From the southern tip of Baja California Sur to Tucson, Arizona, we traveled over 1550 miles in March. We traversed long bumpy dirt roads, super-narrow highways, and lovely wide expensive toll roads. We dodged potholes and kept our distance from cows grazing on the very edge of those super-narrow roads. We tried our best to stick to the speed limit even when it seemed terminally slow and other cars zoomed right passed us over the solid middle line. We drove through small towns, large confusing congested cities, and vast stretches of stunning wilderness. We stopped at numerous military checkpoints where Ballena Blanca was boarded – except for that time we had our inflatable kayak stuffed in the back making it impossible for anyone to step inside.
We camped on the beach, in a parking garage, in a horse pasture (with a pool), at a cactus sanctuary, in a few pay campgrounds, on the edge of a mangrove swamp, along a giant bay, at a town square, in a desert preserve, at a winery, and in a biosphere preserve.
We ate out – a lot. We met up with friends, made new friends, had van pizza, and watched an organized turtle release. We visited an old mission, toured a mining town, kayaked a few times, and as always looked for birds. Then we finally crossed an international border which brought us back to the US.
* All pics are click to enlarge. Once you have them enlarged you can view them in a slide show. Also, you can hover over the pics to see captions.
Leaving the Camino Cabo Este
On March 2 we left our campsite at Playa la Fortuna and continued our journey south traveling the last 3 1/2 miles of the rugged, dirt, extremely bumpy Camino Cabo Este until we hit pavement for the first time in 8 days. Despite Google Maps continuing to want us to lead us astray down other hellish-looking dirt roadways, I adamantly stuck to the lovely pavement that led us to San José del Cabo.
San José del Cabo along with the bigger Cabo San Lucas are major tourist towns in Baja California Sur. Although we are not big on spending much time in these kinds of tourist areas I am always curious about any new place. Plus San José del Cabo was the first major city (since La Paz) we had been to in over two weeks and we were hoping to wash a month’s worth of dirty clothes. In general, people don’t do their own laundry in Mexico preferring to take it to a drop-off service. Since I do prefer to do my own laundry the search was on for a coin laundromat. No luck in San José del Cabo but we did have a lovely time at an Art Walk in El Centro.
We camped in 2 different places while we were in San José del Cabo. One was a parking garage which was super close to the Art Walk. You’d think a parking garage might be noisy but by the time we called it a night all the other cars were gone and the nearby restaurant was closed. It was a nice quiet secure night. The other nights we spent at a popular beach. From the reviews on iOverlander we knew that this might be a noisy place. It was. Cars pulled up and blasted their car stereos to the beach. It was a bit of a scene but eventually quieted down and we slept well.
We finally found a self-serve laundromat in the much larger Cabo San Lucas where we also did some shopping. After getting stuck in the sand back at Playa Miramar in Cabo Pulmo (and then again two more times after that) we decided that we needed our own tow strap. We also needed to replace our homemade traction/lift boards which we tore up when we were attempting to get unstuck that first time. Being a major city, Cabo San Lucas has lots of major American chain stores. We found what we needed at Home Depot and Auto Zone. Our visit to Cabo San Lucas was brief – being a tourist town geared towards the younger set it didn’t offer us much and the price of parking discouraged us from the things we did find interesting. After our day of shopping and laundry in Cabo San Lucas, we landed at a little bit ritzier and much quieter beach parking lot for the night.
Over to the West Coast and Todos Santos
From Cabo San Lucas we raced up the west coast of the peninsula to get to Todos Santos in time for a baby turtle release. I know we had previously seen a release on the beach in La Fortuna but this was an advertised and more organized release. The hatching window was four days and the turtles kept us waiting to almost the last minute.
We spent our first few nights in the area camped at a horse ranch with a pool. Camped out in the pasture among piles of horse droppings we had an amazing view of the ocean from the nice setting of the pool. We met up again with our friends from Roaming About at the ranch after they abandoned their lovely camping spot at a waterfall after having an unexpected and unsettling adventure. You can read about it here.
