Baja California Road Report
The latest reports of road conditions and driving conditions along Mexico's Hwy 1 through Baja California.
We have always recommended Mexican Auto Insurance. Now it is a requirement to drive on Federal Highways in both Baja California and Baja California Sur. Failure to have insurance may only be initially enforced as an 'add-on' infraction in the event of an accident or violation. As little as Mexican Insurance costs, it is silly to go without. Click here to check out our variety of insurance providers.
Our road reports depend on our network of BajaInsider readers to give us the lowdown on the 1000 miles of road between the border and Cabo San Lucas. We also appreciate your pictures! But please, be sure they are taken from the passenger's side!
When we first began publishing our road reports 10 years ago road conditions could change dramatically, particularly during our rainy season. Today, most of the major vados have been replaced with bridges and four lane road exists near Constitucion and La Paz to Cabo San Lucas and then on to San Jose del Cabo.
Effective January 1, 2011– All cars transiting Baja California were required to carry Liability Insurance.
Effective November 12. 2012 – The Mexican Immigration Law Reform of 2012 requires you to obtain your FMM (tourist card) at the point of entry. The new facilities at the San Ysidro Border Crossing make obtaining your tourist card much easier. Fines will be applied to violators and are rarely waived under the new law.
Effective October 1, 2013 – All cars using federal highways in Baja California Sur will be required to carry liability insurance regardless of origin of the registration.
Effective January 1, 2011 – Cell phone use by the driver is an infraction. In Baja California Sur it is about $800 pesos.
The 4 lane is complete from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas, via Todos Santos. Rough road usually exists in the region between Baja California and Baja California Sur. Any kind of major road detour is the result of construction or rains and by-passes are often in place within 24hrs and paved if need be within days.
Driving Baja is quite simply put, far less of a challenge than a decade ago and not much different than driving many of California's 2 lane highways. One notable exception is the lack of shoulders, but even that is being remedied.
January 17, 2014
Highway By-Pass Old Hwy 1 & South to La Paz
Recently a couple of Insider Readers took the new detour around the devastated section of Scenic Hwy 1 north of Ensenada. Since I had not driven that section of road since the early 90's I wondered if that less used section has been left to go to pot(holes). Their defining responce was, "For anyone who has driven Baja PAST Ensenada, the detour route will be nothing new." they reported.
The folks I spoke with imagined it would be slighly trickier with a trailer or large RV, but still just a little challenge. It adds a little time, traffic wasn't too bad when they traversed. See below two YouTube videos on the Old Hwy 1 and Hwy 3 By-Passes.
The rest of the trip south to La Paz was a breeze. New lines have been painted in many locations and the few short detours around bridge or other short construction projects was well marked, at least for day travel.
The scenery was still green, although well past its peak and wanting for winter rains in the north. Try not to drive at night folks, not for fear of "rateros" (bandits) but for the desire not to merge with a 2200lb bull in the roadway after dark.
December 28, 2013
BajaInsider Road Alert
Highway 1 Closure just north of Ensenada
The Pacific coast route of Mexico Hwy 1 is closed due to a massive landslide. The highway, also known as the Scenic Route or Toll Road lost both the north and southbound lanes about 2AM Saturday, December 28 for about 300-400 meters in a steep section just 10 miles north of Ensenada. (Click here for Map)
Video for the Old Hwy 1 By-pass
The tourist related businesses of Ensenada and points south want to stress that, although it may take a little longer to get there, they are still accessible and open to serve you.
Some media report that the landslide was the result of a series of very small earthquakes that centered more than 50 miles to the southeast on December 20. According to the Mexico City newspaper Excelsior, highway officials were aware of the pending slide and had measure the deviation at -30 centimeters (11.5in) on December 26th to falling to 131ft below the original road placement on December 28.
