Denver to Cabo - Baja 2013
ROUTE: Beeline to Calexico, CA, then zigzag my way to Cabo where I'll pick up my girlfriend on the 17th for 4 days of sun and fun before heading back to Denver.
BIKE: 2008 Suzuki V-Strom 650, sensibly outfitted; newish Anakee 2's.
DURATION: 3 weeks.
RIDING/TRAVELING STYLE: Pavement and dirt roads. Camping & cheap motels.
General Route on the Way Down
The First 5 Days
I left Denver Monday, March 4. It was 30 degrees and snowing, but the roads were dry. I left late to make sure the conditions were safe. I made it to Belen, NM and stayed at a Motel 8 ($55). I rose early and rode 750 miles to Calexico. I stayed at Hotel Don Juan ($45), 6 blocks from the border crossing.
I rode to the border at 7 a.m. I was nervous because the last time I rode my KLR to Mexico I didn't turn in my vehicle permit or tourist card when I crossed back to the U.S. Baja doesn't require a vehicle permit, but I was worried I would be flagged in the system and denied entry. Needless to say I was pleased when inspection and immigration took all of five minutes. Bienvenidos Mexico!
Two chilly hours later I was in San Felipe. SF was prettier than I expected. It was still a little chilly but sunny. I had a late breakfast on the malecon, overlooking the Sea of Cortez. I bought a few supplies and paid for my tourist card at the bank since banks weren't open yet at the border.
I contemplated staying the night in San Felipe, but ultimately took the coastal road to Puertocitos. The guide books describe a rough dirt road but its now paved past Puertocitos, almost to Gonzaga Bay. It's roller coaster pavement to Puertocitos - a very sleepy town who's only inhabitant appears to be the Pemex attendant. I topped off and pushed on.
After Puertocitos the coastal road becomes a curvy paved paradise through rugged red rocks and high mountain vistas of the bluest water you can imagine. I only passed a handful of cars. The pavement abruptly ends before the last bridge under construction north of Gonzaga Bay. I had a rather thorough military inspection and then I was in Gonzaga. I rented a palapa on the beach at Rancho Grande ($10). I shared the campground with two other groups. The store at Rancho is well stocked. There is a Pemex there but I didn't fill up. Supposedly it is often out of gas. I rode to the other side of the beach for beers at the only restaurant and a walk on the beach at low tide.
The next day, Thursday, I continued toward Route 1. The road, often a leg on the Baja 1000, was pretty rough. My street-biased V-Strom struggled with the rocks, washboard, and intermittent sand. I was cautious because I had a slow motion tip over the day before exploring a sandy side road south of San Felipe. My bike ended up resting on my Caribou Cases at a 45 degree angle. That made it easy to pickup. A trucker stopped and asked if I was ok. I thought that was cool. I was fine but realized my fantasy of blasting down beach roads might not come to fruition. Eventually I pulled over, aired down the tires, and softened my suspension to the max of its adjustments. That helped.
About 30 miles after Gonzaga I pulled into Coco's Corner. Coco was in San Felipe for the San Felipe 250 race that weekend. I bought a Coke, took some photos and talked to some guys from California. They'd been coming to Baja for decades. They pointed out points of interest on a map of Baja on the wall. They gave me shit about the Obama sticker I had on my bike. We laughed, shook hands and then headed off in opposite directions.
The last 15 miles were easy. I hit Route 1 and turned south. I was sweating in the desert before Coco's. Now I was freezing. I added layers and made it to Guerro Negro and the state line of Baja Sur in less than two hours. I rode around town a bit then settled on Hotel San Ignacio ($300 pesos), based on a recommendation in my 2011 Moon guide book I'd checked out of the library. It's basic but clean and has wifi. They gave me a room in the back and let me pull my bike into the courtyard. They don't speak English as I would find was the case for most of the people in Guerro. I liked that. My spanish isn't good, but I enjoy trying. I tried to book a whale watching tour for the morning but had no luck. Instead I ate and drank and appreciated the luxury of Internet service.
