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.
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It’s recommended that you are vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, and rabies before traveling to Mexico. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also advises that you are up-to-date on your routine vaccinations, including measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, tetanus, and polio.
The tap water in Baja California is generally cleaner than in other parts of Mexico but few locals drink it and tourists are advised against doing so also. Purified and bottled water is readily available at supermarkets and local convenience stores and most restaurants will serve water and ice that has been purified.
The currency in Mexico is the Mexican peso (MXN), with $1 USD equaling around $20 pesos at the time of writing. Banknotes are issued in 500, 200, 100, 50, and 20 denominations while coins come in 10, 5, 2, and 1 pesos, as well as in 50 and 20 centavos (100 centavos = 1 peso).
US dollars are readily accepted in Baja California and many hotels and restaurants will list their prices in dollars. That being said, you’ll usually end up paying less if you opt to pay in pesos because of how the exchange rates are calculated. If you do need to pay with US dollars, ensure you bring bills that are clean and crisp or they may not be accepted. While Baja is expensive compared to mainland Mexico, it’s still relatively cheap compared to the United States.
There are plenty of casa de cambios in Baja California’s major towns and tourist destinations where you can exchange foreign currency or you can easily withdraw Mexican pesos at ATMs throughout the region. Most have menus in both Spanish and English and some will even allow you to withdraw US dollars. Banks are usually open from 9 or 9:30 am to anywhere between 3 and 7 pm Monday through Friday. Some banks will also open on Saturday mornings.
Visa and MasterCard are both widely accepted at larger hotels and restaurants, as well as at most retail stores and supermarkets. At smaller establishments, you will probably need to pay in cash. If you do pay by card, it’s important to be aware of the fees charged by your card issuer, which will probably be applied even if the purchase price is listed in dollars. Traveler’s checks aren’t readily accepted in Baja California.
Baja California is divided across two different time zones, with the state of Baja California Norte on Pacific Standard Time (PST) and Baja California Sur on Mountain Standard Time (MST). Daylight savings time is observed from around the start of April until the end of October.
Spanish is the official language throughout Mexico, including on the Baja California Peninsula. Indigenous languages are spoken by the Paipai, Tipai, and Cucapah people of northern Baja and you may hear minority languages such as Chinese, Tagalog, and Arabic due to the various waves of migrants to the region. Baja also has a sizable population of expats from the United States and Canada and English is widely spoken throughout the tourism industry and in both Los Cabos and Tijuana.
All visitors to Mexico need a valid passport to enter the country, with two free pages for entry and exit stamps. Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe don’t need a visa for stays of less than 180 days.
Travel insurance is not mandatory when visiting Baja California but it’s highly advisable that you purchase a policy. Not only will you be protected against any financial loss from theft or flight cancellations but you will also be covered for any medical expenses, such as hospital fees or repatriation due to unexpected injuries. Before purchasing any travel insurance policy, carefully check what is and isn’t covered so you can make an informed choice.
There are domestic flights between Los Cabos or La Paz and Tijuana if you want to quickly get between north and south Baja, as well as long-distance buses. The most comfortable are the deluxe (ejecutiva) services, which are air-conditioned, have bathrooms, and sometimes even provide complimentary refreshments.
Most travelers wanting to explore the peninsula opt to rent a car, which will give you greater flexibility and allow you to explore the region’s spectacular landscapes. International car rental agencies and reliable local operators are represented at Baja California’s airports and in its major tourist towns. It’s important to be aware that it’s mandatory to have personal liability insurance when driving in Mexico, which will cover any damage incurred during an accident to other people or their property. This is usually not included in initial quotes given by car rental agencies, so it’s something to keep in mind.
The Transpeninsular Highway connects most of the major destinations in Baja California and is easy to navigate. However, roads in and out of towns are not as well-maintained as you might be accustomed to. Dirt roads are common and unexpected trenches and speed bumps can often take you by surprise. It’s best to avoid driving at night as many of the roads are poorly lit and with unmarked hazards. Military checkpoints dot the region and car inspections here are commonplace.
If you prefer not to drive, taxis are generally an easy and economical way to get around Baja’s towns and resort areas. Fixed rates are usually set between destinations, with drivers having a written table of prices on hand so there are no surprises.
The best time to visit Baja California is between mid-January and mid-March at the height of the whale migration season. Whale sharks are best spotted in the Bahia de la Paz from October to March. If you’re coming to kayak, then October/November or March/April are best as the wind drops and the water conditions in the Sea of Cortez are clear and calm. Windsurfers and kite surfers will find the most favorable conditions between mid-October and early April. In summer, the temperatures can soar well into the 90s, which makes it an ideal time to visit if you want to spend time lazing at the beach or surfing.
Mexico uses plugs with two flat parallel pins (type A) or with an additional grounding pin (type B) and a standard voltage of 127V. Travelers coming from the United States and Canada won’t need a power converter or adapter to charge their devices but citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and Europe will. It’s worth being aware that power outages are a common occurrence in parts of Mexico, so always power up your devices when you have the chance or bring a power bank with you.
In Mexico, the majority of employees in the service industry rely on tips to make a living. It’s customary to leave between 10% and 15% of the bill at restaurants and bellboys are usually tipped the equivalent of $1 USD per bag. Unless your taxi driver has provided additional services, it’s not customary to tip, although allowing them to keep the change is common.
More than 80% of Mexico’s population identifies as Catholic, although the country does not have an official religion. People are generally very tolerant towards those with other beliefs and are quite laidback, with a “live and let live” attitude. Time is a much more relaxed concept in Mexico and arriving late is not considered rude.
Most people greet with a handshake or will embrace and kiss one another on the right cheek if they know the other person well. Greetings are more elongated than in the West and it’s common to inquire about somebody’s health and that of their family members. Mexicans tend to be generous with their hospitality and open-hearted in welcoming foreigners.
With its extensive coastline and Mediterranean-like climate, Baja California is renowned for its seafood, roasted meats, and fresh vegetables. It’s rapidly making a name for its high-end Mexico-meets-Mediterranean cuisine, which has been dubbed “Baja Med” or “Cali Baja” by some.
You can’t come to Baja California without eating fish tacos, which comprise either grilled or fried fish with lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream or mayonnaise. Abalone is commercially fished off the coast and is often prepared ceviche-style with lime juice. In Loreto, the specialty is almejas (chocolate clams), which are either cooked simply with butter and garlic or more lavishly with ham, cheese, and white wine.
The peninsula is also renowned as the home of caesar salad and it’s said that the Italian-American restaurateur Caesar Cardini invented the ever-popular dish in 1924 at his Tijuana establishment. Tijuana is also the center of comida China, which was influenced by the arrival of Chinese workers in the late 19th century who came to build the region’s irrigation systems. The most popular dish is camaron enchilado - pan-fried shrimp in a garlic paste.
When it comes to meat, look out for gallo pinto, a minced beef dish that originates from Nicaragua, as well as machaca, a spicy stew that incorporates beef jerky and is usually served with flour tortillas.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t miss the opportunity to try chimangos, fried donut-like fritters that are best served warm with cinnamon and honey. Sweet empanadas filled with local jams are also widely available.
Water temperatures in the Sea of Cortez range from around 80° F to 85° F in the summer down to between 65°F and 70°F in the winter months. Most people are comfortable in either a shorty or full-length 3mm wetsuit, which are provided by most tour and activity