Later in Todos Santos, we met up with another friend, Ghen, whom we met in The Everglades last year. We all ended up camping on a beach north of Todos Santos while we waited for the turtles to join the world. Meanwhile, we explored the town, took walks along the water, had happy hour, made new friends, listened to Greg play the guitar, and watched the sun go down. Finally, the turtles hatched and we joined the throngs of other tourists to wish the adorable little reptiles good luck as they headed out to sea (more on this in a post to come). The next day everyone hit the road again going different ways.
A few random places
By this time we had made the decision to sell El Burro. Traveling in two vehicles is not practical in the long term. So we decided to head back to the US. We started looking for a house sit, fearing that Tucson – where we would return to – would be too hot to live in the van in April while we were selling the car and taking care of a whole list of other projects and chores. We knew we had to make bigger leaps in our travel but first, we stopped at a historic mining town, El Triunfo. From there we drove to the Cactus Sanctuary just outside the tiny little town of El Rosario where we spent the night and had a lovely breakfast the next morning at Carmen y Rosalina.
The next stop was La Paz. We were ready for a real shower so we went back to the Campestre Maranatha where we had stayed the previous month. We spent several days there catching up on business and did very little exploring although we did manage to eat out at Planeta Veggie recommended by our friend Ghen.
It was time to make some big jumps north but we weren’t done exploring. I found a free camping spot on iOverlander. It had some bad reviews because it didn’t have an ocean view and was down a long dirt road. But it sounded perfect to us because it was right on a mangrove swamp. And I love to kayak down a mangrove trail. We were the only ones there!
After our little detour, it was time to hit a few spots we passed over in February when we were making our way down the peninsula trying to catch up with our friends on a “pebble beach” near Agua Verde.
First, there was Loreto, a beautiful Pueblo Magico. There we stayed at the Rivera del Mar RV Park, $5 per person per night. The RV park was close to El Centro so it was easy to walk around and see the city – and walk to restaurants. We ate out 3 times.
Next, we checked another thing off my want-to-do list and we went to Bahia De Conception to do a little kayaking. This is where I first decided that we needed a kayak 4 years ago. Instead of going to the popular and crowded pay campgrounds at Bahia De Conception, we found a free spot down a dirt road leading from the highway at the very bottom of the bay. The water was like glass that day and we were the only campers around.
Leaving Baja California Sur
We had scheduled a Zoom call with a potential house-sit for the day we left Bahia de Concepcion. We hadn’t had any cell service while we were at the bay so we were concerned about being in a location with good internet for the meeting. We continued north to a medium-sized city, Santa Rosario, saw internet bars return to our phones, parked, and waited. Our call went well but it didn’t start until about 5 pm and ended about a half-hour later. We still needed to find a camping spot before sundown (we don’t like to drive in Mexico after dark – it is really, really dark and all the best cow grazing appears to be right on the side of the very narrow roadways). We hit the road and drove about an hour to San Ignacio. We had spent a couple of nights parked at the plaza when we visited Baja 4 years ago. It seemed safe and easy. And being in town would afford us the opportunity to go out for dinner.
The next day we had a 6 hour (more like 8 for us) drive to El Valle de Los Cirios in the northern Baja – the state of Baja California. We had also visited here 4 years ago and had endeavored to return. El Valle de Cirios. More about El Valle and the unusual desert plants that grow there in a post to come.
We spent two nights in El Valle de Cirios before spending another long day heading north. We navigated through the big city of Ensenada. We had also visited here 4 years ago and had no urge to stop this time. We headed on to our last stop in Baja California, a winery.
Apparently, Northern Baja is great for growing grapes. A section of Highway 3 that runs north from Ensenada to Tecate at the border has been dubbed La Ruta del Vino. We had visited here 4 years ago, did a vineyard tour, bought a bottle of wine, and spent the night in the winery’s parking lot for free. Our experience this time was a little different. I had seen a winery advertised on one of my Facebook groups the previous month saying that they had entertainment on the weekend and allowed free overnight camping. We had dinner at the restaurant, tried some wine, bought a bottle, hung out for a bit, and went to bed in the parking lot. The party at the restaurant lasted until midnight. Good thing we have earplugs.
