Baja California Road Report
The latest reports of road conditions and driving conditions along Mexico's Hwy 1 through Baja California.
NOTE: It is now important to receive your tourist visa at your point of entry into Mexico. New facilities at the El Chaparral crossing in Tijuana make this easier than before. Guerrero Negro is NOT a point-of-entry. We have had reports of readers being sent BACK to Tijuana to get tourist visas. This new law became effective November 12, 2012 and enforcement is becoming more consistent.
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 Todos Santos.
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.
There is still one truisms/joke about driving in Baja...
How many doors on a Baja Roadside rest area? Two, the driver's and passenger's!
Sobriety road blocks are becoming more common, particularly in community problem areas. In May there were 4 fatalities on the road to Pichilingue and the beaches of Balandra and Tecolote north of La Paz. They involved excessive speed, passing in bad areas and wrong way drivers. Now, La Paz police are checking drivers entering and leaving the downtown area for the beaches beginning at about 7PM Thursday through Sunday.
As a tourist you are allow to bring in ONE desktop computer or laptop per person. Additional computers will be taxed, used or new. The minimum taxable amount is $300 USD. This is being strictly enforced, even at the airport in Cabo San Lucas.
New Mexican immigration law requires you to obtain your FMM (tourist card) at the point of entry. The new San Ysidro Border Crossing southbound into Mexico adds a whole new level of security when entering Mexico with 'unobtrusive' inspection equipment. Facilities are suppose to make obtaining your tourist card much easier... we'll see!
February 6, 2013
Ensenada to San Felipe, Hwys 3, 5, & 1 back to Ensenada
Don Carlos / Veteran Baja Driver
Just finished Ensenada-San Felipe-Hwy 1–Ensenada round trip via Hwy 3 and Hwy 5. The road is in good shape. You should take the arroyo dips slow north of Puertocitos.
On Hwy 5: The new pavement ends just north of Gonzaga Bay with new bridge span being "hand formed" over the arroyo. No other road work apparent.
We had a Military stop and Pemex @ Gonzaga Bay . The road south from there was hard and dry with plenty of washboard and sharp tire cutting rocks over the small passes between arroyo sections. We sacrificed one tire with a punctured sidewall.Then on to Coco's for a cold one and over the next range (which was the roughest) to the final flat run back to Hwy 1. Watch for sinkholes along the entire run.
Mx Hwy 1 north. It was quiet north to San Quintin,with heavy traffic for the next 100k back toward Ensenada. Away from the coast up through San Tomas the valley was nice and green. Then it was back to Ensenada with the worst potholed streets in the Baja.
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!
January 6, 2013
La Paz to Tijuana and Back
We just completed a whirl-wind trip to Tijuana and back, two days up, one day of business and three days back. Having driven Baja for nearly two decades I must say, the thrill is gone. There is little or no 'adventure' left in the common trip down the peninsula.
As for a road report, there is some rough pavement in the high desert, and in two places in arroyos south of Loreto. The vado in Catavina is still (always) a little flooded and broken pavement can be found there. There were no detours or construction in our route. The rough pavement in arroyos amounted to less than 1000 meters in the whole trip and at no time did the road conditions dictate our speed. (See our Driving Baja California Slideshow here)
There were fewer military check points, the last southbound one was north of Loreto. We traveled north on New Years Eve and New Years Day and had little or no truck traffic. In fact on the whole trip we probably saw less than 50 cars until we got near San Quintin, even the traffic there was light. Northbound you usually have a greater degree of inspection at the checkpoints, but being quite cold for the season and the holiday, we were waved through all but one of the checkpoints where we had what I would call a 'light inspection' and our travel information was jotted down.
Northbound we stayed in Guerrero Negro, it was quite cold with temps in the mid 40's and damp. Over the years I have mentioned the Motel Ballena for hot showers, clean rooms and low rates to flop down and recoup your energies. I must now withdrawal that endorsement. The room was so drafty I knew when the neighbor lit his cigarette outside my door. Rates now were an astounding $380 pesos. There are better deals to be had in G.N. for certain. Probably less than 1/2 the motels in Baja have heat, and even fewer in Guerrero Negro, so a hot shower after a day on the road is important. I've usually traveled in the spring or summer months so heat had been a less important feature, not this trip! Had we not brought our own blankets we might have suffered exposure by dawn.
