Destinations: Baja by Motorcycle

Looking for a real motorcycle adventure?
By Joe Berk
November/December 2008
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Looking for a real motorcycle adventure? Consider touring Baja by motorcycle, a magical place offering superior scenery, wonderful roads, fantastic food, friendly people and surprisingly low cost.

Southern California’s the usual starting place, and getting there is easy since Baja starts about 25 miles south of San Diego. Assuming your point of entry is from Interstate 5, head west toward the coast as soon as you cross the border into Tijuana and watch for signs pointing to Ensenada. Keep going, as Tijuana is not nearly as interesting as what lies ahead. Your goal is Highway 1 (Mexico’s Transpeninsular Highway), which zigzags from the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Cortez all the way down to Cabo San Lucas. Our destination is Santa Rosalia, a little more than halfway down the peninsula on the Gulf of California.

The road from Tijuana to Ensenada (the only toll road on this trip) runs a short 70 miles along the Pacific. If you get an early start, you can enjoy the breakfast buffet at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. After breakfast, Ensenada comes up quickly. Once south of Ensenada, the Transpeninsular Highway winds through the wine country and Baja’s agricultural villages. Make sure you slow down for the “topes” (speed bumps).

About 250 miles south of the border you’ll hit El Rosario. Fill  your tank at the Pemex gas station (the next one is about 210 miles down the road!), and have lunch at Mama Espinosa’s. The Transpeninsular Highway makes a sharp left in El Rosario and heads inland through desolate desert and magnificent mountains. Here is where the true Baja magic begins — the riding and the scenery are stunning. Baja has more than 50 unique plant species, including the 70-foot tall Cardón cactus and the strange, Dr. Seuss-like Cirios. Make sure to bring a camera.

Cataviña is a good place to spend the night. The town has a couple of motels. The Desert Inn is the nicest one. Cataviña lies in a boulder field in the middle of the Vizcaino desert. The bright blue sky, giant boulders and huge Cardón cactus make for a surreal experience, just one of many offered by Baja.

Get an early start for Guerrero Negro, the next town down the road on the Pacific coast. After a few miles of twisties, the Transpeninsular Highway runs straight as an arrow (you can run wide open along this stretch). Guerrero Negro is named for the Black Warrior, a ship that sank off its shores in the 1800s. This town is the world’s largest salt producer; the Mexicans flood the shallow plains with seawater and when the water evaporates, they bulldoze up the salt. But the whales are Guerrero Negro’s real treat. Scammon’s Lagoon is one of a couple of places in Baja that the California gray whales migrate to each winter. Whale-watching season is from January through April, and there are several whale-watching tours in town. Malarrimo’s is the best, with a hotel and a great restaurant. The whales are truly awe-inspiring, and you can actually get close enough to pet these playful giants, an experience like no other.

Highway 1 turns southeast after Guerrero Negro, heading across the peninsula through boulder fields, volcanoes and desert as it runs to the Sea of Cortez. You’ll pass through San Ignacio, an oasis formed by a volcano in the Vizcaino desert. The beautiful and ancient San Ignacio mission, located on the town square, is a working church, and offers great photo opportunities.

After San Ignacio, the Transpeninsular Highway runs through the desert and mountains for another 70 miles before it descends through La Cuesta del Infierno, a set of twisties dropping several hundred feet into Santa Rosalia. When Baja broke away from Mexico 20 million years ago, the land tilted from east to west. The highest portions are along the Sea of Cortez, and La Cuesta del Infierno winds down through this shelf to sea level. Santa Rosalia started as a copper mining town dominated by the French Boleo company. With its French architecture and Gustav-Eiffel-designed church, the town is beautiful. The all-wooden Frances Hotel, high on a mesa overlooking the town, is the place to stay here.

Santa Rosalia is a bit more than halfway down the peninsula, and using it as a destination makes for a great four- or five-day adventure taking in the best of Baja.


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