By Suzanne Morphet · June 2020
Stretching about 1,150 miles south of Los Angeles, Baja California Sur offers unique and worthwhile experiences. One of the most popular ways to explore the region is on a road trip down the trans peninsular highway. From cactus-covered mountainsides to lush oases, historic missions to the oldest bakery on the peninsula, here are our recommendations of places to drive by.
If you can’t fly to Cabo San Lucas, consider a round-trip road trip. For the first leg of your trip, drive from Southern California down to Los Cabos on Mexico’s Highway 1, and simply enjoy the beautiful scenery and surroundings. This stretch of highway is one of the most breathtaking destinations in Mexico with its deep blue sea coupled with majestic mountains and desert land dotted with cacti. It’s a 22-hour drive from Los Angeles though, so you may want to plan a few extra days along the way to stop, relax, and enjoy the beach. If you need places to stay, AMResorts has a range of all-inclusive properties to meet everyone’s needs from adults only and a sophisticated ambiance to families and spirited travelers.
You’ve now turned around, and Cabo San Lucas is in your rearview mirror. First stop is Todos Santos, about an hour north. Founded by the Jesuits in the 1700s, the town today is known for its great surfing, local art scene and a hotel that has come to be associated with one of the most popular songs in rock ’n’ roll history. Begin at the cultural center with its old photos and faded murals, and end at the bar inside Hotel California with a cold margarita.
Veer away from the Pacific Ocean and continue down the four-lane highway for Baja’s other coastline, the one that runs along the Gulf of California, better known as the Sea of Cortez. The state capital of La Paz is just an hour away. Upon arrival, park your car and, as the sun goes down, stroll the city’s famous three-mile seaside boardwalk, The Malecón. La Paz is home to a variety of offshore adventures from kayaking along the colorful cliffs of Espiritu Santo Island, to snorkeling with a large colony of playful sea lions at Los Islotes, and hiking up pristine sand dunes at Magdalena Bay. Most of these are multi-day expeditions, but if you have only a few hours, you can swim with whale sharks just off La Paz.
Continuing north on Highway 1, desert scrubland yields to farm fields near Ciudad Constitución. This is a good place to fill your tank before continuing the remaining 75 miles to the sleepy town of Loreto. Jesuit missionaries established their first mission in Loreto in 1697. Today, the reconstructed church with its beautiful bell tower and the museum next door, are open to visitors. Take an excursion offshore to look for blue whales, snorkel, or sink your toes into a white sand beach on one of the many islands.
Leaving Loreto, your goal is San Ignacio, 170 miles to the northwest. You could drive there in about three and a half hours, but it’s better to take an entire day because there’s a lot to see en route. The hilly landscape north of Loreto brings notable changes in vegetation. Cardon cacti, the largest species of cactus in the world, jut skyward from the pinkish-red volcanic soil. Early in the morning, when the air is still moist with dew, you’ll witness Baja’s iconic sight – turkey vultures sitting atop cardon cacti with their wings spread wide to dry in the sun. At Concepción Bay the road overlooks the most spectacular vista yet: an aquamarine sea fringed with white shell beaches and studded with arid islands. When the road dips down to the shore, stop for a refreshing swim, or feast on sea scallops at a fisherman’s restaurant on Playa Santispac.
Another hour and you’ll arrive in the historically French town of Santa Rosalía. In the late 19th century, Mexico’s president invited a French company to mine the rich copper deposit here in exchange for building the town. Instead of constructing houses in the local fashion with cement, the French used wood and attached porches and verandas. Just as fascinating is the metal church designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel in 1887 for the World Fair. The El Boleo bakery – the oldest in all Baja – still uses two of its four original mesquite wood-fired ovens from 1901 to bake its baguettes and sweets.
Leaving Santa Rosalía, the road climbs and twists around volcanic cinder cones and across old lava fields. Watch out for cows on the road; they’re free ranging throughout the state. When you pull into San Ignacio an hour later, you will hardly believe your eyes – it’s so lush and fertile. Jesuit missionaries planted date palms and citrus orchards when they settled here in the early 1700s. Visit the intact mission, built from thick blocks of volcanic rock and decorated with ornate carvings and statues of saints. On the leafy town square opposite, you’ll find tourism operators offering tours to the 5,000-year-old rock paintings in the nearby mountains. (The road there is off-limits to rental vehicles, so you will need a guide.) With a choice of hotels and restaurants, San Ignacio is a good place to spend the night. If you’re tired of fish tacos, try the seafood lasagna at the Desert Inn’s restaurant.
From San Ignacio, it’s a two-hour drive southwest to the lagoon of the same name, your final destination. Every winter, gray whales migrate here from Alaska to mate and give birth in the shallow, warm waters. Some of these gentle giants are known as ‘friendlies’ and surface right beside whale watching boats. Reach out and touch them – it’s not just allowed, it’s encouraged!
Give yourself at least a week for this rewarding more than 2,000-mile round-trip road trip – the longer, the better. And, until you can physically visit, explore Baja California Sur from home.