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Picture yourself parked on a white sand beach, waking up to rolling waves, and watching whales breach while you sip your coffee from your campervan. If that’s not quite your style, imagine being parked in a lush garden, hiking right from your campsite, and finding yourself floating in natural pools at the base of a waterfall. It sounds like paradise, right?
Well, that’s the Baja Peninsula. And it’s more accessible than you might think!
The raw beauty of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico is absolutely indescribable. One moment, you’re driving next to the Sea of Cortez, mesmerized by the color of the water, and another moment, you’re cruising through cacti that make you feel like you’ve landed smack in the middle of The Lorax. It’s so rad.
People flock to Los Cabos, where there’s an international airport and massive resorts, but, in my opinion, a road trip is the best way to see the “real” Baja.
Think it’s too hard to drive to Baja? Think again! If you’re considering a Baja road trip or want to learn more about it, I’m here to help! I’ll share what I’ve learned in my experience driving through Baja, what I plan to do differently in the future, and give recommendations for food, camping, and everything in between. We hope this Baja road trip guide helps shape your amazing adventure.
Check out Brooke’s interview about driving Baja on The Wayward Home Podcast:
Table of Contents
Know Before You Go to the Baja Peninsula
The Baja Peninsula is separated into two states: Baja California (north) and Baja California Sur (south). Most of the resort towns and places you’ve seen pictures of are in Baja California Sur, but it takes a few days of driving to get here.
Here is a Google Map of all the hot spots and campsites. You can go to any of these places in any order and spend as much or as little time as you want. That’s the beauty of travel in Baja: if you’re a van lifer or an RVer spending winter here, slowly enjoy the beaches and all the pure nature around you. We hope you enjoy Baja as much as we do!
What to Expect with Roads in Baja California
Roads in Baja vary from newly paved sections to extremely narrow dirt roads. Expect potholes, unmarked speedbumps [“topes” (toe-pays)], and rough terrain at times. Overall, I found roads to be just fine, but everyone has their own opinions!
There are a total of 6 military checkpoints you must pass through if you drive the entire Baja peninsula. Uniformed military personnel will ask you where you came from and where you’re heading, and they may ask to search your vehicle. As with the border, they are searching for drugs and weapons.
These can feel intimidating because the officers have very large guns, but in my experience, most interactions were friendly or neutral.
Mexican Auto Insurance
Your US vehicle policy will not cover you in Mexico. It is a requirement to have and carry proof of Mexican auto insurance while in Mexico.
Baja Bound is a favorite of many, and they make it easy. If you do some searching on your own, you may find some cheaper options. You’ll have to choose how long of a policy you want and put in the valuation of your vehicle.
If you are in Mexico for several months, it might be beneficial to call your US insurance company and freeze your policy to save money if they offer it.
You can buy most things you’re used to at the grocery stores in Baja California Sur, but some produce, such as greens like kale or spinach, will be difficult to find. Plant-based proteins like soy chorizo are regularly available, and in large cities like La Paz or Cabo, you can find other plant-based products. If there’s something you can’t live without, bring it with you (but check what’s allowed first!).
Mexican pesos are used in Baja. I’d advise you to exchange some money at the border and keep cash on hand since not everywhere will accept credit cards, especially in small towns. Beach vendors and campgrounds are often cash-only, and ATMs can be hard to find. This was a big one for me as someone who doesn’t regularly carry cash!
Be sure to notify your bank you’re leaving the country, and check ATM fees closely before withdrawing money. You might also want to ask your bank about its foreign withdrawal fee.
Keep your pet’s vaccination record with you when traveling through Baja. You probably won’t be asked for it, but you should have it just in case. It’s also good to have should you take your pet to a veterinarian in Baja.
Veterinary services are much more affordable in Baja than in the US, including emergency vets. 24-hour veterinarians are available in big cities but not in smaller towns.
Your brand of dog food or cat litter is likely not sold in most Baja stores, and if it is, it will be very expensive! Bring as much as you can for the time you’ll travel in Baja. In small towns, stores might only have a big bulk bin of random dog food where you purchase however much you need. More options exist in larger cities, but only a handful of brands you’d find in the US.
