be scared of worldwide travel even if traveling to a “shithole country” I’m used to friends and family nearly shitting themselves when I tell them I’m going on holiday in Baja. I started traveling to Baja when I was a very mature seventeen-year-old and my parents knew I was a mature teenager and had no problem with it. (Although looking back now as an adult, I think, why on earth did they let me go to Mexico with no parental supervision?!)

As the years passed the stories one would hear about all these “bad hombres” in Mexico were pretty terrible but what most Americans don’t realize is that most of these scary situations are happening way to the south near Mexico City.

A walk on a Mexican beach often includes a stop to pet horses.

Thinking of traveling to Baja California? It is actually much safer than you may have heard! Still not sure? The government puts out a list for tourists traveling down south to Baja and Mexico and warns tourists where they should and should not go. I am usually that friend who forwards this information to each and every friend who travels through Mexico. Because friends want friends to stay safe and not be paranoid when they travel!

Bad hombres or fake news? You decide

Baja California.
The beauty of the Baja California coast

Traveling across the U.S. border and down south to Baja does not need to be a stressful experience as long as you go about its safety, and know what not to do. There might indeed be some bad hombres in Mexico but let me tell you from firsthand experience, don’t be afraid of all the good times to be had in this extremely inexpensive tropical country. FoxNews may make trekking down to Baja California sound intimidating but as long as you make smart choices you to can have an awesome and inexpensive, and most importantly, safe, Baja vacation!

Just be mindful of your surroundings when traveling in Baja. Don’t walk on the beach at night. Don’t drink and drive. Just be very careful not to do all those things that stupid Americans are known to do and get in trouble in Mexico. People say that you should bring extra cash and hide it in a separate spot when traveling to Mexico in case you need to bribe border patrol. I have been to Mexico maybe thirty times in my life, and in only one instance was I pulled over by the federal police, and all the border patrol dudes wanted was to hit on me. They had no interest in arresting me whatsoever. I think this is an old wives’ tale. If you’re not doing illegal things then the federales are not looking to pull you over.

Vacationing in Baja since I was a stupid teenager, I may have done a few not-so-bright things but I never got in trouble in Mexico. Meaning I never had any of the problemas that young people can get into in Baja. There are a few big tips that will really help you have a safe and frugal holiday in Baja California and Mexico in general.Baja California

How to not be a dumb-dumb in Mexico

  • Leave the guns and drugs at home. Don’t bring guns and drugs to Mexico, this is the number one thing the military checkpoints are looking for.
  • Don’t drive at night, cattle roam the highways as well as drug cartel members.
  • You don’t need a passport to visit Baja but you need a birth certificate.
  • If you plan to drive further south than Baja Sur you will need to obtain a visa.
  • If walking over the international border, you can’t walk over without a visa.
  • If driving in Mexico always purchase Mexican car insurance for your vehicle.
  • Exchange your American dollars for pesos; You will get better pricing wherever you go.
  • And number one important; Don’t drink the water! Don’t even brush your teeth with the water.

One thing highly different in Mexico, as opposed to United States travel, is you will see military checkpoints on your daily drives. These checkpoints have armed hombres with big ass guns and they are trying to keep this country as safe as possible. These military checkpoints and the constant police and military presence on the streets make me feel a little safer as we travel the highways and backroads of Baja California. These military checkpoints are serious about their car searches. If you get stopped at a military checkpoint or hassled at a border checkpoint, be polite, and remove your sunglasses when talking to military personnel. Don’t be a dick to military personnel. They are here for our safety. Remember when going through military checkpoints, that the lines for these checkpoints are much longer on Sundays, which is the one day a week that most Mexicans have off work. Lines to cross the international borders and military checkpoints will also be very long on holiday weekends.

Baja California
Don’t be afraid to drive in Baja California.

2022 is a great time to travel to Mexico and Baja California in particular. There is a saying down south in Baja “When the U.S. sneezes Mexico gets a cold” The economy of these two countries is so tightly tied together. When the U.S. economy is bad Mexico’s tourism suffers and the real bad hombres make their presence known. Drugs and the cartels seem to wake up and more of the bad press makes international news throwing travels to Mexico in a negative light. Here in 2022, who wants to get on a plane when you can simply drive to Baja California?  Let’s spend our hard-earned dinero and book a vacation in Baja or in Mexico and help the Mexican economy improve. Don’t let the cartels win! Book a Baja vacation today!

