Road-Trip: Baja California

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Road-tripping. It might not be some families’ first (or even fiftieth) choice, but there’s something magical about strapping everyone into a seat belt, grabbing a map or a map app, turning up the tunes, and heading off into the wide blue yonder. The open road. The excitement of following those “What’s down there?” impulses. The tailgate suppers. The late-night hunts for a place to rest weary travellers’ heads. The desperate search for a toilet when nature inevitably calls from the back seat…

Stretching for 1000 desert – and largely deserted – miles, Mexico’s Baja California comprises one of earth’s longest peninsulas, and, as such, offers up the mother (if not the entire family) of all North American road-trips: a largely arid expanse of sand, cacti, mountains and Dr. Seuss-like boojum trees, bounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the Sea of Cortez on the other.IMG_3456

At its northernmost reach, you’ll find Tijuana (and, a short hop north across the US border, San Diego), infamous for its cheap pharmaceuticals, cheaper liquor, zebra-painted donkeys (yes, really) and the busiest land border crossing on earth. At its southern tip basks seaside Cabo San Lucas, beloved of package tourists and college-age Spring Breakers, with tack, timeshares, and tequila shooters aplenty.

But making the drive between these two entirely avoidable extremes, you’ll find a more captivating world altogether. Vultures wheel high over high desert landscapes. Grapes ripen in vineyard scenes seemingly plucked straight out of Tuscany. Crystalline waters lap warm, empty beaches.  Shallow “nursery” bays, where mother whales bring up their babies each spring, and a sea so abundant that Jacques Cousteau called it “the aquarium of the world.”

With winding desert roads, long distances between  stop-off points, and no driving after nightfall (wildlife and hairpin bends makes this a hazardous proposition), it might not be the easiest 1000-mile drive you’ll ever undertake, but it’s really not as hard as it might seem – just ask the manifold Snowbirds in their 70s who do it several times a year, en route from the Arizona duplexes to their Cabo condos – and what it lacks in easy, breezy holiday charms, it makes up for in adventure and discovery, making it a family road trip unlike any other.

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LEG 1: INTO MEXICO – TECATE TO SAN QUINTIN (157 miles/252km)
  • Start as you mean to go on by shunning the crowds at the Tijuana, and getting an early start instead via the Mexican  border town of Tecate, around 40 miles further east along US Highway 8. So few are the border formalities here, in a north-to-south direction, that you may not even realize you’re in Mexico  until you see the Subway menu advertising “aguacate y queso tortas” in place of BLTs.

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  • In Tecate, fill up on fuel for both your car and your children, then head off south on Highyway 3 into the Guadalupe Valley, along 40 miles-or-so of Baja’s bucolic Ruta del Vino (‘Wine Route’), past vineyards that roll gently off as far as the eye can see. Stop in at several wineries for a sneaky tasting, under the guise of letting the little ones stretch their legs: just follow the vineyard signs to where your fancy takes you.  Eschew staying overnight,  however, since though there are some gorgeous hotels in these parts (Adobe Guadalupe; Hacienda de Guadalupe; La Villa del Valle), none accept children. Their loss.

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Once you’ve had your fill of the vintages, head down to Highway 1 on the coast and the largely unappealing Pacific Coast city (and cruise-ship port) of Ensenada. If the day is getting late, make an overnight pit-stop: there are plenty of basic hotels in town, though none are more than a bed for the night. Avoid, if you can, the slightly strange Best Western El Cid, which contains the hugest, scariest hotel-room painting in existence (see undead weaver below); plump instead for the America’s Best Value Inn Posada El Rey Sol as the best of a decidedly unthrilling bunch.

