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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Baja, México Financial Summary

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Exchange Rate: $1=approximately 12 Mexican pesos

Total Money Spent: $1387

Total Days: 9

Per Person Per Day: $77

Wow!  Obviously, that’s quite a lot compared to our previous travel budgets!  However, this was our honeymoon, so we spent a lot more willingly then we did when we were penniless backpackers without jobs!

Transportation is almost all gas, since we were driving.  Gas costs about $3.80 per gallon in Baja right now.  The roads are so curvy and hilly that you don’t get very good gas mileage though.

We also had only one free place to stay on this trip.  If we had had more time to plan, I would’ve tried harder to book hostel reviews or find Couchsurfing hosts, but we just didn’t have the time, what with planning a wedding and all!  Our Cabo hotel we found on Living Social, and it was a great deal.  Other places we managed to find campsites or hotel rooms for $15-30.

You can definitely do Baja cheaper, if you take buses and camp and don’t go out as much.  We had a great honeymoon and feel pretty content with the bang we got for our buck.

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Baja México – Observations and Advice

When you cross the border into Mexico, all of the stresses and worries of hectic United States living evaporate, leaving you instantly refreshed and rejuvenated.  Do you stay feeling so awesome after hitting your first pothole, the first American tourist that flies past you over 100mph, the first time soldiers with machine guns are digging through your car?  Here is a quick recap of problems, suggestions, annoyances, and misconceptions so you know what to expect on your road trip through Baja, Mexico.

-If you drive into Mexico your car insurance is no longer valid.  You can buy Mexican insurance at the border and there are several different options.  Since we have an old dumpy car, we got the cheapest available plan, $6 per day which would at least keep us out of prison in the event of a fender bender.  No one ever asked if we had this or not and I think a lot of travelers skip it. I wouldn’t take my chances.

-To travel south of Ensenada, tourists are supposed to get a card from immigration for $25 each.  We got them but this was also probably unnecessary, as no one once looked at our passports.  One soldier at a checkpoint did ask for my passport once but I told him “No tengo (I don’t have it)” and handed him my California driver’s license without a problem.

-Everyone told us to keep a $20 bill in a visible spot in the car.  Apparently $20 is “the fine” if the Federales (Mexican federal police, notoriously corrupt) stop you.  We were also advised to never give them your passport because to get it back you’ll have to pay much more than $20.  We never had any encounters with the Federales.

-Watch out for potholes!  We hit some bad ones but were lucky enough to not blow any tires.   Some of the worst we spotted had to be more than a foot deep.  No recovery after hitting that.  Also, there are a lot of unmarked speed bumps.  If you were driving the speed limit these wouldn’t be a problem.  However, you won’t be driving the speed limit.

-Don’t run out of gas!  Most Baja maps show you which towns have gas stations.  There are some very long stretches without and you’ll need a full tank!  Plan wisely, or you’ll end up stranded!

-No one drives the speed limit.  If the sign said “40 km per hour” I tried not to exceed 40 miles per hour.

-People hassle you to buy tours and souvenirs, especially in Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas.  Just say “No gracias,” firmly and continue like they aren’t there.   If you make eye contact you will never be left alone.

-Drugs will be offered to you all the time (especially if you have dreadlocks or other hippie-ish characteristics).  Rarely do tourists ever have a problem in México unless they are looking for that stuff.  It’s a great way to get robbed, kidnapped, or jailed.  The booze is cheap and legal!  Stick with that.

-There are about eight military checkpoints (different from the Federales) along the way.  Headed south we were searched at two of the checkpoints.  Northward we were searched at all but one stop.  We always hid our money but at times we forgot to put away the bribe $20 bill.  The soldiers never took it or anything else and were always pretty polite.  Just don’t bring anything into the country that you don’t want found.

Waiting in line at one of many military checkpoints.

Waiting in line at one of many military checkpoints.

-When you’re eating and drinking you should tip around 15%.  Nothing is expensive so don’t get cheap on people.

-The tap water is safe to consume in some places.  Ask the locals!

Mexico is a lot of fun, and actually really easy to travel in.  Don’t let the scary news reports keep you away from a good time.  We hope this helps!

