Tag Archives: baja road trip

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Ten: The drive back to Tijuana


This is the final of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Actual travel date: Jan 3, 2010. Baja California North.

The border road trip was winding to a close. Over the past nine days we had seen and done a lot: Exploring the state of Sonora, crossing the Gulf of California in a ferry – and visiting islands and cave art sites along the Baja peninsula. It was Sunday, and time to head back to the Tijuana border. This would be an all-day drive along the Transpeninsular highway, but fortunately the Baja peninsula landscape is never boring.

We left Guerrero Negro at 8 a.m., which was actually 7 a.m. Tijuana time (the time zone switches once you cross into or out of Guerrero Negro). It was foggy, but eventually the shroud parted to reveal a flat stretch of desert with cactus bent in odd angles. Our second road-kill episode during the trip (after the previous night’s coyote hit) took place when a small bird impaled itself on the car antenna.

By 9:30, we had reached Catavina. We had foolishly forgotten to fill up on gasoline at Guerrero Negro or other places nearby, so this was our only hope for fuel. There isn’t a PEMEX gas station here, but there are other options like this guy on the side of the road who probably earns a pretty decent living from travelers like us.

Catavina is a good place to stretch your legs. It’s a speck along the road with a smattering of hotels and food place. It would be nicer if there weren’t so much graffiti on the rocks, but if you pull off the main road you can immerse yourself in a more authentic desert experience.

We left Catavinia around 10 a.m. and then pushed on to El Rosario, which is about an hour away. We reached the agricultural community of  San Quintin at noon and kept driving along the main road cuts through town, lost in indecision over where to go for lunch. After eating some unmemorable fish tacos, we continued north.
I lost track of the number of military checkpoints we went through during this one day. I think it must have been around eight.


Three hours later, we arrived in  Ensenada from San Quintin. For some reason, I was seized by a sudden urge for donuts. By the time we left Ensenada the sky was starting to darken.

It had been a long day on the road but we made good time. We reached Tijuana at 5 p.m. –  about nine hours after we left Guerrero Negro – and I was back in the LA area a few hours after that. When I look at this map below, I’m somewhat amazed at the ground that we managed to cover in just ten days. Sure, it would have been great to have just gone to one place or region and get to know it really well. A road trip can be somewhat superficial and cursory, especially when you have a limited time frame. But on the other hand, it is also a chance to get the bigger picture of things and to realize how much more there is to get to know.

Dotted lines on map represent north-bound part of trip.

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Eight: Mission San Francisco Javier, outside of Loreto

This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Actual travel date: Jan. 1, 2010. Mission San Francisco de Javier, to the west of Loreto (Baja California – south).

The last time I visited Mission San Francisco de Javier, which is located to the west of Loreto, the road to the mission was being rebuilt and we spent a lot of time driving around in circles trying to find the alternative road.  It was a frustrating, bumpy ride. This time I am happy to report that a good chunk of the mountainous road to the mission is now smooth asphalt.

From the exit point just south of Loreto (at 9 a.m.), we were sailing along pretty nicely for a good 20 minutes. I was starting to think that we would be getting to the mission in under an hour. But then we started to notice crumbling chunks of the asphalt along the side of the cliffs. Some of these sections were marked with cones, and other were simply demarcated by large stones. This was not encouraging, but at least it gave us advance warning of what we would be facing when we drove back down the mountain road.

After 2o minutes, the road changes abruptly to gravel. But that’s ok because it keeps you going at a slower pace to take in the landscape.

Within an hour you get your first glimpse of the ocean to the east, and the faraway sea flirted with us as we pushed upward. You can also get an idea of the region’s pre-Columbian cave art at this pit stop:

So much of this excursion is about the scenery, so after several stops we got to the mission in about an hour-and-a-half (1o:20 a.m.). The mission was complete in 1758 and its considered to be one of Baja California’s best-preserved mission churches, according to The Lonely Planet guidebook. If you get here December 3, you can observe pilgrims coming here to honor or celebrate the saint.

Some things looked the same: We visited the mission, with its old tombstones.

Other things were new. Across from the mission are a surprisingly large number of public bathroom stalls (with toilet paper) for the number of visitors we saw at the mission this day. 

The last time I came here there was just one restaurant, which we ate at again: Restaurant Palapa San Javier. But now there are two places. Out of habit, we went back to the Palapa (where I had Mexican-style eggs). We explored the area for about an hour-and-a-half, and then started back down the mountain.

After a while, we started to hear a clattering sound. Some part of the car’s underbelly had come loose and was dragging on the ground. We used a cord to hold it in place until we reached Loreto.