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  • Ensenada’s dining scene is a bit better: try the very popular Sano’s Steak House if it’s red meat you’re all after (though they’ve lots of salads and some pasta dishes too for veggies), or, if your little ones are feeling really adventurous, the much-acclaimed seafood street-food stand, La Guerrerense, on the corner of First and Alvarado, outside  El Palacio del Perfume. For sit-down seafood, head to local secret, Muelle Tres, down at the water’s edge, whilst yummy tacos can be grabbed at Taqueria Mexico Lindo, on Ave. Ruiz, and Mexican classics (pozole, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos) at colourful Cenaduria El Parian (corner of Castillo & Calle 4th; closed Wed; 7.30am to late), not too far from the Zona Turistica. If you do bite the bullet and opt to stay, your children may be amused by the late-night street televisions, apparently installed for the benefit of taxi drivers awaiting a fare.

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  • If, however, you’ve made it to Ensenada before 2pm or so, fuel up on caffeine at the last Starbucks you’ll see in many hundreds of miles, fill up on gas (petrol), supermarket supplies (there are several along the highway) and power on through. Not far south of the city, you’ll head into the first, and possibly the most challenging stretch of desert highway. Blind bends, a narrow camber, large trucks hurtling toward you, and more than a sprinkling of roadside grave markers impart with ease the true travelling spirit: this is the open road, children! Look, the mighty, crashing Pacific! Your parents are great adventurers! What? Oh, well, yes, my decaf Starbucks soy latte is still warm…driving through desert
  • Heading south through a string of small towns (where, if you’re feeling peckish, you’ll find an assortment of small roadside eateries) repeat the following: “Look! A hawk/A vulture/Those cacti/A military checkpoint/The ocean/The desert!” for a slow-going 100-or-so miles (2 to 3 hours) until you reach respite for the night at the Hotel Jardines Baja in San Quintin, an unlikely and sanity-saving gem set on a dusty lane beside the highway, in an otherwise gemless area.  Rooms here (including a family room with three Queen beds) are clean and spacious, with hot showers, cable TV and comfy beds,  and the child-friendly bonus of a lush, flower-filled garden complete with swing, tree-house, goldfish pond, orange trees and birdlife galore. Dine at its neighbouring Jardines Restaurant, where Happy Hour runs daily from 5pm to 7pm, with strong margaritas for road-weary parents, good Mexican classics on the menu, and obliging chefs who can even rustle up an excellent vegan enchilada.

LEG 2: SAN QUINTIN TO MULEGÉ (342 miles/550km)

  • Today – the trip’s longest stint – requires an early start (the Hotel Jardine serves free coffee but no breakfast, so it’s  good to be on the road by 7 or 8am in any case). Fill up on gas at every gas station you come across, as make your way south down Hwy 1 to Guerrero Negro, some 203 miles (326km) away. Pick up tacos, tortillas from a bakery (panaderia), or burritos at any truck-stop you fancy along the way (they’re almost always fresh and good), and admire the increasingly arid, gorgeous scenery.

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  • On reaching Guerrero Negro –  a dustblown, one-street town that only comes alive between mid-December and April when Californian grey whales (ballenas) arrive in its waters from Alaska and Siberia to calf – fill up on gas again, grab some supplies for the road (there are plenty of fast-food and taco stands, some basic grocery supplies, and a couple of decent places to grab a coffee), and visit one of the town’s two ATMs – especially important if you’re planning on a night in San Ignacio (see below), since there’s no ATM there. If you hit town when the whales are, however, consider staying for a day or two to see these incredible beauties and their bonny 700kg babies. A good, simple place to stay – with the benefit of excellent whale-watching trips – is the Malarrimo Motel. Each of the 10 no-frills rooms has a double and single bed, and extra beds can be added for children; their four-hour whale watching tours (Dec-Apr) to the calving-waters of Scammon’s Lagoon (Laguna Ojo de Liebre) are highly recommended. The motel’s restaurant is good, too.2013-05-16_1368677747
  • At all other times of year,  press on, heading west-to-east on Hwy 1, along an unfeasibly straight road that cuts south-east across the empty Desierto de Vizcaino of the Baja peninsula. Note that the time leaps forward one hour here, as you switch from northern ‘Pacific time’ to northern ‘mountain time;’ also note that there’s nowhere to stop, so bathroom breaks will be al fresco. If you’re making good progress regardless (departing Guerrero Negro at midday or so), you have three choices for the night ahead:
  • OPTION 1: Take things easy (relatively speaking) with a stop-off at the pretty, quaint small town of San Ignacio, nestled beside a lazy river. With its pretty town square and narrow lanes, it makes for a taste of old Mexico. There are a couple of places to stay, the pick being the sweet, simple little Casa Leree; call to book, though, since there’s only three (small) rooms. For a family with several children, the two garden rooms share a bathroom, and at $40 each, taking two is eminently affordable. For incredible whale watching tours in the San Ignacio lagoon, book with Ecoturismo Kuyima, who can also take you out on easy family-friendly day-trips to see amazing petroglyhs and prehistoric cave paintings in the UNESCO-World Heritage Sierra de San Francisco (San Francisco mountains).

