As impressed as I was with the start of our journey through Mexico’s Northern Baja, the Baja California Sur Territory has been so impressive that it commanded two blog posts. In Part 1, I will be talking about our travels starting south of Guerrero Negro down to Punta Conejo, our last stop before reaching La Paz. I must say, although we didn’t want to find ourselves dependent on a single guidebook to navigate our adventures, the one we have been using has been a great resource for us. It’s called “Traveler’s Guide to Camping Mexico’s Baja” by Mike and Terry Church, and I would highly recommend it to anyone planning to travel Baja with a vehicle. With some advice from this book, we guided ourselves south with stops at Bahia Asunción, Punta Abreojos, Mulege, Bahia Concepcion, Loreto, Agua Verde and Punta Conejo. We spent about 3 weeks venturing through this section of Baja, and honestly, I could have easily spent 3 months here.
Bahia Asuncion & Punta Abreojos
As we cruised down Baja’s Route 1(or Mex 1), our calendar was wide open and our plans were yet to be made. With the world of Baja as our oyster, we glanced at our guidebook and decided to make a random adventure to the pacific coast to a village called Bahia Asuncion. It was a long cruise out, the road was decent, and we made it by early afternoon. An interesting little Baja town. There was a nice welcome sign as you entered the town, but other then that, the town didn’t seem to offer much. The local business is heavily focused around fishing and lobstering, so there is decent shore fishing, and I am sure if you found yourself a boat you could do quite well. Unfortunately, like many other Baja locations, cleanliness wasn’t their forte. We spent a single night at the only RV park in town and were on our way the following day.
From there we cruised down the coast to the town of Punta Abreojos. This was our first off-road adventure of the trip, and it was wild for us. Poppins is not a 4×4, and we didn’t know what the condition of the road would be like, but we forged on regardless. White knuckling the entire way we powered through the rough, washer board type road, barreling through some soft spots that made my heart skip a beat more than once. We came up on a few road forks with no signs, but followed our gut and after about 2 hours finally saw the town on the horizon. This small fishing village was much like Asuncion. Fishing boats lined the beach, and the town consisted of two main roads with some markets and restaurants. Just outside of town was a great little spot called Campo Rene, where we would spend the next few days.
Campo Rene is a RV park situated on the bank of Estero el Coyote. It’s a large lot with some cabanas for rent, as well as a few palapa shelters along the shore of the Estero. There is also a great little restaurant which was moderately priced, and the food was outstanding. The Estero was huge and would fill to the brim at high tide, but at low tide would almost completely empty out. Turned out to be a great little spot for us to utilize our inflatable kayak for the first time (thanks Char!). We even did some fishing and both caught our first fish of the trip (although too small to keep). On top of all that, we were a short walk away from a massive beach along the pacific coast. It must have been 100 meters wide and stretch into the distance as far as the eye could see, without a soul in site. This was also the first stop where we began to learn how friendly everyone is throughout Baja. We made friends with a few groups that were staying there, little did we know how these relationships would expand over the following weeks. We hung for a couple days, took some advice from our new friends, and began our journey southbound, towards Mulegè.
Mulegè was the first developed town we came across that had a large gringo population. This town is nestled in a valley along a river bank that leads into the Sea of Cortez. As you enter through the welcoming arch, you are greeted with lots of shops, markets and little restaurants. Our new friends Chris & Jeanie that we met at Punta Abreojos suggested we hang around the town for the Sunday evening festivities. They told us of a local’s graduation party with some live music at one of the bars. They said they were friends with the owner, Bob, and to say hello for them, so we proceeded to explore. Problem was we couldn’t recall the name of the bar.
If you have ever navigated a Mexican town, you may be aware how hard it can be to follow directions. Streets crisscross at times with no rhyme or reason, turn from two lanes to one way streets out of nowhere, and support 2-way traffic on streets too narrow for large trucks. After some whirl-wind travel through the narrow streets, we decided to just pull into the next bar we saw.
The place we ended up was Carlos Racing Bar, cool little spot along the Rìo Santa Rosalìa. We weren’t sure if it was the place we were told to go, so we sat enjoyed some margaritas, wondering if this could be the spot. The only employee at the time was a female bartender, obviously not Bob. Beyond a family of Americans at the table next to us, the place was empty. An older American stumbled into the bar and got himself a beer, and seeming like he needed a friend, we offered him a seat at our table. After about 20 minutes of chatting about our travels and where we were all from, he introduced himself as Bob, and welcomed us to his bar.
After meeting Bob, we met the family at the table next to us. Turns out, their son had just graduated, and they were having a band play at the bar that night to celebrate. So, despite our best effort to get lost in this Mexican village, we fell right into the place we were looking for. We posted up at Don Chano RV Park for the evening and blended ourselves in with the locals for the evening. That night we met all the expat locals, who all knew Chris and Jeanie, and were all extremely warm and welcoming. They told us of the best spots to camp on the beach down in Bahia Concepcion, and of the taco Tuesday party we couldn’t miss out on. After a night of fun and new friends, we were off to Bahia Concepcion.