We had previously crossed the Mexican/US border 5 times (3 going south, 2 going north). Each was a different experience as far as ease of dealing with border agents, wait times, and navigating through new cities to find the lineup for the crossing. I thought this time we’d try yet another entry/exit point. Since we were ultimately going to Arizona I thought we’d skip all the California crossings – this way we would see a bit more Mexico and would avoid the high gas prices in California. So we traveled to one more Mexican state, Sonora, and positioned ourselves to cross at Sonoyta/Lukeville.
From La Ruta del Vino to Sonora we had yet another long day ahead of us so in order to cut down on the time and to give ourselves a break from the narrow and often unpaved roads we had been driving on we decided to take the toll road. Unfortunately, I had trouble determining the cost of this route and it ended up being way more expensive than I thought it would be. Still – it was so nice to drive on a nice wide four-lane highway. And as a bonus some of the views from the highway were spectacular.
Our first stop in Sonora was at Campo La Salina in the Reserva de la Biosfera Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado. This was an amazingly lovely experience. The manager at the Campo spoke in slow Spanish. We had a long conversation and I understood almost everything he said! We camped on the edge of a salt field – sacred to the Tohono O’odham – a native American tribe that has land in both the US and Mexico.
After a couple of nights at Campo La Salina, we were ready to stage ourselves to cross back into the US. We found a campground, Concha del Mar Campground & RV Park, in Puerto Peñasco about an hour away from the border. I figured we could get an early start to get across the border before it got too busy. The last time we crossed in Nogales it took us 4 hours and it was very very dark by the time we finally made it to the other side. In addition, we were asked to exit the van and it was searched. I was hoping for a speedy crossing with little hassle. What I wasn’t counting on was the number of police cars we saw between Puerto Peñasco and Sonoyta. More police cars than we saw total in our two months traveling the length of both Bajas. What a pain it would be to be stopped by the police in our last hour in Mexico. I got behind a couple of cars doing the speed limit the whole way to the border and stuck with them.
Back to the US
The wait at the border was minimal – maybe 15 or 20 minutes tops. Our shortest wait ever to enter the US from Mexico. We watched other cars ahead of us as the border patrol talked to passengers, sometimes looked into their trunks, and used a mirror on a stick to examine the underside of all the vehicles. I pulled up when it was my turn, rolled down the window, and handed the border guard my passport. Another guard asked me to unlock my side door. He opened the door and stepped in. I found this a little less friendly than when the Mexican authorities asked me the same thing. The Mexicans always said, “Puede abrir la puerta (Can you open the door),” pointing to my side door. And I always left my seat, opened the door from the inside (except for that time when I had the kayak in the van and had to open the door from the outside), and let them in. I was always present when they inspected the van. Sometimes they would ask me things. Once one of the inspectors asked me where all the pictures on my wall were from – I told him – Utah, The Bahamas, Arizona, etc. This time I was talking to the other border guard out the window and had no idea what the guy was doing in the back of the van.
The border guard out the window asked me if there was anyone else in the van. I said no. Then he asked me something else about my travels and I said “We…” The guard picked up on that and said, “We?” “Oh yes, I told him, I’m traveling with my husband. He is in the car behind me.” That made him really curious. In all of our 2 months of numerous military stops traveling up and down Baja, no one ever questioned why my husband was traveling in a separate car. I explained that Greg and I had been separated but got back together and decided to take the 2 vehicles in case things didn’t work out. I told him it was Greg’s “escape pod.” This made him laugh. He asked where we had come from and how long we were there. Again he was confused when I told him we only spent one night in Puerto Peñasco. I then explained that we had actually been in Mexico for 2 months, “all the way down to Cabo San Lucas.” “What could you possibly be doing in Cabo San Lucas for two months?” He asked. “No,” I said, “we were traveling around. It’s a camper.” I pointed inside the van. “We went to lots of different places.” I’m not sure if he really understood why we were driving around Mexico but eventually, he let me go. When it was Greg’s turn he asked him all the same questions about the separate vehicles and still seemed confused. Greg asked him, “Are you married?” “No,” he replied. “Well if you ever get married someday you might understand.” Apparently, you can be a smart-ass and still be let back in the country.
March Camping Stats:
We spent $140 US on camping in March. Sometimes we had to pay double for the extra vehicle.
