Twenty miles after crossing the border at Mexicali we turned onto a dirt road and headed to our first camp ground in Canyon Guadelupe, Baja Mexico. We chose this destination because it advertises a hot spring pool for every campsite. Two hours later we had only covered ten of the seventeen miles to our destination. The road was the worst we had ever encountered but we drove faster realizing that we not make it to the campground before dark if we did not speed up. The crash of silverware in the drawer became our speed limit. When we finally made it to our destination we stopped before a stream and looked up to see a hand painted sign that said “Office this way….Safe”. We waded across the knee-deep stream checking for large holes or rocks and decided to go for it. We had come this far and were looking forward to a good soak to remove the dust.
Our site was surrounded by date palms and had a very clean hot spring pool with a view of the hills. As we soaked in our private hot spring, our only concern was the drive back to Mexicali on that daunting road and the possible effect that eating dozens of dates would have on our traveling companion Bailey.
A trip to Baja is a dream for nearly every Westfalia Van owner and we are not the exception. With the adventure of extended backpacking and mountaineering trips just a memory, we were looking for a new challenge. Ruining two new shock absorbers on a terrible dirt road the first week of our trip and trying to buy replacements at “Autozona” without speaking any Spanish was perhaps more adventure than we bargained for.
Pete’s Place/ San Felipe
After leaving Canyon Guadelupe we drove two hours south to San Felipe. To our amazement, it was an easy drive on a smooth highway with beautiful scenery. The route passes close by a State Biosphere Reserve that is an estuary and home to thousands of birds. We stayed at Pete’s Place, six miles out of town. We drove onto the beach and enjoyed our first Sea of Cortez sunrise the next morning. Each site came with a palapa (small grass beach shelter) and the beach extended out nearly a thousand feet at low tide. It was a secure camping area and we enjoyed the evening around a campfire with other Westfalia owners who shared their favorite Baja destinations.
An hour and a half south of San Felipe on the last stretch of maintained road on this section of the coastal Sea of Cortez highway 5, is the fishing town of Puertecitos. The camping can be noisy because of early morning boat launches but the cove features a hot springs pool that is tempered by water from the sea. The springs are too hot to use at low tide but as the tide comes in the temperature moderates. We chose to camp farther south on a more deserted beach near Gonzaga Bay. The heavily cockroach infested outhouse was the only down side of the camping area but the heavily shelled quiet beach more than made up for the inconvenience (at least for Bob).
After reluctantly leaving the beach at Gonzaga Bay we braved the 25 miles of dirt road that connects to Mexico Highway 1 on the way to our next stop Mulege’. The road was in better shape than the road to Canyon Guadelupe but the worry of rocks cutting our tires and the many washboard sections made the trip from Puertecitos to Mulege’ an all day affair. We arrived in Mulege’ just in time to enjoy a farmers market and the annual pig races. Music, great food and a welcoming local community made this a great destination after our day on gravel roads. It was like stepping back into the 1970s. The town has a cash machine that actually works, you can have your clothes laundered and folded for five dollars and a local hotel sells showers that do not cause you to linger.
Camping Bahia Concepcion
South of Mulege’ there are a series of sandy beaches that are appropriate for an extended camping stay. With some patience we were able to find a great spot and we will leave the excitement of discovery to you. The five-dollar per night camping fee made it just right for our budget. Every morning vendors came by with fresh fish or shrimp, tamales, vegetables, avocados, firewood and baked goods. Supplying the winter campers is a good source of family income for locals in the area. During our week there and easily settled into beach life enjoying nights by the fire, kayaking, hikes in the hills and great home cooked meals.
The turn around point of our trip down the peninsula was to see the Grey whales and their babies at Laguna San Ignacio. This destination requires another 10 miles of heavily washboard dirt road but the reward is one of the nicest campgrounds we visited. Hot showers (bucket style), flush toilets, recycling and absolutely clean beaches. Reservations are required but the sites are large, sunny and at waters edge on Laguna San Ignacio. For $50 certified guides will take you out in a Panga to see the mother grey whales and their babies. The guide boats are 25 feet long and they sit stationary once the whales are near. The whales swim up to the boat and often the babies come close enough to touch. It seems as though the mothers bring their babies up to the boats to visit. We held our breath as a giant mother whale headed straight for our boat and silently swam under. It is an Eco Tourism whale watching camp and it is very well run. They are most respectful of the whales.
Would we return to the Baja Peninsula?
Travel in Baja can be stressful because you never know what lies around the next corner. Will the pavement end? Is that dark area on the road ahead a four-inch hole that is the size of your dining room table? Will those goats ever get off the road? Where can we buy propane or water? Is the extra five-gallon can on the roof enough to help us make it to the next gas station? Why on earth didn’t we brush up on our high school Spanish? If you travel without self contained bathing facilities you need to work on your outhouse skills.
For us, all of these inconveniences add up to adventures. Would we return to Baja?
We certainly will, because we like the white sand beaches, turquoise water, funky restaurants and coffee shops, great tequila, friendly locals and the Baja culture. What would we do differently? We will travel less and stay in each location longer. We will also bring a compressor so that we can lower our tire pressures to make dirt road travel more comfortable.
Follow your curiosity! It may lead you to adventures you never thought possible!
We would be happy to help you with your local adventures and travel dreams.
Bob and Maureen
We rent fully refurbished Westfalia Vans