A road trip down Mexico's Highway 1 through Baja California proved to be an ultimate adventure! At every turn and stop exposed Judah and Jeff, the crazed adventurers, into new formidable challenges and dangers. Somehow, the duo returned to compose this article of tips for traveling through Baja after enduring such experiences as Scuba Diving with whales and dolphins, escaping potential bandits, rattlesnake encounters, blown tires, evading the Mexican military, and much, much more!
The excursion idea began once Judah acquired two free Southwest Airline tickets to anywhere in the United States and a Scuba Dive Baja California book (from ScubaDillo Dive club).
Horseback Riding on the beach
Therefore, Jeff and Judah decided to venture to Mexico the week after school terminated until the day of graduation events from college. The journey began with few exact plans. The only reservations were the airfare to San Diego and a tentative Dollar Rent A Car reservation. Fortunately, upon arrival to San Diego, the car rental agency was able to rent us a 4WD vehicle.
Scuba Diving Shop
Little did we know of the value and necessity of this addition. Also, be prepared for the $25 per day Mexican insurance required for driving into Mexico. This was easily, yet costly, available at the car rental agency.
Monday morning in San Diego, we geared up on some food, film, gallons of water, lots of candy, and toilet paper (you need to supply your own unless you want to use cacti spokes), before proceeding into Mexico. Highway exits in Tijuana, the first city directly after entering into Mexico, were somewhat tricky so one must pay extra attention to enter South on Mexico Highway 1.
The road towards scuba diving
Within the first couple of hours, much of Highway 1 composed of huge steep incline drop-offs into the ocean, so extra care must be taken to ensure safety. Fortunately, Highway 1 was well paved and clearly marked for turns and dangerous curves. Two signs that we were unable to decipher were the many "vado" signs which we didn't think were extremely important. The other was the red octagonal "alto" sign, we thought it meant "tall" but obviously it didn't because the other Mexican drivers seemed very angry whenever we drove past the "alto" sign.
En route to Bahia de Los Angeles, we noticed a group of horses on the side of the ocean adjacent to the beach.
On our boat ready to dive
Immediately, we stopped and bargained the owners for a thirty minute rental of two horses for $16. This was extremely exhilarating as rules are often irrelevant and you can run the horses as fast as the horses will go. Soon after continuing on Highway 1, we turned west towards Bucadora, exiting at Ensenada. Our informational book listed a Scuba Dive shop in Bucadora, so we set our compass in this direction in order to rent our necessary scuba gear. When we arrived we were a bit cautious due to the appearance of the shop as compared to the shops back in the States. Fortunately, the owner was nearby and had plenty of the gear we needed (B.C.s, regulators, tanks, wetsuits, hoods, gloves, fins). He told us we were lucky that he was available as he is often elsewhere and customers may need to wait quite awhile or try to find the owner.
So we continued south on Highway 1 into the evening and found the exit towards Bahia de Los Angeles.
We never found a Highway number for this road, so one must be prepared to search for signs towards Bahia de Los Angeles. This road was decent, but not as good as Highway 1. We found Highway 1 to be safe to drive at night as it was well marked with signs. The road to Bahia de Los Angeles was paved, but not as well as Highway 1 and there were not always signs warning of dangerous curves in the road. Apparently this road is probably not the safest to drive at night, but fortunately we survived the whole route in the dark;although at one point, we strongly feared for our lives. After over an hour and not seeing one car or any trace of civilization, we noticed the road was temporarily blocked and two men were standing on the road, one with a rifle slung over his shoulder! We quickly contemplated our three options as we had no idea who these people were:
1. Step on the gas and drive full speed through the blockade
2. Pull a quick 180° and flee back towards Highway 1
3. Stop the car and hope for the best
A decision of options 1 or 2 probably would have resulted in the rifle-man sniping us dead.
Chasing a rattlesnake
Therefore, we chose option 3 and they asked us to get out of the car to inspect. It was the middle of the night and we observed no trace of officialities or signs, and therefore we believed these men to be bandits. Fortunately, they let us continue towards Bahia de Los Angeles. Thirty minutes later without seeing any other cars or civilization, we were stopped again in the same manner. Still we noticed no officialities, but since the process was the same and we were again allowed to pass, we decided that these must have been military checkpoints and our fears slightly evaded.
