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Making Baja Fun

by Joyce Jackson Pfleger

 

I have lived in Baja for many years. They say experience is the best teacher, so understanding that, I would like to share some things about Baja that should make your visit here easier and even more fun.

 

The most important thing  I feel is necessary to get along here is to have the ability to communicate.  Make it a personal goal to learn beginner Spanish. There are many CDís and tapes on the market, that make it fun and easy to learn. Once youíve mastered that, you will be able to carry on a passable conversation in any of the areas of Baja you would love to explore, but may be afraid to because of your lack of understanding.  JUST DO IT. Then buy yourself a pocket Spanish/English Dictionary to carry with you; just in case.

 

I have to confess I still donít speak Spanish perfectly, but I keep trying and I have never met a Mexican who is rude to me because I donít know all the phrase structures, irregular verbs, past, present and future tense, and it goes on and on. But I can carry on a conversation with anyone here and we understand each other. Well most of the time...

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GETTING THERE

There are many ways to reach your destination in Baja.

The way we first arrived was on our sailboat in 1991. Thatís a great way to travel, but if you want to see the towns and landscape, maybe you should drive.

Lets talk about driving Baja.  I will condense the guidelines for this;

 

Best time of year to drive;  After November 1st and before June 31st.  Reason---The weather is at itís best then. Summer Temperatures inland can reach 110 degrees F (43 degrees C) , but not often, fortunately. An afternoon thunderstorm can also make some roads rivers for a while. So plan to drive when I suggest. Occasionally California will share some winter rains with northern Baja, which play dirty tricks on the transpeninsular highway, so it is always prudent to check weather forecasts any time of the year. You just canít trust Mother Nature completely can you?

 

The drive down the Baja is beautiful and ever changing. The roads are a bit narrow, but safe to drive. Although I donít recommend driving after dark. There are livestock that love to walk onto the highway at night. You may get to see one laying along the road after coming in contact with someone who drove at night. Also the roads can change from smooth to full of pot holes quickly. It is not worth the risk of ruining a tire or worse.

 

You need to prepare for the road trip carefully, as it can be a long distance between towns.  Bring a good Baja map, flashlight, tools, water and food. AND  (TOILET PAPER)

There are places to eat along the way, but  you may not find them when you want to eat something.

Make sure your tires are in good repair and your car is mechanically sound. Having a few spare parts for your car is not a bad idea.

 

You will need  either a pass port,  birth certificate, voters card,  or certificate of naturalization. A drivers license isnít enough. You must carry a tourist card  (actually a slip of paper) while in Mexico, which you can obtain from the Mexican Consulate, some travel agencies, at the border, or if flying; on the plane. It will allow you to stay in Mexico up to 180 days and must be used within 90 days of issuance. You must surrender this paper at the border upon leaving Mexico. This paper must be validated at the first immigration office after you cross the border. If flying, immigration will validate it at your first stop. If you have any question, call your local Mexican consulate office for more details.

 

 

 Buy Mexican Auto Insurance before you cross that border. It is required and your USA insurance is not valid in Baja. There is an emergency service provided by the Mexican government called the Green Angels that travel the roads if you do have a breakdown.

The truckers do drive fast, but they are usually safe drivers.  They will signal with the left turn signal when they can see ahead that it is safe for you to pass, if you do want to drive faster than they do. They will also flash their headlights if there are cows on the road ahead.

 

In towns watch for speed bumps. ďTopesĒ can be wicked if you are going too fast.  Also beware at intersections; I think Baja is where the term ďCalifornia stopsĒ originated.

Some people think there are no traffic laws in Baja. This is not true. There are seat belt laws also. If you break the law you can expect to be stopped if caught. I do not agree with  the old policy of paying the officer instead of going to the police station to pay the fine. This only encourages dishonesty among them. Would you try this in the USA?

 

Of course this is only my opinion, and everyone has one.  The Mexican Government is trying to stop the practice of  police collecting the fines themselves. (Mordida.)

If you do get stopped by a traffic cop, be polite, smile, and be patient.  We live here year round and drive obediently. In the past five years I have been fined once for not wearing a seat belt. If you do break the law the police will take your license and you will have to go to the police station to get it back after you pay the fine.

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YOU WANT TO FLY?

OK...Flights are daily to  Loreto, La Paz  and Los Cabos. The cheapest deals on some of the airlines are found on line. But you can call the airlines direct or contact your travel agent.

 

The following is a list of  Airlines and where they serve.

 

ALASKA AIRLINES, 1-800-252-7522..At this time they fly into Los Cabos from

all west coast major cities.

 

AMERICA WEST, 1-800-363-2597,  into Los Cabos from  Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Phoenix.

 

AERO CALIFORNIA, 1-800-445-9820, to Loreto, La Paz and Los Cabos, from LA. Tijuana to La Paz.

