25 restaurants, hotels and hidden wonders along the Baja Highway
Don’t let all those miles of stark desert fool you. Whether you’re taking on the whole Baja Highway or targeting one stretch (which is more sensible), the landscape is full of revelations, many half-hidden.
In fact, there’s far more along the road than you’ll find on this list, which leaves out Tijuana, Ensenada, Bahía de los Angeles, Todos Santos and most of La Paz and Los Cabos. The spots below, listed from north to south, are places I encountered first-hand and liked — local tours, trails, restaurants, historic churches, cave paintings, beaches and other attractions from the Guadalupe Valley to Cabo San Lucas. Though I only slept in one hotel, I inspected several more and included the best here.
A guide to traveling responsibly in Baja California: what to bring, laws to know, what to do if you’re pulled over, where to find gas stations and other key advice.
To guide me, I hired Nathan Stuart of Legends Overlanding, which specializes in small-group and custom overlanding and camping trips to rugged Baja landscapes. Activities can include whale watching, surfing, fishing, snorkeling and hiking. All-inclusive prices (often including private chefs) typically run $5,000 to $8,000 per couple for a five- to 10-day trip.
Our vehicle came from Topoterra, based in San Diego, which rents trucks, camper vans and camping equipment for off-grid travel in Baja and elsewhere. Daily rates for vehicles run $189 to $285. Though Baja trips make up most of his winter business, Topoterra founder Brandon Thomason told me, most travelers prefer to explore one part of Baja, not rush through the whole thing.
About the phone numbers below: To call a Mexican mobile phone or landline from a U.S. mobile phone, begin with the + key, then hit 52 (Mexico’s country code), then the area code and local phone number (which add up to 10 digits; that’s what is included here). To call Mexico from a U.S. landline, begin with 011 instead of +, then add 52, area code and local number. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has more details.
The restaurant is part of the Bruma winery complex. Tastings come with a short tour (cost $30-$35 per person). The Bruma property also has rentable villas and a B&B, Casa 8, with eight units at $440 to $895 per night.
Carretera Federal 3, km #73, 22760 Francisco Zarco (Valle de Guadalupe), B.C., Mexico
Tacos el Perico, San Quintin
Av. A 537, San Quintín, 22940, San Quintín, B.C., Mexico
Pemex station, El Rosario
22960 El Rosario de Arriba, B.C., Mexico
Mama Espinoza's, El Rosario
Carretera Transpeninsular Km 56, Poblado del Rosario, 22960 El Rosario de Arriba, B.C., Mexico
Pinturas Rupestres, Cataviña
Carretera Transpeninsular, Km. 175, Tramo San Quintín — Punta Prieta, Cataviña, Ensenada 22965, B.C., Mexico
Cafe La Enramada, Catavina
Carretera Transpeninsular, Km 179 + 800 meters, Catavina, Ensenada Municipality, 22768, B.C., Mexico
Ruta Rupestre Eco Tours, Catavina
Carretera Transpeninsular, Km 179 + 800 meters, Catavina, Ensenada Municipality, 22768, B.C., Mexico.
Hotel Mision Santa Maria, Catavina
Carretera Transpeninsular Km. 175, Tramo San Quintín — Punta Prieta, Poblado Cataviña, San Quintín, B.C, 22965
The Chapala store/loncheria/museum, which has been in this spot since 1974, has a low tin ceiling and its walls are plastered with family photos and stickers from off-roaders (which pop up all over the peninsula). A few steps away is the Restaurante Nueva Chapala, open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Main dishes up to about $8. We got quesadillas for $3. The family also provides campsite for bicyclists.
Carretera Transpeninsular Km 235, Chapala, 22973 Agua León, B.C., Mexico
Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Scammon's Lagoon)
About 20 pangas (boats) have permits to take people out. In February, there can be 100 people per day watching whales. A typical tour would include 10 people on a 23-foot boat for about two hours at $58 each. Tour operators include Malarrimo Eco-tours, Mario’s Tours and TheCalifornias.mx.
Sometimes whales approach boats and allow people to touch them. Sometimes the whales never get that close. Similar whale-watching tours are offered by many companies in San Ignacio Lagoon and Magdalena Bay.