The crisp winter weather negated the fog that I have often encountered north of Guerrero Negro, and as it was New Years Day truck traffic was again limited to a handful of trucks and just a few more cars.
There are new Pemex station being constructed along the route, and a new station will soon open in the high desert. This will break up the long distance from El Rosario to Guerrero Negro where there was nearly 200 miles between stations. A new "Hampton Inn" style motel is being constructed just north of El Rosario but was still 'dark' when we returned days later looking for lodgings.
As other contributors have stated – SHOULDERS! In several places the road has been widened to accommodate shoulders and a handful of turnouts. The road was well striped in all locations and for all but a few hundred meters of bad road in the whole trip, not one deviation and no new construction.
Gas was still available from the back of a pickup in Catavina, and the price surprisingly enough wasn't that far out of line. About $30 pesos per liter and a 15 liter can for $260 pesos. I haven't bought gas that way in a decade, but it is always nice to know the price - it still beats a 50 mile tow!
Our big adventure was a truck wreck north of Jesus Maria (about 1 hr north of Guerrero Negro) which had closed the road to truck traffic for more than 8hrs. No one was seriously hurt but I'm sure the drivers will have tales to tell their laundress, as one truck 'flew' about 30frt before digging into an abrupt stop in the desert shale. It took us about 45 minutes to assess the situation, scout a by-pass and get around the traffic. We earned a few dirty looks from the handful of gringos that didn't notice only trucks weren't getting around as we drove up the left lane. The big advantage of the 5km back up of trucks was there wasn't another truck between the accident and Loreto on the road that day. We breezed into Loreto about 4PM.
We've had tips that the police in Santa Rosilia were up to the same old tricks, but I have Baja California Sur plates, so that no longer is an issue.
Summing it all up - pack up the vehicle and take a Baja Road Trip. With the rising price of gasoline in Mexico it may be your last chance to enjoy cheap fuel. The road is in the best shape I have ever seen it. There isn't a single foot of road that would restrict any road worthy vehicle. Finally, with all the rain Baja has seen this year the desert is in fine array. We had the good fortune of driving north the day after a moderate rain. The roads were clear and all the foliage had been wash clean. The Century Plants were in bloom and the morning dew in the high desert made everything sparkle in the light. Take a drive in Baja!
December 31, 2012
Mexicali to Cabo San Lucas - Baja Hwy 5
Miles Porter - Veteran
We just finished the drive down the entire length of the Baja California Peninsula from Mexicali south on infamous Highway 5 is soon to no longer be the great adventure of the past.
Crossing the boarder in Mexicali, stop immediately and look to the left, that is Immigration and you need to get your tourist card here. It's 125 miles to San Felipe, the first and last sizeable town for maybe 400 miles. Twice we have stayed at El Cortez, a just "okay" beachfront motel with an excellent restaurant and very secure parking. The only problem here is the price of a heaping bowl of the tastiest steamed clams has climbed in price from $3.50 to $4 USD, Yes USD, they can be used the entire length of Baja.
Highway 5 from Mexicali to San Felipe is now a brand new two-lane road with shoulders. Here the scenery of the ancient Colorado River flood plain is something out of this world. You might spot the last of the Colorado River before it enters the Sea of Cortez.
Highway 5 from San Felipe is the old original paved narrow two-lane for 30 some miles through towering sand dunes, desert and mountain terrain. After that point it becomes the newest, most beautiful stretch of highway anywhere. There is absolutely no traffic except a rare local. Why? Why? Because at mile 90 from San Felipe the pavement ends and the old Highway 5 emerges. Definitely not suitable for passenger cars, the next 36 bone jarring miles is the last of the famous tract that has been part of Baja lore for years.
Just miles into the sharp rock strewn sand path you come upon a very small Mexican Army check point. It is always open and they record your information. Around the bend is a new PeMex gas station and small convince shop, two pumps, freezer chest coolers and banks of batteries. It is off the grid, solar-powered and worth a look see, maybe a cold beer and gas if you can't go another 100 miles on what you have. Rock and roll, pay attention and plan on averaging less than 15 miles per hour.
Our professionally installed, Thule spare tire mounted bike rack failed after the first 15 miles of torture. Not up to Baja standards, so we had to put our four-door Jeep's top down and somehow secured the bikes to the rollbars and ate dust for the next several hours. In true Baja fashion both trucks that came by stopped and offered assistance, a family of six helped us sort out our issues.