Friday morning I booked a whale tour for Saturday with Laguna Tours ($49). Laguna Tours is next to the hotel. I spent the rest of the morning having breakfast at Don Gus across from the hotel and looking for a hardware store to buy a 24 mm wrench for my rear wheel. I forgot to pack one and needed to adjust my chain. I found a store further down the main strip. I bought a mid-size crescent and JB quick weld, which I realized I also forgot.
Once the chain was adjusted I headed out for lunch. I went into the most nondescript place I could find. They had no menus. The woman told me what they had in Spanish. I was thrilled I knew how to ask and then understood what she said. I don't think they get a lot of gringos.
After lunch I walked to Malarrimo's. I had dinner there the night before. It was cheesy and full of older American tour groups. But they are the only ones who offer tours of the salt plant. It sounds boring but visiting the world's largest salt operation was pretty fun. Besides, I had nothing else to do that afternoon.
After the tour I went back to my hotel and noticed a KLR in the parking lot. It belonged to a couple from Alberta. We talked a bit and then I headed out for dinner. I ate tacos at Taqueria Viva La Mexico. They were great.
Hopefully I'll get some amazing shots of the whales tomorrow. After the tour I'm heading to the Vizcaino Peninsula for more beach camping and maybe some kayaking. I'll post an update when I have wifi again.
Campsite at Gonzaga Bay
Road to Coco's
Saltworks - Standing atop a mountain of salt
Sounds like you’re off to a good start. I am so envies as I look out at the snow knowing that my bike is sleeping on the battery tender. I’ll follow along.
I got up at 7 for an 8 a.m. whale watching tour with Laguna Tours. We started late because they didn't have the key to the office and then the bus wouldn't start. Use Mario's or Malarrimoa's if you go. We spent three hours on the water. We saw dozens of whales and their calves. Several came up to our boat and allowed us to pet them! It was awesome! It was well worth $45.
I got back to my hotel at 12:30, packed, and was on the road by 1:00. I rode south on Route 1 to Vizcaino. I got money at the ATM and fueled up. I turned west on the Vizcaino highway and rode a couple hours to Bahia Ascension. This road starts off paved but very rough. Sand dunes cover the road in parts and occasionally the pavement turns to dirt. Eventually it turns into brand new pavement. I followed this past the turnoff to Bahia Ascension. Originally I wanted to ride to the western tip of the peninsula. The pavement ends 12 miles past the Ascension turnoff. It was rough and sandy. My speed went from 75 mph to 15-20. Since it was so late and there was still about 75 miles to Bahia de Tortugas, I decided to turn around and go to Ascension instead. I was bummed I wouldn't see one of the last undeveloped corners of Baja. Rumor has it the road will be paved the full length of the peninsula in the near future.
Bahia Ascension was a bit of a let down. If you're a fisherman it's supposedly great. Otherwise the town is lacking character and kind of dead. I got a room at Hotel El Verduzco ($350 pesos). It's close enough to the water to hear the waves from my room's front porch. I bought gas from the one pump in town. The owner wasn't there when I pulled up but the kids across the street said he'd be back in about an hour.
In the meantime I rode around town and out to the punta to see the bufadora (blowhole). It too was a let down, but the cliff-lined shore and grey sand beaches were pretty. While riding on the sandy beach roads I noticed my bike handled 100% percent better than it did on similar surfaces the last few days. I'd unloaded most of my gear at the hotel. Apparently 40 pounds makes that much of a difference. I was blasting through sandy sections and small drifts with confidence. Incidentally, 40 pounds is the weight difference between the V-Strom 650 and 1000.
When I returned to the main part of town, one of the kids who I talked to about the gas station flagged me down. He told me the owner was back. I fueled up at over $4 per gallon. That's expensive for Baja. I continued riding around looking for restaurants but the few I saw were closed. I asked around and was told to try Taqueria Conchita. I again had tacos asada and they were great!
Tomorrow I hope to ride down the coast of the peninsula to Campo Rene - a cool sounding outpost straddling the ocean and an estuary. It offers a little of everything and has what sounds like a fun bar/restaurant/campground where surfers, fisherman, nature lovers, and vagabonds gather. I'll scout the first few miles of the coastal road to see if my bike can handle the 40 or 50 miles. Otherwise I'll retrace my steps to Route 1 and take the paved road from the highway to Campo Rene.
