When you decide to travel to Baja, you do you.
Even so, reading how other people travel is often helpful, inspirational, and hilarious. So we created the Baja Beer and Travel Journal for you. We hope you find inspiration, laughter, and guidance as you read through our adventures in Baja: where we traveled, where we stayed, what we did, what we drank, and how we did it.
Baja and Mexico by the Numbers
- Border Crossing: San Ysidro Crossing in San Diego into Tijuana
- Dates: November 22, 2019 – December 30, 2019
- Days in Baja: 4 weeks – not enough
- Days in Mazatlan: 1 week – not enough
- Places Stayed: 9 including stealth camping in Ensenada, with family in Mazatlan, and many Baja beaches
- Cities Explored: 6 (not including small villages)
- Breweries Visited: 3 in Mazatlan and 6 in Baja
- Beers Drank: too many including craft beers, Micheladas, margaritas, and way too many Coronas and Pacificos
- Friends Met: from Canada, all over the US, Slovenia, Mazatlan, Baja, and more
- Food Eaten: grasshoppers, lobsters, clams, oysters, sea bass, ceviche, street tacos, oh food, glorious food!
“Baja, the earth’s second-longest peninsula, offers over 1200km of the mystical, ethereal, majestic and untamed. Those lucky enough to make the full Tijuana to Los Cabos trip will find that the Carretera Transpeninsular (Hwy 1) offers stunning vistas at every turn. The middle of nowhere is more beautiful than you ever imagined, and people are friendly, relaxed and helpful – even in the border towns. Side roads pass through tiny villages and wind drunkenly along the sides of mountains. Condors carve circles into an unblemished blue sky. Some people simply sip drinks, eat fish tacos and watch the sun disappear into the Pacific. Some choose to feel the rush of adrenaline as they surf that perfect wave. Others walk through sherbet-colored canyons or stare up at the night’s canopy of scattered-diamond stars. Whichever way you choose to take it, you’ll discover some of Baja’s many joys.”https://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/baja-california
I’m not going to give you a lot of statistics on how safe Baja or Mexico are because you’ll read into that whatever you want to read into them anyway. Bad shit can happen anywhere in the world, and of course there are safer places to be than other places.
However, Mexico, in general is fairly safe as long as you aren’t planning on seeking out the cartel or contributing to or partaking in illegal activities. I used to take teens out on overnight camping trips in the wilderness, and one parent wanted me to guarantee her daughter’s safety along with guaranteeing that we would not encounter any beers on our trip. Really? Guarantee? I can’t guarantee your daughter will be safe on the playground at school. What I’m trying to say is that there are no guarantees of safety anywhere in life.
If you do need a statistic, according to the U.S. Department of State, from June of 2017 to June of 2018, around 35 million Americans visited Mexico, but only 238 died there. And of that number, there were only 76 homicides.
As I was saying, bad shit can happen anywhere in the world, and as Michael Franti (peace activist and singer) likes to say, “Good Shit happens, too.” As I like to say, “If you let the world get to you, you’ll never get to the world.”
So, yeah, be aware, take precautions, but at the end of the day…GO! Or you might miss out on meeting your own Skip and Skelly.
Resources and Tools Used for RVing Baja
We are not retired, on vacation, or rich. We have to work. Yes, even in Baja. And let me tell you, those ocean views and spastic wi-fi are not conducive to working, but we managed to get a few things done. These are just a few of the apps, resources, tools, whatever, that we used for our travels to Baja.
- iOverlander – If you’ve never used this to find camping spots, get it. It’s free, can be used on your computer and your phone, and is user generated. We use a variety of apps when traveling the US, but for Baja, this is the best one. Just be wary of the roads. Even with our 24 foot camper, there were many places we couldn’t access because the roads were too rough, too narrow, or just plain nonexistent.
- AT&T cell service – Our plan is one of the actual unlimited AT&T plans, but I believe most, if not all AT&T plans (I think Verizon, too), now have service in Canada and Mexico at no extra charge. For real details, consult the experts at Technomadia. They really know their shit when it comes to mobile technology.
- DuoLingo – We really want to learn Spanish and keep speaking it once we do. DuoLingo offers quick, free lessons as well as paid plans. We actually practiced every night with this app, and then went out into the real world and made people laugh. Hey, at least we are trying.
- Talk Baja Road Conditions Facebook Group – This is a great user generated resource for real time road conditions across Baja north and south, including what the weather did to the roads. When it rains in Baja, chaos ensues and this group will keep you updated.
- RV Mexico Facebook Group This group offers a plethora of information from official documents needed, RV parks, road conditions, and general conversation about RVing in Baja and Mexico.
- Baja Bound – This is where we bought our Mexican auto insurance, but it also has a lot of informative information about Baja such as travel guides and even tips on crossing the border.
- Google Translate – So while this is not one of the best translators when it comes to using it on the internet, the app itself really helped by allowing us to speak into it and then it would speak back in Spanish and vice versa. This got us out of a pickle trying to find parking in Tijuana.
