Baja California December 2019

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December 2nd 2019
Published: February 3rd 2020
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Stuart & Susan, Kathy & BernieStuart & Susan, Kathy & BernieStuart & Susan, Kathy & Bernie

The Fearless Foursome heading down the Baja

As you have probably figured out, these travel blogs are a way for Bernard and me to keep track of our adventures. I can't tell you how many times we've referred back to one of our over 70 travel blogs looking for various details, maps, dates, etc. That said, feel free to enjoy the photos and just skim or ignore the text. In this one I've added a Recap section so you don't have to read the details at all!

Baja California & Baja California Sur w/Stuart & Susan

December 2 - 14, 2019

A few days after Thanksgiving we were packed up and heading
Trump's WallTrump's WallTrump's Wall

Entering Mexico from San Ysidro, CA - the wall is pretty noticeable
west and then south. Our first stop was to the Phoenix airport to drop off daughter JJ who had been visiting us over Thanksgiving, then to visit and over-night with friend Mary in Scottsdale - always fun, but seems like we NEVER have enough time to cover all the subjects we are interested in. Mary will be coming with us to South Africa in August (JJ too) so that subject alone took up a giant swath of time - in a good way. 😊

Early the next morning we drove from Scottsdale to Rosarito, Mexico - just south of Tijuana - to meet friends Stuart & Susan. We stayed in one of Stuart & Susan's condos in Rosarito and the next morning packed up their car to begin our adventure: to drive the entire length of Baja California/Baja California Sur and back again, over 2,000 miles (3,200 kms)!!


Dec. 1 Rosarito; Dec. 2 Cataviña; Dec. 3 San Ignacio; Dec. 4 & 5 Loreto; Dec. 6 & 7 Todas Santos; Dec. 8 & 9 San José del Cabo; Dec. 10 La Paz; Dec. 11 San Ignacio; Dec. 12 San Quintín; Dec. 13 Rosarito. See photo of route map.

The people are kind and helpful. Baja seems to be more prosperous than other parts of Mexico. The scenery is amazing. We ate so much good food, especially seafood. Too many chips with salsa, however, but the salsa was always different and needed to be tried - it wasn't our fault we gained weight. There were so many charming towns, beautiful ocean views and stunning mountain ranges (there are 16 mountain ranges on the Baja - who knew?). The vegetation is unique and interesting. Most of the Baja is part of the Sonora Desert (not the tropical tip), but has plants we don't have in our area of the desert. The iconic Boojum tree is just fascinating, the cardón cactus is similar to our saguaro, and there are many other fascinating cactus, plants and trees.

Highway 1 which we took all the way down the Baja is in really good shape, the problem was the narrowness, lack of shoulders and sheer drop-offs, especially in the northern part of the Baja. There is a fair amount of traffic, so you have to be hyper-vigilant. Passing, particularly trucks, was unnerving. It
MX Highway 1 BajaMX Highway 1 BajaMX Highway 1 Baja

We were in a sedan, but saw many more 4-wheel drive vehicles; not too many RVs
took more time getting places than we'd thought, although we had a good guide book - Baja (Including Cabo San Lucas) by Moon Publishing - that spelled that all out for us and we planned accordingly. Have to say we had our doubts when the book indicated, for example, that it would take several hours to go 50 kilometers - how is that possible? Well, it IS possible when driving on mountain roads where construction is on-going. We learned quickly to trust the book. We also trusted the book on which towns to stay in and at which hotels - the pickings are slim and the book had it totally sussed.

It was a delightful trip with wonderful friends - not a bit of conflict - and we'd travel anywhere with Stuart & Susan. Having said that, at our last meal in Ensenada the day before we drove back to Arizona we all made a toast to a once-in-a-life-time adventure that we hoped to **NEVER repeat!! It was too much time in the car and not enough time enjoying the lovely locales.

**When in La Paz, Bernie & I remembered that on our Baja adventure 20 years ago, instead of driving back to California we took the ferry across to Mazatlán and drove back to Tucson that way. We hadn't remembered our reasoning behind the ferry vs. driving back, but it soon became clear that we'd not wanted to drive that northern part again. This time, we had to go back to Rosarito to get our car, so the ferry wasn't an option, drats!!

I have to fess up that the time-crunch was mostly due to me. I had to get back for a **class on raptor handling or I wouldn't be able to take raptors out on my fist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in 2020. Since I LOVE doing that, we high-tailed it back to Tucson for me to take that class.