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  • OPTION 2: Drive on as far as Santa Rosalia (136 miles/220km from Guerrero Negro), an old seaside mining town recently injected with new life as the mine opens its doors once more. Not exactly picturesque, it’s certainly atmospheric, with great hulking bits of mine machinery and twinkling seaside lights making for something, at night, from a Jean Jeunet movie. Here, grab a bite al fresco along the main street, Avenida Obregon (there are taco and torta stands, ice cream options, and lots of simple cafes, so long as you don’t try to eat much past 8pm), then check into one of the better options for the night: either the Hotel Frances (Cousteau 15), a mansion-like relic of a bygone era perched high on a hill above town (which is often eerily quiet, but a place you’ll never forget), or the far less atmospheric, shabby-around-the-edges, but busy and convenient, motel-like Hotel El Morro  on the left-hand side, heading south out of town. In the morning, head back to Avenida Obregon to grab breakfast from the ages-old  Panaderia El Boleo bakery (opens at 9am; for a peek into their kitchen, head up the side alley with the taco stand inside it) before hitting the road. Alternatively, avail yourself of the limited (but complimentary) selection of sugary cereals, sugary juices and sugary pastries included at the Hotel El Morro.

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  • OPTION 3: If you’ve still daylight  – and stamina – enough when you reach Santa Rosalia, keep going to Mulegé, (another 40 miles/63km further; pronounced “Mooler-hey”), a sweet little town on the estuary of the Rio Mulegé. Check into the miniscule and basic, but sweet, cheap and highly welcoming Hotel Las Casitas (Madero 50) in the centre of town, beside the band-stand. We managed to squeeze our family of seven into one teensy room; though there are no baby beds or frills of any kind, it’s an atmospheric (and not exactly comfy) night’s stay, but the showers are hot, the Mexican dinners are yummy, and the breakfasts (try the chilaquiles and fruit salads) are bountiful. Children are greeted especially warmly by owner, and there’s an antique wooden highchair – that he used long ago for his own children – for babies. If you decide to stay in town for more than just a night, small ornithologists would likely relish an excursion to Canon la Trinidad (Trinity Canyon), where birdlife (along with pre-Hispanic cave paintings) reigns supreme; your hotel can suggest a guide.

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LEG 3. MULEGÉ TO LA PAZ (304 miles/490km)
  • After two or three long days of desert driving, today – though long – makes for a welcome change from vultures and boojums. Hugging the coastal road of the Sea of Cortez along the magnificent Bahia de Conception, you’ll pass impossibly blue vistas at every turn. Get an early start, and stop off wherever takes your fancy for a paddle in the shallows.

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  • Take a break from driving for lunch in the pleasant city of Loreto (83 miles/135km from Mulegé) : Pan Que Pan on Paseo Miguel Hidalgo is a good choice for omlettes, molettes and delicious pastries (closed Monday); if parents are in need of a pick-me-up, grab coffee to go from Fandango, also on Miguel Hidalgo, a block away from the Town Square and Mision church, before veering away from the coast, still on Highway 1, for the final (and pretty dull-going) 143 miles/230km to La Paz.
La Paz

A cosmopolitan city sitting balmily alongside the Sea of Cortez, here you’ll find good restaurants, a slew of lovely boutique hotels that don’t (gasp!) accept children, and a few decent hotels that do. If you’re running low on baby supplies after all that desert, note that there’s a huge Walmart near the Forjadores de Sudcalifornia, at the southern entrance to town, where you can pick up nappies, powdered milk, baby food and wet wipes – as well as sandals, wetsuits, sun screen, life jackets and other aquatic items, and bulk snacks.

