Just across the border, Adventure Unbound awaits in Baja! The gnarled finger of a peninsula and the sun-studded waters of the Sea of Cortez tend to be a bucket-list item for any avid paddler. Limpid, cerulean blue waters create a mirage-like contrast the the sunset-stained colors of the desert offshore. Rugged cliffs look over calm waters. The flora may occasionally be sparce but the wildlife and marinelife are anything but.
Join us and camp under Baja's stars at our exclusive whale base camps. Glide into secluded coves where gray whales give birth and raise their friendly calves who enjoy showing off for passersby. Snorkel in glistening waters where sea lions slip and slide and vibrant fish dart around you. Hike through rolling hills and echoing canyons. Sip on a cool drink and munch on a fresh fish taco while you get to know some locals lucky enough to call Baja home. Let Adventure Unbound take you on an exploration through Baja's rugged, raw, and breathtakingly real heart.
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History of Baja
Baja was already inhabited in 11000 BC by indigenous nomadic tribes. In 1530 the Spaniards who discovered Baja found four major groups. Some were hunters and gatherers while others had developed agricultural systems, but all tribes were very skilled fishermen. Their artifacts were found throughout Baja California, as well as some primitive paintings dating back to 1700 BC. Many visitors are drawn to the caves to see these mysterious paintings.
Baja was discovered and identified as a peninsula in the 16th century by Hernán Cortés during a quest for a mythicized island of gold west of Mexico. In the 18th century Spanish missions succeded one another, firstly the Jesuits, then the Franciscans who ceded control of Baja California Sur to the Dominicans in 1773. While no gold was found, Baja was recognized as a transition area for trading ships.
Throughout the Mexican War of Independence lasting from 1810 to 1821, Baja was involved but isolated from the hostilities. At the end of the war, it was divided into four municipalities, Loreto being the capital until 1830, then shifting to La Paz which is the capital still today. Baja was also very unaffected by the Mexican-American war in the middle of the 19th century, after which the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo stated that Baja would not be annexed by America.
Baja California Today
Today Baja is no longer an isolated peninsula, tourism is very important to the local economy, with hundreds of thousands visitors heading there daily. Besides tourism, Baja's economy also relies on fishing, agriculture, salt mining and manufacturing. Despite its popularity, Baja has retained its authenticity and mystery, and visitors will feel that they are away from it all in this stunning location with a rich culture.
Animals of Baja
The desert of Baja is one of the best preserved regions of Mexico, with a lot of biodiversity and endemic species being relatively protected due to Baja's remotness. Their main threats come from over-hunting, livestock ranching and salt extraction, but there are conservation efforts to protect the animals and their natural habitats.
Bird lovers will enjoy the 400 species that populate Baja California, out of which six are endemic: San Lucas Robin, Cape Pygmy Owl, Belding's Yellowthroat, Gray Thrasher, Baird's Junco, and the pretty Xantus's Hummingbird. Other species include the Golden Eagle, the Frigatebird, the Cormoran, and many others.
Reptiles and Amphibians
The reptiles and amphibians have developed unusual survival techniques on Baja through the evolution of the peninsula. Amongst them, you may be able to see the two inches long Baja California Brush Lizard, the Baja California Legless Lizard, which as its name suggests, looks more like a snake as it has no legs, the delicate tie-dyed looking San Lucan Leaf-Toed Gecko, or the Coast Horned Lizard which if threatened can shoot highly pressured streams of blood from its eyes. Or the Baja California Chorus Frog which use their vocalizations to create a chorus, the small Plateau Toad in freshwater habitats, or the Canyon Treefrog which live in canyons and rocky stream courses.
Unlike other animals, mammals are rarely seen in Baja, due to many species relocating because of human persecution, such as the black bears, the mountain lions and the bighorn sheep. However, you may see some smaller mammals such as the San Quintin Kangaroo Rat which lives in the coastal regions in the north of Baja California, the Baja California Rock Squirrel living in mountain forests near volcanoes, or the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat.
