This classic Baja California road trip follows the entire length of Mexico’s Baja peninsula – from Tijuana to Cabo.
The Baja California peninsula is an arid desert with giant cacti almost entirely surrounded by water; where the desert meets the sea. It stretches over 760 miles long with the Pacific Ocean’s crashing waves on west side and the tranquil Gulf of California to the east.
It’s the second-longest peninsula on Earth and with that many miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that it’s home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico.
But it’s not all deserts and beaches, Baja has several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for wildlife viewing, including whale-watching, releasing sea turtle hatchlings, snorkeling with whale sharks, and swimming with sea lions. It also has world-renowned surf breaks, colorful colonial towns, pre-hispanic rock art, organic farm-to-table restaurants, and high-elevation peaks.
This guide to the classic Baja California road trip along Mexico’s Highway 1 covers everything you need to know to visit, including the top destinations in Baja, where to stay, the best things to do, and a suggested 10-day itinerary.
- About Baja California’s Highway 1
- Baja California Road Trip Map
- How to Get to Baja California
- Driving in Baja California, Mexico
- Best Time to Road Trip to Baja California
- Where to Stay During a Baja Road Trip
- 10-Day Baja California Road Trip Itinerary
- Day 1: Ensenada & Valle de Guadalupe
- What to Pack for a Baja California Road Trip
- Final Thoughts on a Baja California Road Trip
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Planning a Baja California camping trip? Check out this Baja California camping guide for Mexico camping tips, our recommended camping itinerary, and the best Baja campgrounds.
Driving to Mexico? You need additional auto insurance for Mexico. Get a free quote with Baja Bound >
About Baja California’s Highway 1
Although many refer to it simply as Baja, the Baja California peninsula is actually made up of two states: Baja California and Baja California Sur.
Baja’s transpeninsular highway 1 runs a total of 1,060 miles starting at the U.S./Mexico border in Tijuana all the way to the southern tip in Cabo San Lucas.
For decades, this was the only paved road up and down the peninsula, making it the classic road trip for visitors wanting to explore everything that Baja has to offer.
Baja California Road Trip Map
This guide to the classic Baja California road trip covers all the highlights, plus a few day trips along the way. By the end of this article, you’ll have everything you need to plan the perfect Baja California road trip.
How to Get to Baja California
The best airports to fly into for a Baja California road trip are San Diego and Tijuana. Fly to San Diego on the U.S. side and walk across the border (a 30 minute drive south from the airport) or fly directly into Mexico via Tijuana.
You need to book a rental car in Tijuana to do this Baja California road trip because car rental companies in the U.S. won’t allow you to drive south of Ensenada.
You’ll find the best car rental in Mexico with Discover Cars, plus no hidden fees, 24/7 customer support, and free cancellations. They also have a 24-hour price guarantee and offer full coverage protection (including coverage for windows, mirrors, and tires) for less than $8 USD a day. Check car rental rates >
Read our post on Renting a Car in Mexico for everything you need to know, plus Mexico driving tips.
Crossing the Border into Mexico
Many visitors doing a Baja California road trip or camping in Baja choose to drive their own car or camper down from the U.S. and Canada.
To cross the border, drive into Tijuana, Mexico at the El Chaparral border crossing south of San Diego. Pass the U.S. exit booths and then continue on to the Mexico customs checkpoint.
There are two possible outcomes based on the color of the stoplight at this checkpoint.
- A green light indicates you’re free to keep driving into Mexico. That’s it. No passport check. You’re in Mexico now. But don’t drive off just yet!
- A red light (or green + customs officers waving you over) means secondary inspection. Be prepared to answer a few questions and let them peek into your trunk. Then, ask them to point you towards the immigration.
IMPORTANT: After customs, YOU need to make sure to stop at the immigration office on the right to get a Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM for short). It’s a Mexican tourist permit that you can get on the spot at the border or you can start the FMM application process and pay online to save time.
Driving in Baja California, Mexico
Driving in Baja is perfectly safe as long as you follow some basic rules, like not driving at night (to avoid hitting cows on the road) and not speeding (to avoid hitting speed bumps and potholes).
Also make sure to download Google Maps offline because there are plenty of stretches without cell service.
You need the following to drive your car in Baja:
- Mexican car insurance
- Driver’s license
- Car registration
And yes, you absolutely NEED to get Mexican auto insurance! Even if you already have car insurance at home, additional Mexican car insurance coverage is mandatory in Mexico and required by federal law. Check out this Baja auto insurance article for more info.