We arrived to Bahia de Los Angeles late in the night and knew of nowhere to stay or where camping was permitted, so we slept in our Jeep until sunrise; using scuba tanks as mattresses. In the morning we spoke to Guillermo about diving trips and Scuba air tank compression. His boat trips were expensive and he had no air compressor, so he referred us to Dr. Abraham at CampGecko. Upon our arrival at CampGecko, we found that Dr. Abraham was out of town, but Greg, a super laid-back Canadian, was temporarily in charge.
Campfire on top of the mountain
He let us pitch our tent on their beach only feet from the water for only $3 per night. We accepted his deal and then traveled to Racquel and Larry's based on Greg's recommendation for an operational air compressor! From this we were directed to Daggett's and afterwards to Mario at the Sea Turtle project. By the time we met Mario, it seemed we had met the whole town and ran out of luck for an air compressor. Mario led us to Ricardo's house. From the little Spanish that Judah and Jeff knew and Mario's help with translation, we were able to gather that Ricardo, who only speaks Spanish, could fill our tanks and would take us on his boat early the next morning for $120. We accepted his offer and planned to arrive at Ricardo's house early Wednesday morning.
With no scuba diving yet accomplished on this trip, we decided to continue driving to the small fishing village of San Francisquito, where we heard that the shore diving is great from any location.
Backpacking through the mountains near the coast
We were told that the driving distance was anywhere from 50-80 (kilometers or miles?) and from 30 minutes to 4 hours. This was a road that should definitely not be driven without 4WD or at night. During the entire three hour trip, we saw no other cars or civilization, save for a turnoff toward a tiny village, San Rafael about halfway to San Francisquito. Mario and Ricardo informed us that if we ran into trouble on the way, it is likely we would receive no assistance for days or even weeks! Of course there is no cell phone signal in these remote locations, only large cacti and wild animals. This road, if you would be so kind as to consider it a road, consisted of loose gravel, large rocks, and large falls and dropoffs; combined with curvy and twisted roads that narrows at times. Unlike Highway 1, this road only had one road sign and no warnings of dangerous situations
Upon arrival in San Francisquito, we were informed by a local that the best place to shore dive is anywhere.
Bargaining with with the Military at security checkpoints
So we picked a random location and began diving. Obviously, the best place is not anywhere as the diving was not as majestic as San Francisquito claims to be. Nevertheless, we encountered countless stingrays and starfish. The drive back to Bahia de Los Angeles was in the evening and therefore very dangerous! On the way, we found jackrabbits, coyotes, bats, and a cave, which we stopped to explore. Possibly, these jackrabbits are unfamiliar with vehicles as one sat in the middle of the road without moving or quivering, only to calmly walk away after Jeff swerved to avoid it. Nearing the end of this individual journey of the trip, we noticed a loud thump in the tire. Apparently, our tire had exploded. Fortunately, we had a full spare and were capable of changing the tire as there is no AAA, cellphones, people, or civilization in the area. Therefore, we did not need to wait weeks for salvation. We were able to continue on the road to arrive at CampGecko for camping on the beach, just feet from the waves.
Wednesday morning at seven began our arrival at Ricardo's home. Fortunately, he was able to refill our tanks.
La Jolla seals
Albeit, with a ninety minute diversion to fill two tanks with a composition that consisted of exhaust, CO, and small quantities of necessary oxygen and nitrogen. We were extremely excited to scuba dive and therefore continued with the exhaust air. For both dives, Ricardo drove us on his boat to great locations with plenty of marine life at our primary diving depths of 15-40 feet, with a maximum of 62 feet in the 57°F water temperature. Between dives, we observed an abundance of blue whales near our tiny boat. From what we could understand from Ricardo, one blue whale had red water near him because the Blue Whale had been bitten by a Killer Whale and was therefore bleeding excessively. Our second dive site was in an area with two playful dolphins frolicking around our boat. Despite our tanks with bad air, Ricardo led us to an amazing Scuba Dive, Dolphin and Whale watching trip!Our communication was quite interesting for both Ricardo and us, as Ricardo spoke only Spanish and Jeff and Judah spoke Spanglish! We returned to Ricardo's house at and learned that Ricardo additionally had gear for rent; 15 tanks, 8 B.C.s, and 8 regulators. It seems as though at least partial fluency in Spanish is necessary for travel into Baja outside the communities from Highway 1.