Marine Life, Fish, Sea Turtles and Whales
The Sea of Cortez is one of the bodies of water richest in nutrients in the world, attracting more than 900 different species of fish (20% endemic), amongst which the Sailfish, Roosterfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Dorado, and the Great White Shark.
Five types of sea turtles can be found along the coasts: the Leatherback Sea Turtle, the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, the Green Sea Turtle, and the Hawksbill Sea Turtle.
Marine life in Baja is plentiful, with more than 85% of the Pacific (35% of the world's) marine mammals living in the Sea of Cortez, making it a diver's paradise. You may see Giant Manta Rays, Flying Mobula Rays, Sea Lions, Whales.
Baja is visited by several species of whales, amongst which Gray Whales, Blue Whales, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, Orcas, Minke Whales and the extremely endangered Vaquita, the smallest of all whale porpoises.
Geography of Baja
The topography of Baja is quite diverse, ranging from coastal plains to mountains and plateaus. The Sierra de Baja California mountains stretches from California to the south, dividing the peninsula in the middle, with a highest point at 10,147 feet (3,095m). They play an important role in the climate, with the western side being more temperate, and the eastern side more arid.
The south gulf combines tropical landscapes and deserts, with mangrove channels, huge cacti forests and an abundant birdlife. There are more than 3,000 miles of coastline, with shallow bays to the west, shaped by the waves, which are a heaven for marine life, and steeper cliffs to the east.
The many sea formations created by the waves draw and fascinate visitors year after year. Amongst these are the stunning hidden cove of Lover's Beach, the large underwater canyon nearby which divers will enjoy, the mushroom rock in La Paz, and the natural marine geyser of La Bufadora in Baja California Norte.
Flora of Baja
Baja California is in the Sonoran desert, with arid and harsh grounds, and strong winds. The flora is adapted to this low humidity environment and counts about 4,000 plant species, included 700 which are endemic. Xeric scrub, divided into subcategories, make up the majority of the botanical life.
Amongst the most iconic plants found in Baja are the slow growing prickly Boojum Tree which looks like an upside-down carrot, the Elephant Trees with their trunks swollen with water for storage and their grayish-white bark, amongst which the sweetly fragranced Bursera microphylla. You will also find the large and tall Ocotillos shrub with their spiny stems that branch like canes from their trunks, the Datilillo or Tree Yucca which can grow to 7 meters and provides for the people of Baja as its fruits and flower buds can be eaten in different ways, and about two dozen species of Agave including the Agave shawii whose leaves form a rosette, in the center of which grows an inflorescence reaching up to 4 meters which blooms with bright yellow or reddish flowers after 20 to 30 years of growth.
Conservation in Baja
Baja's Conservation Challenges and Combative Efforts
Conservation in Baja poses some challenges as its unique ecosystems are susceptible to industrial development, oil drilling, fisheries and tourism.
Conservationists work hard to preserve its unique habitats, animal and plant species found nowhere else on earth, as well as its coastlines which play a vital role for migrating species. Efforts are made to preserve whales, but also individual sea turtle populations and their nesting habitats. Mexico's plan to build over twenty marinas along the coast met strong opposition and failed in 2009.
Unesco Biosphere Reserves
Four of Mexico's 40 biosphere reserves are located on Baja California.
El Vizcaíno reserve, with over 9,624 square miles, is Mexico's largest wildlife refuge, counting 308 terrestrial and marine vertebrates and 469 plant species. It includes the lagunas of Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio established in the 1970's as marine refuge zones. It was recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1993.
The Sierra La Laguna reserve, which can be found 85 miles south of La Paz in Baja California Sur, covers the fragile ecosystem of the granite mountain range and the distinctive endemic plant and animal species of the southern tip of the peninsula which used to be an island. It was designated a global reserve by UNESCO in 1994.
