Follow me home to Bahía Concepción via the San Ysidro border through Tijuana, Ensenada, San Quintín, Guerrero Negro, Cataviña, San Ignacio, Santa Rosalía, and Mulegé.
Crossing the Border into Baja
December 29, 2018: This was my first time crossing the San Ysidro border since all the improvements. It’s a quick and easy crossing north to south (but northbound is hell, so choose another on your way home, if you can).
As you cross, stay in the extreme right lane to park in the custom’s “something to declare” lot in order to get your tourist visa. Do not skip this step. Your vehicle insurance may be invalid if you are not in the country legally.
You need to be behind this pretty modern wall.
Park and walk in the glass doors straight ahead. The customs agents will figure out that you’re just here for the tourist visa but they may ask you if you have something to declare. In my experience they’re usually too busy with Mexicans re-entering with truckloads of used appliances.
Inside you’ll pass a bank. Continue through a second set of double doors to find a kiosk where you’ll purchase your tourist card or get it stamped. If purchasing, you’ll be asked to pay at a window in the room you just passed through.
This takes about 10 minutes if you don’t have to wait in line. There’s also a clean bathroom. Bring your own toilet paper (always).
The drive through Ensenada is usually painful with congested traffic but this holiday season it was light. We didn’t make any stops though if you’re touring you might want to make some. If you’re a regular reader of my posts you’ll see my suggestions in other posts.
First Stop, San Quintín Restaurant: Molino Viejo
We arrived just at dark for dinner at the Molino Viejo (Old Mill) Restaurant [Yelp], our favorite Baja seafood restaurant.
We promptly ordered two icy margaritas and a plate of ceviche that that could serve as a substantial appetizer for four. It’s marinated in orange juice, fresh and crispy with fish, shrimp, and scallops mixed with finely cut onion, cucumber, cilantro, and a little tomato and tomatillo I think, and topped generously with perfectly ripe avocado. The seafood was just pulled out of the bay and the vegetables are courtesy of the surrounding agricultural land. It doesn’t’ get any fresher than this.
The ceviche and a slab of tuna with fresh, lightly steamed broccoli was more than enough for two people, but we also couldn’t resist splitting a flan. Their version is rich and creamy.
We also couldn’t resist grabbing a bottle of the local Tinto Viejo. It’s casked in whiskey barrels and perfect with dessert. We took the rest of the bottle with us and headed back up to the main road where, less than 10 minutes later, we turned west again to arrive at the coast and the hotel.
Overnight: San Quintín, Mision Santa Maria Hotel
Mision Santa Maria Hotel, the sister hotel to the one in Cataviña, is just 20 minutes south of the restaurant. It’s a much larger hotel and you can hear the surf pounding as soon as you get out of your vehicle.
There are gazillions of sand dollars on the beach which is also scattered with oysters and clams along with some cone shells.
The basic rooms have a double bed, air conditioning and heating (we needed heat), satellite television (if you care), free wifi, and nice clean bathrooms with showers with plenty of hot water. There’s a restaurant and small store on the premises.
As you can see, it’s warm enough for bare feet but cool enough for a sweater. I can imagine spending a few days just relaxing here.
Halfway to Cataviña we spotted these recumbent bicycles outfitted with sails parked outside a cafe. Of course we had to stop to talk with them.
Matthijs and Jakoba are a Dutch couple honeymooning on a ride from Alaska to Patagonia. Here’s a shot from their wedding in Holland.
I’ve roped them into stopping by the casa to talk more about their trip and adventures. Meantime, you can find out more about them and their dedication to wind power on their website and instagram.
The little restaurants along the road offer good, plain fare but I like to turn off to find a picnic spot. This one, just north of Cataviña, is at a dome somebody built a few years ago and abandoned.
I never tire of wandering this landscape and taking photos of the plants. The Cirio or Boojum plant is only found in this 225 square kilometers of the world.