**I've been handling raptors for years, but this is a mandatory, once-a-year class for even veteran bird handlers.

So, that sums it up in a nutshell, but if you want details I've provided PLENTY of them below:



December 2

Cataviña is a fairly easy first day destination from the border (7-8 hours) and was our first stop after leaving Rosarito. It is hardly more than a few motels and a couple of simple restaurants. If you didn’t know where you were and woke up 200 yards from the highway anywhere in Cataviña, you would probably think that you were on another planet. The thousands of magnificent, building-sized boulders and gigantic rock formations will absolutely blow you away. This area is known as Baja’s rock garden. We took walks in this garden area (one each way) to marvel at the strange and wonderful rocks, vegetation and scenery.

There is not a whole lot to do in Cataviña, the desert and the giant rocks are what makes Cataviña unique. There are some minor cave paintings a half mile north of Cataviña which we enjoyed.

Our hotel, Hotel Misíon, was the ‘colonial’ set-up: rooms around a central garden and pool area. We arrived before dark - never a good idea to drive after dark in Mexico. That was brought home to us when talking to some travelers who came into dinner late. They'd run into a herd of cattle crossing the road just outside Cataviña, managed to dodge the black & white ones they could see, but hit a brown one full-on. They could still drive their truck and the animal walked away for the accident, but as I said, drove home our resolve to never drive at night.

San Ignacio

December 3

San Ignacio, with more date palms than residents, is a true oasis that sits in sharp contrast to the desert scrub, prickly cactus and volcanic rock of the Baja desert that completely surround the town. The palm-covered oasis of San Ignacio is a welcome sight to Baja travelers. The date palms and citrus orchards were planted by the Jesuits who built a mission here in 1728.

The town itself is not very big and entering San Ignacio is like taking a step back in time. The main part of town, laid out around a traditional town square, remains much the same as it was when it was built. The pace of life is slow here and if you arrive during siesta hour, not many of the local businesses will be open. San Ignacio is very small, even by Baja standards, with a population of fewer than 2,000. The San Ignacio plaza is a great place to stop and grab a taco, cold drink, some refreshing ice cream or have a relaxing picnic in the shade. There are a couple of restaurants and some smaller stores that sell groceries and supplies.

The church, that is one of the major attractions in this small village, was rebuilt over the original, by Dominican missionaries and completed in 1786. The Jesuits, who built the original mission, had been expelled from México in 1768. The church was constructed entirely of volcanic rock that is so prevalent in the surrounding area and dominates the plaza, which takes up a major portion of the town.

San Ignacio is the gateway to Laguna San Ignacio, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, which is one of the best whale watching areas in all of Baja. Unfortunately for us, it was too early in the season for whale watching.

We stayed at the Hotel La Huerta (both ways). A fond memory is of breakfast at Victor's Restaurant where we had the best oatmeal of the trip. It was so good (made w/milk, thick, creamy
Hillsides of CardónHillsides of CardónHillsides of Cardón

Cardón get larger than the saguaro in Arizona
with slivers of cinnamon) that we ordered oatmeal several more times on the trip only to be terribly disappointed. Turns out the typical oatmeal of the Baja is water with a few oats thrown in - barely cooked. On our second stay in San Ignacio Victor's wasn't open for breakfast so we had it at a food truck in the plaza - VERY nice - although they didn't have oatmeal the cook did make mean Huevos Rancheros y Mexicanos.

Santa Rosalía

Santa Rosalia has a personality completely different than your average seaside town. The whole town was once dependent on the large copper mine that, even today, is a highly visible part of Santa Rosalía. Production at the ever-present mine is currently being resurrected and a large local investment is being made by the mining company.

The beaches here could not be described as pretty. They are mostly dark gray sand with a scattering of rocks and they are hardly ever used by the local residents. Santa Rosalía just does not have the qualities it takes to be or become a serious resort destination.

Santa Rosalía was founded in the
Mining town of Santa RosalíaMining town of Santa RosalíaMining town of Santa Rosalía

Iglesia Santa Barbara de Santa Rosalía. A metal church by Gustave Eifell, of the Eifell Tower in Paris fame, which was shipped in pieces from Europe
early 1880’s when copper was discovered. A French mining company bought the mineral rights and drilled hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, built a smelting foundry, a railroad to haul the ore and the pier from which they shipped the smelted ore to Washington state to be refined. The ships would return from Washington with loads of lumber and other supplies for the town. Unique in Baja is the fact that most of the buildings in the downtown area are made of this wood and show, in their architecture, the French influence. Cement block is the preferred construction material in most of Baja.