It makes me so sad when you see how bad the Mexican economy is because areas don’t have tourism traffic and the cartels take over and the whole country suffers. The best thing you can do for the Mexican economy as an American is to book a cruise, rent a villa or plan a trip to this U.S. adjacent third-world country. Plan a trip to Baja California or Mexico and see what the beaches of Baja have to offer (like delicious local lobsters caught locally offshore just that a.m.) While exploring the streets of Baja California, invest in some colorful souvenirs, Mexican woven blankets or pottery, from shopkeepers at the mercados for friends back home.Here in 2022, who wants to get on a plane when you can simply drive to Baja California?  Let's spend our hard-earned dinero and book a vacations in Baja and in Mexico and this is severely helping the Mexican economy improve.

Some things have severely changed in the last ten years of my travels to Baja. When I first started coming down to Baja when I was eighteen years old, there was very little development between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. This beachside land was more desolate and deserted looking the way that northern California beaches tend to be. Flash forward ten years in time and the economy in this area has developed and that has led to major beach developments on the whole strip of beach between Tijuana and Ensenada. It honestly blows me away, every time I drive down highway one, the toll road and see all the big skyscrapers and beachside communities built up. Besides the giant Jesus statue on the hillside south of Rosarito Beach, there used to be no communities at all between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada back in 1999 when I first began traveling to Baja California.

Some things have changed in traveling to Baja California in the last ten years, and some of these things are for the better. When I was coming to Baja at eighteen years old, no one had a smartphone. We had cell phones that worked in the United States and they didn’t have the Internet. When you came to Baja California or Mexico you did not have communication with friends or family unless you went to an Internet café. Parents back home just had to assume their kids were safe in a third-world country. Here in 2022, if you pay for an international data plan your phone will work in Mexico. Using Google maps for driving assistance is helpful, but Google maps are constantly wrong. Don’t expect it to work the same and be as accurate as when traveling in the U.S. With Verizon Wireless it’s only five dollars a day to add on an international talk and data plan to your cell phone bill when traveling through Baja California.

When I was traveling Baja highways at eighteen years old we did not have cell phones or Google maps. We had to print out maps from the internet and hope they were correct. The cell reception may not be great in Baja but on our most recent trip, it was so unbelievably great to be able to make our way through confusing Baja California resort towns with the help of some kind of mapping.

Having a safe driving experience in Mexico.

I had a friend express to me the other day that she can’t drive in Mexico because her car is too nice. She was shocked when I told her the roads are not all dirt in Mexico. This seems to be a common misconception of what the driving situation is like in Baja California and Mexico. Yes, the roads are paved and yes also people in Mexico drive like there are no laws. If you stop at a stop sign in Mexico, you will be the only one. As much as I obey the traffic laws when driving in the United States, it’s better to blend in and look like a local when in Baja California, so yes, I run the stop signs. Who wants a big sign on their car, that reads “tourist?”

Staying on the coast road, the toll road 1 is the safe way to go if it is your first time driving in Baja California. But honestly driving anywhere in Baja California is safe as long as you realize how the driving situation is in Mexico. Laws and traffic rules are just a guideline here. Only the tourists stop at stop signs and the speed limit on highways may be 80 kilometers an hour but everyone drives faster. Mexican state police seem too busy with other businesses to pull tourists and locals over for minor traffic violations.

You can even buy gas in Baja or Mexico, another urban legend put to rest. Gas is refined here in Mexico and it’s perfectly fine to put in your vehicle. When buying gas in Mexico things are a bit different though. The gas is pumped for you. Stay in your car unless looking for a restroom. And just an FYI, Pemex gas stations have the nicest banos (bathrooms) around. Just like any third-world country, the banos you use in public places south of the border may not be up to our American standards. (Also why I bring wet wipes and gallons of hand sanitizer in my purse when out for a day in Baja California) Toll stations always tend to also have the nicest bathrooms around when out in public.

Smuggling a feral cat across the Mexican border? Here are some tips!

A day out exploring the streets of Mexico can be perfectly safe if you are smart about it but one thing you do not want to do is be out driving Mexican highways at night. Free-range cattle roam wild and are often hit when they wander onto highways. They are way harder to spot after dusk. If you do get caught out driving at night, try to drive behind a bus. They will clear the cattle who lounge in the middle of the highway. And a lone cow won’t total a bus like a compact car.

So you just hit a cow on a deserted Baja highway. Dios Mio! What do you do now? Did you pay for Mexico’s automobile insurance? Our friends who own their home in Baja told us that we only need liability insurance while driving here. But it kind of depends on how comfortable you are with the driving situation in Mexico. Some insurance companies ensure their California drivers as long as you don’t drive farther south than Ensenada. The smartest thing to do is to just contact your insurance company, let them know which area of Baja California or Mexico you will be driving in and see what plan is best for you. It’s the best alternative just in case you hit la vaca on the highway. (I mean aside from grilling up some hamburgers)

When crossing the international border back into the United States there are many apps available that really helped to guesstimate wait time when waiting to pass the border checkpoint. There have been many times crossing the border when I had to wait three or four hours just to get back into the U.S. and this can be extremely frustrating especially when San Diego is still hours from home. I like the CBP Border App. The border wait times it lists have often been accurate when I have been waiting to cross the international border. And if you happen to be smuggling a rescue kitty cat through border patrol, make sure you get a rabies vaccine certificate in advance. You also need one if you take your dog with you to Mexico for the border crossing.