Bahia Concepcion was the first destination that felt like a tropical paradise vacation. It is a smaller bay on the Sea of Cortez just south of Mulegè with lots of small uninhabited islands offshore. Within the bay there are lots of smaller little coves, creating ideal camping locations up and down the coastline. There are about 10 locations you can choose from for beach camping, all with their own touch of character depending on what appeals to you. We chose to settle ourselves down at El Coyote, which was one of the larger bays you could camp at. We found ourselves a nice little palapa, parked the truck beside it and spent a week only a few feet from the water.
The water was crystal clear and reflected a tropical aqua marine glow from the white sand beneath it. It was a perfect place for kayaking, swimming, or just reading a book with the waves crashing at your feet. We made friends with our neighbor, Brett, and spent much of the week enjoying his quick wit and tales from his life of exploring the Baja. (He makes a really mean clam chowder too!) There is certainly much to be learned from the old souls we meet along the way.
Fortunately, we were there on a Tuesday and got to experience the infamous taco Tuesday celebration at Buenaventura. This was another one of the coves south of El Coyote, that had a little bar/restaurant situated along the water. Every Tuesday they have a local rock & roll band play while they serve up some of the most delicious tacos you can find on the entire Baja. We had a blast drinking beers in the sun with all the local friends we had just made up in Mulegè. If you find yourself in this part of the world, put this on your to-do list for sure (if you’re into that sort of thing…).
A weeklong stay wouldn’t have been complete without learning another valuable lesson. If you are familiar with the tides and know your limits, living at the waters edge can be an experience like none other. Well I consider myself savvy when it comes to the ocean, and made sure to not put the truck in a precarious situation with the tides. What I didn’t foresee was a full moon tide mixed together with a minor storm surge from the Santa Ana winds.
Lindsey and I must have been out cold, because neither of us seemed to notice the waves crashing against Poppins tires in the early morning hours. When we woke up around 7am, we opened the door to the water line from the waves having passed under and clear to the other side of the truck. The tires were buried down about 4 inches in the sand, and our palapa got hit hard. Anything we had left out was either washed away or buried in sand and salt water. My inflatable kayak even took itself for an unmanned ride, luckily Brett woke at 5am and could swim out to rescue it for us. All-in-all we didn’t suffer much damage that couldn’t be recovered or cleaned up. Felt like we dodged a bullet, certainly could have been worse. We packed up our soaked, sandy belongings, blasted Poppins out of the sand and set out on our way.
Loreto & San Javier
Loreto was the largest city we visited since heading south of Ensenada. It had many paved roads complete with larger stores and markets, even an AutoZone. At first, we figured we would just stop through for lunch, but after some brief exploration, we decided to stay a couple days and get to know the town a bit. There was a nice RV park close to the center of town where we posted up. We needed a spot away from the beach so we could dry out and clean up after our soggy departure from Bahia Concepcion.
Loreto was one of the cleanest towns we have visited in Baja. In the center of the downtown area you find lots of little shops and tons of restaurants. We found ourselves a great little spot located on the main square of the town and had a fantastic lunch. Being a Friday evening only weeks before Christmas, the town was lively. They set up a stage in the main square and had a free concert that night. The band, although I can’t recall their name, was quite good. We even ran into some friends we had made the previous week at El Coyote, Phil & Rosie. These two started their travel in the Yukon territory south of Alaska, and have biked their way down. The plan to continue a similar path as us toward South America, all via bicycle…wild.
A short ride into the mountains outside of Loreto, we decided to make a little day trip to the small mountain town of San Javier. After another beautiful winding mountain road, you come to this small village. The town is centered around the Misiòn San Francisco Javier, which is the only mission on the Baja that still standing and has not been rebuilt. Massive and incredibly old, standing inside in front of the towering gold alter connects you with the true heart of Baja. (maybe add a brief sentence about history?) It was good to take some time and explore the historical side of Baja, even if its only for an hour.
The next day I spent walking the streets of the town exploring different bars and restaurants. Lots of good locations, but my favorite spot was Restaurant San Javier. Tucked away down a side street off Mateos (the water front street), Luis and his prometida de todo vida run a great little second floor bar restaurant and make the best margaritas in town. The town also has a small marina filled with many boats available for fishing charters. Front and center along the water is the largest of the hotels. Very nice place with an upscale bar & restaurant, along with a great pool and outdoor bar. Seems to be a vacation destination for many, as well as a popular spot for ex-pats to spend their winters. I could see myself going back here, maybe when I am a bit older, and enjoying a nice vacation.
When we left Loreto we weren’t exactly sure what our next stop would be. We wanted something secluded on the beach, but also sheltered from the wind. We drove south down Mex 1 and pulled off at a few locations mentioned on our guidebook, but none fit the bill. Remembering some advice from a friend we made in Mulegè (thanks Scott!), we decided we would head towards a spot on the Sea of Cortez called Agua Verde. We could be sure it would be secluded, since the only way to get there was 26 miles down a dirt road descending almost 2000 ft.