Baja Bound offers insurance coverage online in less than 5 minutes, plus they have a 24/7 Assistance Hotline and over 20 years of experience.
Unlike most of Mexico, there’s no need to get a temporary vehicle importation permit (known as a TIP) to bring your foreign car into Baja California and Baja California Sur.
Of course, you don’t want to think about everything that can go wrong, but accidents do happen. Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Best Time to Road Trip to Baja California
Travelers coming from the U.S. and Canada prefer to visit during the winter to escape the cold at home and avoid the scorching summer sun (over 100 F) in Baja.
Meanwhile, most Mexican tourists prefer the warmer climate and water temperature during spring and summer. Spring break and Christmas through New Year’s are the busiest times for tourism.
The best time to visit really depends on your interests. Seasonal activities, like gray whale watching, are only available during winter and spring, while scuba diving is best in the summer.
To avoid peak summer heat and relax on beaches with fewer crowds, we recommend going on a Baja California road trip in spring or fall.
Where to Stay During a Baja Road Trip
From camping on the beach to ocean front rentals to boutique hotels, Baja California has plenty of incredible places to stay.
There are recommendations for both hotels and campgrounds in the itinerary section of this article, but here are the lodging highlights:
- Hotel Cuarto Cuartos near Valle de Guadalupe
- Hotel Misión Santa María in Cataviña
- Malarrimo Motel & RV Park in Guerrero Negro
- Baja Beach House Rental in Bahia Concepcion
- Casa Kootenay Bed and Breakfast in La Paz
- Cerritos Beach Inn near Todos Santos
- Hotel 1697 Loreto in Loreto
- Baja Cactus Hotel in El Rosario
Check out this Baja California camping guide for an alternative itinerary along Highway 5 and a full list of our favorite Baja campgrounds and RV parks.
10-Day Baja California Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Ensenada & Valle de Guadalupe
Distance: 79 miles (2 hours) from Tijuana border to Ensenada
Drive across the Tijuana border – stop at immigration to get your FMM tourist permit – and take the scenic tollroad portion of highway 1 to Ensenada. Make a quick stop at Mercado Negro (the local fish market) for authentic fish tacos before heading 30 minutes inland to Valle de Guadalupe – Baja’s wine country.
Go wine-tasting at one of the many wineries and sample the local Real del Castillo cheese. Enjoy a farm-to-table meal at a typical campestre restaurant, like Deckman’s at El Mogor.
Day 2: Cataviña
Distance: 227 miles (5 hours 30 minutes) from Ensenada to Cataviña
Cirios, giant Cardon cactuses, boulders and incredible night skies await you in Cataviña – a popular half-way stop in Baja’s central desert. Take a 15-minute hike to see the pre-hispanic rock art off highway 1.
Camp at Santa Ynez RV Park or stay at Hotel Misión Santa María to cool-off in the pool.
Day 3: Guerrero Negro
Distance: 149 miles (3 hours 50 minutes) from Cataviña to Guerrero Negro
If it’s gray whale season (late December-April), take a gray whale watching tour at Laguna Ojo de Liebre.
Have dinner at the onsite restaurant and stay overnight at Malarrimo Motel & RV Park in Guerrero Negro.
If it’s off-season, skip Guerrero Negro and continue on to the picturesque town of San Ignacio.
Day 4: Mulegé
Distance: 175 miles (3 hours 30 minutes) from Guerrero Negro to Mulegé
Stock up on water and food for dinner at the oasis town of Mulegé, then continue 30 minutes south to Bahía Concepción – home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Baja. Spend the afternoon relaxing on the sand, beach-hopping, or kayaking on the bay (this inflatable kayak is such a space-saver!)
Camp on the shore at Playa El Coyote or stay at this beautiful beach house on Coyote Bay.
Day 5: La Paz
Distance: 306 miles (6 hours 20 minutes) from Mulegé to La Paz
Try a traditional Mexican popsicle at the famous La Fuente and take an afternoon walk along the malecón (boardwalk) in Baja California Sur’s capital city, La Paz.
Enjoy the local chocolata clams or ceviche at one of the many mariscos (seafood) restaurants lining the beachfront boardwalk.
Day 6: Todos Santos
Distance: 50 miles (1 hour) from La Paz to Todos Santos
Next, drive over to Todos Santos and tour around the colorful colonial town’s art galleries. Take a surfing class at Playa Los Cerritos and end the day with an organic farm-to-table dinner at Hortaliza Hierbabuena.