A little way into town is the Iglesia Santa Barbara de Santa Rosalía church, famous for being designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who designed and built the Eiffel Tower. The prefab iron church was shipped from Europe in sections and then rebuilt in Santa Rosalía in 1897.

Right across the street from the church was a wonderful ice cream shop - highlight of the day for both Bernie & Stuart. They had a clean bathroom - highlight of the day for Susan and me.


Mulegé is an
Mulegé, a river runs through itMulegé, a river runs through itMulegé, a river runs through it

View of Rio Mulegé from Misión Santa Rosalia Del Mulegé
oasis town (population approx. 3,500) which is located along the tranquil shores of the Sea of Cortez. This small town enjoys a typical mild Baja climate. Many of the campgrounds and RV parks along the Río Mulegé have grown into permanent places for RV’s and trailers from all over the U.S. and Canada. There are also many vacation homes in the general area, especially to the south on the beautiful beaches and 'South Pacific like' coves that dot the area. The valley that shelters Mulegé is covered with date palms, is highly verdant and is in stark contrast with the rest of Baja. The Río Mulegé is one of only two 'real' rivers in all of Baja California Sur.

A local landmark is Mission Santa Rosalía de Mulegé, whose construction was started in 1668 and finally completed in 1705. This makes Mission Santa Rosalía de Mulegé the second oldest mission in Baja. The mission is built entirely of local stone and has been carefully restored. Today, the mission serves Mulegé as the local Catholic church.

More than 20 years ago Bernie and I drove some of the Baja and remembered Mulegé as a delightful

Pedestrian street our hotel was on in Loreto
little town. We stayed a bit out of town at a delightful resort and remember spending hours by the pool sipping Margaritas (me) and listening to the Gypsy Kings. Well, the town has deteriorated substantially since then. We drove by the 'resort' we'd stayed at 20 years ago, which now looked like a run-down shanty. Fortunately it was early enough in the day to continue driving to our next destination, Loreto.


December 4 & 5

Loreto is the oldest permanent settlement in Baja, dating back to 1697 when the mission Nuestra Señora de Loreto was founded. The mission took 55 years to complete (a long time even by Baja standards) and is in use to this day.

Loreto had the distinction of being the capital of Baja for just over 130 years and was very prosperous during that time, as most capitals in México are. In 1829, a hurricane devastated Loreto and the city of La Paz then became the capital.

The Loreto Bay and the islands of Coronado, Del Carmen, Danzante, Montserrate and Santa Catalina have been protected as a National Maritime Park
San JavierSan JavierSan Javier

300-year-old olive tree behind the Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Blaundó circa 1699 - first mission on the Baja Peninsula - in the mountains outside Loreto in the town of San Javier
since 2000. The park provides refuge for starfish, sea urchins, fan coral, mother-of-pearl, killer whales, blue whales, dolphins and sea lions.

Picturesque Misión San Francisco Javier is located in the mountains, an hour's drive, on a recently paved road from Loreto. This small settlement will give you a glimpse into what rural life in Baja was all about in the old days. The mission was completed in 1758 and is one of the best-preserved missions in all of México. The village of San Javier is quaint, tranquil and is one of the best, easily accessible windows into old Baja. It is a lovely town, although the weekend before there had been a big fiesta at the mission and they were still cleaning up. We found a young man to give us a tour of the mission and take us to the fabled 300-Year-Old Olive Tree - it really was something to see.

Our hotel in Loreto was one of our favorites, Villa Santo Niño, situated on a pedestrian walkway with the ocean/malacón a few minutes in one direction and the center of town a few minutes the other. The rooms were big and they
Todas SantosTodas SantosTodas Santos

This amazing beach was walking distance from our hotel in town - not the 10 minutes they advertised, but once on this beautiful beach . . . .
all had kitchens and a sitting area. There were two beautiful gardens and a laundry for guest use. Fernando, the owner, couldn’t have been more hospitable.

Todos Santos

December 6 & 7

The village of Todos Santos, vibrant and active, was initially founded as a mission in 1724. Later it became a major sugar-cane producer. It has a great art scene and we, as usual, found some amazing restaurants. Our boutique hotel, Hotelito, was super - spacious rooms, hammocks in your private lounging areas and a to-die-for breakfast included. Then only complaint we had about the hotel was that they advertised they were '10 minutes from the beach' - NOT. It was a 20 minute walk at least, which was totally doable and on a nice rural, shady road, but still.

