Five Days in Baja, Mexico

September 20, 2015

My brothers and I embarked on a sibling road trip last month, starting in Joshua Tree, then heading to Mexico for five days.

We drove our first rental car from Joshua Tree to San Diego, then dropped it off and walked across the border to Tijuana. This was a really weird experience for me. I’ve never walked across a border (though it seems I’ve been through every other type of border crossing possible), and was shocked at how easy it was. No one stopped us to check our passports, which was a little sad because I love getting new stamps, but also a relief because within 45 seconds we were in another country.

Tijuana border

We spent a night in Tijuana, partly for convenience, and partly because my brother Robert is 21 and 21-year-olds like to party. We tried, but it was a Monday night and there wasn’t a lot going on. Actually, the whole city seemed pretty sleepy and during the 24 hours we were there did not live up to its seedy reputation. It wasn’t picturesque or particularly interesting, but it wasn’t bad either. We had some amazing food, met some friendly people, and didn’t feel unsafe at any point. I can’t say from one day, but I’m guessing Tijuana isn’t as bad as everyone makes it sound. Any other opinions on this? Send me an email I’d love to hear them.

The next morning, we picked up our car from Budget (it’s laughable how much cheaper a car rental for five days was compared to our previous two day rental in California), and headed south.

The coastal highway is beautiful, winding through cliffs with vibrant blue water below. About 45 minutes into our trip, we stopped in Rosarito to relax at the beach for a few hours.

Everyone we met kept telling us that Puerto Nuevo is famous for spiny Pacific lobster, so obviously we had to try it for ourselves. Continuing along the highway we arrived in the tiny, adorable town about an hour later. Guess what? The lobster was amazing. Not quite as good as Maine lobster, but really close, and I had the best seafood soup I’ve ever had in my life. After some time exploring the town (which took all of 20 minutes) and slurping piña coladas from pineapples, we carried on.

Ensenada was our stopping point and home for the next two nights. Much bigger than Rosarito or Puerto Nuevo, Ensenada is set up for tourists, but not touristy. We stayed outside of the downtown and were able to get a feel for the city, as well as feast on the best fruit and yogurt breakfast every morning and incredible tacos every evening. Tacos, especially outside of the downtown area, are insanely cheap. Three tacos and a Tecate never ran more than $4. Of course, we did spend a lot of time downtown too, as there are some great shops and fun bars, including Cantina Hussong’s, where the margarita was supposedly invented.

On our second day in Ensenada we took a day trip with plans to hike to El Salto canyon and waterfall. It was fun and good to do something active, but the waterfall had dried up so there wasn’t much to see on arrival. More rewarding was a trip to La Bufadora, a large marine geyser with spouts of water reaching up to 65 feet.

La Bufadora

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After Ensenada, we spent a night in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s wine region. It shouldn’t surprise me that Mexico had decent wine–Baja does share a coastline with California after all. Still, I was shocked at the thriving wine scene. More than 60 wineries speckle a 35-square-mile area, making it easy to hop from one to another. Monte Xanic, housed in a large, airy and elegant space, was truly impressive. We tasted a flight of whites and reds, but the Cabernet Sauvignon blend was by far my favorite. If I had to distill the Cab, Merlot, Petit Verdot blend down to three words, they would be spice, berries, and strength. The Chenin Blanc, was a close second favorite. Crisp with a slightly sweet finish, the $16 price tag makes it even sweeter.

Photo Aug 20, 4 35 35 PM (1)

After more tacos from a roadside stand, we spent a night watching Netflix and reflecting on the trip. More on sibling travel in a later post, but if you haven’t traveled with your siblings (sans parents) you should try it.

Heading back to Tijuna to drop off the car, we stopped in Tecate to visit the famed brewery. Every visitor gets a free beer on arrival, and if you have a strange weakness for cheap Mexican beer, that alone is worth the trip.

If you’re planning to cross back into San Diego from Tijuana, you’ll want to savor that free beer. And maybe have a few more to make the border crossing bearable. Going back to the US was as opposite as you could get from entering Mexico. We stood in line for four painful, hot hours, moving a few feet every 15 or 20 minutes. I hear it’s not usually this bad, but it was one of the worst travel experiences of my life and I’m not sure I’d do it again.

Before getting to the worst line of all time

Before getting to the worst line of all time

Entry into the US aside, it was an easy and cheap trip, with tons of variety in activities, amazing food, and the best company. Can’t wait to explore more of Mexico sometime soon!

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