I’d never met anyone who had driven the entire length of Mexico’s Baja peninsula until recently. A friend of mine was spending the last four months on hiatus from work and had been road tripping through the West Coast, and landed in Cabo for about three weeks. When we got there he called and asked if I wanted to join him for the drive on his way back to LA, where he’d be flying to Brazil to begin his new life. We both thought it’d be a great way to hang for a few days before he moved so far away.
Since my finances were low after some wedding travel in October, my immediate reaction to the invite was “not an option.” My friend was kind and even offered to buy half my plane ticket, and I still told him I needed a few days to think about it. He made a great case though, saying the exchange rate was so good that it was actually more expensive to live my life at home than while there. He was right.
Then Donald Trump became our President-Elect and I couldn’t think of a reason not to take this opportunity. I called my buddy while I was at a community event here in Oakland, and told him I’d see him soon.
Without getting into the politics of it all — this moment in history hit me hard; and travel has always taught me the important lessons, given me the space in my thoughts I’m looking for, and a way to separate from a busy world. I was grateful to have an escape route for a few days.
The Mexico road trip starts off in heavenly Cabo
I hopped on a quick flight to Cabo in the late morning and my friend and I were having ceviche (about $3) and cervezas (about $.50) at a local restaurant by dinnertime. By recommendation of the local-chef we were staying with, our main stop that evening was at the seriously lovely Hidalgo Cero for craft cocktails (about $5 each) overlooking the historic plaza downtown. The woman who owns the bar chatted with us a bunch, giving us the history of how the bar literally sits at “mile zero” of the Baja coast, and was a perfect place to begin our trek north. The interior was unbelievably unique and filled with beautifully reupholstered vintage furniture that she does herself. We almost put an armchair in the car it was so gorgeous and affordable (less than $300!!), but realized it wasn’t exactly the best use of space in a car for a road trip.
The next day was spent on the white sand beach in Cabo proper; where we rented chairs and enjoyed the views of crystal clear blue waters, cruise ships coming and going, and hundreds of tourists playing in the sun. It’s $15 for the day, and you can order food and drink from a server as you please.
We began the 1100-mile drive north that evening and stopped for a free and weekly open-air art market in the neighboring and ridiculously charming Los Cabos, about 30 minutes away. There were local merchants selling everything from photography to handmade figurines — which was a wonderful and cheap way to learn about the town and eat cheap street food. We spent that first night in La Paz, about 3 hours north and enjoyed a very clean, very large hotel room for only $30 — which proved to be the average for the trip.
La Paz to Loreto – Scenic mountains and desert cactus
Our second day was relatively light in travel time, as the drive from La Paz to Loreto was about 4.5 hours. It was full of sweeping views of mountains and desert cactus together like I’ve never seen, and hardly any cars along the route with us. The roads were in excellent condition, and the stops for tacos along the way were sparse but tasty.
We were surprised to see Loreto was a darling tourist destination, since it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We scored a room at the charming Hotel Oasis for another $30/night, where a hammock, a pool, a large outdoor patio and the ocean were right outside the door. We ate a tasty Mediterranean dinner down the street at an expat-owned restaurant, and learned that Loreto even has a small airport.
The next leg of the trek was filled with sweeping ocean views and large towering cacti, where we were able to find a secret beach just off the highway to spend the afternoon.
With cervezas in hand and feet in the water, we were shocked when the fish in the small bay began having a feeding frenzy before our eyes! Schools of fish would chase thousands of smaller fish around the bay and we watched this display of natural phenomenon for a good 30 minutes.
Mulege to Punto Chivato
We spent that evening in the nearby Mulege that sits on a gorgeous peninsula and was a perfect place to catch the sunset. This town was quaint and quiet, except the loud music from the local grocery store who truly loved his playlist and was a super fun soundtrack to our evening!
We left Mulege and made a quick detour on the mostly sand roads to Punto Chivato, a gorgeous peninsula housing was seemed like only very large mansions and a ridiculous amount of seashells. While we could’ve explored that beach for hours, we had a long travel day ahead to Ensenada by night.
The road through dramatic desert landscape
That 11-hour day on the road was filled mostly in the National Park, Área Natural Protegida Valle de los Cirios, which can only be described as a desert landscape of the gods it was so dramatic. We skipped the Reserva de la Biosfera El Vizcaíno because of time constraints, but if we had an extra day this bioreserve is a must-see. We stopped along the way and were always met with kind smiles, recommendations, and yummy food at different shacks on the side of the road. I was in serious awe of how perfectly the roads were kept and how lovely a drive it really was.
Ensenada to Long Beach – Picture-perfect Pacific Coast
Our last leg from Ensenada to Long Beach was absolutely stunning, as the Pacific coast waves crashed to our left for the three hour drive. The entire coastline was peppered with small towns with lots of charm, and I couldn’t help but kick myself that this was the first time I had made this journey in 33 years of being a California girl.
We used this cool website to time our border crossing at 10am, which meant it only took about 1.5 hours instead of 5 or 6 at other times of the day. While that process wasn’t the most exciting part of the trip, I felt sad to re-enter the complicated world of the US that I had been trying to escape, and even worse after we stopped for lunch in San Diego and paid $30 for a sandwich and a beer.
While those feelings have settled a bit since then, the most important things I learned are that the magic of travel is more important than ever — and that the magic of Mexico is even closer. This road trip, all said and done, for 5 days to drive 1100 miles with a one-way flight in there too, cost about $400. That’s with luxurious meals out, hotels, gas and plenty of cocktails and cervezas. I’ve visited Mexico a handful of times, and I can honestly say this trip has solidified it’s place as my absolute favorite country on earth.
Check out more of Morgan Shidler’s photos and adventures on her website.
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