How to vacation frugally in Baja California

A beach vacation down Mexico way can be way cheaper than you may realize. The conversion of the Mexican peso to the U.S. dollar is great right now and this makes trips to Baja California and Mexico, in general, a frugal vacationer’s dream come true. Lodging is super cheap in Baja for a beachfront villa, fish tacos are cheap and beer and margaritas are not too many pesos either. When we stay at our favorite beachfront villa south of Rosarito Beach, we pay under two hundred U.S. dollars a night for a villa in a gated community right on the beach. These seaside accommodations are truly unreal for a beach vacation just south of the international border! When exploring the little towns of Baja, you need to exchange your U.S. Currency for pesos. You get a better deal pretty much anywhere you shop if you use pesos compared to American dollars. But most places in the area of Rosarito Beach to Ensenada accept American dollars. Small bills are always appreciated. Little businesses will likely not have change. Before you drive all over Mexico looking for the best fish taco Baja Sur has to offer, you may want to do that in a clean vehicle and it’s super cheap to have your vehicle detailed in Mexico. We paid eleven U.S. dollars to have our truck detailed at the roadside hut that did a way better job than the place we go to in the states!

There are a lot of other services you can have done in Mexico that are unbelievably cheap compared to US prices. But when dealing with small tapaserias (reupholster) or other businesses to fix electronics you have to remember what the Mexican way of life is like. If you take a couch to be reupholstered and are told it’s going to be done manana that doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow. In Mexico, manana could be Tuesday or next Wednesday or next week. You are on Mexico time now! We attempted to have our RV couches re-upholster while in Mexico the last time we went down to Rosarito Beach and instead of taking two days it took close to two weeks, and that includes us having to drive into Rosarito Beach daily on our vacation to see how the work was going on the couches. We saved about half the money we would’ve spent to send these couches to an American location to have them reupholstered.

Dentists and veterinarian appointments are also very cheap in Mexico. I have friends who don’t have health insurance and they save all their dentist visits for when they go down to Mexico. You don’t need health insurance to go to the dentist in Mexico for a root canal, have your wisdom teeth pulled, or just for a simple cleaning that without health insurance you will only pay $30 for in any Mexico clinic. It’s a great deal for anyone who does not have health insurance.

It’s lobsta time!

So your car is clean and so are your teeth, and you still have some dinero in your pocket! Isn’t life in Mexico muy gusto? Sounds like it’s time to have an authentic Baja California meal. Baja California is known for its fresh seafood; especially lobster. Puerto Nuevo is a very popular beach town just south of Rosarito Beach. This tiny beachside hamlet is world-famous for its Baja-style grilled lobster. Every restaurant in this town sits on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean and the lobster is super fresh and affordable wherever you go. (If you do go to a restaurant in Puerto Nuevo definitely negotiate for the best price for your meal as restaurant employees wander the streets and beg you to try “Their lobster. The best lobster in Baja” It’s quite easy to get a discounted price for a lobster lunch or dinner.

The Ensenada fish market, don’t miss it!

If you are looking at really saving some cash though, you need to buy your own fresh-caught lobster at the Ensenada

fish market near the port. Seriously, if you are renting a house or villa with a kitchen or simply a BBQ the lobster here is so fresh it’s simple to grill up your own Baja-style lobster just as good as any restaurant in Puerto Nuevo. We negotiated 400 pesos a KG for our fresh caught lobsters, which is roughly twelve American dollars a lobster.

A trip to the seafood markets in Ensenada it’s a great way to spend any day of a vacation, especially if you want to buy your own fresh-caught lobster to grill up for lunch. This fresh fish market in Baja is centrally located just off the main through fare on Blvd Lazaro Cardenas and easy to find near the port. Take my advice and absolutely do not wear sandals when going to the Mexican market though. As I waded through wet fishy water on our latest visit I thought oh God this is a really bad idea. I saved thirty American dollars on the lobster but I had to throw out my now fishy sandals so that wasn’t exactly a win. Seriously though, when visiting the fish market, do not wear nice boots or shoes that are not washable because the floor is extremely wet and slimy and there are puddles of fish poop everywhere. The best shoes to wear when exploring the fish market are a pair that are extremely washable.

