Baja: The Adventure Begins

May 6, 2021 by The Old Gringo

As I wrote in last month’s issue, my wife and I, along with two other couples, decided to ‘tour’ Baja California by automobile. This is my report:

Friday morning, the 12th of March, 2021, dawned dreary and wet. Consider that Peñasco receives only an average of 3.1” of rainfall a year, this was a bit unexpected. An inauspicious beginning to our adventure, but if you are an ‘adventure’ traveler, a little rain doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm. With our vehicles packed with essentials (French Vanilla Coffee Creamer anyone?) for what we had decided would be about a month-long excursion, we were fueled up and ready to go at 9:00 a.m.

We headed out on Highway 2 from Peñasco, going to San Felipe, on the east coast of Baja, roughly the mirror opposite of where Peñasco is on the west mainland. The rain stopped before we got out of town and the sun shone brightly as we motored along. With nothing to recommend i, the road to San Felipe is flat and mostly boring, but it is in great condition, so we made it to San Felipe with a fuel stop in Guadalupe Victoria, in a little over five hours. We were stopped once at a checkpoint leaving Sonora and entering Baja California Norte. The soldiers were pleasant, but thorough. One of my friends had brought along a large Ziploc bag stuffed with lots of vitamin pills and food supplements. Add to that the FM walkie-talkies that we all carried for over the road communications between vehicles and, well, you can imagine the interest it sparked on the part of the soldiers! After explaining things to the comandante, we were allowed to continue without further delay.

Arriving in San Felipe, we checked in at our hotel (George’s, on Avenida Mar de Cortes Sur). Finding the restaurant closed, we decided to visit the Malecon (it means ‘pier,’ in Spanish, now used to refer to the beachfront area where commerce and beach goers visit the sea) and get some lunch. Like the Malecon in Peñasco, there are numerous curio shops, cafes and bars from which to choose. We ended up in El Kikiriki, next to the Sweet Spot. Then the skies opened up!

Considering we were under a palapa type roof, we should not have been surprised when our waiter brought pails to catch the water coming through all around us. We adjusted our table and chairs to a dry spot, had a great lunch and a few cervezas. As we prepared to return to our hotel, we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow over the Sea of Cortez.

If I could describe San Felipe in terms most readers would understand, I’d have to compare it to Puerto Peñasco of 30 years ago. It’s a small town (about 19,000 people) where fishing and agriculture are the predominant means of making a living, with a large and growing tourism component. Most visitors are from points north…the states, mostly California.

Since we were there about a week or two before Semana Santa (All Saints Week, pre-Easter), the town was full of vacationers, mostly Mexican families who did all of the things most people do when vacationing in a beachfront town…riding quads and dune buggies all over the place, and setting up places to sit on the beach. It was noisy and raucous. If I were to go again, I’d have gotten a hotel off the Malecon…far off.

While we ate lunch and breakfast at places on the Malecon (Rosita’s is great breakfast place at the far north end of the Malecon) we treated ourselves to a superb dinner at La Vaquita, one of the best restaurants in town, also at the northern end of the Malecon. The menu is diverse, the food tasty, well presented, the atmosphere is friendly and festive.

Since our goal was not so much to visit the beach or to celebrate Semana Santa, we checked out the town proper and, after two nights at George’s, hit the road for our next destination.

We had checked the road conditions before departing Peñasco, because the last time any of us had been on Mexico Route 5, some three years ago, it was pretty bad due to ongoing construction as well as the odd occurrence of a hurricane and torrential rain. I am happy to report that the road south out of San Felipe is in excellent condition! Highway speeds (+) are the norm and we left San Felipe after breakfast and cruised handily down the coast, enjoying the beauty of the Sea of Cortez as we drove. 

Along the way, we made a couple of stops to visit a few places that I had flown into years ago, just for the heck of it. We stopped for fuel at Alfonsina’s (a camping/hotel area with a general store right on Highway 5, near Gonzaga Bay (Bahia San Luis Gonzaga) and Guerrero Negro, a city on the west coast of Baja Norte that is a popular whale watching destination. Hotels abound in Guerrero Negro, so unless you are traveling during Semana Santa, or some other holiday, you won’t have a problem finding a nice place to stay that will fit any budget.

Whale watching is the top draw to this town of about 15,000 people, but we had other plans for whale watching. After stopping at another check point and having the underside of our vehicles sprayed with insecticide (automatic, just drive over the spray nozzles, 20 pesos per vehicle), which is required as you enter Baja California Sur (south) as we continued motoring across the peninsula toward or next stop…San Ignacio.

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