Baja – A current take on exploring Baja using paved roads almost exclusively

Discussion in 'Americas' started by Vic5491, Aug 30, 2014.

  1. Vic5491

    Vic5491 Been here awhile

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    I am an older rider who wants to explore Baja, pavement only, and have been trying to get a sense of how safe it is, what to do, where to stay, what to avoid, when to go, etc.

    I have read a number of ride reports about Baja, some recent and some older and some pavement only and others mostly dirt. And I have read much of the Mexico Ride Planning sticky and Traveling in Mexico thread and have gained a lot of valuable info and been entertained as well. But somehow, in the huge volume of information that is available, it is hard to get a clear picture of what I want to know. This is the reason I am starting this thread.

    First I want to know how safe or dangerous it is. I’m not interested in your experience anywhere else and I’m not interested in your experience if it is not relatively current since issues of safety change quickly. And I am also not interested in anything second hand. I don’t mean this to sound demanding, dogmatic or rude. I just know from reading other forums how things like this can so easily get hijacked and go astray. I want to know what YOUR RECENT experience (ie in the last 18 months) has been, not what your experience was three or more years ago or what happened to your buddy or anything like that.

    Second, I want to know what times of the year are the best to go to Baja. I am retired and can go anytime I want. Ideally I’d like to go when the heat is not too intense during the day and yet it is not too cold at night. I’d also like to avoid the rainy season and hurricanes. But, after reading tons of stuff, I still don’t know for sure what windows of time might fit this description best. Oh, and since I am not camping, I guess my ideal time would have to be a time when rooms are readily available. I guess that means I best not go too near in time to the Baja 1000, any giant sport fishing tournaments, etc.

    Third, I’d like to know the names of places people have actually stayed at and their assessment of them. Cost per night in USD equivalent, cleanliness, comfort, safety, bike security, whether it has a restaurant, air conditioning, wifi, TV, etc. would all be helpful. Proper name, phone #, website link if there is one, email address, description of where the place is (ie 37 miles SE of town X on Hwy 1) would all be helpful.

    Forth, I’d like to know where to spend my time. I can likely dedicate as much as two weeks and maybe more to riding from the top of Baja to the bottom and back. For those of you who know Baja well, where would you spend your time if you had two weeks to spend on the peninsula?

    Fifth, I’d like to know what to avoid. If you have found yourself in a place that was unrewarding or worse, threatening, please let us know where it was and how and why we should avoid it. I do not want to repeat your bad experiences! 

    Sixth, I want to know your thoughts on whether it is ok to ride Baja alone. I’d like to find someone to go with me, share room expenses and be there to help if one of us were to run into trouble (unrepairable tire puncture, etc.) but that may not be possible. If it is not, I’d like to know if going it alone is ok or downright foolish.

    So, if each of you who have been to Baja recently and whose trip was limited to riding pavement (with an occasional well packed dirt road or two to get to special places) could share your experiences addressing the points mentioned above, I would appreciate it greatly and suspect many others would too. I think these are the things most of us want to know and good solid input from those who have had recent experience would very much be appreciated.

    I recognize that there are many other aspects to planning a trip to Baja including border crossings, paperwork, insurance, stamps, how to handle checkpoints, etc. and all of them are important. But all of that is readily available elsewhere so let’s keep this thread to the SIX points raised above. That is what I really want to know and have had a hard time finding clear answers to.

    If someone is considering doing Baja largely off road and would like to ask the same questions in a different forum, feel free to use what I have done here to create your own thread but please, let’s restrict this one to doing Baja on pavement and the six points listed above.

    Cheers!

    Vic
    #1
  2. FakeName

    FakeName Wile E Coyote SuperGenius

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    Subscribed.:ear

    What's an "older rider" ?
    #2
  3. digger2

    digger2 A cad & a bounder

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    What part of the usa are you in?
    The reason I ask is that if you are in rural Wyoming(lets say) then Baja may be pretty intimidating. However, if you are from LA, Oakland or Chicago then it will be pretty tame. I live in San Diego and cross down there for rides, and it's like anywhere. Do some thing stupid and you get into trouble really quick. However, people are really nice and helpful, just get out of TJ and Ensenada and enjoy the ride. You can make the hotel at Catavina the first night, other places to stay are here http://www.hotelserenidad.com/ and Guerrero negro. Loretto is a great place to stay, Cabo I could pass on as it's very touristy and a long ride across the desert to get to it.

