While thousands visit Mexico each year despite media reports of its dangers, few explore Baja as one can in a truck camper.
Baja is a large tract of land roughly 1,000 miles from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas with backroads leading to camping, fishing, and kayaking in areas from vastly remote requiring four-wheel drive, to roads down a dirt-track.
We would start our adventure traveling in a caravan, a total of six vehicles including, Doug-Harvey, our GMC 4×4 with a Palomino pop-up… Doug is the truck, Harvey the camper.
In Baja, many miles can pass without a working gas pump or the availability of parts from a dealership, but with some planning, adventure in Baja is far easier than most imagine.
We kept it simple with one-stop shopping and purchased our tourist permit (FMM), vehicle insurance, map and guidebook directly from the tour operator Discover Baja in San Diego. You can complete the FMM and insurance application online but, the prepaid FMM requires an entry stamp at the border, hold on to your receipt the customs guard asked for it!
For navigation in Baja, we used our map, Mexico: Baja California by International Travel, a water-proof map showing the entire peninsula—all in full color and 1:650,000 scale. A GPS is worthwhile to support a paper map but, mostly ours, a Garmin, did not display much information.
Cell phone coverage can be unreliable in Baja. We used a US carrier with Mexico coverage. It did work at times but, if staying in contact with family at every step of your travel, a Garmin inReach with satellite technology might be worth a look.
We took along 22,000 Pesos for a one month trip.
Finally, pick up a copy of Camping Mexico’s Baja by Mike and Terri Church. This guidebook is full of information on Baja and a must-have for a trip down the peninsula.
We made good time crossing into Tijuana and south along Mex 1 to Ensenada, our first stop. After we were all stocked up with food, water, and fuel, we were ready to start our adventure. Our destination was south to the Santo Tomas Valley, one of Mexico’s wine regions. An option is to turn at Santo Tomas and head out to the Pacific to Punta Cabras.
A quick stop for lunch. Our first taste of authentic Mexican food at a roadside taco stand, chicken tostadas with fresh guacamole and salsa.
Continuing south on Mex 1 into El Rosario, we were greeted by two Federales with guns standing by a Hummer, one of many military checkpoints along our travels. A simple “lo siento, yo no hablo español,” will usually get them to switch to English if they speak it. Otherwise, they ask two questions, “Where are you coming from?” and “Where are you going?” They might ask to look at the contents of your truck and camper.
Possession of firearms and ammunition is illegal, and possession of drugs is also a severe crime. It is a good idea to store medications in the prescribed-labeled container. Safety is the most asked question concerning Baja. Just know the military checkpoints are there to keep the roads safe.
A quick stop in El Rosario to fill up with fuel. Known as the “gas gap,” there might be no fuel available for the next 195 miles.
We headed south from El Rosario to camp for the night at the abandoned onyx mine called El Marmol. The access road is 10 miles west of Catavina off Mex 1, a dirt road with some wash-boarding. The night sky void of light pollution was incredible. Check out the old schoolhouse built entirely of onyx. The GPS location is 29.97497, -114.80862
Cataviña is a small town. There is no grocery store. We did spot a private vendor selling gasoline from a 55-gallon drum at $9 US per gallon.
There is a beautiful hotel Mission Santa Maria. We stopped in and had a delicious lunch with local wine. The area is a combination of gigantic granite boulders, and the biggest cactus I have ever seen includes unique vegetation endemic to the region.
We stopped to visit the cave paintings, which are said to be 10,000 years old. The paintings depict the way of life of the indigenous people in the region. The hike is at mile marker 176. Watch out for the cholla cactus if you bring your dog.
We camped in the cactus forest at 29.70630, -114.81951
Catavina to the Pacific coast is an option. The entry road starts approximately 10 kilometers north of Catavina off Mex 1. The dirt road, which winds its way up and around, steep climbs, and wash-board roads, is best suited for 4WD trucks with lighter campers. Ranchos, wildlife and scenic landscape, provide a Baja experience. The route eventually terminates at Bahia Santa Rosalillita. The rewards for making this trek are remote campsites and beautiful, isolated beaches.
Beach camping at 28.95533, -114.53545 and 28.87579, -114.40991
On a side note, a truck in our group lost a front caliper bolt on this side trip. We were able to get this repaired after locating a guy who knew a guy with a machine lathe who turned a thread on a similar bolt. Welcome to your Baja adventure.