We saw less than two dozen vehicles on the entire 126-mile long drive. Plan on four hours to complete this part of your journey. Point being is that if you don't drive Highway 5 soon it will be gone. Now As you drive the new 90-mile stretch there are frequent sightings of the old roadbed, and you wonder how in the heck did we survive that just a little more than five years ago — 36 miles of adventure is still out there. I spotted survey markers just north of CoCo's Corner, where there is a major bridge under construction north of there, so you know change is coming.
The good news is that if the last 36 miles are as fabulous as the finished 90 miles this route will become the drive of choice, especially if you are driving from points north of the California state line. But like I said those last 36 miles are still out there for now.
December 31, 2012
San Diego to Todos Santos
Just back from a 12-day Hwy 1 trek -- San Diego to Todos Santos and back. All in all conditions were quite good.
We found some rough patches of pavement through the central Baja, notably near Cataviña and north of Vizcaino. This was our first trip south since 2009 the highway continues to improve -- wider lanes, honest-to-God shoulders, and bridges across arroyos that used to wash out after storms.
There's still much to do, but it's come a long way since my first trip south in 1998.
Oh yes, one surprise hazard between San Ignacio and Santa Rosalia -- a federal cop who nailed us for going 100 kph in a 60 kph zone. He wrote down my license and registration info, but oddly enough didn't ask for a bribe.
December 22, 2012
Real Life Border Crossing
El Chaparral Border Crossing: When going south from I5 stay in the far right lane when you get to the border. Remain in the right lane through the 90 degree right turn (about 5 lanes turn) and the following straight for about ¼ mile. When it opens up cross the open area and through an opening into the parking lot (which is essentially straight ahead) which says it for declaring goods (“Declaracion”) and park. It says nothing about immigration but don’t panic . The gates with lights will be to your left – do not enter them yet. Don’t worry about being inspected in the parking lot – no one is looking.
Walk through the glass doors in the large blue building at the end of the parking lot. Continue through the lobby past the bank window and customs window and out the glass doors at the other end. Turn hard left and the second office is Immigration. It is open 24/7 (or so they say) and the immigration officer will accept your money – you no longer need to go the bank to pay and then come back to immigration to get the stamp. We were charged $24 per person for a three month tourist visa. You can pay in dollars or pesos. (Editors Note: You should ask for a 6 month visa when you pay. These folks will have to leave Mexico at the end of the visa duration and all tourist visas are the same price up to 6 months) You need passports or driver’s licenses, but we were not asked for vehicle registration. Return to your car and leave the parking lot into the area which feeds into the gates and lights. Go through. The lights say enter in green or stop in red – you no longer press a button. Go through one that is green. We were waived on through by the officers monitoring the traffic but some vehicles are stopped and directed into a secondary inspection area.
At just after noon on a Friday, we encountered no wait whatsoever at any part of this process. If you are going to the toll road Southbound, stay in the right lane (watch the merging traffic) and take the first exit, which is in less than ¼ mile, which is a upward looping off ramp to the right. This puts you on the street that leads directly to the toll road (probably a couple of miles). At the fork, go right. The signs say to the Scenic route. At this time (December 2012), the toll for passenger vehicles is 30 pesos and there are at least 3 on the way to Ensenada.
November 7, 2012
New Border Crossing
LIC. J.E. BEAULNE y LIC. LIZET S. MANZO R.
1) APPROACHING THE CROSSING LOOK FOR A SIGN SAYING “DECLARACIÓN”.
PROCEED TO THIS SPOT AND PARK.
2) BRING WITH YOU ORIGINAL CAR REGISTRATION, DRIVER´S LICENCE AND PASSPORT.
3) ENTER THE BUILDING AND LOOK FOR THE “BANCO” AND “INMIGRACIÓN” SIGNS.
4) AT “IMMIGRACIÓN” PRESENT THE DOCUMENTS MENTIONED IN 2).
5) FILL OUT THE FMM PERMIT.
6) GO TO THE “BANCO” AND PAY 24.50 US DLLS OR EQUIVALENT IN PESOS.
7) RETURN TO THE “INMIGRACION” OFFICE & GET THE FMM STAMPED.
CHECK NUMBER OF DAYS YOU ARE ALLOWED IN THE COUNTRY AND DATE.
EXIT THE AREA & TAKE THE “A PLAYAS DE TIUANA, ROSARITO Y ENSENADA TURN OFF.