Showers can be few and far between in Baja. Some hostels or campgrounds have paid showers, but many do not. You can expect to pay 50-150 pesos for a shower. Hot water is a luxury and hard to find. My advice is to expect cold showers and feel fancy when you come across a hot one!
You can also bring your own solar shower, like this Sea to Summit one The Wayward Home’s Kristin Hanes likes to use.
Most laundry in Baja is a drop-off service. You leave your dirty clothes, someone washes and folds them for you, and you pick them up the next day. Sometimes same day service is available depending on how busy the laundromat is. Beware, it is common that laundry is washed with heavily scented soap and fabric softener. You can bring your own soap or ask for it cleaned without perfumes [sin parfumas (seen par-FU-moss)].
If you don’t want to wait for your laundry to be finished, check out the Scrubba wash bag. Many van lifers love its portability, and it can also double as a wet bag!
Finding drinking water in Mexico is very easy! There are lots of agua purificada (ah-gwa poor-if-ee-cah-dah) stores. You bring your own containers, the employees wash and fill them with highly purified water, and it only costs 10-30 pesos per liter! It’s honestly so much easier than searching for water in the US or Canada! If you plan on road-tripping in a vehicle that needs a hose to fill it, bring one with you to make the process go more smoothly.
Cell Signal and Wifi
US/Canadian cell providers will typically work in major cities, but there are large gaps in service throughout Baja. I have the Verizon Unlimited plan, which covers usage in the US, Mexico, and Canada. Check with your provider before you go to find out if they have service in Baja. The Wayward Home’s Kristin Hanes likes using Visible on her sailboat in Mexico.
Many restaurants, hotels/hostels, and other businesses have wifi for their patrons, but never depend on this!
Starlink works great and is helpful if you need to work remotely or stay connected on your road trip through the Baja peninsula.
Helpful Spanish Phrases for Your Baja Road Trip
You can get by in Baja if you don’t speak Spanish, but learning a little bit will go a long way! You should be prepared for folks to speak mostly Spanish, especially outside of the major tourist hubs. These phrases will have you on your way to successfully communicating through your Baja road trip.
- Do you speak English? Habla ingles? (“ah-blah ING-lays”)
- I need help. Necesito ayuda (“eye-OOH-da”)
- How much? Cuanto? (“kwan-toe”)
- Do you accept credit cards? Aceptan tarjetas? (“Ah-sep-tan tar-HEY-tas”)
- Thank you. Gracias (“GRAH-see-oss)
- Please. Por favor (poor fuh-VORE)
- Full, please (at the gas station) Lleno (“yay-no”) por favor
- Bathroom. bano (bon-yo)
- Purified water agua purificada (ah-gwa poor-if-ee-ca-dah)
- Left izquierda (is-KEY-air-duh)
- Right derecho (deh-RAY-cho)
When planning your Baja California road trip, you’ll need to decide where to cross over into Mexico. There are several options, and what you choose depends on your schedule and where exactly you are when you plan to cross.
Tijuana is the closest border crossing to San Diego. It’s a very busy border!
This is a popular crossing for heading down the east coast of Baja. I crossed back into the US at this border and it took me around 2.5 hours.
Tecate is the crossing I’ve used to start my Baja California Sur road trip and where I plan to cross on my upcoming Baja road trip. It’s a very small border crossing but efficient and much less busy than the bigger ones.
Algodones is a crossing between Arizona and Mexico. The streets on the Mexican side are lined with doctors and dentists as this is a very common border crossing for medical treatment. In fact, lots of folks take the pedestrian crossing daily for medical and dental care.
Remember that returning to the USA often takes longer than crossing into Mexico. It is common to spend hours in line at the border when crossing back into the States. Pack snacks (no produce!), something to keep you entertained, and patience!
What Happens at the Border Crossing to Baja?
You must show your passport and vehicle registration documents at the border. Mexican border patrol agents will likely search your vehicle for around 5-10 minutes and ask questions about where you are going and what you have with you. They are mostly concerned with drugs (CBD is included in the list of illegal drugs to bring into Mexico), weapons, and produce. In my experience, the agents asked me if my dog would bite them, then opened the cabinets and looked around before sending me on my way.