Carretera Transpeninsular, 23940 Guerrero Negro, B.C.S., Mexico
Peninsula, Guerrero Negro
Blvd. Domingo Carballo, De la República, 23940 Guerrero Negro, B.C.S., Mexico
The Californias Mx tours, Guerrero Negro
No street address
Plaza, San Ignacio
Plaza, 23930 San Ignacio, B.C.S., Mexico
La Huerta Hotel
Profesor Valdivia 34, 23930 San Ignacio, B.C.S., Mexico
Iglesia de Santa Bárbara
About two blocks west on the main street, Alvaro Obregon, you can grab a snack to go (no tables) at El Boleo bakery, which goes back to 1901. There’s coffee across the street at Tokio Café.
20 Álvaro Obregón, Santa Rosalía, 23920, B.C.S., Mexico
Jean M. Cousteau 15, Mesa Francia, 23920 Santa Rosalía, B.C.S., Mexico
Playa Buenaventura, Concepción Bay
Overheard at Buenaventura:
“…And we were right in the middle of a tarantula migration. Brown hair everywhere!”
Also: “My daughter used to get paid $50 a goldfish to swallow goldfish.”
Carretera Transpeninsular Km. 94, 42 Km. south of Heroica Mulegé, B.C.S., Mexico
In front of the church runs the tree-shaded pedestrian promenade Salvatierra, which is full of restaurants, shops and hotels aimed at visitors. Loreto’s population is about 20,000 and it faces the sheltered waters of the Gulf of California.
And. Juan María de Salvatierra 14, Centro, 23880 Loreto, B.C.S., Mexico
San Javier Mission and olive tree
San Javier, far smaller and slower than Loreto, gets perhaps 60 visitors a day, many arriving in tour vans. Visitors admire the inside of a church that’s younger than the Loreto Mission (this one was built 1744-58) but retains more original architecture. Its formal name: Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó. A priest comes on Sundays to celebrate Mass in Spanish.
Also, check out the 300-year-old olive tree nearby and notice the crops. The mission at Loreto ultimately closed, in part because water was so scarce there. But the agricultural community of San Javier, one of the first in the Californias, has endured.
If you’re hungry, there are two restaurants across the street from the church. We ordered machaca burritos (about $1.60 each) from Betty’s Kitchen, along with some tasty micheladas.
23893 San Javier, B.C.S., Mexico
Revolución s/n between Bravo and Ocampo streets, Col. Central, La Paz 23000, B.C.S., Mexico
Cabo Pulmo Marine National Park
Our panga captain and guide from Cabo Pulmo Adventures took us snorkeling at Los Frailes Bay (inside the protected area) and El Bledito (farther south and outside the protected area). For about $70 each, the company provided a boat, guide, wetsuit, snorkel and mask.
The village of Cabo Pulmo is small and rustic; lodgings have limited electricity.
Camino Cabo Este, 23574 Cabo Pulmo, B.C.S., Mexico
Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo
We paid about $8 each for access to the trail and falls. The six cabins cost about $90 nightly each (via Airbnb).
Domicilio Conocido, 23500 Santiago, B.C.S., Mexico
La Revolución, San Jose del Cabo
Menu includes Mexican favorites and European influences, including abalone soup and lamb and pesto pasta. Most main courses: $17-$30.
Alvaro Obregon #1732, Centro, 23400 San José del Cabo, B.C.S., Mexico
Hyatt Place San Jose del Cabo
Paseo Malecón San Jose 128, Zona Hotelera, 23406 San José del Cabo, B.C.S., Mexico
Land's End, Cabo San Lucas
We used Enva Tours, which has an office in the marina at Cabo San Lucas and runs boats out just about every hour at $29 to $39 per person. The boats are made of translucent plexiglass, which gives better views of the fish below and rocks around. (The hostess and captain said they work for tips only.) Don’t expect solitude, especially near sunset, when two dozen or more boats routinely jostle for position.
If you pay more, you can also do this by catamaran or yacht or glass-bottom kayak. However you do it, the sight is remarkable. If nature hadn’t put a dramatic arch at the tip of Baja, the tourism industry would have had to do it.
Cabo San Lucas, B.C.S., 23450, Mexico
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