The Alto Golfo de California reserve, in the Sonora State on the Gulf of California's border, is known for its volcanic formations, craters, dunes ans coasts. Having an important role in transborder conservation, it was declared a UNESCO site in 1993.
The Islas del Golfo de California reserve, comprising more than 240 islands in the sea of Cortez, is of great importance for migrating bird species and their reproduction. With an arid climate, the islands are home to 115 species of reptiles, and the flora is mostly cacti and succulents.
Geology of Baja
The Baja California peninsula is separated from Mexico by the Gulf of California which was formed by the North American and Pacific plates interacting and drifting 6-10 million years ago. It is located over the San Andreas fault, responsible for recurrent earthquakes in the region. It is believed that Baja California will eventually split completely from the continent as it lies on a separate plate, and the gulf existing between the two is growing.
Baja California is made up of five geologic landforms provinces: the flat coastal plains, the block mountains and valleys, the isolated coastal mountains, the granitic blocks and main mountain ranges, and the plateaus and volanic areas. The mountain range stretches from the northwest to the southwest of the peninsula.
The only large volcano complex is that of the Tres Vírgenes comprising El Azufre, El Viejo, and La Vírgen, with a summit of 1940m, in the centre-east part of Baja. They are stratovolcanoes, the most stunning of all, but also the most deadly, although the last recorded eruption dates back to 1746.
Money in Baja
The currency in Mexico is the peso, divided into 100 centavos. Paper currency comes in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 pesos. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10 pesos, and 20 and 50 centavos.
Credit Cards & ATMs
Masterard and Visa are widely accepted, American Express less so. We recommend carrying cash as smaller establishments may not accept debit or credit cards.
ATMs are easily found in cities and offer good exchange rates. Larger establishments also accept USD cash, but using pesos is recommended as you may not always get a good exchange rate with USD.
Health & Safety in Baja
No vaccines are required for US citizens visiting Baja.
However the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises on being inoculated against malaria, rabies, typhoid, hepatitis A and B, and up-to-date with routine vaccinations.
Food and Water
Water in Baja is safe, but it is always best to be careful what you eat and drink while traveling. Food bought from street vendors present the greatest risks, as proper hygiene may not be followed.
Baja's temperatures are very high and long exposure to the sun and heat can present risks to the travelers. It is highly recommended to use sunscreen and drink plenty.
We advise reading insurance policies carefully, as many do not cover activities considered as dangerous, unless one pays an additional premium.
Baja Entry Requirements
Visitors require a valid passport to enter Mexico.
Travelers from Canada, the US, Europe, New Zealand and Australia do not require visas for tourist stays in Mexico under 180 days.
No vaccinations are required to enter Mexico.
Internet & Phone Service in Baja
Using your personal cell phone in Baja is inexpensive if you activate a plan for Mexico with your carrier. You can also purchase a Mexican pay-as-you-go cell phone if you are likely to make many calls to Mexican numbers. Or you can use a pre-paid SIM card if your phone in unlocked and compatible.
Bear in mind that reception is very limited in remote parts of Baja, though guides carry satellite phones for emergencies.
Internet is widely available in Baja, and most hotels, restaurants and cafes offer free wi-fi. It will however be difficult to access in remote areas.
Power in Baja
Baja uses the same power sockets and voltage/frequency as America: the standard voltage is 127V with a frequency of 60Hz with power sockets accepting Type A and B plugs.
Getting to Baja California
There are many international flights to Baja from Tijuana (TIJ) in the north and Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), La Paz (LAP), Cabo San Lucas International Airport (CSL), and Loreto International Airport (LTO) in the south.
Most US connections go through San Diego (SAN).
The main border crossing from the US are Tijuana, Tecate and Mexicali, but Los Cabos in the south is over 700 miles away, so if you plan on visiting the south of Baja, travel by land may not be the best option.
To travel between Baja California and the mainland visitors can catch ferries from Santa Rosalía, Pichilingue, or La Paz.