IMPORTANT: You must get your FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) or Multiple Immigration Form at the border crossing. It is about $ 30 USD and you can pay with pesos or dollars. You’re required to have this form on you throughout your travels in Baja. You may face a hefty fine if you’re asked for it and don’t have it. Where you get your FMM is not always clear. Be prepared to ask for help locating the FMM office once you cross the border.
Camping on the Baja Peninsula
If you plan to camp in Baja, you’re in luck! There are tons of opportunities, from camping on the white sand beaches to gorgeous desert and mountain view campsites. The campgrounds are what create the ultimate Baja California road trip itinerary.
I recommend using the app iOverlander to find campsites – there are so many on there!
Some places have free camping, while others require payment. Unlike campgrounds you might be used to in the US or Canada, most campgrounds in Baja do not take reservations. They are first come first served and cash only. You often park on the beach for a day or so before someone comes around to collect money and give you a receipt.
Trash collection is usually the only amenity at beach campgrounds. Some might have bathrooms or pit toilets. A few might have a shower, but that shouldn’t be expected.
I recommend bringing your own toilet on your Baja California road trip. Van lifers typically simply bring a bucket, plastic bags and some cat litter for handling #2. When you’re done camping, throw the bag into the garbage bin on your way out.
Where to Go Camping in Baja California
One of the things I love about road-tripping through Baja is there’s something for everyone! If you like surfing, there are plenty of spots for it. If you like calm, tranquil waters for kayaking or paddleboarding, they are easy to find! Prefer hiking or hot springs? Baja’s got those, too!
I’ll share some hot spots, and you can plan your own epic itinerary based on the amount of time you’ll spend in Baja and what you want to see and do. Let’s get to it!
Baja Camping Hot Spots to Check Out
I’ve separated these out by region. If you’re planning a road trip, be sure to look at a map to see where each place is located and what route makes the most sense for you!
* Locations with an asterisk have been dedicated pueblos mágicos or magical towns by the Mexican tourism board. Each pueblo mágico is designated for its culture, history, food, art, and hospitality. Having visited each of these, I have to agree. They are magical!
Baja California’s Interior
While the beaches are often the main draw of Baja, there are some inland spots worth checking out, too! Here are some of our favorite spots to add to your Baja California road trip itinerary.
If you choose this border crossing, you’ll end up in town. It’s a great stop for foodies and has everything you need to start (or end) your Baja trip!
Valle de Guadalupe
Just an hour or two from the US/Mexico border, you’ll find this charming wine country with stunning vistas, award-winning restaurants, and gorgeous vineyards.
Camping recommendation: L.A. Cetto Winery allows customers to park overnight in their large lot near the vineyard with approval.
You can also use a Harvest Hosts membership to find winery stays in the Valle de Guadalupe!
Home to a historic mission, several great campgrounds, and a charming town square, San Ignacio deserves a visit! The local dogs will greet you while you walk through this little slice of paradise.
Camping recommendation: Paraíso Misionál is walking distance to the town square, has a brand new hot shower, and very kind owners!
Sierra Laguna Mountains
Rancho San Dionisio is a camping oasis in the desert with a lush garden, tropical trees, and access to hiking in the biosphere with incredible pools, waterfalls, and a gorgeous river!
Pacific Coast of the Baja Peninsula
This large city just south of the US/Mexico border on the Pacific Ocean is a cruise port that stays very busy! Just a bit south of Ensenada, check out La Bufadora, one of only three natural marine geysers or “blowholes” worldwide!
This town claims to have the best fish tacos in Baja. (I respectfully disagree, more on that later). After a bumpy drive through the salt flats, you’ll arrive at a popular gray whale-watching spot that is definitely worth the trip!
Camping recommendation: Ojo de Liebre has cheap campsites, some with water views. It’s only open in winter, during whale watching season. Whale-watching boats leave from the campground entrance and are around $ 50 USD.
This gorgeous little town is a favorite of many for its health food stores, walkability, and charm. You can also watch volunteers release sea turtles into the Pacific Ocean nightly during winter! Todos Santos is where the famous Hotel California from the Eagles song is by the same name. It’s an upscale, trendy, touristy city with many fun bars and restaurants.