Todas Santos's claim to fame is The Hotel California, which for years they hyped as the 'real' one the Eagles were singing about in the 70s. Turns out, not so much. In fact, the Eagles sued them for the deception and the hotel was made to stop playing Eagles music on a continuous loop and selling misleading memorability. They
Todas Santos SunsetTodas Santos SunsetTodas Santos Sunset

Sitting with drinks and appetizers on a hotel roof we were treated to this beautiful sunset. They were getting ready for salsa lessons and Susan took a whirl around the dance floor with the instructor
still sell Hotel California memorability, but of their own hotel and not the one in LA that the cover photo of the album depicts.

San José del Cabo

December 8 & 9

San José del Cabo is located near the tip of the Baja Peninsula, on the Sea of Cortez, 17 miles east of Cabo San Lucas. Population close to 70,000.

The first expeditions to explore this area were carried out by Hernan Cortés, as early as 1535. San José del Cabo was officially founded as a mission in 1730. The colorful history of San José del Cabo includes the murder of a priest, treasure (and water) seeking pirates and more than a few violent Indian uprisings.

We stayed right in the center (Tropicana Inn). The old buildings of the historic center, the ever-present stature of the beautiful church and the friendly family atmosphere that radiates around the plaza make San José, for us anyway, a great alternative to Cabo San Lucas. San José del Cabo instills a sense of tranquility into the desert landscape and the beautiful Sea of Cortez coastline that so defines this area
San José del CaboSan José del CaboSan José del Cabo

The seafood on the Baja was amazing - a 'typical' lunch of shrimp tacos.
of Baja. Old customs and traditions prevail.

An organized art district has haphazardly been created just off the plaza, with quite a few galleries - Stuart and Susan bought several pieces here.

San José del Cabo is the southern gateway to the East Cape region of Baja. To get to the East Cape from San José involves a long stretch of terrible road that leads to some of the most incredible beaches in southern Baja.

East Cape Road

From San José del Cabo we drove the East Cape Road to La Paz. Before leaving San José we checked with our hotel and several locals to get a read on the condition of the road. Having read that it could be iffy, we were concerned. We were told it was 'just fine.'

Well, what was supposed to be no more than a two hour drive took us 5 1/2 hours!! A recent hurricane had damaged the road substantially. We started out on a very nice, paved road with good signage, but it didn't take long for the pavement to disappear and the sand tracks to begin. We'd power
East Cape RoadEast Cape RoadEast Cape Road

The scenery along the road was spectacular, but it took us 5 1/2 hours instead of 2 to get from San José del Cabo to La Paz because the hurricane had damaged so much of the road
through miles of sand track, then come to a paved section that we, naturally, hoped would continue - they never did. At one point we took the wrong fork in the road and ended up on private property. When turning around we got stuck in the sand. Fortunately with Susan (the lightest of us) driving, we were able to push the car onto firmer ground and continue our long, slow slog up the coast.

However tedious the drive was, the scenery was spectacular! Cove after cove with azure waters and often a huge house on a cliff above the beach. We found one hotel where we stopped for information, bathrooms, water - truly an oasis. What they told us, however, was enlightening if also disheartening: we had many miles of sand track ahead of us still.

It was getting dark as we drove into La Paz, and you do NOT want to be driving at night on the Baja. Fortunately La Paz was a town Stuart & Susan knew a bit, so we had a beautiful hotel awaiting us and even better yet, Stuart knew how to get there, even in the dark. Stuart
La Paz MalecónLa Paz MalecónLa Paz Malecón

The Pearl - one of the many wonderful statues along the La Paz Malecón
also knew of a great restaurant, so with another fabulous seafood dinner under our expanding belts/waistbands we could finally laugh about our 'adventure.'

La Paz

December 10

La Paz is a wonderful city on the Sea of Cortez that deserves much more attention than it actually gets. It’s also the capital and cultural center of the state of Baja California Sur. It is the largest city in southern Baja, but still manages to retain a friendly, small town feel. The very meaning of the name, La Paz, translates to 'Peace,' which relates almost perfectly to the subdued ambiance of this incredible city.

La Paz is known for its spectacular sunsets, friendly residents and a long, calm waterfront that makes for a very relaxed environment. The peaceful feeling of La Paz is emphasized by the charming Malecón that is lined on the bay side with small beaches, sculptures, statues, lots of benches and a couple of piers. There are plenty of small palapas on the beaches in the downtown area if you feel the need for some shade. On the inland side of this seaside boulevard are many of
La PazLa PazLa Paz

La Paz is the capital of CA Baja Sur and a big, but really nice city
the city’s hotels, restaurants, shops and sidewalk cafes.

