By Carla King
This month I thought I’d share a Facebook Messenger conversation with a Facebook follower who was spooked about traveling in Baja by friends who insist there are gangsters waiting for them around every corner. It makes me happy to be able to reassure! [Conversation spell-corrected and anonymized as well as providing links to more info.]
Hi Carla. We are two women headed to Baja in a few weeks on our motorcycles. We plan on doing the 1 route crossing in Tecate and just have 10 days to explore. I was really hoping to have a nice trip but we had friends that went out of their way to invite us to dinner in order to discourage us not to go.
They got us shaken up with all their horror stories of drugs and shooting and saying we are crazy to go there. But these are people who have never been to Baja.
I’m asking if you can reassure us that we’re not crazy for still wanting to go and enjoy wonderful Baja. What do you think?
I just got back today from the Valle de Guadalupe and crossed at the Tecate border. You know I love it there. Listen, there are crime and cartel drug activities in NYC and Paris and Dallas and Alberta and other cities everywhere in the world. Baja is no different. Tourists have no reason to be in the bad neighborhoods, so this is just a silly fear that people who don’t travel have.
Thanks very much. Really, I needed to hear that. We were really looking forward to our trip.
How far are you going?
Not far. We only have 10 days in Baja. I don’t know what the routes are like so we will be doing 4 or 5 hours a day, not more than that.
Okay. Please spend the first night in the Valle de Guadalupe and have lunch or dinner at Finca Altozano. It’s a must! Are you camping or hotels?
We’re staying in hotels.
Good. You’ll find one easily this time of year.
Ah, yes, thank you!
To save time, I would recommend skipping Ensenada and La Bufadora and ride further down the peninsula where it’s uniquely Baja. La Bufadora especially was very disappointing to me this last weekend. So much crazy tourist activity with cruise ship busses and aggressive vendors pushing tequila shots and trinkets in our faces. You’ve seen this kind of beautiful ocean activity anyway with the waves and rocks if you’ve ridden the Pacific coast between British Columbia and California.
So after Valle de Guadalupe just head straight to San Quintín and stay at the Old Mill Hotel or at Don Eddie’s. Have amazing seafood at the Molino Viejo next door, I love the ceviche. Another good option is the Old Mill’s restaurant. In the morning have breakfast at Eddie’s then head to San Ignacio or even all the way to Mulegé just a couple of hours south.
Wow, that’s great. Thanks for the tips. Really really appreciate. It reassures us.
I am so happy you asked. Your friends are well-intentioned but brainwashed by mainstream media.
From there is an unavoidably long ride to Cataviña with a fantastic landscape. Spend the night there, and then another long ride to Guerrero Negro or San Ignacio and the next day Mulegé and Bahía Concepción. I wish I was there to greet you!
AND THEN, SADLY, TURN BACK NORTH.
On the way back home just before Cataviña turn east to Highway 5 and Gonzaga Bay on the Sea of Cortez. Stay at Alfonsina’s or at least stop for the best shrimp tacos ever. You’ll need to ride from MEX 1 to MEX 5 on about 20 miles of graded dirt road, slow but safe. Stop at Coco’s corner. More here. And maybe also to Puertecitos Hot Springs north of Gonzaga.
[Editor’s Note, October 2018: Highway 5 is temporarily closed due to severe road damage from Hurricane Rosa. Check weather and road conditions before you go.]
Thank you again. Exactly what we were thinking. But people have a way of scaring us!
I know I know! Silly. I just saw your profile all packed up with motorcycle camping gear in Alaska, which is much more scary than Baja.
LOLLLL! Military stops. Are they okay? The checkpoints. Anything I should know?
They’re really checking for drugs going north from the south. Just put a packet of tampons at the top of your tank bag and they’ll wave you through quick!
Really though… heading south they’ll probably just wave you through without stopping… you’ll hear them say ah-de-lant-tay as they wave you through.
[Editors note, October 2018: There are reports of theft by guards at the San Ignacio checkpoint north of town. Be diligent. Keep cash and valuables in your pockets or a waist pack and don’t let yourself be distracted. This is very unusual and complaints have been filed. We expect this to be solved soon!]
Coming back north you’ll be stopped and maybe take a quick look in your bag or, if the boss is there, a better search. Smile. Practice your Spanish and some really like to practice their English.
Ah… okay. I get it.
Sometimes I feel like they’re just bored or curious. These are young Army guys from all over Mexico. They don’t see women on motorcycles and it’s kind of mind-blowing. They will smile a lot! But do take them seriously.