Trying to find a mechanic on the day after New Year’s is a huge challenge. Pretty much everything is closed, but some taxi drivers referred us to a place where some temporary adjustments were made. We would still need to get the car repaired at a mechanic that had the necessary parts, but at least this would get us to the next leg of our route: Back north to Mulege. We  arrived there two hours later from Loreto, and checked into the Hotel Vieja Hacienda.

We had already made  reservations to take a hike the following day – Saturday – to the pre-Columbian rock art sites in La Trinidad Canyon. It was too late to search for a mechanic in Mulege. The entire town seemed to be continuing their New Year’s celebration in the streets and a few local bars. We grabbed some pizza for dinner: 

Then we considered our options. Our (hopeful)  plan for the next day – Saturday –  was to get the car to a mechanic in the early morning. If all went well, they would be able to fix the car while we were hiking.  Then we could pick it up later that afternoon and start heading north back to Tijuana. You can stress over these things, or just accept it as part of the adventure: What’s a road trip without a wrench thrown in to keep us all on our toes, right?

TRAVEL TIPS: From Loreto, head south a few minutes until you see a sign to your right leading you to the mission. Give yourself about an-hour-and-a half to get to the mission. The first 20 minutes will be on asphalt, and afterwards the road becomes dirt and gravel. Be careful driving so that you don’t puncture a tire – or damage your car – and take advantage of the trip to make plenty of photo stops and to visit the cave paintings. Best time to leave is in the morning, so that you can have lunch at the mission. This gives you time to explore the village and the mission grounds.

Map of the road trip that started in Tijuana: Dotted lines indicate north bound leg.

Sonora/Baja Road Trip. Day Four: Guaymas & San Carlos

Photo credit: Google maps

This is part of a series of blog posts about a ten-day trip I recently took south of the border through the Mexican state of Sonora and then back up north (after a ferry trip across the Gulf of California) through the Baja Peninsula.

Actual travel date: December 28, 2009. Guaymas, Sonora

After three days traveling through Sonora, we reached the port city of Guaymas. Our plan was to cross the Gulf of California by boat and then continue our trip through the Baja peninsula. From what I had read, the ferry could be fickle due to weather, and reservations in advance – which we didn’t have –  were highly recommended. So I wasn’t quite sure how things would turn out.

We went to the Guaymas ferry office Monday morning and were told that they didn’t know when the boat would leave that day, and to check again later.

So we went to get some breakfast near the hotel at a simple food place called either Fernanda or Cocina Economica, or some combination of the two. I ordered my usual Mexican breakfast favorite: Eggs cooked Mexican Style or Juevos a la Mexicana. The food was a little slow in its arrival, but the portions were generous and exquisitely cooked (at $18 for four, including drinks, it lived up to its name of being economical). I personally  rank this the Best Breakfast during the entire road trip.

Around noon we called the ferry ofice. We were told that there would  be no departure this day – and to call at 9 a.m. the next day, Tuesday.

Now that we knew we had the day and evening free, we drove a few minutes away to  San Carlos in search of the tourist beach areas of Algodones (a portion of which was the backdrop for the Catch 22 movie filmed here in the ’70s).

We found that many of the most obvious beach spots were inaccessible because they involved entering the front driveways of beachside hotels or condos. The beach area turned out to be chilly on this particular day, so we drove around some more and a condominium security guard guided us to a beach access point where the wind wasn’t as strong.

For a good two hours we walked around this quiet bay and scrambled on  nearby rocks in search of crabs, mollusks and other small sealife in tidepools.

Afterwards, we explored more of San Carlos while looking for an affordable beachside hotel. We visited a few, but a lack of inviting pools and the ever-present wind chill sent us scurrying back to our original place in Guaymas, the Armida. Along the way, we swung by a seaside hotel called the Hotel Playa de Cortes that reminded me of the older, historic section of the Rosarito Beach Hotel in Baja California.


Nestled at the end of a Guaymas road, the place was full of hand-carved wooden furniture, Spanish colonial architecture and old black-and-white photos (a more recent one had been signed by then-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano who is now head of the Department of Homeland Security). Politics, aside, the vibe made me immediately want to sip a margarita in a lounge chair.

Back in central Guaymas, we ended up  having a very un-Mexican dinner of Papa John’s Pizza. Unlike most of the Papa John’s I’ve been to north of the border, which seem to cater more to the pick-up-and-eat-elsewhere crowd – this one was set up as a restaurant. As a slight drizzle dotted the windows outside, we figured the next leg of our trip would depend a lot on whether or not the ferry left tomorrow to make the planned itinerary worthwhile. If there was no ferry, we might have to come up with a Plan B.

TRAVEL FACTOIDS:

For a list of beaches in San Carlos, go here.

For a list of hotels in San Carlos, go here.

The seaside Hotel Playa de Cortes in Guaymas offers basic rooms ranging in price from about $65-$90, depending on the season. For more information, go here.