 

AERO MEXICO,  1-800-237-6639, Tijuana or Tuscon to La Paz, San Diego to Los Cabos

 

MEXICANA, 1-800-531-7921, LA and Denver to Los Cabos

 

Los Cabos International Airport is 10 miles north of San Jose del Cabo, and close to 25 miles from Cabo San Lucas. Ground transportation is at the airport.

If you are planning to stay in La Paz and fly into Los Cabos, you may arrange for a rental car prior to your visit. Rental cars vary in price. You may get a better price if you pre-arrange it on the Internet or a rental agency.

OR there are buses that run from San Jose.  The bus is the cheapest, of course, and takes about three and one half hours. Take the one that runs through the town of Todos Santos, it is faster, with less stops. Ten buses run from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm daily. I have taken the bus many times, and it was a fun adventure. In fact my husband and I took the bus the entire length of the peninsula once, and I might add, that was REALLY an adventure. If you decide to take the bus for more then a few hours, you want to take drinking water and snacks. ( AND YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER).

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BUS SERVICE from the USA.

Greyhound runs from Los Angeles and San Diego to Tijuana.

Tijuana to Los Cabos; Three companies run daily. The trip usually takes about 24 hours. Call the Tijuana  terminal for schedules and rates from the USA; 01152-(664) 626-7101.

These buses are modern, clean and some have movies too.

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MONEY;

At this time Jan 2003, the exchange rate has been staying at close to ten pesos to one dollar. Good for Gringos, bad for Mexicans. But they have learned to raise their prices in some stores to help even it out.  WOULDNíT YOU?

Most towns accept US dollars. Just donít  try and pay for a $2.00 item with a hundred dollar bill. For that matter, in small towns donít try and pay for it with a ten dollar bill.

Better start your trip with some pesos to be safe. Or at least have lots of  small bills along in US dollars. That way when they donít have change you will.  Exchange rates in Baja are best at Bital Banks or large grocery stores. Money exchanges are conveniently located in most large towns and post the current exchange rate. Be careful using credit cards, Some have been reported eaten by cash machines and sometimes your bank charges exchange rates and a surcharge. Check with your bank, or Credit card co. Travelers Checks are easily cashed at banks, but you must show them your passport or proper identification.  If you are staying in a large motel, they sometimes offer a fair deal for your dollar exchange. 

Keep your possessions in a safe place. Most hotels offer a security safe for your convenience.

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MEDICAL CONCERNS

No shots are required. WHEW!  Some people get a stomach ache when traveling to a foreign country. The water in Baja is reported to be safe. Wells provide most of the water from in the mountains. ALTHOUGH, I drink bottled water, as I am one of those people with a touchy stomach. I get a stomach ache when I travel to the USA....I would not even brush my teeth with tap water in Cabo San Lucas..

Some travelers take a preventative of Pepto Bismo and carry Imodium.  The mistake most travelers make while here is not drinking enough water, and getting too much sun. Dehydration is common for Gringos. You must drink lots of water, especially if you drink alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates you...Use common sense and you will be fine. We have learned to never eat at a restaurant where there are lots of flies, or at an out door stand where the dust is blowing all over the food.  Some germs are carried by those two culprits.

 

I have had food poisoning once in my life and that was not fun. But I did experience the hospital in La Paz for three days and had good care. The room was clean and private. The Drs. were caring and thorough. The bill was $1100.00US. That included x-rays and all tests.

There are hospitals in Tijuana, Ensenada, Guerrero Negro, Santa Rosalia, Ciudad Constitution, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. They will expect payment  in full when you leave, and do take credit cards. Get a receipt when you leave and turn it into your Insurance Co. at home. Better yet call your insurance company prior to traveling and ask them what the policy is.

Pharmacies sell almost everything over the counter without a prescription. Except narcotics, of course.

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ACTIVITIES AROUND LA PAZ

I am going to focus on La Paz, because this is  ( in my opinion) the best place to be in Baja...

La Paz is located on a large bay approximately 130 miles north of the southern tip of Baja.  It was founded by Hernan Cortez  in 1535, but he only lasted a year. Many others tried to settle  here over the years finding the environment hostile... Finally the first permanent settlement was established in 1811 and in 1830 La Paz became the capital of Baja California Sur. As far as a correct number of population; it seems to vary depending on whose counting. But somewhere around  200,000 give or take a few. SURPRISED?

 

La Paz has many beautiful beaches, camping areas, great fishing, scuba diving, sailing, mountain biking, golfing.  Everything you could want to do except snow skiing!

islands nearby, and  itís own Carnival in Feb. The Malacon (waterfront) has recently been remodeled and has a beautiful walkway that offers magnificent sunsets and romantic evening strolls. By day it is a perfect way to start your morning with a brisk walk while enjoying the flotilla of cruising boats that stop in the bay on their way to many worldly destinations. The opposite side of the street offers a wide array of shops and the best ice cream store on the continent.  I am a devout ice cream eater, and I have never had better anywhere than La Fuente.

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WATER SPORTS NEAR LA PAZ

From our terrace we can see the mountains of the peninsula across the bay stretching to the  Island of Espiritu Santo. A bit further North  is the small island of Los Islotes.