SEE & DO: LAZ
  • La Paz is a pleasant enough city for strolling, but with children it’s principally useful as a base for various trips in the vicinity; if this is as far south as you’re planning on going, you can easily day-trip to Todos Santos from here, as well as to Cabo Pulmo on the Eastern Cape (see both below), and – should you really wish to – Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, those package-tourist strongholds at the very tip of the peninsula. In La Paz you can also arrange whale watching daytrips at the whale-abundant Puerto Lopez Mateos and Puerto San Carlos on incredible Bahia Magdalena and – most doable if you’ve older children – whale shark expeditions, to swim alongside the world’s largest (and very good-mannered) fish: see the tour companies listed under Isla Espiritu Santo and Todos Santos below.

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  • Balandra Beach One of the most beautiful beaches on the planet, Balandra is a shallow bay of warm, crystal-clear water, so shallow that you can wade out for a kilometer and still only be up to your knees. Come here on weekday mornings, and you’ll have the place almost to yourself;  just beware the sand-coloured manta rays, which lurk hidden in the sands underwater. Teach your children to do the ‘stingray shuffle’ – dragging their feet along the sea bottom to alert the creatures to their presence – and have them wear Crocs or water shoes. If you do get stung, it’s not deadly but it does hurt a lot. At weekends, when there are more people, there are less stingrays around; there’s also a truck vending snacks and drinks, and several roaming vendors selling ice creams, sun hats and whatnot. Don’t be put off by the drive out here, which is less than pretty, and leave before dusk, when the mosquitos make their appearance.

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  • Isla Espiritu Santo A stunning series of islands sitting about 30 minutes by boat offshore of  [Beach] (or, with a longer boat ride, direct from La Paz),  Espiritu Santo is simply magical. You’ll likely see dolphins, sea lions, leaping rays, frigate birds (and not just one or two: dozens of them), and perhaps even a turtle in the most magnificent display of aquatic nature that you’ve ever experienced. As a protected site, boats aren’t allowed to drop anchor on most of its pristine beaches, but you, and your little ones, can snorkel with the sea lions, swim, and some tours include lunch on an approved beach. We strongly recommend you book with a reputable local tour company, rather than negotiate a rate directly at Pichilingue Beach, where some unscrupulous boat skippers have been known to harvest conch in the protected waters, whilst conducting tours. Some respectable local operators are Espiritu Baja, Marlin Adventures, and Fun Baja.

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STAY: LA PAZ

Since most of the city’s cute boutique places don’t allow under-18s, there are two failsafe options in town: one fancy-ish, and one fancier.

Costa Baja Resort & Spa Our pick for the best family-friendly option in La Paz, this swanky place on the outskirts of town has sleek rooms (a boon after several nights of basic stays on the road), many with two queen beds, and funky-but-disconcerting glass-walled showers in the rooms themselves. The pool is great, the breakfast buffet extensive, and room rates are negotiable if you turn up late in non-high-season – though if your room rate includes breakfast, clarify whether this price includes the children’s breakfasts too, otherwise you might be hit for additional costs upon check-out.

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Club El Moro Hotel Suites Recommended by many travelling families, and closer to town than Costa Baja, Club El Moro is right on the seafront Malecón (promenade), where locals and visitors mill come sundown. Decent rooms (with a variety of rooms easily sleeping 4 or more) , nice pools and good prices, but not so modern-luxe as the former option. 2013-05-19_1368943543

EAT: LA PAZ

You won’t go hungry in La Paz; heck, there’s even an Applebee’s (US chain-restaurant burgers/salads/pastas)  on the seafront if you’re so inclined, and there are plenty of grab-and-g0 street food stands, bakeries, market stalls, and little grocery stores for odds and ends. If you happen to have a night out sans kids, try Las Tres Virgines (Calle Madero 1130) for steak, seafood, a sweet courtyard and a stiff blood orange martini.

