The Classic Baja California Road Trip: 10-Day Itinerary

Baja California road trip sign

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.

Although many refer to it simply as Baja, it’s 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.

Looking for more things to do in Baja California? Check out these posts:

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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. Find a cheap flight 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 Mexico to do this Baja California road trip because car rental companies in the U.S. won’t allow you to drive south of Ensenada.

Find the lowest-priced car rentals here.

Driving Across the Border into Mexico

Many visitors doing a Baja California road trip drive their own car or camper down from the U.S. and Canada.

To cross the border, drive into 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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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:

And yes, you absolutely NEED to buy Mexican auto insurance! Check out our post on buying Baja car insurance for more info.

Even if you already have car insurance at home. Mexican car insurance coverage is now mandatory in Mexico and required by federal law.

Get your Mexican auto insurance now.

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.

Checking out the beach in Bahia Concepcion.

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:

10-Day Baja California Road Trip Itinerary

A vineyard in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
The vineyard at Lechuza in Baja’s wine country.

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.

Glamp at luxury tents with the best ocean views in Ensenada at Hotel Cuarto Cuartos or camp next to the vineyards at El Valle RV Park.

Couple standing on a boulder next to a giant cactus in Baja California
Standing amongst the world’s tallest cactuses in Cataviña.

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.

gray whale watching in Baja California
Kristina saying “Hola!” to a whale and her baby.

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.

Read Next: Gray Whale Watching in Baja, Mexico

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.

islands in bay with cactus on shore
A few of the islands in Bahia Concepcion

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.

Camp at nearby Tecolote Beach or stay on right on the bay at the colorful Casa Kootenay Bed and Breakfast.

People learning to surf at Cerritos Beach
Playa Los Cerritos near Todos Santos

Day 6: Todos Santos

Distance: 50 miles (1 hour) from La Paz to Todos Santos

Spend the morning snorkeling with whale sharks (October-May) or take a boat tour to Playa Balandra, one of Mexico’s best beaches.

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.

Archway in Loreto with a view of sunrise over water
Sunrise over the Gulf of California in Loreto.

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.

Camp in the heart of town at Romanita RV Park or have the plaza at your doorstep at Hotel 1967 Loreto.

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.

town plaza in Tecate, Baja California
The town plaza in Tecate.

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.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Bahia de los Angeles

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 on your trip, but emergencies do happen. World Nomads Travel Insurance provides trip protection, coverage for 200+ adventure travel activities, emergency medical insurance and evacuation, and gear protection.

Be prepared and get your travel insurance today.

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!

Have you done a Baja California road trip? Tell us your favorite stops in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “The Classic Baja California Road Trip: 10-Day Itinerary”

  1. How can you totally ignore Santa Rosalia, probably the loveliest, most
    historical and friendliest town along the midriff, now far surpassing Mulege.

    1. Hi Robert! There’s so much to see on the Baja peninsula, we could fill multiple books with things not included on this short itinerary! But we appreciate the input and I’m sure people would love to see what Santa Rosalia has to offer.

      We regularly stop in Santa Rosalia to restock supplies (the Ley grocery store has a great selection), check out the Iglesia de Santa Bárbara (church) designed by Gustav Effeil and built in France, and grab some bread at the incredible Panadería El Boleo (bakery). Our preference is toward places with a bit more pristine coastline that can be found just south of there, compared to the industrial/mining feel of the coast in Santa Rosalia, but it is a charming town without a doubt.

      Take care!

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