Exploring the Baja Peninsula

If you’ve decided to cruise to Baja, prepare for a fascinating voyage of discovery. Before leaving, after you’ve ensured your boat is in tip-top shape and you’ve designed your boat’s provisioning plans, research what you’d like to see and do.

First, a shameless plug: if you don’t already have a copy of my friend Capt. Pat Rains’ Mexico Boating Guide, be sure to get one. There are other good Baja cruising guides – including Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s Pacific Mexico and Sea of Cortez – but Rains’ guide provides detailed descriptions, latitudes/longitudes and approach instructions, plus charts for nearly every inlet, bay, anchorage, village and port of any note. Rain includes local chandlery and other marine services plus fueling and provisioning options throughout the Baja Peninsula and Sea of Cortes, along with mainland Mexico. When Arv and I traveled with the FUBAR (now CUBAR) fleet to La Paz in 2013, her guide was the fleet’s essential reference.

We always invest in one or two up-to-date guidebooks, since you really can’t rely on internet connectivity or cell service, especially in more remote areas of Baja. We’ve enjoyed the Lonely Planet and Moon Guide to Baja. Usually I choose the most recently published guidebooks with appealing content.

While you’re buying books, treat yourself to Spanish for Cruisers, even if you speak Spanish. Where else would you find the correct terms for Allen wrench or marine parts? I speak fair Spanish, but lack nautical and machinery/electronics terminology.

Once you’ve headed south, docked your boat and processed your entry documents at the Ensenada Port Captain’s office, stop at the local tourist office for current information about attractions and restaurants. Ensenada is now a culinary, viticultural and brewing mecca, with impressive excellent dining choices in all price ranges. The nearby wine-growing region, dominated by the Guadalupe Valley, a half hour outside town, is now home to an excellent wine museum and over 100 wineries, many producing outstanding wines. Ensenada’s craft brewing industry is also well-respected, mirroring developments in San Diego and Tijuana.

For attractions, don’t miss the old tile-covered casino on Blvd. Lázaro Cardenas (also called Costero), now a cultural center housing Ensenada’s history museum with fascinating exhibits showing the city’s evolution. The city gallery with changing fine art exhibitions and the Caracol, the new science museum adjacent to Cruiseport Marina, are nearby. We’ve also enjoyed the Regional History Museum on Av. Gastelum, housed in historic former military headquarters and jail. Be sure to also tour several wineries.

For Ensenada dining, our favorites include Manzanilla, Meulle 3, Ofelia, Sano’s and El Rey Sol. The legendary seafood stand La Guerrerense is located downtown on Av. Lopez Mateos 917. The Guadalupe Valley’s explosion of fine restaurants, matching their wineries, includes Laja, Finca Altozano, Corazón de Tierra and Deckman’s at Mogor Badan Winery.

Marine provisioning and dining opportunities are minimal between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, a large modern city with fine marinas and excellent dining options, and San José del Cabo, a charming, historic city founded in 1730.

Be sure to reserve a few days to explore San José, Baja California del Sur capital La Paz and Loreto, a delightful small city known for Sea of Cortez tourism, fishing and Baja’s still-active first mission.

Art and sculpture-filled San José and La Paz offer boaters many first-class, modern marinas and fine, casual dining along with opportunities for local exploration. You’ll discover interesting shops, attractions and excellent restaurants everywhere. Again, check with the tourist office for latest information and upcoming events.

Don’t be surprised if you fall for these unspoilt, boater-friendly communities which will surely lure you to return.

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