As we drove away from route 1 towards the village, the landscape turned from standard Baja desert to something you would see when driving in the Arizona desert to Sedona. Not quite as red, but the mountains would begin as steep hills then vertical rock faces would climb towards the sky. We kept on through these amazing canyons until we came to the top of the descent to the beach. The road was narrow and rough and was carved along the mountainside, winding down to the eventual bottom. Doing my best to focus on the road as we made our descent, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the incredible views of the mountains growing out of the sea. Twice I had to stop, and not for the view, but to ensure I didn’t run over the massive tarantulas crossing out path. I had never seen these creatures in the wild before, massive and hairy, slowing crawling their way across the road, very cool.
We finally made it to the village, which was made up of maybe 20 locals spread out in shacks among the trees. Seeming a little lost, a local pointed us in the direction of where we could camp. There was one long beach, maybe a half mile, that opened to a beautiful cove protected from wind by a peninsula that stuck out to the north. Behind the beach, seeming as though it was protecting this beautiful spot, big green mountains towered over the village. It looked like something you would expect to see in the jungles of Costa Rica, or like the island from Jurassic Park. Along the beach there were little spots where you could nestle yourself and set up camp. Unfortunately, all the best spots required a 4-wheel drive vehicle for access, so we were limited to one spot in the corner of the beach, but that worked out just fine.
Agua Verde turned out to be one of my favorite spots. There was a reef along the north side of the cove that was great for snorkeling. Being protected from the wind, the cove never got to rough so it was also great for kayaking. The first day I was there I met a local and made a deal with him for bait. He gave me a bunch of squid and I would give him half of whatever I caught. This local also spoke zero English, so it was my first situation where I had to use the Spanish I had been practicing. Still have a long way to go, but I think I held my own. I went out and fished from the kayak and did well. Caught 4 good size fish for dinner (Trigger Fish), a few little guys I threw back, and even a blow fish. The blowfish was funny, all puffed up and spiky, had to cut the line to get him off.
After a couple days in our own private paradise, we decided to keep moving south. This time, our destination was Punta Conejo, which would be our last stop before making it to La Paz and exploring the southern loop of Baja.
We were lucky to have made the friends we did, because without their suggestion to visit Conejo, we would have never gone. The journey from Agua Verde to Punta Conejo was a long one. The ascent out of Agua Verde up the rugged cliffside took us an hour and a half or so. One of the most serene, beautiful drives of the trip thus far. We finally connected back with Mex 1 and headed west back to the pacific coast. With our sights set on Punta Conjeo, we passed through Ciudad Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitution and fled south.
The road out to Conejo from Mex 1 starts at a small dirt outlet along the highway. The sign is old, rusted, and covered with stickers concealing the destination, so not of much help. Luckily our trusty guidebook let us know that the road was located at Km 80. It was a 10-mile-long dirt road, a little soft at points, and a bit of washer board, but not too bad. After 25 minutes or so, we came over a hillside and the view opened to the Pacific Ocean. A lighthouse sat at the point where some surfers set up camp, and further south you could cross the arroyo leading to the main camping area.
There is no town here, nor are there really any facilities beyond a big water bin. The campgrounds are scattered among small bushes up and down the coast line. Between the campsites and the ocean rose windswept sand dunes which lead into the most pristine, soft, white sand beach we have seen. There were maybe 10 other groups camping among the bushes, but its was spread out enough to feel as though you were alone in this little pacific paradise. For surfers, this spot is prime. The break just north of the lighthouse can run for what seems like ½ mile. Serene, beautiful, unpopulated, and there aren’t any locals trying to sell things, you can’t beat it.
We found a great little spot nuzzled up in the bushes and immediately got Poppins stuck in the sand. Lucky for us we had some neighbors close by that were just pulling in who towed us out. We got to talking to ‘em and they told their own story of their first visit to Conejo and their first experience getting stuck in the sand. Turns out it’s a right of passage of sorts. And wouldn’t ya know it, this couple happen to live in Mulegè, and they are good friends with all the new friends we had just made. The world always will show you how small it really is.
The sunset we saw here on our first evening was beyond incredible. It was one of those sunsets that makes you warm inside, maybe even tear up a little bit. As though Bob Ross had a chance to paint the sky and brush it full of klondike red, tangerine orange, midnight blue, and a touch of golden yellow. A happy little sunset. As we stared in awe, we wished we could stay forever. The original plan of an overnight stay quickly turned into two days, but we couldn’t stretch it any further. We had plans to visit some new friends in Los Barriles, so we had to be on our way, but Conejo is most certainly on the list of places to revisit to get our fill.
Baja Sur Part 1
We had now been on the road in Mexico for over a month, and what a month it had been. One amazing adventure after another. I couldn’t have been more impressed with the start of Baja California Sur. The greatest part about it is that it’s the backyard of San Diego. Totally accessible and an easy trip south for long weekends or vacations. 9 years in SD, and only as far as Ensenada…well now we know.
So, what’s in store for the southern loop? Well I will tell you one thing, we certainly were not let down, and the adventures seem to get better and better.