    Best time of year is around oct to early November although it can get cold. Other than that wait until spring. Never ride at night as the animals come onto the road, and never pass a gas station. Some may be guys selling gas from a 55 gall drum, but it's good gas.
    Santa Rosalia is a good lunch stop on the way to Serenidad, has a church designed by Gustav Eiffel and built using parts of the tower in Paris
    #3
  4. jonz

    jonz Miles are my mantra Supporter

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    I go to Baja 3 or 4 times a year. I consider it safe. Large border cities like Mexicali or Tijuana have the same problems of any other big city. Pass through during the day and you'll be fine. If you go in fall, winter, or spring, stick to the Sea of Cortez side up north. San Felipe is a good start - the El Capitan is secure and about $55. Gonzaga bay is a jewel about 90 miles south and Alfonsinas is the place to stay, eat and drink. But you'll have to backtrack from there as the pavement ends near there.

    San Ignacio is a nice inland town. The bed and breakfast with yurts is nice but I usually stay at Rice and Beans there. Around $60. Be sure to visit the town square. I haven't been out to the coast in a few years but they were working on paving the road there. I mention that because if you're there in late winter or early spring, it's worth going there to see the gray whales.

    There's a start for you
    #4
  5. Strong Bad

    Strong Bad Former World's Foremost Authority Supporter

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    I've been riding and racing in Baja since the early 70's. I spend on the average of 6 weeks a year in traveling though out Baja for fun and in support of race teams involved in the SCORE races. I have American friends who live full time in San Felipe, Ensenada, and Loreto. I haven't been since June.

    Baja is not some great exotic remote planet where if you break down you will die a slow and painful death and the buzzards will eat your rotting corpse. It is full of wonderful towns with some of the greatest people on earth. There are truckers who do nothing but drive the length of Hwy 1 all day and all night. If you went for a full 10 minuets between cars/trucks anywhere on Hwy 1, I would be amazed.

    The ONLY place I feel uncomfortable in Baja is TJ, and once I get below Rosarito Beach I totally relax. I have only been pulled over for bogus tickets twice in TJ, and except for stuff taken from trucks while unattended, I've never had any other problems.

    The population of Baja is continuing to explode and as such, there are always new hotels and places to eat. Unless you are there during the Baja 1000 (typically the 2nd week in November) or the NORRA vintage race, there are pretty much rooms to be had everywhere. This year SCORE will go all the way down to La Paz, next year will be an Ensenada loop.

    Places to stay & eat? Holy crap man!! Baja is over 1000 miles long! Just between Ensenada and San Quintin there are at least a dozen great places to stay and eat. Motels in Baja all commonly have air conditioning, TV, and most at least say they have Wifi (working or not is another matter).

    Go alone on a bike?? Sure! How's your situational awareness? Some people shouldn't travel alone in Pasadena. Back in the 80's I used to go well into Baja alone, this last spring I went alone with my wife in my truck, taking a week to get to Loreto and a week to return.

    My suggestion is to not over think this. Go down and "discover" Baja for yourself.

    Look up "Baja Nomads", a forum for Gringos traveling and living in Baja.
    #5
  6. Vic5491

    Vic5491 Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the replies so far! This is exactly the kind of info I was looking for!

    I'll try to answer a few of the questions raised.... I'm 68. I'm a bit overweight and look like crap but feel good and still go like I don't know better. I put between 10K and 22K a year on my bikes (VStrom 650, Honda VFR800 (99) and a Sym HD200 scooter that is great fun. 30+ years ago I rode enduros competitively but am not riding off road now although I am considering doing the TAT. If I do it will be on a well prepped DR350 or something like that. I'm a good rider and love to ride.

    I live in Atlanta and my situational awareness is very good. I have traveled a LOT... all over the US and much of Canada, much of Asia and all of western Europe. I have worked in NYC, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans and several other "tough" cities and have never had a minute of trouble. I treat everyone politely and with respect but keep a little distance at the same time. I know not to act like a 21 year old!

    In asking where to stay, I guess there are really two separate parts to that question. First, when there are plenty of options, what are some of the really good ones that you guys love and secondly, where rooms are scarce, what places are known to be good. I'm not asking for a list of places but instead your favorites.

    The Baja 1000 this year is Nov 12-16. Is there a shortage of rooms before and after? If so, when do they start filling up and when do they clear?

    Thanks for everyone's input so far! Let's keep it coming!

    Vic
    #6
  7. Strong Bad

    Strong Bad Former World's Foremost Authority Supporter

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    Ensenada will be full up on the 10th or 11th. La Paz will be full up on the 14th to the 17th or maybe the 18th. If there will be a pit near El Rosario, Catavina, or Bay of LA, they will be full up the day before through the day after. Typically there is no pit near Guerro Negro, so rooms are not a problem before and during the race, but for the next couple of days after it is a common stop on the way home from La Paz. Viscanio and Ignacio commonly have pits and like Bay of LA, could be full up though the same time period. No other pits near the highway until you get to Loreto which loads up both for the race and after (many of us like to spend a couple of days there on the way home).