Video for the Route 3 bypass from Tecate
The roadway was built in the 1980's and has been in a near constant state of retrofitting since then. Built on what geologists define as unstable ground, the toll road cuts into the steep hillsides just north of Ensenada, dramatically above the Pacific ocean below. It was in one of these narrow cut passes that the roadway gave way. The toll road carries one of the most expensive per mile tolls of any toll road in Mexico. Significant renovations for safety were done to toll booths and ramps in the last 7 years.
The one recommended alternate route for southbound travelers is to enter Mexico through Tecate and take Hwy 3 south to Ensenada and rejoin Mexico Highway 1 south. Without question the alternate route through Baja's wine country is also scenic, but also presents a greater challenge to drivers with 2 lane traffic and many more curves. From the detour point to Tecate is 78 miles of two lane road and an additional 60 miles of two lane road on the California side before Hwy 94 becomes divided highway again outside San Diego.
The Baja California Secretary of Tourism states that traffic on the Scenic Route will be taken off the 4 lane divided highway at El Mission and take old Hwy 1 south to just north of El Sauzal. This detour also takes you along a more challenging 2 lane road for about 23 miles. (Click here for Map)
Regardless of which route you take the closure of the main thoroughfare from Tijuana to Ensenada will have an impact on drive time. Look for delays with truck convoys and slow moving vehicles along the alternate routes. Neither route presents an abundance of opportunities to pass safely, so you if are one of those slow moving objects, make opportunity for other cars to pass when appropriate.
December 29, 2013
Additional Landslide Info
A truck driver has had an amazing escape after a 300-meter section of highway near the US and Mexico border collapsed causing the road to sink 100 feet. Gabriel González Cuevas was driving his truck, which was holding 36 tonnes of cement, on the road at the time of the collapse and was lucky to escape unhurt after his vehicle was unable to move. He told Ensenada.net he had to wait several hours to be pulled to safety by heavy machinery that had been requested by authorities.
December 24, 2013
Rookie Baja Driver
We did the drive down Hwy 1 for the first time Dec 21 thru 23, a bit of a rush job, wanting to be home for Christmas. Home being San Jose del Cabo.
No problems anywhere. A few construction zones slowing everyone down, but most of the way it was good driving all the way. We crossed the border at the new san Ysidro crossing and there was no delay, no traffic jam, no immigration official asking us any questions or looking at our passports, car papers etc. A customs officer had a look into our 5 x 8 ' cargo trailer but did not ask to see any paperwork, like our packing list. We brought in a new cargo trailer and inside a new tv, no duty payment requested. All in all a good experience.
Id like to do the trip again without a trailer and load on the roof, spending more time en route. The first night we spent at Hotel Paraiso in Colnet. Owner Ernesto, the Aztec, and his staff looked after us very well, the room and the food (dinner + break/fast) were very nice.
The 2nd night we stayed at El Morro, Santa Rosalia, not that great an experience. This hotel has seen better days. Our room was very basic and the furniture old and worn. The breakfast was also nothing to write home about. However the location and views from the terrace were nice. For a late but nice breakfast we stopped at Loreto, Hacienda Suites. From La Paz to San Jose del Cabo we drove in the dark which I would not like to do again.
Editor's Note: Rookie or not, we here at the BajaInsider have always recommended not driving Baja's Hwy 1 after dark. This recommendation has never been based on a fear of highway bandits, but rather a dozen other things that can go 'bump' in the night. Although signage has been improved significantly in the past decade hairpin turns, topes and wide-swinging trucks pale in comparison to the sudden stop provided by a full grown bull or even a burro in the roadway.
In addition, driving Highway 1 is much more taxing on a driver than an equal time on a straight 4 lane freeway, as there are few sections to kick back and engage cruise control. The complete trip represents about 17-20hrs of drive time, depending on your border crossing time and the season break up that drive as best you see fit.
