One of the reasons we’ve decided to start our journey through Mexico on Baja California is it’s acting like a bumper between US culture and Mexican culture. So we’ll have time to get used to the new world we’ve never been to before. It was certainly a right decision.
If you’re thinking about touring on Baja, we’ve put together some tips and added more if you’re taking your furry companion with you.
1. Get the season right
Please please don’t torture yourself in a scorching heat of summer. Opt for November – March instead, when the days are warm to mildly hot, nights cool and it’s dry season. Sea of Cortez is pleasantly warm, inviting for a swim.
2. North to South or opposite?
We’ve done it North to South as part of our journey from Canada to Argentina and that’s how most of the cyclists go. But we met folks coming from opposite direction, too. Predicting wind direction is the main decision maker, if it’s not part of the bigger journey. Well, people coming from the south were complaining about headwind, on the other hand we had more days fighting the wind than we had wished. There were two days even when we were repeatedly blown off the road and had trouble even pushing the bikes against it. So it’s a really non-reliable factor.
3. Highway 1 or else
The classic way is to cross from the US in Tijuana and stay on highway 1 throughout whole Baja California. Don’t do that! Highway 5 from Mexicali is much quieter, there are many newly reconstructed parts that have got a nice shoulder (Google Streetview photos are old, we were pleasantly surprised) and apart from the last 35 kilometers on dirt road, it’s a good ride. Even the dirt is doable on touring tires, it’s more gravel and rocks than loose sand. And if you’re a pavement junkie, just hitch a ride through it, the rest is still worth it.
The other option how to avoid 1, is to take highway 3 from Ensenada that will join with highway 5 before San Felipe. Our friends Anna and Adam have chosen this route:
“The advantage of taking the 3 is that it’s much less busy than the 1. We barely saw any traffic at all the entire route. The downside is that it’s 1800m climbing, and not many towns in-between. But as the old saying goes, what goes up, must come down, so there’s an incredible downhill section.
We spent 2 days climbing up to the top of this route. The second night, we stopped in a tiny town called Heroes de la Independencia and got chatting to some people at the supermarket. We got taken in by a local family who ran a church and camped in their garden too!
Day 3 was amazing. 60km of brilliant downhill through the breathtaking mountain scenery – incredible! We managed 150km that day, and ended up joining Mexico 5 and cycling along the Sea of Cortez. We camped on a white sand beach that night under the stars. ”
And if you’re an offroad junkie, check Baja Divide route. But that’s another story.
Carry some sort of water transport system. On Baja California you can get water from Agua Purificada centres that are in every bigger town or even little markets or restaurants provide this service, usually 1 MXN per 1 litre. Sometimes there’s only one option per day like this, so you want something that will carry enough water for 24 hours for you. We love our 10L MSR Dromedary Bags. They need a little time in the beginning to stop giving the water rubbery taste, but after a while you can’t taste it anymore and they are super durable (in contrast to the plastic water pouches).
You don’t need a filter really. We’ve got one for later use but even if tried it here, it’s not worth it. Many times the water has got unpleasant taste after filtering it (safe but nasty ;-)), like bit salty or just not quenching our thirst.
5. Where to sleep
Is wild camping safe? YES!! Even in Mexico? YES!! Just be vigilant and if your gut tells you something, trust it. We camped many times on Baja out there and our only enemies were thorns from cacti. You may need to push through the sand for 0,5 – 1 kilometer not to be seen from the road so get ready for a work-out. If you end up in bigger town at the end of the day, it’s probably wise to seek a safe place – bomberos (firefighters) are our favourite. We stayed with them twice. Plus official campgrounds, cheap motels, warmshowers, Casa del Ciclistas in San Ignacio, camping by the restaurants – many options that won’t ruin your budget.
6. Speak Spanish
Even if it’s un poco, it’s about trying. We don’t speak Spanish well enough (yet) to be able to have decent conversation but are able to ask about water, food, ask for permission to camp, tell them where we are from and what our trip is about. Locals will appreciate your efforts!
7. Stop enough
Don’t rush it. If you’ve got limited time, use buses to transport you between places rather than breaking a world record in cycling Baja California. Our two most favourite sections for cycling: Puertecitos to Alfonsinas (highway 5) and around Bahía Concepción.
There’s so much to appreciate off bicycle. Just to give you few examples. Grey whales come to Baja California to mate and breed so if you’re in right season (peak is February), use this opportunity to watch and pet!! them as they come to the boats themselves to seek contact. Buy fresh dates in San Ignacio and Mulegé. Enjoy beaches of Bahía Concepción, there are still places where you can wild camp. Hot springs in Puertecitos. Walks through Loreto.
Most importantly: DON’T BE SCARED!
You’ve heard it many times as we did. Are you not afraid to go to Mexico? I guess if you’re thinking about cycle touring Baja California, you are not. So we just want to re-assure you. We’ve never been greeted so warmly anywhere else on this journey as here. We’ve never been cheered so many times on the road, honked or waved at us with a big smile. Everybody warned us about highway 1, how dangerous it is but actually guys, it’s a normal road without a shoulder most of the time with trucks on it. 99% of these trucks will give you space when overtaking. 98% of the cars will slow down and wait until it’s safe to overtake you. You can read how we felt about cycling in US here and as we’ve spoken with some others on the road, they’ve got the same feelings. Obviously, be careful but you always are, aren’t you?
PS: Baja is not flat. It’s not riding at the sea level. You’re crossing some serious hills at times. But pretty ;-).
And now few extras for those of you who are mad enough to bring your doggie friend.
1. Stock on dog food in the US or La Paz/Mazatlán (depending on direction)
You can get dog food literally in any small grocery store on Baja but it’s mostly Pedigree and likewise… We’re joking they’re making our dogs vegans because the main ingredient is corn and wheat rather than meat.
2. Bring booties for dogs/tweezers to pull out thorns
We’ve got both but Phoebe and Rory aren’t fond of their boots too much so we have to deal with thorn surgery sometimes.
3. Crossing the border
We followed this protocol in preparation and went to the vet in El Centro, California to get them. At the end nobody cared at the border but it’s worth being prepared than refused to enter the country.
4. Water (again)
Don’t forget to include the dog when you’re counting your requirement per day.
We will be glad for any comments. Merry Christmas to you all, we will celebrate in Mazatlán.
Merveilleux! Merci. Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année
Great article! I’m now in Phoenix, doing the southern tier, and was looking at where to enter Mexico, I think you convinced me to go down number 5! how’s the border crossing in Mexicali? is it safe around there?
Hi! We felt safe though it was a little bit of a cultural shock after crossing from quiet US town Calexico. Do it during the day and you’ll be fine. Also there’s a really kind warmshowers host Roberto in Mexicali, not far from the border. He’s a doctor and hosts in his clinic.