Baja California Part 1 – Northern Section


After a month in the United States, we couldn’t wait to get over the border and discover how a real taco tasted like in Tijuana. To our surprise, the border crossing went very well. Mexican welcomed us with open arms and everyone was super friendly, helpful and curious about our venture on a bicycle. There was a queue of people waiting to go in the US, however, none seemed to suffer from famine, no signs of chaos, no guns being shot. We paid our compulsory fee ($25 US) for our 180 days stay and were through the streets of Tijuana. The American power centers were replaced with street stalls, Oxxo shops and Spanish writing on decaying buildings. The hunt was on for a tacos stall which we found in minutes. It tasted as we expected; better than Taco Bell.

With food in our belly, we started our long ride on highway 1, the road we will stay on for our entire time in Baja. Marie was following us close as we climbed up toward the mountains before descending into the coastal city of Rosarito. The last couple of days had been overcast and borderline chilly. Before we crossed, Tiphaine joked that the sun was only present in Mexico. As soon as we would cross the border, we’ll have it back, she said. Within a few kilometers on the hills, the sun was burning our skin. By the time we got to the top, we were drenched in sweat. Tiphaine was right!

Once in Rosarito, it took a few minutes to find our Warmshower’s host house, but upon finding it there was no one to answer. We waited for a moment but darkness was approaching fast and we certainly didn’t want to be on the streets at night, like many have told us. This was the time when crimes, drug dealers, killers, man-eaters and zombies are coming out. And we certainly didn’t want to experience that on our first night in Mexico. We resolved in staying in a motel for the night. After a well-deserved shower, we walked on the main street to go get dinner when Marie miss-stepped into a hole and twisted an ankle. The immediate swelling indicated it was pretty bad. The following morning, she decided to stay put so we said our farewells, having no doubts we were going to see each other again in Baja. There was still 1450 kilometers to go before La Paz, deserts to cross, mountains to climb, headwinds to face, traffic to deal with.

We made little progress on the following day and decided to stop at camping overlooking the beach at La Fonda. Tiph didn’t have the strength to keep going anyway, her energy was low that day. For the first time in this journey, we could sit on the beach and enjoy the relaxing sound of the ocean right at our feet. We quickly made it made to Ensenada and zipped through it, only stopping to have lunch. Being the second largest town in Baja California, the traffic was mad. Shoulder-less with a bumpy surface, the cars were passing us really close and trucks let their fumes from their exhaust pipes as they overtook us. This town drained so much energy from us we had to dig deep to find the energy needed to our destination for that day; camping in the hamlet of Santo Thomas. We arrived only to discover the campsite was closed. A security guard was keeping an eye on the site and told us we could still use the campsite but there was no running water and no electricity. After paying for the camp at the convenience store across the street, we rolled down the short and rather steep hill and chose a spot. Two dogs followed us and slept beside our tent. They were our personal guards for the night. After dinner, we collapsed into a deep sleep after a long and tiring day.

The next day started with a long climb and this time, it was me who didn’t have legs and didn’t feel too well. The road constructions held the traffic from both directions in turn and for the first time since our first strokes in Baja, we enjoyed a traffic free road. So far, highway 1 was very busy and without a shoulder which made for scary moments. After the excitement of arriving in Mexico, we didn’t really enjoy Baja mainly because of the road. Constantly having to make sure a vehicle wouldn’t hit us made for unpleasant cycling. Most drivers gave us enough space as they overtook us, some even slowed down to our speed and waited behind us to overtake us safely. We found that vehicles passing us really close had an American license plate. Furthermore, the coast had numerous hotels and lack authenticity. It was a gateway destination for many Americans, some even lived there and worked across the border.

We arrived late afternoon in Punta Colonet where we found a camp on a hilltop, looking down towards the small village. We prepared an exquisite dinner of rice and black beans with the tastiest avocado and mango in the world. The next day, we rolled in San Quintin after negotiating heavy traffic over rolling hills, again. We badly needed a shower and do laundry so we decided to take a motel. We also wanted to research online about some of the experiences from other cyclists who have done the Baja. We read the traffic thinned significantly after El Rosario, a town we’ll get to the following day. That brought some hope in us, we couldn’t wait to cycle on quiet roads.

From El Rosario, highway 1 goes inland, traversing the Sierra de San Pedro Martir. The traffic was moderate the day before, but it really became quiet from El Rosario. Maybe this was because the road kept going up and up and up. On every turn, we could see the road going over yet another hill in the distance. The heat increased and soon we found ourselves in a 40 degree Celsius heat. It took us most of the day to cover the 40 kilometers before reaching, to our relief, a small restaurant where we could get much-needed refreshments. We topped our water bottles giving us about 6 liters of water each before finding camp a little further along the road, our first of many surrounded by all kind of cactuses, in the middle of the desert.

We woke up the next morning and the temperature was already in the low 30 Celsius. When we left our camp at 8h30, it already reached 38. This would be a pretty hot day, we told each other. Better put sunscreen on! Most of the climbing was done and we had reached a plateau with rolling hills. Few vehicles made for pretty amazing riding. The heat, however, was unbearable. We weren’t adapted to the 45 degrees yet and by midday, we were beaten. After several kilometers of the arid desert without much to see, the landscape suddenly transformed; huge boulders started to appear with enormous cactuses shooting up in between. Those cactus were the elephant cactus, the biggest in Baja. They can reach up to 20 meters high, weight 10 tons and live up to 200 years. Like our paper map indicated, we were in the Boulder Fields of Catavinia, the village we arrived not long after. We arrived at the well-furbished store and took a long break in the shades. We had no energy left in us and the idea of doing more distance that day was unbearable. We decided to book a hotel in Catavina and take it easy for the rest of the day, enjoying the pool and air conditioning to recover our still fragile bodies.

That afternoon rest seemed to have given us wings as we found ourselves in Guerrero Negro in two days of cycling. The road remained quiet and the cactuses flew by as we pushed through side-winds and were helped by the occasional tailwind. We found it surprising how the landscape changed quickly. Once, after climbing a small mesa, the descent led into a valley where a dried lake was awaiting. There were no cactus nor trees to be seen. Only sand, rock and few shrubs peppered the land. Within a few kilometers, we could see a new kind of cactuses appear. That’s one aspect of cycle-touring we love so much; our eyes have time to catch all those small changes.

Baja California Images available here

Author: Pascal Lachance

I'm Pascal, cyclist, travel lover, software developer by trade and an enthusiastic photographer. I'm now cycling around the world, take the time to visit as many places as I can!