Okay, no problem with that. Thank you again. It’s making me feel much more at ease about the trip.
Oh… at the border crossing north, just pass all the cars and go to the front of the line. They’ll let you through. They’re more aware of motorcycle engine overheating and rider fatigue than northerners. Also at the border between Baja Norte and Sur at Guerrero Negro you don’t have to stop and you can pass any trucks that are waiting for agriculture inspection.
Okay. Eat everything. Accept invitations. Bring stickers for the kids.
Big roll of stickers. Canadian flag. Stars hearts unicorns. Give them bunches.
Thanks for the advice!
Okay! Please report back :-)
There you go. I hope that reassures YOU if you are being frightened away from Baja by well-intentioned friends or the news-like infotainment programs on TV.
Carla King has been writing about her motorcycle adventure travels since 1995. You can read about her misadventures in North America, China, Europe, India, and Africa at CarlaKing.com. She’s been writing about motorcycling, adventuring, and safety for Discover Baja since December 2015. Find all her posts here.
7 thoughts on “A reassuring conversation about adventuring in Baja”
Hi, When stopped by the military… remove your sunglasses… you will be less threatening… Greg From Eugene
Yes… and your motorcycle visor. And keep your cash and credit cards on you. I use a waist pack. Thanks!
Absolutely good advice. Thanks!
This correspondence, I’m sure, was encouraging to the two women wanting to travel in Baja. And, I agree, there is just as much crime in some U.S. cities as there can be in Baja. But sometimes just because one person maybe hasn’t had a “bad” experience in Baja, doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t happen. A couple years ago, my brother and I were driving south, just out of Mexicali, and a police car pulled us over for no reason whatsoever. Three of them got, planted a knife in our truck, handcuffed us, took our wallets, and said it’d be $500 because of the knife (their knife). We finally worked our way out of the situation, but were pretty shaken up.
Also, you said to “eat everything”…really? Another trip saw my brother severely sickened by a San Quintin clam cocktail on one trip. My advice…don’t be “media scared”, but also maybe use a little extra caution and know you are entering a world quite different from the U.S.
Thanks, Wayne, and I’m so sorry about your incident. That must have been super scary and I’m glad you worked yourself out of the situation. So far I haven’t had a bad experience in Baja but I have been through some varyingly unpleasant to extremely bad experiences in places nobody warned me about: Traverse City Michigan, Fredericksburg Texas, and Lyon France, in all my years of travel (since 1988). But I’ve never had safety issues in Morocco, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Mexico, Jamaica, India, or any of the other countries I’ve visited that first-world travelers are afraid of. Re being more careful re food, I’ve actually been sicker oftener in the US than I ever have been while traveling. (Okay, I take that back. I was sick an awful lot in India.) One time I did spoon on some dubious looking salsa at a roadside stand in Ensenada and boy was I sorry. I was in a hurry to the border and quickly ordered, and should have noted that it was sitting in the sun. (Oh, retrospect!) I eat in San Quintin a lot. The seafood is stellar but the lack of refrigeration can sometimes be a problem. I always look at the source. Is it sitting out or is it in a cold cooler? They’re always happy to show me when I ask to see the seafood and that way, too, I can pick the best pieces :-). Extra caution is always good advice when traveling. Thanks!
Having traveled internationally for 40+ years as both a student and airline pilot, crime can find you absolutely anywhere, at any time. Yes, there are some neighborhoods and locales to be avoided. Usually, the short hairs on the back of your neck will warn you before getting too far into a bad place.
The only time I encountered crime was on a weekday at noon time, on a busy street in the business/financial district of Sao Paulo. My first officer and I got mugged on a crowded sidewalk by a well-dressed pistol displaying thug. While I certainly do not recommend challenging a thug (unless trained how to do so), we took the pistol away from him. In Portuguese, he claimed we mugged him! Fortunately, the many witnesses told police he mugged us. The special police unit for the district hauled him away.
I have ridden all over Baja (no doubt not as much as Carla) and have only encountered the friendliest of folks, even in Mexicali. Yet, I generally, try to ride 20+ miles south of the US border before stopping just so I can avoid all the Americans who cross the border for the day to shop, eat and drink. That’s where you will run into all the “hey Joes” with their trinkets and flyers for restaurants/bars and dentists.
You’re right, Bill. Thanks for sharing. What a great story!
I generally agree about getting away from the borders, though I do go to the dentist in Tijuana (see previous post) but I know it’s in a good neighborhood. In large cities, it’s prudent to do your research and make sure you’re not going to wander into a dangerous area.
See you on the road!