After returning to land, we decided to sample one of the local restaurants for a meal. Afterwards, we returned to CampGecko to retrieve our tent for a backpacking trip atop a local mountain. On the side of the road, we noticed a rattlesnake and immediately slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car to observe the snake. Jeff was ready with a poking stick as the rattlesnake coiled, ready to strike. Judah was prepared with camera and camcorder, chasing down the snake without shoes or socks! After surviving the snake, we continued our path up the mountain, despite our blistering headaches from the exhaust air we breathed for a constant fifty minutes. Atop the mountain, we prepared a magnificent campfire, although we had no food to cook. After taking down the tent in the morning and backpacking and climbing down the steep mountain, we stopped for a quick picture on the beach where Jeff was slightly stung by a stingray!
On the road back to the States, we encountered countless Mexican military checkpoints. Perhaps this time they were informed of a couple of crazed American tourists in Baja and therefore called upon the checkpoints, unlike our travel into Baja. The first few checkpoints were very simple to pass through. At one, a soldier became very interested in my 8" Jungle Survival knife. Because of their friendliness, I assumed it safe to begin shooting video and still pictures of our Military checkpoint encounter. After leaving this checkpoint, we presumed that the soldier was interested in purchasing my knife. Therefore, Judah and Jeff conceived the idea to leave the knife in clear view and hope that the next soldier would be interested and therefore we could perhaps bargain a trade for one of their military rifles. The next soldier was not so friendly. He immediately proceeded to confiscate the knife and demanded for my "papeles documentarios (documents or papers for the knife)" informing me that the knife was illegal. He stated that four inches is the maximum length of legal knife blades and that he must confiscate the knife because it is double the legal limit. We weren't sure if the knife really was illegal and the previous soldiers didn't care or if the knife was legal but this soldier wanted to confiscate the knife as an American souvenir for himself. I did not want to depart without my favorite knife and therefore responded with "no comprende (I do not understand)" to all of his demands, even the demand for "papeles documentarios", which can easily be translated into English given the scenario. As I beforehand pretended to be unfamiliar with Spanish, I then mistakenly started conversing in Spanish with the soldier informing him that the knife was for Scuba Diving and camping. Eventually, after much frustration, he did not confiscate the knife and let us to continue on our journey.
After passing Ensenada, we again noticed the same horses on the beach. Because of our enjoyment with the ride at the beginning of the week, we stopped for another rental. This time, we were only able to bargain for a price of $20 for two horses for 30 minutes, four more dollars than last time. Nevertheless, the ride was again invigorating even though the horses were tired and did not run constantly.
So we continued towards the United States and eventually encountered the border crossing. I was videotaping scenes up to the border crossing and then put down my camcorder as we approached the gate, partially knowing the penalties for videotaping the entry. As we approached the officer, I realized that my camcorder was covertly positioned on my lap pointing in the direction straight towards the officer. Therefore, without thinking and forgetting about the shiny red light that turns on while recording, I pressed the record button! The officer was about to let us pass into the States but then noticed the record light and angrily asked if I was videotaping. Then, he proceeded to a full inspection of our vehicle. Eventually, we were allowed to continue into California without a free pass to Mexican jail.
The next morning before our flight, we decided there was time to visit the seals at La Jolla. It was incredible to view so many large wild animals in such close proximity to a major city! After viewing the seals and taking pictures from afar, I decided to try to stand immediately next to the seals for an amazing photo. Once I began climbing into their area and within feet from some of the seals, all of them immediately waddled into the sea and swam away from the area. Therefore, no amazing photo opportunity was available for this La Jolla experience.
This journey embarked upon by Judah and Jeff was a fascinating experience that is recommended to those seeking a unique adventure. For any explorers pondering about journeying through Baja, the above experiences can be used as invaluable tips for survival; from proceeding through Mexican Military checkpoints, to backpacking parts of Baja, to horseback riding, to Scuba Diving with enormous marine creatures. This was an experience that will be remembered. Ultimately, despite our dangerous Mexican journeys, we returned to Dallas for our college graduation relatively injury free!
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!