After the rugged tour of dust and bumpy roads along the Pacific, we started to feel like we reached our quota for exploration. We were glad to see the pavement and the town of Guerrero Negro, where we filled up our tanks with water and fuel and did laundry and groceries.
Water is not hard to find in Baja. We regularly topped up the camper tank with fresh water at purified water stations along our travels.
We all opted to stay at the Malarrimo hotel for the hot showers. Later we enjoyed a night sharing stories and trying to order everything in Spanish at the hotel restaurant. We laughed at our unofficial names of all the desert vegetation; pipe cleaner cactus, Micky Mouse-ear cactus, arthritis cactus.
Next stop, Bahia Tortugas.
If you take this option, you have now entered Baja Sur. When you enter the southern border, an official may check your tourist permit. An unofficial looking man will take a few pesos and spray your tires with disinfectant.
Camping on the beach in Bahia Tortugas 27.63184, -114.82912
The drive on Mex 1 into San Ignacio included narrow paved roads and tippy ditches. Drive with caution and stay alert.
The Jesuits founded mission San Ignacio in 1728. The area proved to be highly productive agriculturally and the base for Jesuit expansion in the central peninsula. The impressive church and museum in the center square is free to tour and is in use today by the local people.
Camping 27.29688, -114.89979
Santa Rosalía is a cool place, principally because of its history. In town is a 100-year-old bakery. Bird watcher’s head to the pier to update your list. Old locomotives are everywhere. If you like old factories, stop and visit the copper smelting facility located in the middle of town.
All the gas stations in Baja are full serve. My advice is to jump out and make sure they zero the pumps, especially in Santa Rosalía!
Mulegé is a fun, busy town with small streets and a craft brewery, stop in for a Cerveza. Shops, water, and a coin-operated laundromat are available.
South from town on Mex 1 is Bahía Concepción and camping at El Requesón. The snorkeling and kayaking are excellent, and there is a small island to hike. The pit toilets are run down but work! The entrance is just north of mile marker 92 on Mex 1.
Additional remote beach camping option in Bahía Concepción, check out 26.55231, -111. 71129
Loreto, there’s an appeal in Loreto we can’t put our finger on. It’s a perfect mix of interest to war-rant a few days of exploring. The RV park Rivera del Mar is owned by Mrs. Yollanda and Mrs. Yollanda, a mother-daughter team. The roosters can’t tell time here, but the clean showers, hot water, wi-fi, and BBQ make up for it. Visit the center square and sights. When a cruise ship is in, the square is full of music and street performers. An ATM in the square worked for additional pesos we spent in the local shops.
A roughly graded dirt road just south of Loreto is Agua Verde is of the more popular overland routes in Baja. The road winds through the desert, and a mountain pass before tight turns down a narrow canyon to the bay. Camping is available on the beach. If you take this option, the roads are narrow and rough and one way in and out.
After a few days of relaxing with the group, we set out alone to head north and to the Truck Camper Adventure Rally. The plan was to drive north on Mex 1 to Laguna Chapala and take the new highway up the coast to San Felipe.
Punts Willard or Papa Fernandez, high clearance is required for access to this secluded bay. It does not look like much driving past the storage yard of old trucks and washing machines. When you arrive at the gate, someone will unlock it. The drive over the hill and down into the bay is rough. Large campers with 4WD can make it. The bay overlooking the Sea of Cortez is beautiful. We watched the sunset while dolphins skirted the bay with hundreds of pelicans above. In Baja, you can’t make this stuff up, it happens!
Papa Fernandez tranquil bay camping 29.82902, -114.40295
The drive north on Mex 5 has lots of opportunities with camping up to San Felipe. For our last night in Baja, we stopped at the RV park, Villa Marina Campo and sat in the bar overlooking the Sea of Cortez, and watched the Super-bowl. The next day we drove north on Mex 5 and into Mexicali to cross the border into the US.
After a month on the peninsula, we never felt unsafe at any time during our travels. Baja is intriguing in so many ways, and easy to explore in a truck camper. A month trip or a two-week trip sounds like enough time, but once in Baja, you wish you could stay longer.
As a guest in Mexico, you are subject to the culture, laws, and language. Be respectful during your travels and a responsible steward for the places we have the privilege of visiting; you may find yourself having a great time and quickly planning another trip.