The Malecón is put to good daily use by the locals and tourists alike, for strolling, relaxing, socializing, jogging or just enjoying the incredible sunsets of La Paz. There are often impromptu performances, anything from magic shows to Mariachi bands along the Malecón. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Malecón can become very crowded with cars and pedestrians as the city comes out to enjoy the weekend.

As I mentioned, we had a wonderful hotel, Hotel Catedral. The amenities were first-class, but even more so was the service. The morning we left I managed to leave my toiletry bag hanging on the bathroom door. We were almost out of town when Stuart got a call from an unknown number he almost didn't answer, but fortunately did. It was the hotel telling me about my bag! We turned around and fetched it - I was willing to forego my toothbrush, but I also had my jewelry in that bag.

From La Paz we were headed north, and in that northern part of the Baja we pretty much retraced our trip down. The one change

Susan w/Day of the Dead Lady
we made was to stay in San Quitín instead of Cataviña. So from La Paz we drove to and stayed in San Ignacio (December 11), then instead of Cataviña we stayed in San Quintín, next day to Rosarito and then back to Tucson.

San Quintín

December 12

San Quintin, which is the world’s largest producer of tomatoes, lies 184 miles south of the U.S./México border.

This area of Baja all seems to blend together with tomato fields, dominating the inland side of the highway. The not-so-distant Pacific Ocean, and more fields of various local crops, dominate the western side of the highway. Crops that are grown in this booming farming center include strawberries, chili peppers, cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes. Most of these crops are exported to the United States and even Europe.

There are many nice beaches to explore if you make your way over to the Pacific. Getting there can be tricky, as many of the roads that head west, turn out to be dead ends. The beaches are long and wide, and you will find clams at low tide most of the time.
Beach in San QuintínBeach in San QuintínBeach in San Quintín

Our hotel was on this beautiful, interesting beach.

We found a hotel, Misíon Santa Maria, on an amazing beach - wonderful walk and sunset view. Bernie and I thought the hotel looked famliar and in talking to a long-time staffer, found it was once a El Presidente - and the very one we'd stayed at many years ago. The hotel was more run-down, but the beach and sunset just as spectacular. In fact, it was so nice we left late the next morning so we could get in another walk along the beach.


December 13

Back at Stuart & Susan's condo in Rosarito we had our farewell dinner, although we'd had our 'big' meal in Ensenada on the way (FABULOUS restaurant perched on rocks over-looking the ocean), reminisced about the trip and agreed that while MOST enjoyable, we'd NEVER do it again.


December 14

We got up very early in the morning and headed back to Tucson (8 hours) and I made it to my class at the Desert Museum on Sunday the 15th.

New Sport?New Sport?New Sport?

We over-nighted (both ways) in Rosarito, MX with friends Stuart & Susan in one of their condos - lovely beach walk and then sundowner Margaritas - fabulous start and/or end to any trip.

Additional photos below
Photos: 66, Displayed: 38


Baja Route MapBaja Route Map
Baja Route Map

Our route: black down and red return

Hotel Misíon in Cataviña was our first stop on the Baja
Boojum tree in bloom Boojum tree in bloom
Boojum tree in bloom

Weird plant, but fascinating at the same time
Boojum TreesBoojum Trees
Boojum Trees

They didn't always stand straight
Loreto Tea HouseLoreto Tea House
Loreto Tea House

Great cafes and restaurants in Loreto - some more 'gringo' than others
Hotel in San IgnacioHotel in San Ignacio
Hotel in San Ignacio

We tried to be off the highway by sunset to avoid cattle, but it also made for some wonderful sunsets with sun-downer drinks & appetizers
San JavierSan Javier
San Javier

Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Blaundó circa 1699 - first mission on the Baja Peninsula - in the mountains outside Loreto in the town of San Javier
San JavierSan Javier
San Javier

300-year-old olive tree behind the Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Blaundó circa 1699 - first mission on the Baja Peninsula - in the mountains outside Loreto in the town of San Javier
Drive to San Javier from LoretoDrive to San Javier from Loreto
Drive to San Javier from Loreto

Roadside shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe
Loreto MissionLoreto Mission
Loreto Mission

Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó in the town of Loreto

We LOVED Loreto - lovely hotel, great ocean views
Hotel California, Todas SantosHotel California, Todas Santos
Hotel California, Todas Santos

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
San José del CaboSan José del Cabo
San José del Cabo

We had a lovely hotel just of the plaza.
San Jose del Cabo PlazaSan Jose del Cabo Plaza
San Jose del Cabo Plaza

At night Mexican plazas come to life - so many families enjoying the Christmas vendors

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