Camp on the beach at Los Cerritos Campground or stay at the beachfront Cerritos Beach Inn.
Day 7: Day Trip to Los Cabos
Distance: 47 miles (1 hour) from Todos Santos to Los Cabos
Take a day-trip to explore the tourist hot-spots of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Kayak around Cabo’s famous arch at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula.
Drive 30 minutes to nearby San Jose del Cabo to explore the historic art district and do a tacos and tequila walking tour before heading back to Playa Los Cerritos in time for sunset.
Day 8: Loreto
Distance: 269 miles (5 hours) from Todos Santos to Loreto
Arrive in downtown Loreto, and take a stroll around the plaza to peek inside first mission in the Californias and check out the views of the islands from the malecon. Stop at Super Burro Asadero for Loreto’s famous papas rellenas (bowl of mashed potatoes with meat, beans, nopales, and cheese, accompanied by a tray of salsas and other toppings). Enjoy an IPA and live music at the plaza at El Zopilote Brewing Co.
Day 9: El Rosario
Distance: 477 miles (11 hours) from Loreto to El Rosario
El Rosario is best known as being the last place to fill up before hitting the 224 mile stretch of desert without gas stations on the south, but it’s also a decent spot to spend the night after the long drive north. Grab a famous lobster burrito for dinner at Mamá Espinoza and stay at Baja Cactus hotel – a Baja traveler favorite.
Day 10: Tecate
Distance: 219 miles (5 hours) from El Rosario to Tecate
Stop at the town plaza for lunch and people-watching in the charming Pueblo Mágico of Tecate. Pick up a bag of pan dulce (traditional Mexican pastries) at El Mejor Pan de Tecate.
If you drove your own car, check the border wait times and head across the border back to the U.S.
If you flew in and rented a car, drive another hour west to the Tijuana airport and catch your flight home.
What to Pack for a Baja California Road Trip
Packing for a road trip is never easy because you start throwing things in the car “just in case” until it’s bursting at the seams!
You need a few obvious things for going to Baja, Mexico, like a bathing suit, towel, and passport. But here are some more Baja California road trip essentials:
Reef-safe sunscreen: Regular sunscreen has chemicals that kill coral reefs and are toxic for your skin. It’s even banned in places like Hawaii and in parts of Mexico. This reef-safe sunscreen is made with minerals that are safer for the ocean and your skin. Some mineral sunscreens leave a white film behind and don’t rub easily, but this one is our favorite because it doesn’t leave you looking like a ghost. Don’t forget to pack SPF lip balm, too!
This classic guide to Mexico: Forget about buying a Mexico travel guide that simply lists the best hotels and restaurants in every city. If you really want to explore Mexico and immerse yourself in the culture, you need this book to figure out how things work (or don’t) around here. This book is the classic guide to “living, traveling, and taking things as they come” in Mexico.
Sun hat: Another absolute essential for any beach trip. When it comes to sun protection, the wider the brim, the better the hat. I love this super wide-brim women’s sun hat. It’s made from lightweight straw, it rolls up to pack in a suitcase, it has an adjustable head strap for my big head, and it comes with a removable chin strap up for windy days. Michael wears a lifeguard-style men’s beach hat.
Snorkel and mask set: Definitely buy this BEFORE you head into Mexico. Adult snorkel sets are hard to find down here unless you’re in a major city’s dive shop. It’s tempting to cheap out on buying these, but don’t. You’ll have a much better snorkel experience if you invest in a quality snorkel and mask set like this one. Otherwise, water can and will get into your mask and snorkel and that’s never fun. We use this spray to prevent fog from building up on the inside of the mask.
Travel insurance: Of course, you don’t want to think about everything that can go wrong, but accidents do happen. Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Final Thoughts on a Baja California Road Trip
From wine-tasting in the Mexican countryside to snorkeling with whale sharks to relaxing under a palapa in the Pacific, this classic 10-day Baja California road trip is guaranteed to be one of the best road trips you’ll ever take!
Looking for more things to do in Baja California? Check out these posts:
- How to Go Gray Whale Watching in Baja
- 14 Amazing Things to Do in Loreto
- 8 Tips for Visiting Baja, Mexico
- The Ultimate Guide to Bahia de los Angeles
Have you done a Baja California road trip? Tell us your favorite stops in the comments below.