You finished buying all your pescado, crab and lobster at the fish market, what should you do now in Ensenada? Definitely, have lunch and a cold cerveza at one of the many fish taco joints just outside the fish market. The fish tacos you can get at any of these fish restaurants with their cheap picnic tables and colorful decorations are honestly so much better than any fish taco you can get in the United States. I don’t understand why that is because the ingredients are literally so simple but fish tacos in Baja California are beyond amazing, and not to be missed. (And ridiculous cheap!)

Americans often hear on FOX News how dangerous it is to travel in Mexico. Americans are told not to use public transportation or cabs and when traveling in the relatively safe area of Baja California this is not exactly true. I have used public transportation in many countries that I’ve visited, including third-world countries and as long as you have good situational awareness there’s nothing wrong with using public transportation or cabs. Using a cab for travel in Rosarito Beach is perfectly safe. You can even use Uber for travels in Baja California now!

Well, if you can’t bring drugs and guns with you into Mexico, what can you do for fun in Baja California? I mean besides enjoying one too many margaritas while lounging on the white sand beaches. Baja is a great area for surfing, boogie boarding, snorkeling and kite surfing, but after you get tired of having sand in every crevice what should you do for fun down south? Put on a beach cover-up and head into one of the laid-back beach towns along the coastal drive on toll road one. Close to Rosarito Beach, there are tons of wineries just a thirty-minute drive away into the Valle De Guadalupe northeast of Ensenada. There are close to 125 artesian, boutique and commercial wineries in this valley. When I was eighteen years old we would drive to Baja from southern California and stock up in Tijuana on Boones Farm strawberry wine. You will not likely find any cheap strawberry wine here among the grape vines and cactus of this rugged yet very pretty landscape. Is this Baja California or Arizona? It’s hard to decide as the rolling hills of the Valle De Guadalupe seem confused geographically, Or maybe it’s the Russian-inspired wines from Bibayoff Winery. (Russian wine? What? Only in an area like Baja California that is undergoing a wine renaissance revolution!) clouding my senses. If wine is not your thing then the blowhole; La Bufadora is a cool natural phenomenon to check out in the port town of Ensenada.

Helpful travel tip; Hope you don’t show up in Ensenada on a day when the cruise ships are in port; This little beach city gets mucho crowded!

Enjoy wild animals that you can only get up close and personal with while on holiday in Mexico? Check out the Bahia De Los Angeles located roughly halfway down the Baja coast. This gorgeous seaside cove located on the shores of the Sea of Cortez actually gives you the opportunity to swim with whale sharks.

This area is “Rustic” to say the least. The Bay of L.A, website brags that “the town has had twenty-four seven electricity since 2007!” The sixteen islands in this area are gorgeous in themselves and besides swimming with the whale sharks in the warmer summer months this area is also a prime diving and snorkeling location. A few days at the Bay of L.A. is worth the nine-hour one-way drive from Rosarito Beach.

Swimming with aquodic mammals, not your thing? How do you feel about kitty cats? As in big-ass kitty cats, or at least their cubs. At La Bufadora on the Peninsula de Punta Banda, you can experience a crazy hectic mercado area where you can buy every souvenir you could ever want, have a margarita or two at a seaside restaurant or frolic with lion cubs. Yes, I did say lion cubs. Are you a fan of el gatos? Then this is one Mexican experience you simply cannot miss! For twenty American dollars, you can play with the cubs for about fifteen minutes and the handlers will take as many photos of you and the cubs as you want. Need a selfie of yourself and Mufasa while in Baja? Well, now you know where to go!Mexico

Have enough time to drive farther south? Every year 10,000 gray whales migrate from the chilly arctic waters to south Baja Sur and the Sea of Cortez. San Ignacio is a good twelve-hour drive from the San Ysidro border crossing in Tijuana but it is worth the drive down highway one to coastal lagoons where the super friendly whales and calves will swim right up to boats in the winter months. San Ignacio is one of three lagoons that the gray whales call home in the winter months in Baja California.

Have less time but still interested in getting up close and personal with whales and their calves? Guerrero Negro is just a nine-hour drive south of Rosarito Beach and this beachside hamlet will offer you a chance to see magnificent gray whales and their 1,000-pound “little” calves in Scammon’s Lagoon. These mamas and calves take a break here in the Ojo de Liebre after traveling over 6,000 miles from the Bering Sea before continuing further south. If you find yourself in Baja at any time from January to March this is definitely a fun day trip to see these friendly sea giants.

I wish more Americans were not so timid when it comes to adventure in Baja California and Mexico. This region depends on the tourist dollar to keep itself from the hands of drugs and the cartels. This is such a rugged pretty landscape so close to the California border. As long as you follow some simple rules, it’s easy to have a super inexpensive Baja holiday and do some fun activities you just can’t do in southern California!

Or maybe just consume as many delicious fish tacos and fresh inexpensive lobster as you can!



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