There are many dive operations in La Paz and privately owned Pangas  (Mexican fast boat) that offer daily excursions to the Islands. You can rent gear from dive shops on the Malacon or there are several in the downtown area. Many dive sites  are only a half hour ride from La Paz bay.  There are three wrecks nearby to explore while scuba diving. Or you can go on up to Los Islotes and share the water with the Sea Lions. Last time we were out two playful pups stayed near us turning somersaults and showing off.  There are also many varieties of colorful reef fish to watch. The entertainment is endless making it hard to leave. In some of the bays on the larger island  there are areas to explore either snorkeling or diving. The sea is filled with life. The warmest water is from May to end of November.

 

Fishing is year round in the Sea of Cortez.  Big game fish are just waiting for you to offer them something to chase.  We usually fish for Dorado, Yellowtail, Sierra  and Bonito. We leave the big game fishing for the trophy hunters. Believe me there are fish out there year round. I will tell you  that in the late spring and early fall they seem to be more plentiful.  Especially around Isla Cerralvo. We catch many Dorado in that area from late spring to late summer. During the winter we catch mostly Sierra in different areas near here. We bought a Mexican Panga a few years ago and havenít been a bit sorry.

 

Another good snorkeling area that you can drive or take a city bus to is Balandra. Along the way, if you are interested is a small camp where they have a pod of dolphins in a pen. I have mixed emotions about penning them up, but they seem to be well cared for. They offer an hour, twice a day taking people into the water with the Dolphins and letting them interact with them. Of course it is not free. But we took our Grandkids there recently and they had a wonderful experience. They said when they were in Hawaii swimming with the Dolphins; it wasnít as much fun.

 

There are kayaks for rent from a couple of well established business in La Paz. They offer  different tours. Contact Baja Expeditions or Mar Y Aventuras.  You should be able to find them on the Internet. Or talk to a travel agent.

 

Whale watching trips can be arranged  January through March when they migrate down the Pacific Coast.  These can be arranged through the resort or motel where you are staying.

 

Windsurfing is popular at Los Barilles, about an hour drive from La Paz.  The winds can blow 15 to 30 knots there during the winter months making it a  windsurfing capital of Baja. A center is located in Los Barilles where you can arrange instruction, equipment and accommodation. Rental equipment is available.

 

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LAND ACTIVITIES

MOUNTAIN BIKING BAJA

Some bike rental shops are available in La Paz. But if you bring your own bike down, you will find many areas available for exploration. Be sure to have proper maps, water and food. And let someone know your route and when to expect you back. There are many back country single track, fire roads, double track and dirt roads in Baja to ride.  We ride almost every day.

CAVE PAINTINGS

A guide can be arranged in La Paz to go along. The drive is long and may require an overnight stay in the town of San Ignacio. The paintings are in the mountains north of town in the Sierra de San Francisco. Some other paintings can be found, with a guide from Mulege, Santa Rosalia, Loreto and Todo Santos.

HIKING

We like to drive to an area where it looks interesting and not too brushy and go in about an hour, have a picnic and then hike out. We see different rock formations each way. Be sure to wear good boots, hat, sunscreen, and carry enough water. There seem to be trails all over. Keep an eye open for the rattlesnake. We hike often, but seldom see them. Just remember they are out there.

VAN TOURS

Sightseeing trips are available from La Paz. Check with your motel.

MUSEUMS

 

There are two in La Paz.  One is  the Museo de Antropologia located on 5th of Mayo and Altamirano Streets. It is  quite interesting and offers a history of Baja California on three floors.  There are fossils, minerals, Indian Artifacts, maps of rock painting sites and lots of other items on display. Well worth the time spent. A donation is all thatís required to enter.

 

A new attraction has recently opened in La Paz. It is the Serpentarian. Many species have been collected over the years by prominent Herpetologists living in La Paz.

It is located in the LaPosada area. Ask directions after you arrive in La Paz.

 

 

THE WEATHER        

 

This is our favorite...The sun shines in La Paz most of the year. The annual rainfall is only about 6 inches on an average. That happens usually during the summer months of Aug. and Sept.  Cabo typically gets a bit more as the rain hangs up on the mountains between Cabo and La Paz.  This area is becoming more and more popular because of the warmer, dryer climate and the vast array of recreation offered here.

 

 

HAPPY TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES

 

A final note. Donít let the worry warts in your life scare you from seeking the fun you have been dreaming of.  Baja is probably the safest place in the world right now. After all, who wants to take it back, again??? There are no major cities here to destroy. No major factories, nuclear plants or government buildings. Just lots of lazy days and easy living.

Other Resources to check - click below:

Mexico Travel;  Mexican travel information you'll need to help plan your next Mexican vacation to paradise.

URL: http://www.mexicotravel101.com/

 

 

 

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Please contact us today:

Joyce Pfleger
PO Box 8229
Portland, Oregon  97207

Email:   Joyce@baja-escape.net

 

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