If you love surfing, you’ll want to check out the nearby beaches to rent some boards.
Doce Cuarenta coffeehouse is a gorgeous spot for digital nomads and travelers to work and sip some delicious drinks!
This humble little town has an awesome artist’s market with live music and handmade goods. This area was awesome for souvenir shopping; I found some gorgeous blankets and unique room sprays.
Camping recommendation: Playa San Pedrito
A popular surf town with parking in a large lot on the beach. They call it camping, but it’s really parking in a lot on the sand. Great little restaurants, bars, and boutique hotels line the dirt roads of this laid back locale.
Sea of Cortez
The calmer turquoise waters on the east coast of the Baja peninsula are a stark contrast to the wild waves of the Pacific coast.
This is a common first stop for folks traveling down the peninsula. There’s a boardwalk by the water and several campgrounds that are quite pricey! This is one of my least favorite spots in Baja, but it’s a good stopping point if you need a place to rest and to stock up on groceries.
Cabo Pulmo National Park
Cabo Pulmo is known for its snorkeling and diving opportunities in the East Cape of the peninsula. Sharks, rays, turtles, whales, and fish inhabit the National Park and its reef.
The smooth stones of the shoreline are a noticeable difference from the sandy beaches in other parts of Baja.
Camping recommendation: Free camping at the abandoned old campground just before town. There are no amenities besides trash bins, but it’s free!
La Ventana is the kitesurfing and windsurfing mecca of Baja. There are loads of expats here, and the La Ventana Farmer’s Market is a good one!
During the winter windy months, though, La Ventana gets crazy busy, and some campgrounds will be completely full.
Bahía de los Angeles
Known as the Bay of LA, this area offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains, birdwatching, and calm waters (unless it’s windy!). You’ll find a couple of grocery stores in town – one even caters to “gringos”, with hard-to-find items like mixed green salads, a few restaurants and the internet if you didn’t bring your own.
There is no cell signal in all of Bahia de Los Angeles, so keep that in mind when planning your Baja California road trip itinerary.
If you’re here a little later in the year, you might be graced with whale sharks – they love this bay during the warmer months. However, the weather might be too hot if you don’t have AC in your campervan.
Camping recommendation: Set up camp for free on the smooth stones of Playa La Gringa.
There is not much going on in this small town; in fact it feels mostly empty, but there are hot springs (aguas termales)!
Home to my personal favorite fish tacos in Baja! Tacos El Faro is a modest little stand selling perfectly fried fish tacos for only 25 pesos each! There was recently a massive flood in Santa Rosalía during Hurricane Hilary. I’m anxious to see how the town has recovered.
Santa Rosalia is adorable, local, and non-touristy, and it has some interesting history – it used to be a mining town operated by the French, and you can still see remnants of the mining operations to this day. There’s even a church in town built by the same designer as the Eiffel Tower in France….Alexander Gustave Eiffel.
Santa Rosalia feels clean and safe, and is a great place to stock up on groceries.
Bahía Concepción (Playa Coyote, Playa Santispac, Playa Requeson, Playa El Burro, Playa Los Cocos)
Every beach in Bahía Concepción is gorgeous. Vendors walk through daily selling fresh baked goods, fruits, and seafood. This is a place where you feel like you could stay forever. The calm bay makes for excellent paddleboarding and kayaking.
Camping recommendation: Playa El Coyote is about 200 pesos per night and is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever camped.
This cute town with narrow streets and a traditional feel has free camping on the rocks out near the lighthouse.
I’m biased because I found my Baja street puppy, now named Totopo (tortilla chip), here, but this town is one of my favorites. The town square is lively and filled with restaurants, authentic Mexican food carts, and friendly locals. Loreto is framed by the stunning Sierra de la Giganta mountain range, which glows orange during sunsets.
Camping recommendation: Romanita RV Park is in town, making it walkable to anything you want to see or do. They have showers and electricity, too!