El Tupe (Serdan/ Constitucion y 5 de Mayo) A new La Paz restaurant, and 100% worth tracking down, this amazing place offers unusual dishes made with locally-sourced, largely organic ingredients. Bring the little ones along for breakfast , then arrange a sitter and make a reservation to come back for dinner, to feast on contemporary takes on Mexican classics.  Closed Monday.

Il Rustico Trattoria Delicious Italian food in a cute, out-of-the-way little restaurant that, from the inside, could very well be in Tuscany. The bruschetta, linguine al pesto and spaghetti al pomodoro are eminent child-pleasers, while the pizzas are perfect for take-away al fresco suppers on the Malecon. Closed Tuesday.

The Bagel Shop (B. Dominguez, btwn 5 de Mayo and Constitucion) If your children are craving the familiar, grab breakfast or lunch here, with a great selection of bagel flavours and fillings, good coffee for the grown-ups, and freshly squeezed OJ. Also perfect to takeaway, for breakfast on Balandra Beach (see above).

LEG 4. LA PAZ TO TODOS SANTOS (51 MILES/82KM)
Todos Santos
  • Just an hour’s drive away, Todos Santos makes for an easy-peasy  onward journey, with a good, wide highway and more ‘Western’ driving conditions than anywhere else on the Transpeninsular. Todos Santos, a Mexican tourist board “pueblo magico,” is a pretty place of historic brick and stone buildings, with an artsy feel and a mostly seasonal community of expats living in new-build houses strung out along the sea. It’s also home to the Eagles’ original ‘Hotel California’: play the song in the car for the last several hundred miles or so, just to make sure everyone knows the words.
Todos Santos: SEE & DO
  • Todos Santos is really a place to be, rather than to see, unless the adults or older children amongst you are keen surfers: if so, they should head to Los Cerritos or San Pedrito beaches to catch the surf; Lessons can be had on the former at Mario Surf School. Probably the greatest down-side is that the Pacific seas here are all too rough for swimming, with perilous undertows that make even paddling a non-recommendable pastime. However, since most hotels and house rentals come equipped with swimming pools, it’s still easy to while the watery days away.
  • Todos Santos Eco Adventures If you’re making Todos Santos your base, TSEA is the pre-eminent supplier of all sorts of day- and multi-day trips: whale watching, swimming with whale sharks, snorkelling, kayaking, horse riding and bird-watching, along with volun-tourism options and seasonal baby turtle release programs. With sustainable tourism practices and family-friendly credentials to boot, we’d highly recommend you book all your excursions with them. La Sirena Eco Adventures is a second extremely reputable tour operator.
  • Tortuegas Las Playitas AC  Engage your brood in turtle conservation by volunteering for a day as a family with this fabulous organisation, which is dedicated to safeguarding the Todos Santos sea turtles. Day trips can also be arranged, along with longer volunteer opportunities, hatchling releases, and Adopt-a-Nest programs.  Most activities run between October and April.

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Todos Santos: STAY

As seems to be a bit of a trend these days, a couple of the cutest boutique hotels in town don’t allow children: if you’re researching online, make sure to read hotel policies carefully.

Casa Bentley Without doubt our top pick for family-friendliness, the lovely, historic Casa Bentley welcomes children to its charming, rustic compound just steps from Todos Santos’s main streets. With a wonderful pool, an old-time feel, the most accommodating staff you could wish to meet and a host of friendly dogs, it makes for a truly home-from-home experience.The lovely Mango Suite is perfect to accommodate even multiple children.2013-05-21_1369149793

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The Hotelito For a touch of modernism in old-time Todos Santos, The Hotelito, hidden up a lane on the way to the beach – a 15 minute-or-so walk from town  – makes a great choice. Regular rooms can accomodate an extra child’s bed, but if you’re a bigger party, consider the adjacent Hacienda de Chilicote, an entire house with two large bedrooms.