YOU WILL MERGE WITH THE OLD ROUTE RUNNING PARALLEL TO THE BORDER AND TO HWY 1D TOLL ROAD TO ENSENADA.
November 1 & 2, 2012
Ensenada to La Paz
Wandering Puffin Bill - Veteran Baja Driver
The following information was compiled while driving South on Route 1 from Ensenada to La Paz on November 1st and 2nd, 2012.
Ensenada to Guerrero Negro – There were two sections of road construction, with some exposed gravel and possible minor delays. No significant problems.
Guerrero Negro to Santa Rosalia – No problems
Santa Rosalia to Mulege – Vado with washout between km 156-157, very rough.
Mulege to El Burro/El Coyote – No problems
El Coyote to Loreto – between km 102-103, vado with gravel fill between km 90-91, vado with gravel fill, very rough between km 79-80, vado with gravel fill, very rough km 77, vado with gravel between km 61-62, vado with gravel fill, very rough
Loreto to Puerto Escondido – km 102, vados with gravel km 92, vado with gravel fill, very rough
Puerto Escondido to Insurgentes – km 89, 2 bridges with approaches filled with gravel, very rough km 82, 3 bridges with approaches filled with gravel, very rough Approaching , Insurgentes, 2 vados with large potholes, primarily in the northbound lanes.
Insurgents to La Paz – No significant problems
NOTE 1: The shoulders beside the northbound lanes between Puerto Escondido and El Coyote are eroded right to the pavement in many of the areas where other problems are set forth above.
NOTE 2: Fallen rocks are a minor problem in all sections where the road cuts through high roadside elevations. Be particularly careful when driving into and out of bright sunlight. I hit a rock in such an area about half way from Puerto Escondido and ruptured my oil pan, disabling the vehicle.
Editor's Note: Knowing the more complete story of Bill's ms-adventure with his oil pan is a testament to the kindness of the Mexican people to travelers. Bill's car was disabled a kilometer or two from the summit, leading south from Nopolo. The fourth car Bill flagged down told him, if he could nurse the car to the summit his compact car would tow him to Constitucion where he could get a repair made.
Bill was able to nurse his laden car to the summit and the young man towed the car about 50 miles, along Bill's intended route to Constitucion, where he has reparations being made. The young man asked for no recompense, but Bill quite happily furnished enough for a couple tanks of gas. Bill hopes to return to Constitucion this week to retrieve his car.\
Best of Luck and thanks for the story Bill!
October 28-30, 2012
San Diego to San Jose del Cabo
Dennis Painter - Veteran Baja Driver
We crossed the border at San Ysidro on Sunday morning, October 28th, at about 6:15 A.M. I usually cross over between 5 and 6 A.M. but was a few minutes late this year. We had already decided to stay the first night in San Quintin (usually we go at least as far as Guerro Negro on the first day) so there was no big hurry. I just find the immigration/declaration issues easier to deal with when there is little traffic and, besides, I like watching the sun come up while driving down the toll road towards Ensenada.
New Border Crossing Configuration at San Ysidro (see above)
The newly configured border crossing going south at San Ysidro was scheduled to open on November 1st. Surprisingly, it opened early on October 25th so we were able to see the future. As you approach the border, as before, you have to make a choice (“Nothing to Declare” vs. “Items to Declare”). If you have nothing to declare, you stay to the left couple of lanes which (at least on this day) takes you to the old border crossing.
If you have something to declare (or, if, in our case, you have nothing to declare but have a lot of stuff they are going to want to inspect) you stay in the far right lane. So far, that’s how it has always looked--nothing new. Things change quickly, however, as the old inspection area entrance is blocked and you are forced to make a hard right turn and proceed about 1500’ along a concrete fence before making a hard left into the new crossing/inspection area. The new area is state of the art and something to behold. There were about eight entrances showing “green” arrows and at least that many more showing “red”. We proceeded slowly through a green isle and were waived into an inspection station just beyond where a very nice young lady asked where I was going and had me get out and open the back of my truck. Since the bed of my big pickup is always loaded for the trip down, there are always a few questions. This year, the 50 pound bag of dog food caught her attention and she asked how many more bags I had in the truck.