La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur. It’s a big city with a Wal-Mart but has incredible beaches! Grab chile rellenos at a counter service spot in Mercado Nicolas Bravo and then check out the beaches of Tecolote, Balandra, and Pichilingue. If you’re in for an adventure, catch a panga out to Isla Espiritu Santo for a day of snorkeling and sunbathing.
La Paz is vibrant, with many restaurants, hotels, boutiques and a beautiful Malecon perched on the edge of the sparkling Sea of Cortez. This cosmopolitan city has a farmers market on weekends where you can get organic produce, fresh eggs, and local food for an affordable price. Catch live music on weekends or enjoy one of this city’s many festivals.
La Paz is less touristy than Cabo and a great way to experience Mexican culture while exploring Baja California Sur on your road trip adventure.
Camping recommendations: Playa Tecolote, Playa Pichilingue, Peace Hostel is an urban campground with showers and Starlink internet!
At the southern tip of the Baja peninsula are Los Cabos (The Capes): Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
Cabo San Lucas
is a party destination for spring breakers and the rich and famous. Like any city, expect crowds, many tourists, and overpriced food and drinks (compared to the other parts of Baja).
But there are some hidden gems in Cabo, too. El Huerto farm-to-table dining is off the beaten path and worth the trip. They have thought of everything; they even bring a stool for your purse! I went here for brunch and hope to snag a reservation for dinner this winter!
Camping recommendation: Rancho El Clandestino. I was chatting with one of the window washers at the gas station while waiting for my van to fill up, and he told me about this place. I went to check it out a few weeks later, and there he was; he was also the groundskeeper at the campground! It’s a lovely place with an amazing shower!
Here is some gear I found helpful for my Baja road trip. I’d recommend having these items on hand.
There are LONG stretches of road without cell signal, and if you are traveling with others, this makes communicating easy. It's also helpful when one driver wants/needs to stop. I have these walkie-talkies and they work great. (Side note: using walkie-talkies can get you a ticket, so be cautious and be sure to turn them off during border crossings and checkpoints)
These are the ultimate tool for getting unstuck on the beach. I used them to get out of the sand and vouch for them. GoTreads fold up nicely and small and also double as leveling blocks! Multi-functional tools are always a yes on road trips! You can get by without these, but they are nice-to-haves if you want to be the most comfortable on your road trip.
Avoid These Common Mistakes and Mishaps
Fuel stops are full-service in Baja. Someone will come and fill your tank and process your payment for you. Watch to see if you’re getting diesel vs. regular (Magna). Fill up when you see one, whether you need it or not, as gas stations can be few and far between and pumps can often be out of service. Consider bringing an extra fuel canister if you drive a bus or vehicle that gets really low gas mileage.
Paying with large bills
Be sure to say the amount and clarify what size bill you’re handing over when paying with cash. Occasionally, someone might try to rip you off by saying you gave them a 10 when you gave them a 100. It doesn’t happen often and I wouldn’t be overly worried; just be smart.
During Holy Week, the week of Easter, you will find HUGE crowds, packed beaches, loud music, and all-night parties. Many winter travelers try to end their Baja road trips before Semana Santa to avoid the craziness!
Don’t take a road trip through Baja in the summer months unless you want to sweat. A lot! Baja is very hot from April through September. The best time of year to visit Baja is October through March. Even in March of 2023, I experienced 90+ F (32+ C) days in my campervan!
Check tide charts and look for water lines before parking near the water! I promise you don’t want to wake up to water slapping against your vehicle! (I had to move twice due to fluctuating tides during my 3-month trip!)
Bring a wetsuit
The downside to traveling in the “cooler” months is that the water is cold! If you plan on swimming, surfing, spearfishing, or spending much time in the water, a wetsuit will be your friend!
Don’t always rely on Google Maps
Download offline maps and keep a current paper map with you when you don’t have internet or there is a surprise road closure.
Adapt to Mexico time. Things do not always go as planned in Baja. Sometimes, roads close for entire days at a time without notice. Don’t pin it too close if you have limited time to get somewhere!
Have a Blast in Baja!
Now that we’ve covered everything, you’re prepared to create the road trip of your dreams through Baja California, Mexico! Buen viaje, amigos!
Are you headed down to Baja this winter? Let me know in the comments! Chances are I’ll see you there!