Hacienda Todos los Santos Beautiful, huge, airy white suites and guest houses in this  family-friendly place tucked down a hidden lane. A lovely pool and kind local management completes the picture; though it’s quiet and serene, children are very welcome.

Villa Santa Cruz Far out of town on a stretch of beach, this dramatic place with four luxe suites might not be convenient for quick ice-cream trips, but for the feeling of staying-at-eccentric-millionaire-aunt’s house, nowhere else even comes close. Rates include welcome margaritas, breakfast and light lunch, and the whole place can be booked as one, if you can persuade another couple of families to make the trip down with you. Email to enquire about extra beds for little ones.

VRBO and Airbnb offer a plethora of staying options in Todos Santos; be aware that many of them are strung along the beach road, and are therefore not really walkable into town. 2013-05-21_1369148999

Todos Santos: Eat

Unlike at some of its hotels, children are welcomed at almost any restaurant in Todos Santos, though some of those sweet little courtyards may just prove too romantic and serene to be comfortable if you’re in town with active little ones. If you’re child-free for an evening, Cafe Santa Fe‘s North Italian food (it’s open for lunch too, so you could bring the children) and the lovely rooftop Guaycura Restaurant, with its nice tapas but even better views, are both good choices. You can also, if you feel you must, have a drink or dinner at Hotel California.

Bistro Magico (cnr Calle Militar & Hidalgo) A sweet little corner cafe, Magico makes for a lovely lunch spot – though, since it’s teeny, it’s not the easiest place to bring busy toddlers. Inventive salads, yummy soups, and great little daily-changing plates such as falafel, couscous and roast vegetables make for a welcome change from burritos and quesadillas.

La Esquina The hang-out place of choice for Todos Santos’s expat community, this outdoor courtyard-garden cafe has plenty of space for the little ones to play, while you indulge in a huge breakfast or take advantage of the killer 2-for-1 margaritas at Happy Hour, from 5pm to 5pm. There’s great coffee, no sense of urgency to eat-and-go, many dishes are vegetarian, and some can be successfully veganised. It’s a 10 minute walk (or 2 minute drive: there’s no pavement) from the town centre.

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Baja Beans In Pescadero, a few minutes south of Todos Santos by car (look for it on the right hand side of the highway), this open-air place is beloved for its super coffee and fresh pastries that could be direct from the streets of Paris. Catch the Sunday market in season (roughly November to June),  when there’s a flea market on the grounds, bringing in local expats and musicians to perform live, while you sip your coffee and the little ones gad about munching on pain au chocolat.

Quesabrosas Gorditas   Just across the road from Bistro Magico, this walk-up stand serves fresh gorditas (small corn tortilla tacos) with a variety of fillings that change daily. Our children loved the nopal (cactus) and the frijoles y queso (beans and cheese), along with the super sweet hibiscus drink. Cheap, quick, and extremely tasty.