November 20, 2013
San Diego to La Paz
Don Neilson - Veteran Baja Driver
My most recent road trip down the peninsula began in San Diego on Nov 6 & ended in La Paz on Nov 12. The only thing I can add to the October reports by Dennis Painter & James Glover concerns highway construction in the vicinity of San Vicente in BC. North of the town there was a short dirt detour. South of the town there was several miles of the same. Nothing out of the ordinary in either case. Oh, the new checkpoint on the new roadway south of Maneadero was unmanned.
October 27-29, 2013
San Diego to San Jose del Cabo
Dennis Painter Veteran Baja Driver
We crossed the border at San Ysidro early Sunday morning, October 27th. At 6:00 A.M., things were pretty quiet at the customs inspection facility. I always have a lot of household stuff, so I automatically pull into the first available inspection lane and hope for the best. I was there about 10 minutes as they eyed my load and inquired what I might have that was new.
We were on the toll road well before sunup and cleared Ensenada by 8:30 A.M. As described in the October 17th report below, there is a lot of construction on certain stretches of Mx. Hwy. 1 all the way down the peninsula. That report is very detailed and I really don’t have much to add to it except it fails to mention the worst detour we encountered. During the construction of the four lane from Cabo San Lucas to Todos Santos, those of us going to and from SJD used the East Cape bypass up through the mountains to avoid the construction. Now, most of us have returned to the old way through CSL and up the Pacific side. After this trip, it’s back to the mountain route. The four lane from CSL to Todos Santos has never been completed, awaiting the construction of interchanges both north and south of Todos Santos. Now they have begun construction of the stretch just south of town and the two lane dirt detour is a complete mess for some distance. It was very rough and so dusty that it was like driving in fog. I backed way off the car in front in order to let the dust settle so that I could see where I was going. I know someday it will be very nice with a complete four lane bypass around Todos Santos but…for now avoid going through Todos Santos if you are going to San Jose.
Other than the construction slow downs, it was a pleasant drive with the beautiful green desert showing up first around San Ignacio and then again from Santa Rosalia all the way to Lands End. I love the drive when there have been recent rains! We encountered six military checkpoints. The usual five (north edge of Ensenada, south of San Vicente, north of El Rosario, north of Guerrero Negro, west of San Ignacio, and north of Loreto) plus the sporadically open one on the north edge of Todos Santos. For us, the stops were pretty relaxed. I only had to get out of the truck once (Loreto). Otherwise, we were either waived through or asked a couple of questions and sent on our way.
The check point north of Guerrero Negro provide a few moments of humor as we watched the young soldiers go through a car occupied by a young Mexican male and three pretty teenage girls in school uniforms of short checked skirts, white blouses, white stockings, and navy blue sweaters. The four occupants were already out of the car as we entered the checkpoint so I stayed back to allow the soldiers to finish their inspection. It soon became obvious that the soldiers were in no hurry to send these girls on their way. Each one had to produce purse and/or backpack for an inspection. I told my wife we might be there awhile since it was apparent that the young men didn’t get to see girls much these days while on duty. Finally, after a couple of cars piled up behind us, the girls were sent on and we pulled up for our inspection. The soldier took one look inside the truck, saw two old people and two small dogs, and didn’t even say a word—just waved us through. My wife was insulted that they didn’t feel she was worth at least a purse inspection. We spent two nights on the road while in Baja.
The first in San Quintin at Jardines Baja which we feel is the finest travel accommodations on the peninsula. We normally spend the second night at the Desert Inn in San Ignacio. This year, as I signed in, I noticed the rates had changed—from 600 pesos per night the last time in May to 1200 pesos. Double! I said “no thank you” and prepared to try and beat sundown and drive to Santa Rosalia. As I was leaving, I was made aware of a new hotel in San Ignacio that is located just past the church on the plaza. The name of the hotel is Hotel La Huerta. It opened in July and the rooms are still new and nice—and they charged me 400 pesos for one night. The office is located at the La Huerta store which has a pretty good selection of groceries and meats. If you find yourself in need of a room in San Ignacio, this place is worth a look. My odometer showed 1040 miles from San Ysidro to San Jose del Cabo.
