Travel tips for Baja California – What you should know before your trip

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Baja California is a dream come true. The Mexican peninsula really does have something for everyone. Whether it’s adventures on the water with whale watching, hikes through the desert or culinary experiences: every trip here is an unforgettable adventure. To make your trip a real success, I have compiled my personal travel tips for Baja California here.

Baja California – or just Baja as it is usually affectionately known – is a peninsula in western Mexico that is 1,200 kilometres long and between 80 and 120 kilometres wide. Its proximity to the USA and Los Angeles in particular, with several direct flights every day, of course attracts many Americans who have left their mark on Baja. Similar to Cancún on the Caribbean coast, some come here to celebrate spring break or their bachelor party. However, Baja is so much more than parties and overpriced hotel resorts – read about my highlights on the Peninsula here.

Travel Tips for Baja California

Having been to Baja California twice and spent a good 1.5 months there in total – and already planning my next trip there – there are a few things I’ve experienced and learnt that will definitely help your own travel planning so you can make the most of your trip to this beautiful part of Mexico.

California ≠ California

When we talk about California, we usually associate it with California in the USA. Only very few people realise that the original California is in Mexico – including the Mexicans themselves. Together they are known as Las Californias. In 1804, these parts were then divided into Alta California (Upper California) and Baja California (Lower California) and in 1850, Alta California became part of the USA. Over the years, the first part of the name was forgotten, so we now only know the US-American California as such.

Peninsula Baja California

When I write about Baja California, I am referring to the southern part of the peninsula. It is also important to know that the peninsula is home to two states. Baja California in the north and Baja California Sur (BCS) in the south. This can sometimes lead to confusion, but most people know that Baja refers to the southern part of the peninsula.

Best time to visit

If you really want to get to know Baja, you will have to make several trips at different times of the year. That’s a good excuse to plan several trips here, isn’t it?

Basically, you can travel to Baja all year round. It only gets very hot there in the summer months. I would avoid September due to storms and possible hurricanes. The main travelling season is from November to March/April – depending on when Easter falls.

The best time for you to travel to Baja is best determined by the activities on site. Yes, you can dive all year round, but the visibility is very, very different. In winter, the water is much cooler, but the visibility is much, much better. If you want to see mobulas in the Gulf of California, you should come here in early summer (between May and July) and if you really want to see whales and marlins, you should plan your trip to Baja in the winter months.

Getting to Baja California

From Europe, you can’t avoid a stopover in the USA or Mexico City. I have tried both. I prefer the latter, as a trip to Baja can be ideally combined with a stopover of a few days in Mexico City and you don’t have to apply for an ESTA for the USA.

The most relevant airport in Baja is Los Cabos Airport in San José del Cabo with the abbreviation SJD. Not to be confused with San José in Costa Rica (SJC). There is also an airport in La Paz (LAP). However, this is only served by flights from other Mexican cities and can be a great alternative to the busier airport in San José del Cabo.

Tip for transfers from Los Cabos airport: After collecting your luggage in the arrival hall, you will find counters for official taxis. They will initially try to sell you an expensive private shuttle. However, there are also cheaper alternatives: If you ask, you can also book a collectivo (shared shuttle) or even change to the public bus. Uber also operates at the airport.

Getting around

For those who want to see a lot in Baja California, there is no getting around renting a car. Although there are some bus connections, these only serve the larger towns. These are reliable and punctual.

If you are only in Cabo San Lucas or San José del Cabo or La Paz, you probably don’t need a rental car. As I travelled a lot around Baja myself, I often rented a car so that I could be more flexible. Places like Cabo Pulmo or the Cañon de la Zorra in particular are otherwise only accessible as part of a tour.

The rental cars are usually in good condition. Nevertheless, I always take out an insurance without deductibles – you just never know when something might happen.

Note: In Mexico, you are allowed to turn right at a red light.

When I wasn’t renting a car, I walked a lot and used Uber for longer distances. This always worked well and reliably – and is cheap and safe.

How much time

If you are planning a trip to Baja, you should allow some time. I’d generally recommend 10-14 days for a round trip. If you are planning on going scuba diving, spending time by the pool or on the beach, add more days.

A general recommendation:

  • 4-5 days: Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo
  • 2-3 days: Todos Santos
  • 3 days: La Paz

Tip: Divers should plan an additional 3-4 days for Cabo Pulmo.

Safety

I have been travelling to Mexico regularly since 2011. I know different regions and have always felt safe and comfortable on all 15 trips. This also applies to Baja California. However, there are a few general tips to bear in mind:

  • Check with the hotel or locals to find out whether there are any streets or areas that should be avoided.
  • Don’t leave any valuables (in plain sight) in your car or hotel room – or put them on display. I would leave an expensive watch or jewellery at home.
  • I would also not take any valuables to the beach or leave them unattended on the sunbed while in the water. I usually only take my room card with me to the beach and leave everything else at the hotel.
  • Don’t walk long distances alone after dark.
  • Always watch your drinks in restaurants and bars and don’t accept them from strangers.
  • Avoid taxis and only use Uber. Many taxis charge horrendous prices for short distances and rely on tourists not knowing the fares.
  • Only use ATMs that are located in bank buildings, and avoid those that are located in party areas or that only dispense US dollars. They usually charge outrageous fees and have poor exchange rates.
  • Keep an eye on the travel warnings for Mexico.
  • Trust your gut feeling and enjoy your time in Baja!

