A world-class culinary scene, one of the most biodiverse oceans on our planet, and 77, 700 square kilometres of cacti-dotted desert. Baja California is, without doubt, a paradise just waiting to be explored. From taco and wine tasting to multi-day kayaking trips and epic helicopter rides, you won’t be short of adventure. Here are 10 tours you must try out during your road trip through Baja California.
Once an unappealing destination for travellers, today Tijuana is undergoing an impressive cultural revival. Craft breweries, hip coffee shops and outdoor gastro markets are just some of the things drawing crowds over the border. But the biggest sell here remains what Tijuana has always done best: street food tacos. Considered amongst Mexico’s best, there are several tour operators running Tijuana taqueria crawls showcasing the best tacos the town has to offer. Tijuana Walking Tour and Wild Foodie Tours come highly recommended.
Not everyone knows this, but Baja California produces some excellent wine. The stunning Valle de Guadalupe in Baja Norte is mile after mile of independent wineries; many offering vineyard tours and tastings for as little as 45 pesos (if you arrive independently). L.A Cetto, Mexico’s biggest wine exporter, is one of the most established, well organised and, surprisingly, cheapest wineries to visit. A guide will give you a tour of the beautiful property, starting from the picking and pressing stage right through to fermentation and wood-barrel ageing. You’ll round off the tour by trying 4 bottles (2 red and 2 whites) of either their classic or reserve wines (slightly more expensive) depending on which tour you choose. Their home-grown olives and homemade jalapeno cheese are great accompaniments.
During the months of December to early April, something incredible happens in Guerrero Negro’s Laguna Ojo de Liebre. Almost the entire world’s population of grey whales migrate to its shallow waters to socialise, mate and give birth. The whales here are hugely social, and actually seek human interaction by pushing their newborn calves – and even lifting them up – towards the boats to be petted. In fact, you’ll often be told by your captain to stroke and splash the whales as much as possible, otherwise they leave for attention from another boat! Malarrimo Eco Tours (also a hotel offering comfortable and affordable rooms in the Guerrero Negro) offer fantastic 3-hour panga rides to the lagoon led by captains with more than 10 years of experience.
Before Jesuits arrived in Baja California in the 1600s, the Indians had lived a semi-nomadic life across the peninsula’s desert for thousands of years. Sadly, most of these Indians were killed off by European diseases, so little is known about their way of life, traditions and culture. However, they did leave behind something very special – some of the largest and oldest (some are believed to be over 7,000 years old) concentrations of rock art in the Americas. One of the most impressive caves, La Cueva Pintada – boasting 5m-high paintings of whales, deer and shaman magic – can be reached on a 3-4 day muleback trek through the stunning Sierra de San Francisco. KUYIMÁ, an ecotourism operator running tours into the Sierra and working towards its preservation since the early 90s, offers 3-10 day expeditions including camping gear, all meals and pack animals.
If you didn’t get the chance to see the cave paintings near San Ignacio – or your itinerary doesn’t allow for a multi-day trek – it’s also possible to see some Indian petroglyphs and paintings from the next town along, Mulegé (just a 2-hour drive south from San Ignacio). Whilst not as large as the Cueva Pintada, the paintings found in Cañon La Trinidad are no less impressive. Mulegé native, Salvador Castro Drew (+52 615 161 4985) offers fantastic, affordable day tours into the canyon, where, as well as learning about the fascinating history behind the paintings, you’ll also become a pro on desert flora and fauna.
Note: this trip only requires about an hour of walking as Salvador drives you to the park entrance from Mulegé.
How many people can say they’ve seen the biggest mammal ever recorded on earth – up close and in their natural habitat? During the months of January to late March, beautiful Loreto Bay National Marine Park comes alive with dozens of blue whales in search of plentiful food and calm waters. There are several tour operators available to book online (which include lunch and refreshments), but they are pretty pricey. If you’re on a budget (and can cope without a picnic lunch), then head straight to the fishermen’s port at 7:30 am and haggle a price directly with the panga captains. They normally charge $4,000 pesos ($215 USD) for the whole boat, so, if you can get a minimum of three people together, this will work out half the price (per person) compared to online tours. Tours normally last around 3 hours.
No trip to Baja Sur is complete without experiencing the peninsula’s two biggest attractions – taking a dip with playful sea lions and, during winter and spring, whale sharks too. With few predators and plenty of fish to feast on, the sea lion colony at Los Islotes (just a 45-minute panga ride from La Paz) remain all year round and are famous for being some of the most playful in the world – they’ll put on a show of twists and turns, nudge your flippers, and even tug on your lifejacket straps to get your attention!
The whale sharks are a little more chilled out, but, reaching up to 12m in length, no less impressive – they swim gracefully alongside you, seemingly undisturbed by your presence, whilst you choke on your mask with excitement and kick your flippers like mad to keep up with them. Baja Expeditions, a leader in La Paz’s eco-tourism efforts since 1974, offers safe, environmentally-conscious whale shark and sea lion colony tours, as well as diving, whale watching expeditions and camping on Espiritu Santo Island.
Visiting Espiritu Santo Island is on everyone’s Baja bucket list. However, if you want to do it right (and time allows), you need to get in a kayak… for several days. With its pristine white sand beaches backed by desert canyons, epic wildlife-spotting opportunities and calm, crystal clear waters, Espiritu Santo Island is an outdoor adventurer’s dream – and a sea kayaking paradise. Baja Outdoor Activities (BOA), one of the oldest and most experienced tour operators in La Paz, offer fully catered (assisted and non-assisted) 4-12 day kayaking trips around the island and beyond. Each day you’ll spend 2-3 hours paddling to a new stunning location, where you’ll set up camp with unrestricted ocean views, go shipwreck snorkelling, hike the beautiful desert trails and feast on fresh ceviche prepared by your chef. Sleep. Repeat. What more could you want?
Located just an hour and a half’s drive from La Paz, Todos Santos is considered to be one of Baja’s most picturesque towns. Dainty coffee houses, artisan shops, independent galleries and beautiful colonial boutique hotels have been drawing travellers and expats here since the early 90s – and is today a highlight of any Baja South itinerary. What many visitors don’t know, however, is that Todos Santos guards a fascinating history spanning almost 400 years. The best way to learn about it is by taking one of Todos Santos Eco Aventures’ (TOSEA) Historical Town Tour. Expert guide and history geek, Sergio Jauregui, takes you on a two-hour walk around the town’s most historic buildings and sights, as well as a peek into the coolest galleries and artists’ studios in town. Tours only depart on selected days and are subject to group numbers, so email or call up ahead of time.
Probably the most iconic landmark in Baja, Lands’ End (locally known as El Arco) is a stunning rock formation that marks the transition from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of California at the very southern tip of the peninsula. And one of the most spectacular ways to see it? From above! Avispa Aviation offers 30-minute helicopter rides of the area, taking in the turquoise coves of Santa Maria Bay, Lovers’ Beach and finishing off with epic views of The Arch. If you can arrange this around sunset, even better.