More Baja Stuff to Consider
We go into a lot more detail in each chapter about our Baja adventures, plenty more good than bad, but it never hurts to have a summary of a few things you may not be sure about when heading into Mexico.
We don’t do much planning, but we did plan for this. And for all those details and then some, click below for all you need to know about crossing the border into Mexico.
No trash is a common thing in most toilets, but in Mexico…no toilet paper, either. The septic system here is not made to handle anything except human waste, so use those trash cans. Most bathroom facilities will be clean and modernized, but still no toilet paper in the bowl. Other bathrooms will be very primitive and not so pretty. Some you’ll have to pay a few pesos to use, others you won’t want to use at all.
La Policia (the police)
Thankfully we only had one encounter with the police and nothing came of it, although it did freak me out. Mere seconds away from getting into the long ass border line to cross back into the US, lights came on, scaring the shit out of us. In broken English, they asked if we had drugs, we said no. They asked to look in our camper. Me, in my smart ass, terrified voice said no and why? Kenny, calmer than me, unlocked the rear door, they glanced in, told us to have a good night, and that was that. The image below is military, but it makes you think twice, right?
We’ve heard many stories from many different people, locals, expats, and tourists, about getting pulled over and police asking for money. While this is the culture of Mexico, it is still illegal for Mexican police to ask for bribes. The best advice I’ve heard – play the dumb American tourist, and they’ll leave you alone. You may have to pay a bribe if it comes down to that, however, I can say that we passed many police cars while there without incident until that last day, and no money exchanged hands.
Don’t drink the water, drink the beer! But when you have to drink the water, make sure it is purified. Most Mexicans follow this rule, as well, including their ice cubes, so if beer isn’t your flair, those Mexican margaritas should be, ice and all. There’s plenty of bottled water, and it is inexpensive and plentiful. If you need to fill up your freshwater tank using water from a campground, don’t use it for drinking water and when back in the States, clean it out before using it again as drinking water. There’s no reason to risk things coming out of both ends. You do you, but we did use that water for coffee and cooking after we boiled it and everything in our insides stayed where it belonged.
The easiest way to get pesos is to simply visit any ATM in Mexico, make a withdrawal, and pesos are in hand. If you need to change your dollars into pesos, money exchange places are abundant in the bigger cities such as Tijuana and Ensenada, but grow sparse in the smaller towns and villages. As of this writing, 90 pesos is about equal to five US dollars and everything – excluding gas – is much cheaper in Baja and Mazatlan (as long as you stay out of the tourist areas).
To tip or not to tip? Tip. If not expected, then it is a pleasant surprise. If expected, then you’re on the right track. The 10 to 20% rule works just fine.
I don’t now about Mainland Mexico, but in Baja, all gas stations are full service, and gas is priced by the liters. As of this writing, gas was over $4.00 a gallon, so filling up a 50 gallon RV tank was not cheap. If the gas station attendants clean your windshield and do more than just filling up your tank, a small tip is appropriate. We usually tipped about 20 pesos.
We searched all over Ensenada for a self service laundromat, but that’s a story in itself for another chapter. Later, we found out that just like gas stations, laundromats are not self service. You drop them off, pay a small fee, come back for clean laundry. That would have been much easier than us washing our clothes by hand.
We’ve traveled all over the world, and before we go almost anywhere, what we hear from those that go nowhere is to not eat the street food. I call bullshit. Eat the street food. It is some of the best food in the world. Eat the seafood, the meats, the fresh veggies! Eat where the locals eat. Try the local fare, drink the local beer, speak the local language. Be there, immerse yourself. Eat the street food!
Our RV Baja Dream
What’s your dream? Everyone’s got a dream! Ours for visiting Baja was originally just like all the others before us. Head south. To the pristine beaches, the warm weather, the mighty Pacific on one side, the calm beauty of the Sea of Cortez on the other.
We had plans to drive to La Paz, enjoying beautiful beach camping spots along the way. Once we got there, we were going to take the ferry across to Mazatlan to visit friends and family for Christmas. Sounds exotic, right? We thought so, until RAIF’s brakes decided they were done working a couple of days before we were planning on crossing the border.
So, instead of stressing over our ever increasing lack of money, still wanting to go to Baja and still wanting to go to Mazatlan, we came up with a solution. With limited time and limited funds, we decided to drive along the Pacific coast until Mexico 1 went inland for the first time – about 200 miles south of Tijuana. We didn’t want to go further than this because 1) gas is over $4.00 a gallon in Baja, and 2) we found cheap airline tickets from Tijuana to Mazatlan, so we had to be back by the border in less than a month and didn’t want to rush. Playing a house hunters style game, we went in search of that perfect spot to call home for the next few weeks. Our requirements were simple: a beautiful beach with easy access and a town or village within biking distance to enjoy the local culture and food.
But first we had to cross the border. Click here for Chapter Two: Mexico Border Crossing in an RV.
Welcome to our Baja journey.
Click here to read all the Baja Beer and Travel Journal Chapters. More will be added often.