Local SIM card

Fortunately, buying a Mexican SIM card is no longer a big hassle. A few years ago, you had to take your passport with you and some extra time. Today it’s different and really doesn’t take long. Of course, you can also organise an eSIM in advance and then activate it as soon as you land, but these are usually a lot more expensive than local SIM cards.

One of the first places I go to when starting a new trip to Mexico is a Telcel shop. There are also other providers – I have always had good experiences with Telcel so far and the price-performance ratio is good. Social media and WhatsApp are included free of charge in most packages and the bundles are worthwhile even for longer trips.

Cuisine and food

Mexico in itself is already a mecca for foodies and all those who like to indulge in culinary delights. Baja California is certainly no exception. Not once have I had a bad meal – be it in a 5* hotel or at a roadside food truck. As someone who could live solely on tacos and ceviche, Mexico is always a highlight for me.

Although I love the Mexican cuisine so much, I cannot handle any spiciness. Unfortunately, the countless trips and many attempts have not helped. It’s usually no problem to get your food in a restaurant without spicy condiments.

Vegetarians and vegans will definitely find a selection of delicious dishes in Baja California, especially in Cabo San Lucas, San José del Cabo, Todos Santos and La Paz.

Travel expenses

Travelling to Baja is certainly not as cheap as perhaps other parts of Mexico, but you can usually find good deals on hotels and rental cars if you book in advance. Prices tend to be higher in the high season (November to early January).

Here is a brief overview:

  • Flights from Austria and Germany to Mexico City are available from €700. From there you can get to Baja from around €150-250.
  • You can find hotels including breakfast and pool in Cabo San Lucas, for instance, for as little as €70. There are also cheaper options and definitely more expensive ones as well.
  • I paid around €34-50 per day for my rental car including insurance. That was a rather good deal that I scored, so definitely look around and compare before booking. Petrol costs about the same as elsewhere.
  • Prices in restaurants vary greatly. You can pay €5 for Mexican food in a small restaurant and €100 per person for food and drinks in a more upscale restaurant.
  • The fees at ATMs vary greatly. As a rule, it costs a good 30-50 pesos per transaction. You should avoid ATMs that charge more than 100 pesos. The costs for the transaction are displayed on the screen during the process and you can always cancel the transaction if it is too expensive.
  • If you want to go diving, you should budget around €100-120 for two dives.
  • Day trips cost €50-300 depending on the duration and distance.

Important: Don’t forget to tip! It is customary in Mexico to tip 15-20% of the total bill in restaurants. If you don’t do this, you may not even get a table next time.

Tip: Pay in pesos and not in US dollars, as the exchange rate is usually not in your favour.

Tip: Don’t change euros or US dollars into pesos on the spot, but simply withdraw them from an ATM.

Language

Those who speak Spanish have many advantages in Mexico and will be able to experience the country in an entirely different way and immerse themselves in the culture much more than someone who only speaks English. However, English is very widely spoken in Baja and even at the petrol station or supermarket there is usually someone who can help you.

Packing List

Based on what you have planned in Baja and what is on your schedule, here are a few general tips on what you should take with you:

  • Sunscreen: Make sure you use one that is kind to nature and yourself. For some years now, I’ve always been using Suns Care sunscreen and find the texture really pleasant – especially when it’s very hot. A good option for my US readers: Stream2Sea.
  • Sun protection: Hat and possibly leggings and a UV shirt for swimming.
  • Polarised sunglasses: Especially if you’re planning a day on the water spotting whales and other marine life. Polarised sunglasses minimise reflections from the sun and help you see much better.
  • Reusable water bottle: Most hotels have water dispensers, which means less waste.
  • Mosquito spray: Especially in the evening, mosquitoes are often treacherous.
  • Bite away – post mosquito bite: A small thing that you can plug into your mobile phone, which heats up and then relieves the itching. Super practical and the Bite Away hardly takes up any space.
  • GoPro: To capture the little moments in and around the water. I never go on a boat without the little powerful cam.

If you liked these tips, how about these blog posts?
Baja California Highlights and Insider Tips
Mobulas: Here’s what you should know about the devil rays in Baja California
On the same wavelength – A travel story from Baja California
Why you should give freediving a try
Scuba Diving in the Florida Keys

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Grüß dich, I'm Viki!

At Chronic Wanderlust, I write about my two great passions: travelling and diving – and have been doing so since 2013.

I usually spend a solid majority of the year travelling to experience extraordinary underwater adventures, taking road trips through countries I don’t know (yet) or exploring my home country of Austria.

As a certified divemaster, passionate underwater & travel photographer, road trip enthusiast and individual traveller, I collect unique moments all over the world.

I don’t believe that severe cases of wanderlust – aka chronic wanderlust – can be cured, only treated. On this blog, I want to show you how this can best be realised.

Curious to get to know me better? Find out more about me here.

 
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