The weather here is still warm and a little humid but expected to cool off next week. By the way, if you are staying on the malecon on San Jose, be prepared for construction in front of the Grand Mayan, Cabo Azul, Royal Solaris and Hola Grand Faro resorts. They are replacing a sewer line and traffic is down to two lanes. A fitting occurrence after all the construction and detours on the drive down.
October 17, 2013
San Diego to Cabo San Lucas
Publisher James Glover
Veteran Baja Driver
This road report is for the entire Baja trans-peninsular Highway 1 south to Cabo from San Diego. There are several areas of construction to be noted in Baja (Norte) and more in Baja Sur. In Baja Sur due to recent rains there are many vados (dips in road where water crosses) and areas where rocks had fallen from slides in the mountains or road cuts. There are also areas of construction that were damaged by flooding from the recent storm Octave, so keep an eye out for construction and slow down (disminuya su velocidad) when advised.
For decades here in Baja it has been common for drivers to turn on their left turn signal to indicate that it is safe to pass. With curvy roads and limited passing areas this was sometime helpful. You had to watch though, because if you got a flash of brake lights too (if they worked) it could really mean a left hand turn, a mess would result if you thought he meant for you to pass.
Recently, trucks have been using the left turn signal to indicate to an oncoming truck where the near side of their truck is. Even dumber... see our slide show to see how well it doesn't work.
LEFT TURN SIGNALS ARE FOR MAKING A LEFT TURN.
A few years ago a bus passed a slow dump truck with a left turn signal illuminated. The southbound bus driver thought he was indicating it was safe to pass. The northbound bus driver thought he was indicting the left side of his truck. (which was correct) Unfortunately, 19 people and both bus drivers died in the 80+MPH head on collision. If you are driving a pickup or camper - you are not a Semi, quit pretending! There are currently driver education programs to help Mexicans kick the habit as well.
Drive safe - don't drive after dark if you can avoid it, a wandering cow makes a terrible hood ornament!
I drove this time south out of Tijuana on the old Transpenisular 1 which is the Free (Libre) route south directly to Rosarito Beach. I hadn’t been on this highway in years and it was very quick to Rosarito Beach area with a little construction just north of Rosarito. I understand from locals that it can be very busy with traffic depending on the day and time of driving as it is heavily used by commuters. I drove the free road as it is called south through Rosarito all the way to Ensenada where I jumped back on to the Toll (cuota) road to enter Ensenada via the scenic route along the marina area. Rosarito has some major construction as the town has been growing a lot over the years. It is easily driven and the town looks great with lots of new businesses and developments over the last few years.
Ensenada along the scenic route was fine and I feel the preferable way to drive through this wonderful beach city. Take time to stop in the marina area and load up on seafood; It is well worth the stop. Heading south from Ensenada in Maneadero there are numerous stop signs at 4 way intersections that are hard to see. Drive slowly and be aware these could be places that police will catch you running a stop sign you might not see.
Once south of Ensenada is the valley Santo Tomas which is the Antigua Ruta del Vino (the old Wine route) which has seen a lot of growth with many more fields of grapes being grown in this area. In the southern portion of this valley you’ll see the first dirt detour (about 6 kilometers long) well made as they widen and re-pave the highway.
Further south of Ensenada and just past Camalu (approx. 45km north of San Quintin) you will find the first one way detour as they hold cars from each direction alternatively; they are re-paving 10 kilometers more of highway 1 damaged by all the farm truck traffic. The areas around San Quintin seem to have an explosion of farming that has increased traffic along this section of highway.
Just north of El Rosario was the first military check point that where they seem mostly concerned with northbound traffic as usual. I suggest filling your tank in El Rosario as this is the last gas station open till Guerrero Negro. There is gasoline being sold from barrels in Catavina and Punta Prieta but it would be wise not to have to buy emergency gas in the desert if you don’t have to.