The Long Way Back

Pristine beaches near Mulegé on the drive back north

Pristine beaches near Mulegé on the drive back north

Randomly browsing the Internet while sitting in our Cabo hotel, Zach happened upon a news report concerning Hurricane Erick!  Although Baja rarely gets hit by hurricanes, apparently Erick was headed right towards us.  Forecasters were predicting it would hit the whole peninsula and even cause storms in San Diego!  This turned out to be false, as weather reports often do, but nevertheless, we felt the pressure was on to “get while the gettin’s good!”  We definitely did not want to get stuck on a washed-out road in the crazy desert during a hurricane/flash flood!

Sadly, due to our desire to stay in front of the hurricane, we only got to see one more town on our trip.  Mulegé, a quiet small town on the Sea of Cortez, didn’t have a lot going on.  It was a nice change from the bigger cities though.  The nearby coastline boasts some of the most gorgeous beaches we’ve ever seen and we wished we had more time to hang out and do some kayaking.  Whenever we go back to Baja, we’ll definitely head straight here!

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The second day’s drive was pretty tedious.  We did get hit with some rain on windy mountain roads, but nothing too bad.  Because we were heading north and because of the recent election in Baja Norte, the military was patrolling in force, and we got stopped and searched at each of the five checkpoints we passed.  Nevertheless, we managed to survive a record-breaking 18 hour day in the car and pulled up at our casa just before midnight.  We’re sad that the trip is over, but it won’t be our last excursion into México!

Stay tuned for some Baja travel tips and a budget summary!

We Got Cabo-ed!

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Medano Beach, Cabo San Lucas

The ultimate destination on our grand Mexican road trip was of course, the very end of the Baja Penninsula, Cabo San Lucas!  Famous as a raucous spring break destination, Cabo brings to mind images of unruly American teenagers pouring tequila down each others throats on the beach.  Not exactly our scene.  However, we had to see it.

Drinking margaritas at Sammy Hagar's world famous "Cabo Wabo" bar.

Drinking margaritas at Sammy Hagar’s world famous “Cabo Wabo” bar.

Thanks to Living Social we scored a great deal on a really nice suite in a beachfront hotel outside of town, Marbella Suites en La Playa.  It was the nicest place we’ve ever paid for and being there for four nights made the trip really feel like a honeymoon!  Normally we’re very “get up and go” travelers, but after all the stress and activity of wedding planning, we found ourselves craving a typical, relaxed vacation for the first time ever.  So, relax we did!  Our stay involved a lot of pool time, reading, watching movies, and hanging out with another couple we befriended.  It was exactly what we needed!

Pool at our hotel

Pool at Marbella

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Romantic dinner on the beach

We did get out for some surfing a couple times (waves too big for us!), explored downtown Cabo (it really is the Las Vegas of Mexico), and found the best taco shop in the history of the world!  Asi y Asado had the greatest selection of taco bases (vegetarian, every kind of fish, beef, chicken, etc.) and the biggest toppings bar we’d ever seen!  We’d each order two tacos and then pile them high with condiments, still unable to try everything!  SO GOOD.

Colorful mural at our favorite taco place

Colorful mural at our favorite taco place

Help!  My taco is too stuffed!

Help! My taco is too stuffed!

Stunning beaches, an abundance of activities, and outrageous parties make Cabo a great destination if you want it all.  I don’t think we need to go back anytime soon, but we definitely had a blast!

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Sunset over the end of the penninsula

La Paz and Todos Santos. Almost there!

After a nice night camping with the serenading of frogs in San Ignacio, we jumped back in the car and headed to the capital of Baja California Sur, La Paz.  The first half of the trip wound through the mountains and took us to our first glimpse of the Sea Of Cortez, with it’s amazing blue waters and lazy beach towns.   We wished we had more time to kick back and get lost, but we had places to get to; Cabo was waiting for us.    Needing a break, we stopped and had some tacos at a random shack along the road, right on the water.  The first thing that hit us as we exited the car was the extreme heat.  Que calor!  Dusty wasn’t liking it very much at all either.

The road eventually made its way inland and we found ourselves on what seemed like the world’s straightest road through the world’s biggest desert.  It didn’t get any cooler either.  After about seven hours we again saw the Sea of Cortez and the city of La Paz lying beside it.