That was pretty much it. The whole inspection took about 5 minutes, we were told to have a good trip, and we were on our way out of the lot. In exiting the inspection lot, you will see unlighted signs giving you three options: Col Federal/ Paseo de los Heroes, La Mesa/ Otay and Playas/Ensenada Cuota. I am sure these signs are easily visible during daylight hours. They are harder to decipher in the dark until you are right upon them so be prepared to make a fast decision. I am also guessing that, on a busy day, the exit could easily become a traffic jam as vehicles cross over to find their desired destination route.
The Road South I set my trip odometer to zero as I left the inspection lot. I will refer to things in miles as we travel down the peninsula. Following the “Playas/Ensenada Cuota” sign, we were soon headed west, paralleling the border, and then turning south and west again to enter the toll road. The first of three toll plazas comes up almost immediately. The toll charge at each plaza is 30 pesos. They also take US dollars and give change in pesos. I prefer to pay in pesos since it’s easier to make sure you are given the correct change. The first toll plaza came up 6 miles from the border, the second at mile 22, and the third at mile 61 as you exit the toll road and encounter your first military check point.
At about mile 120, we encountered our first stretch of rough road. Construction in this area has been mostly completed but there are still unpaved patches for about 8 miles. Also, slow down just east of Catavina where the road suddenly drops down to cross an arroyo. This is a sometimes wet, sometimes dry area, and this time it was wet and the pavement was washed out. Other than that, everything was pretty much smooth until we encountered the one extended stretch of rough road between Catavina and Guerro Negro. I assume it’s only a matter of time before they refinish this but I wish they would hurry up. It just gets worse every six months we pass over it.
The effects of Hurricane Paul start to show up just south of Santa Rosalia and extend to well south of Loreto until you get out of the mountains. For the most part, the road is great but you will occasionally encounter short stretches were the road washed out and was hastily repaired. These areas are well marked so just slow down and you will save some wear and tear on your vehicle. Also, there seemed to be an unusual amount of rock that had fallen down and been pushed to the side of the road in the mountainous areas.
South of Loreto, there was a large boulder blocking one lane that was in the process of being removed. When you see the falling rock signs, beware. The only other things of note were the two bridges under construction north and south of Todos Santos. The north bridge construction is new since our last trip six months ago and the south construction (which was started) doesn’t look like much was accomplished during that time.
Food and Hotels
Last May, we scouted a boutique hotel on the south edge of San Quintin and decided to stay there on this trip south. Hotel Jardines Baja is owned by a Mexican couple who spent many years living and working in the SF Bay area. They live on the premises. The gardens are beautiful, the rooms clean and neat, and (important to us) some of the rooms are pet friendly. They also have a really good restaurant on the property that serves both Mexican and American food including steaks and lobster. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner and night at the hotel. Room rate with two dogs (one is included in the price of the room, the second is extra) was less than 500 pesos. Also, if you are not stopping in San Quintin but need a quick lunch, don’t forget the “food shacks” on your left on the north edge of the town at mile 186.
We always stop at shack #2 (Mariscos el Sabor de la Vida) for a bowl of their tomato based clam soup. This time we also had a shrimp cocktail. Total for two (all we could eat) was 190 pesos. Wonderful! We spent our second night at the Desert Inn in San Ignacio. Victor, the bartender who helped me out with finding a mechanic to replace my alternator 18 months ago, is still there. We ate at the hotel. The fajitas were very good. Room rate was 650 pesos for a large room with two beds and a nice bathroom. By the way, the Desert Inn “chain” is down to three hotels (Ensenada, San Ignacio, and Loreto). The three properties at San Quintin, Catavina, and Guerro Negro have been sold to other operators.
Flora and Fauna
You are in for a real treat if you are traveling the peninsula this fall. The abundant rain all summer and the extra dose from Hurricane Paul in mid October have turned the desert into an oasis. You will first see the effects around Catavina where the Boojum trees (which all seemed to be dying in May) are green and blooming. Then, from San Ignacio to Los Cabos, everything is verdant and blossoming. The desert scenery, always unique and often beautiful, is truly spectacular this year. Security The military check points seemed pretty laid back this trip. I was not asked once to get out of my truck or show any documentation.
This time, there were six check points (the one usually just south of Ensenada was nowhere to be seen). Check points were at: Mile 61 (north edge of Ensenada), Mile 130, Mile 220 (north of El Rosario), mile 400 (between Catavina and Guerro Negro), Mile 522 (west of San Ignacio), and mile 687 (north of Loreto). Some travelers seem to fear or resent these stops. We kind of look forward to them as they break up the trip and provide a sense of safety in somewhat remote areas.