About an hour and a half south of El Rosario you will begin to see the boulders of the Catavina area and the road can be pretty rough with lots of small potholes and a few big ones. Most of these potholes are not that deep but do create a rough ride for motor homes and trailers. This roughed up areas has been a problem for years and while there is some patching done south of Catavina it is still fairly rough and can have some surprise holes.
South of Catavina at Kilometer 264 you will find some nice new pavement that only last for about 4 kilometers so don’t be fooled and pick your speed up thinking it will last for long. Punta Prieta has new pavement before and after it, but in town it is rough and has poorly marked topes (speed bumps) to watch out for.
On to Baja Sur and through Guerrero Negro the pavement seems pretty good but the highway can be a bit narrow in places and not many shoulders to stop on. In the town of El Marasal are more topes and rough pavement but on the other side of town (approx. Km, 134-129) the road is newly paved and widened which makes for a pretty easy run to San Ignacio from here. As you arrive at the curves before San Ignacio the road gets pretty rough on through town and then is in good condition to Santa Rosalia.
Santa Rosalia has a lot of new traffic along the highway at times due to the re-opening of mining operations north of town. The town seemed in good condition as far as the highway with little problems caused by any past rains all the way to Mulege.
Mulege highway was fine with an obvious slide just past the bridge that was cleaned up quickly after Tropical Storm Octave dumped a lot of rain in the area. This reminds me to warn all drivers that driving in rain in the mountains can be very dangerous due to rock slides. They don’t always close the roads completely but can leave rubble and boulders in the road. South to Loreto is where you will see most of the damage caused by these recent rains. At Km 99 south of Mulege there is a road detour for bridge work that is being done. It has a paved detour that was in pretty good shape even after the rains. At Kilometer 62 there are a couple of bad holes with water in the vado there and again at KM 38-37 where the road obviously was closed due to TS Octave . Once again just north of Loreto at KM 8 was another vado with lots of mud and water that was passable but rough. South of Loreto you will see a lot of the road has lost its shoulder due to flooding caused by the storms and road construction. Many of the bad areas hit by the storm are where construction was already being done and it became flooded and eroded.
Further south near the area of Ligui is a bridge under construction that has a paved detour that was a bit rough but has been cleaned up and is easily passable. Once you begin the trip up the mountains to the Agua Verde area and on to Constitucion you will see some slides and rubble off to the side of the road. This is another one of those areas that you do not want to drive while raining due to slides.
The road was fine all the way to Ciudad Insurgentes however there are some detours for bridge and highway construction going into Constitucion. When driving through Constitucion, be very careful of the four way stops in the highway that have been put there in place of the stop lights that were damaged years ago in a hurricane. These stops can be hard to see even in the day and can cause you to be stopped and fined by the local police so drive slow all the way through town.
Just to give you an idea of the roadway between Loreto and La Paz and the signficant improvements in the last decade.
Just leaving Constitucion is another long area of construction that was flooded and therefore in pretty bad shape for about 8 kilometers. It is poorly signed for night driving which of course is not a good idea anyway. All detours of dirt all well packed and are passable but slow going if you are in motor homes or trailering.
On to La Paz the road is in good shape and really did not see anything more till the detour on the new 4 lane highway as you enter Todos Santos. The detour is paved but once again poorly marked if driving at night. The worst construction and road conditions seem to be in Cabo just as you arrive as the main highway is torn up in front of the new Mega store and makes it very slow with all the traffic detours.
Overall the entire Highway 1 is in very good condition relative to the years past. There is and I imagine always will be the need for improvements. Please keep in mind that driving in or directly after heavy rains is not advised. The rock slides can be small but not seen until upon them and very damaging to your car. Driving at night is also not advised and if in an emergency you must drive at night, be sure to drive slow and be very attentive to cows, detours and oncoming trucks and buses on the many narrow section of the highway.
Take your time, plan your stops for gas, stop to see the sights and have an enjoyable drive on the trans-peninsula highway and please send us any road reports you may have.