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LEG 5. ON TO THE TIP OF BAJA: TODOS SANTOS TO CABO SAN LUCAS AND BEYOND
  • If you intend to press right on down to the tip of the peninsula – even just to say you made it – the driving is easy, and from Todos Santos you should be there, past interminable timeshares, condos, golf courses and shopping malls (there’s a Costco, for heaven’s sake!), in about an hour.
  • First you’ll reach Cabo San Lucas, which sports nice, if touristy, beaches, and a whole host of activities on offer from tour companies, from parasailing to zip-lining.  If you decide to stop, take a local boat (panga) out from the beach to Land’s End, the tip of the peninsula where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, and where a much-photographed natural arch (El Arco) is well worth a look.
  • Next along the coast is the marginally less touristy San Jose del Cabo; if anyone’s feeling peckish, it’s worth stopping in town if only to visit the French Riviera Bakery. Don’t take a table – the dine-in prices are outrageous – but grab baguettes and pastries from the store-front instead, to munch elsewhere.
The Eastern Cape
  • Accessible either on an adventurous road north from San Jose del Cabo, or, alternatively, on a better road south from La Paz (see above) the Eastern Cape is a less-developed and lovely stretch of coastline, with the occasional enclave, often containing the seasonal vacation homes of Americans and Canadians. Los Barriles is famous for its windsurfing, is the northernmost settlement of note. There are a number of VRBO vacation rentals on offer here.
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  • Further south you’ll find Cabo Pulmo, a quiet little place which makes a great getaway-from-it-all, with  quiet beaches, some of which are suitable for paddling and swimming, and incredible snorkelling in the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park nearby. Communications are quite basic here (the whole town is off-grid, relying largely on solar power), so if you’re thinking of staying, arrange your place before you arrive. Although it’s best to stock up on groceries in advance (in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, or, if you’re going north down the Cape, La Paz; there are also basic groceries at the small town of La Ribera, 16 miles away) and plan on self-catering, the little restaurants (La Palapa and Nancy’s being the most frequented) aren’t bad.  For divers (or aspiring divers) amongst your family, the Cabo Pulmo Dive Centre, attached to the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, has a good reputation  and offers PADI certification.  Of the hotels on offer, simple, rustic family-friendly Baja Bungalows is the best option in town; there’s also a handful of house rentals to be had (including the enchanting El Encanto); find them on VRBO or Airbnb.

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ON THE ROAD: SANITY-SAVING TIPS
  • You’ll need Baja-specific car insurance for driving the Baja peninsula (though in practice, it appears that no one is checking). It’s easy enough to buy online: a Google search will yield numerous options, so shop around for the best deal. Costco members can get great insurance over the phone; check the Costco website for details.
  • Fill up with petrol (gas) every chance you get: there are stretches of highway without a single gas station for hundreds of kilometers. Carry cash (in pesos) for this purpose, rather than relying on cards.

road marker tijuana a long way

  • Pack enough snacks and water for the day: food stops are few and far between on some stretches of highway. It pays to stop off at a roadside supermarket or panaderia (bakery) whenever you’ve got a big driving stint coming up, to load up on supplies and treats to keep little passengers happy.
  • Bring lots of toys, books, games and colouring books to keep your children busy on the longest driving stretches: now’s also the time for teaching songs, times tables, and for numerous games of charades or (considering the scenery, slightly repetitive) I-Spy.
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  • Plan your driving so you won’t be on the road after dark: roads are bad enough by day, but animals on the highway, along with careening trucks, make after-dark a little too dodgy.
  • Bring your own baby-bed for tiny people. Many hotels en route don’t have them. High-chairs are few and far between, too, so you may find yourself trying to keep your ice cold margarita away from those persistent baby fingers stationed on your lap.
  • Likewise, bring nappies (diapers), baby milk (formula), and prepared baby food from home, along with sun screen, after-sun, and a basic first-aid kit of plasters (band-aids) and antiseptic cream or spray. A bottle of hand sanitiser doesn’t do any harm either.
  • Don’t be intimidated by military checkpoints: take off your sunglasses, wind down the window, and have your passports ready just in case. The young soldiers manning them will ask you to get out of the car, but will usually let the children stay inside. After a quick poke-about (they’re looking for drugs), you’ll be free to go. Teaching your children a “Buenos Dias” upon seeing a soldier guarantees you a smile and faster passage. We also handed out bags of M&Ms to the (very hot, bored and grateful) younger soldiers.
  • Encourage your younger folks to keep a sharp eye out for wildlife: we saw eagles, vultures, swallows and various sorts of rodent life, along  – unexpectedly – with a circus-full of white tigers on our return journey through Ensenada.

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1 Comment

  • Reply December 5, 2013

    Stefania Shortt

    Thank you for the fantastic information, entertaining writing and gorgeous pictures! You have inspired great ideas for our trip to the Baja! Will comment “properly” when we get back from Mexico!

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