    Ensenada: Coral Marina or Hotel Las Rosas

    San Quintin area: La Mission

    El Rosario: Cactus In

    Guerro Negro: Malarrimo

    Loreto: La Mission Loreto or the Hotel Oasis

    La Paz: Hotel Marina, or Marina Costa Baja
    #7
  8. Vic5491

    Vic5491 Been here awhile

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    Much thanks Mr. Bad! So, if one avoids Baja from Nov 10 - 18, all will be relatively normal! Good info to have! This is good stuff for sure!
    #8
  9. oldxr

    oldxr Long timer

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    Obvious stuff-ride only in the day time .If I am cresting a blind hill on hwy 1 I usually try to be on the right 1/4 of the road-the locals pass when they feel like-be ready.I only use the atm's mounted to a major bank-not those free standing units.I have never payed more than $1 to get money from my account at home.You can get bike insurence online and print it up at home.Make sure you will have no problems fixing a flat.If you do break down the locals will do almost anything for some cash-like haul your broken bike to the nearist town.If yoou can make it through ther border towns real early-like 6am-you won catch much traffic.I was in Baja for 3 weeks last winter-I got 1 year of insurence on my bike becuse that way I got air evac added on to the policy.About Cabo-I would go there for a day.There is a cheap hotel in Todos Santos around the corner ftom the Hotel California.I dont remember the name but I know for a little extra they will do your laundry.A good place for a day off.The little restaurant across the street from the Hotel California makes killer marguaritas.RR here http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=955856
    #9
  10. 805gregg

    805gregg Long timer

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    Spring is best, fall is good too but if hurricane hits, then lots of roads and bridges gone, winter can get cold, like down jacket cold on the beach at Bahia Conception during the day. Find a fellow ADV rider to travel with, it would be more fun and there are plenty with prior Baja experience
    #10
  11. Phi1osopher

    Phi1osopher metaphysician

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    Thanks for all the good feedback!
    I also am wanting to take trips like this, but I only speak English. Not speaking Spanish has always kept me back from traveling Mexico/ Baja. Is this a realistic problem, or can I go solo as a Gringo?

    -Philosopher
    #11
  12. Vic5491

    Vic5491 Been here awhile

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    Make sure you will have no problems fixing a flat.

    My bike is a VStrom 650 with cast wheels. I can plug a tire but to break one down on the side of the road with just tire irons and put an internal patch on it and get it all back mounted and aired up is beyond what I can do. Even if I could fight the tire off and back on the rim, I would not have enough burst air to seat the bead. I'd probably be hitch hiking with the wheel to the next town or trying to find some guys to put the bike in the back of their truck. I'd hate to leave my bike on the side of the road on its center stand unaccompanied for long.

    If you do break down the locals will do almost anything for some cash-like haul your broken bike to the nearist town.

    I'll probably take tie downs in case I need to have the bike hauled. If I did have to get the bike hauled to the next town (and the person was already going that way, how much should I pay them for loading the bike and getting me to the next town?

    I got 1 year of insurence on my bike becuse that way I got air evac added on to the policy.

    Who did you get your insurance through and how much extra was the air evac rider?

    Thanks for your other tips as well!
    #12
  13. Vic5491

    Vic5491 Been here awhile

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    Google Maps shows Hwy 5 running from Mexicali, to San Filipe, on to Gonzaga Bay and then on to intersect Hwy 1 at Laguna Chapala. All of that appears to be paved road. I guess it is not since you say the pavement ends at Gonzaga Bay and that I would have to back track from there. If that is the case, how would I get over to Hwy 1 from there? In looking at my maps, it looks as if you would have to go 120 miles back (30 miles above San Filipe) and then take 3 all the way up to Ensenada, some 250 miles from Gonzaga Bay. That is some serious back tracking for sure. I do hope you can give me a better alternative.

    Cheers,
    Vic

    #13
  14. AndyT

    AndyT Been here awhile

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    I last took that route in 2012, and they were working on paving south from Puertecitos towards Gonzaga Bay. Maybe someone can chime in with how far they got. I would assume not al the way back out to Hwy 1. I would not hesitate to take a VStrom on this road, it is not technical at all, just washboarded. Besides, you get to visit Coco's Corner on this route, look it up if you haven't heard of it.
    #14
  15. Vic5491

    Vic5491 Been here awhile

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    Andy, if I were riding with another I might ride a decent dirt road but doing so alone seems foolish to me. At my age bones break easier than they used to and a simple get off could become something serious in a hurry.

    I'll be very curious to hear other's input on the status of the road from Gonzaga Bay to Hwy 1. It would be great if it is paved!

    #15
  16. TUCKERS

    TUCKERS the famous james

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    Colleen and James have ridden Baja...TJ to Cabo several times.
    It's a breeze, Our favorite times are after the rain in November or spring.. March...I wouldn't go in rainy season...Sept/OCT....