La Paz, Mexico We got a 240 peso hotel room (about $20, Pensíon California) and walked around in search of more tacos.  Ended up getting our first gorditas, similar to arepas we had in Colombia, a stuffed pastry type thing.  Then we of course finished the night with some ice cream!

Super Tacos Baja California

Super Tacos Baja California

The next morning we found the taco truck that was supposed to be the best in the city (according to Lonely Planet) camped out right in front of our hotel.  They had nine different kinds of fish tacos and we stuffed our faces before starting out on our last drive for a few days.   It was really had to find the road out of the city as there were no proper signs.  Eventually, after asking about six different people we finally were back on the road to Cabo, our final destination.

We took the Highway 19 because it took us through the small town of Todos Santos.  Famous for its art galleries and Hawaii-like surfing (barrels people, we didn’t even think about it), Todos Santos was full of gringos and everything was way too expensive for us.  Cool stuff though!

Art and souvenirs in Todos Santos.

Art and souvenirs in Todos Santos.

Carrie likes awesome murals.

Carrie likes awesome murals.

Zach in Todos Santos

Zach in Todos Santos

After wandering through Todos Santos for an hour, we felt we had seen it all and hopped back in the car to finish driving to the end of the Baja Penninsula!

From Norte to Sur!

Our second day in Baja we faced the toughest drive of the trip.  Ensenada to San Ignacio, a grueling 800km trek across the desert from Baja Norte to Baja Sur.  We set out around 8am and drove for a few hours before stopping at a roadside restaurant for delicious huevos rancheros and coffee.  The simple, delicious food-homemade tortillas, numerous condiments, and spicy salsa-is one of our favorite parts of México!

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After breakfast, the sun got stronger and the road rougher as we would our way through one of the craziest cactus-filled deserts we’ve ever seen.  Thank God we got our A/C fixed!  Luckily we had been advised to have a full gas tank and plenty of water as there were no services for hours and hours.  Nothing but a 2-lane, potholed highway winding its way through more and more “curvas peligrosas” (dangerous curves).  Getting stuck behind semis a couple of times was annoying because the road was hardly ever straight enough to pass without risking a head-on collision.

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After nearly 12 hours of driving, just before the sun set, we finally made it to San Ignacio.  Out of nowhere, a tiny lake and a palm-covered oasis town in the midst of all the dryness!  We found a wonderful $10 campground right on the laguna (Camping Los Petales) with basic showers, bathrooms, and kayaks for rent.  Walked into the tranquil town for some tacos and slept peacefully in our tent, despite the croaking bullfrogs.

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San Ignacio was tiny but pleasant and full of friendly people!  Highlights were the gorgeous old Domincan church and buying a cheap bag of delicious dates (they grow on the palms all over town).  Sad we couldn’t stay longer, we headed off to La Paz!

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Ensenada, Mexico. Our first stop down the Baja.

Let the honeymoon road trip begin!

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Tasting wine in the Valle de Guadalupe

Before this trip we had only been to one town in Baja California.  Slimy and shady,  Tijuana is a close stop for some cheap food and drinks but not very exciting unless you’re into drugs and hookers.  Ensenada was surprisingly different.  We crossed into Mexico at Tecaté where we didn’t even need to wait in line, nor talk to anyone about coming into the country.  We drove through the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s only wine region.   The vino there was AMAZING.  We first stopped at Vinos Lechuza, whose owner, Ray Magnusen, Zach had met through work in San Diego.  After we had a whole tasting of Lechuza’s magnificent wines, Ray gave us a whole second round straight out of his aging barrels, showed us around the area a little bit, and took us to Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman’s new popup restaurant right across the road.  Deckman’s setup was amazing and totally changed our views on what gourmet dining can look like!

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Picnic-chic restaurant with a view! Wish we could have stayed for dinner!

That evening we made our way to Ensenada town, only a 15-20min drive from the Ruta del Vino.  The city has everything you need but isn’t super big and obnoxious.   We ate some awesome tacos and tasted more vino.  It was a nice spot to walk around and, to say again, awesomely different from Tijuana.

We only spent one night, but since its so close to our home in San Diego, we hope to make it down to Ensenada again for a weekend in the near future.  Stay tuned for tales of the rest of our Baja California Adventure!