I enjoy the little things, too, like the hardy yellow flowered plant pictured here, with the fuzzy-bearded grandfather cactus in the background.
When we got to Cataviña there was a surprise waiting for us!
There’s actually a Pemex in Cataviña coming soon
The road between El Rosario and Cataviña has been resurfaced though the vados north and south of town are still not bridged. I suspect they will be soon though, as it seems that there is quite a lot of money pouring into town.
So here’s the news. The Pemex station in Cataviña will open in March 2019. To prove it, here is a photo of one of the two brand new shrink-wrapped gas pumps.
Construction is still going on but, as you can see, it’s almost finished.
The Pinas Mini Market attached to the station is large and well-stocked with a nice hang-out area outside in the shade.
Though this is undeniably an improvement over the old store and “station” I feel sad, somehow, at the loss of the wild adventurousness of this area. But the locals we asked are excited about the boost in their economy.
Continuing on, we discovered that the road has been resurfaced south of town as well. Yay! And the landscape never fails to overwhelm with its (pardon the cliche) rugged beauty.
Next stop, Guerrero Negro
December 30, 2018: I am writing this from Hotel Restaurant Malarrimo in Guerrero Negro where I am making my way through a soup described in the English-language menu as including “adequate fish chunks.” It is delicious.
We arrived in Guerrero Negro just after dark and—just to remind us that we should never travel at night—had a close encounter with livestock on the road. We’ve got the bright Baja lights on the truck and if we’d been running without them at that speed I may have been writing this post from the hospital or not at all, no joke.
The cattle were reddish brown, light enough to reflect our lights, and if they’d been black I think we would have hit them.
Did the cattle scatter? No. They gazed at us with their big brown eyes, chewing their cuds, and only after repeated horn-blowing and gentle nudges with our bumper did they move off the road.
I’m sorry I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo, but here’s one taken in daylight.
And yes, they cross the road in the daylight as well.
So, rule #1 is never to drive at night.
If rule #1 cannot be avoided, go to rule #2, which is to follow a truck.
Usually, we pass them. They put their left blinker on when it’s safe. An exercise in trust, for sure. But at night, just follow behind.
Happy New Year on Conception Bay!
December 31, 2018: We scooted out of Guerrero Negro to get on the road early after some instant coffee and breakfast bars, planning to stop for tacos somewhere along the way.
Mulegé is an easy five hours from Guerrero Negro through San Ignacio, where there have been recent reports of corrupt checkpoint guards. We were ready with all our money on our persons and tempting small electronics and jewelry tucked away, too. But a friendly guard asked us where we were going and waved us through. I’m guessing that complaints from citizens and organizations like Discover Baja resulted in a fast fix of this deterrent to tourism.
Santa Rosalía with its mine and its trash is an ugly introduction to the Sea of Cortez but as soon as you get into town you’ll be able to relax and enjoy its beauty.
We stopped for fuel at the Pemex across from the factory museum (you’ll see it when you get there!) for reliable gas and clean bathrooms with toilet paper supplied. (Please tip the woman who cleans it. There’s a tip cup outside on the doorway.)
Hungry, we stopped for tacos at a place we’ve always wanted to try because it’s the most crowded taco place in town. The tortillas are hand-made on the spot and there are lots of fresh condiments to go with the tacos.
Mulegé and Bahía Concepción
An hour later we were in Mulegé stocking up on ice and beer and groceries before the 20 minute drive home. We arrived to find that the park had been rewired (improved!) and a few of us who weren’t there when it happened were left out of the loop. But hey, this is Baja. So I’m running off a neighbor’s power via two long extension cords while it gets figured out.
Meantime there is the super-starry night sky, the hot springs, and the fresh local produce delivered right to my doorstep.
Happy new year to you. I hope Baja is in your plans for 2019.
Carla King has been writing about her motorcycle adventure travels since 1995. Read about her misadventures in North America, China, Europe, India, and Africa, and current adventures in Baja at CarlaKing.com.