8 – nights free on the beach
1 – night in a parking garage (300p/$15)
2 – nights at a Ranch with a pool (200p/$10)
1 – night at a cactus sanctuary (200p/$10)
7 – nights in RV parks/Campgrounds (2100p/$105)
2 – nights on the edge of a mangrove swamp
2 – nights on Bahia de Concepción
1 – night at a town square
2 – nights in the desert
1 – night at a winery
2 – nights at a Biosfera (300p/$15)
1 – night on BLM land in the US
1 – night moochdocking on friends’ property
So I stopped tracking expenses a while ago. But if you are interested in how much it costs to live as a nomad, check out our friends at Roaming About’s expense blog (especially this month’s – an amazingly low total of $806 for the month) here. They live super cheaply and still have an amazing time!
I could come up with maybe hundreds of Mexico Tips! But I’m just going to limit myself to some of the more important and interesting ones here.
Google Maps –
I love Google Maps. It is an excellent resource for so many things besides directions. We have used it to find essential things – like gas and grocery stores. I pay attention to reviews – especially for places like gas stations which are sometimes known to cheat people by not zeroing out the pump or pumping less than full liters. But for driving it is best to treat Google Maps as a guide and not a fact. Google Maps is not very up on the roadway situations in Mexico. I tried to change the map above to reflect our actual route from La Fortuna to San José del Cabo but Google Maps would have no part of it. So trust your instincts, talk to locals, look for closed roads on iOverlander, follow signs, and use the satellite view (which might not be updated but will give you an idea if a road is paved or not).
There are lots of foods that are hard or impossible to find in Mexico. I looked for bagels all up and down the peninsula. The only store that had them was the Super Ley in Santa Rosalina – but those were blueberry and cinnamon – no everythings! Chocolate chips for my homemade granola bars were hard to find. Cheddar Cheese is super hard to find. After looking in all the big cities we finally found some oddly enough in a smaller town – Todos Santos. You might think vegan food is hard to find but I found a huge bag of soy curls in one of those smaller towns along the big highway. Also, vegan cheese and tofu could be found in some of the big fancy stores in the big cities. I had the hardest time finding baking soda in the Walmart in La Paz. Actually, I had a hard time finding any kind of baking section. When I finally stumbled upon it I discovered that it was about an eighth of the size of a baking section in an American grocery store. The list could go on. So if there is something food you just can’t live without – do a little research to discover how easy it is to find in Mexico.
Lots of English is spoken in Mexico – often times very fluently. But don’t always count on it. Learn a few phrases before you go to Mexico. Add a translation app to your phone. Don’t expect the locals to understand you – try to understand them. It’s their country!
I was super surprised at how nice every bathroom was that I went to in Baja – even at a gas station. But this isn’t always true in Mexico. Often times there isn’t toilet paper. During our trip to mainland Mexico I had locals ask me for TP twice, and once I watch a woman in a restroom with her family whip out a big roll from her purse – she was totally prepared. I was also surprised that I saw few signs asking that you not flush your paper but assumed this was the case since every bathroom had a trash can in the stall with used paper in it. Don’t flush your TP in Mexico. Another different thing about Mexican bathrooms is that often times the handwashing sink is outside of the bathroom situated between the Hombres and Mujeres.
Tipping is a big part of Mexican culture. I always try to keep small change and bills on my for tipping. Tipping can be very personal, though, so instead of giving you my thoughts on tipping here is a link to an article about the subject supposedly written by a real Mexican.
Grocery bags –
The Bajas have gone bagless. Remember to bring your own bags to the grocery store. Although I’m totally on board with this – if you are like us and you use those plastic grocery bags to line your trash can you might want to stock up in a state where they still use them before you leave the US. The other disappointing thing about the bring your own bag thing is that I imagine it is putting baggers in Mexico – who tend to be older and work only for tips – out of a job. I felt terribly bad when I forgot my bags and ended up tipping the bagger for just handing me my few items.
Well, we got that house sit! Since we’ve been in Tucson we have been diligently working on projects, buying stuff, selling absolutely nothing, cleaning the van, and taking care of a very very sweet cat. Tomorrow we are off on another short adventure, then back to Tucson to resolve the rest of our business before starting our journey to Alaska!