    San Felipe is cool we go there if we want a Mexican dinner,,it's 350 miles from our house (one day)...we have dinner and ride home the next day.

    Tons of places to stay....I wouldn't worry about recommendations as they can change daily. What you need is a mileage system and choice of beach or not.

    Ensenada is way cool and tourist friendly.
    Next is San Ignacio...we stay at Mission Inn.
    Next is Guerrero Negro we like Malarimmo but here are many choices.
    After that Loreto or whatever,
    Villa Vitta in Bahia de LOs Angeles is groovy, but things change over night you never know.

    We just go and wing it. If the place we stayed before is closed we find another.

    Just go. Stop early. Enjoy the afternoon and evening. Have as stroll. Go out to eat. You will be happy to know the Mexicans you meet have children in school, car payments, a job, a church, morals, honesty...all the stuff we have in the USA except they speak Spanish and the infrastructure is a little Third World.

    Is it safe? Not when we get there................we can be a real pain...............

    see my 'hit a cow in baja' in ride reports...so much fun!
    #16
  17. jonz

    jonz Miles are my mantra Supporter

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    It is big backtracking if you go back. But I included it when I noticed you had a Vstrom and that you had some dirt riding background. The pavement doesn't go all the way to Hwy 1. It is easy dirt. With cast wheels, you'll need to go at a relaxed pace as there are lots of embedded rocks my friends and I refer to as baby heads (their approximate size). But I talked with a guy that was doing it in a Mazda Miata. He said he wouldn't do it again but he made it. Per Bicimapas maps in Mapsource, it's 36 miles from Gonzaga Bay to Hwy 1 and a little of that is paved by now. By going that way, you'll experience one of my favorite places in Baja (Gonzaga) and get to meet one of the characters that makes Baja special - Coco of Coco's Corner fame. If you're there on a weekend during fall or spring, it's not as remote as you imagine as you'll pass or be passed by a few dozen vehicles. I'm 58 so am not a spring chicken either. :gerg It's just a possiblity. Everyone makes their own risk assessment.

    On the way back, take Hwy 1 past that turnoff towards Ensenada - there's a ridgetop section of twisty pavement that's fun. Since it's your first time, check out Mama Espinoza's restaurant in El Rosario. Opinions vary wildly but it's somewhere you should go at least once. For the record, I liked the lunch I had there.

    Here's another backtracking ride I recommend. Ride to Bahia de Los Angeles (BOLA), stay there, and ride back. It's around 50 miles each way all pavement. I ALWAYS love that first view of the ocean riding down. I recommend you do not ride the dirt south of there as it's much rougher with lots of sand. I like staying at the Costa del Sol - around $50 with a good restaurant and bar on premises.
    #17
  18. princess jamaica

    princess jamaica OLD DOG-NEW TRICKS

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    They have completed about 13 more miles(as of late May).Take your time and there is no problem.I live just south of Mulege,and you are welcome to stop/stay.
    #18
  19. acejones

    acejones Long timer

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    Half of Mexico speaks English pretty well. The other half speaks English OK. If whoever you are speaking to doesn't understand you, somebody within 100 feet will. You will be astounded and embarrassed by how many people speak at least some English.
    #19
  20. Vic5491

    Vic5491 Been here awhile

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    Thanks Colleen and James for a ton of good info! This is exactly the kind of post I was hoping to get!

    Let me impose on you a little more...

    Please give me some more info about the weather... temps, rain, etc. I do not want to be there in the rainy season but I don't want to be there after it gets cold. The Baja 1000 is scheduled for Nov 12-16 and will have all the motels taken for a few days on either side of those dates. If I want to spend two weeks on Baja, then I need to enter Baja no later than say Oct 24 to have me out by Nov 7 or I need to wait until around Nov 21 to go in and out by Dec 5. So, in summary, would late October or late November be a better choice. What would I encounter, weather wise with each option? (BTW, please assume I will enter at Tecate, take 3 to Ensenada and Hwy 1 on down. While I "MIGHT" try hugging the east coast on Hwy 5 until it intersects with Hwy 1 at Chapala, I will only do that if the whole road is paved OR if I have a riding partner. At this point it looks like this trip may well be a solo one so I may have to miss San Filipe and Gonzaga Bay this time.)

    I also have to ask... in the several times you have made this same trip, have you ever felt like you were potentially in danger?

    Also, when you and your wife (or the other way around if Colleen is the one posting) have made this trip, did you ride two up or were you on two bikes? How many flats have you had on average (if any) per trip? I ride a VStrom with cast wheels and while I can plug a tire on the road, I don't think I could break one down, patch it internally and get it back on on the side of the road. I would need to get the bike (or wheel) to a town where I could get some help.

    Again, thanks for your help!

    #20