Nice escape... Denver weather this weekend has not been riding friendly!! Good timing on your part..
The town's roosters had me up early. I ate the fruit I bought at the market in Guerro Negro for breakfast and packed. I scouted the beach road on Google Maps and concluded it was too much for the V-Strom. I also looked at Campo Renee's website and decided I didn't want to spend another night on the Pacific coast. Instead I would ride to San Ignacio, have lunch and continue to Bahia Concepcion. The Pacific side had so far been bleak, cold, and dreary. The water and beaches weren't that pretty and the towns lacked charm. I hoped hopping back to the east would be more of what I experienced in San Felipe and Gonzaga.
I was in San Ignacio after just a couple hours riding. Right before you arrive the landscape starts to change dramatically. Suddenly there are thousands of cacti amid red rocks and rolling hills. It's still the desert but green is now a dominant color.
The first thing you notice as you descend into San Ignacio are the palms. San Ignacio is nestled into a narrow river valley and blanketed with palm trees. I stopped for lunch at the popular Rice & Beans restaurant. I sat on the porch soaking up the sun and looking at the trees. I used their wifi and ate a good but overpriced lunch.
An hour later I was in Santa Rosalia. Descending into this city is even more dramatic. The highway winds down a large mountain and then all of a sudden there's this incredible of view with the sea in the distance.
Santa Rosalia is a small city with charm. The city center has narrow streets and retains some of its French colonial heritage. A few blocks off the highway is the Iglesia Santa Barbara. This metal church was supposedly designed by Eiffel. There's also the remnants of the massive copper foundry on the north side of town. This place is really cool. It's literally right next to the highway and most of the building's exterior has been removed. You can walk inside and climb around on the old machinery and I-beams. It's totally dangerous. Only in Mexico.
I got fuel at the Pemex across the street from the foundry and took off for Mulege. It was only about 30 minutes away. Since it sits off the highway just a bit, I took a quick lap around its town center too. It also has charm and a neat zocalo. I stopped for a quick photo and got back on the road for the last 10 minutes to the bay. On the highway south of town you get a good look at the Mulege River. I'm not sure if there is public access but its palm line banks would be a great place to camp.
I only had an hour before the sun started to set. I wanted to cruise at least a few beaches on the bay to find a good campsite. The first beach you come to is Playa Santispac. It was beautiful but very close to the highway and packed with medium and large RV's. But it also had two bar/restaurants. I checked the next couple beaches and they were less crowded and a little more removed from the highway. But I wanted to buy some beers for my campsite, so I returned to Santispac and grabbed the last palapa which was in the middle of the beach. It cost $80 pesos. I setup camp with just enough time to walk to the mangrove on the south end of the beach. The water was crystal clear and fish were jumping out of the water! I walked to Juan's on the opposite end and ate dinner - pescado al ajo.
At this point the beach's vibe had become clear. Both bars were playing cheesy classic rock from the 70s and 80s and loud enough for all to hear. When I was setting up my tent I wondered how many songs until they played Margaritaville. It was three. I was the only person on the beach camping in a tent. Every dude had a goatee and beer belly. Some of the RV setups were just ridiculous. This was definitely the "more is more" crowd.
Regardless, I was happy to be camping on a pretty beach. I would scout a new location in the morning. The guidebook mentioned beaches that weren't recommended for bigger rigs due to the rough access roads. Those would be my primary targets. In the meantime I drank beers in front of my tent and looked at the stars. Like the night in Gonzaga, I was amazed at how the sky looked with no light pollution.
Metal church in Santa Rosalia
Old smelting plant in Santa Rosalia
Zocalo in Mulege
Playa Santispac from above
Playa Santispac from below
I woke when the sun hit my tent which was early since the bay faces southeast. I was surprised the beach was already half empty by the time I made it out of my tent. I messed around camp a little, ate, and then went for a run. There is a rocky two track that goes from the north end of Santispac to the next bay. The trail rises above the water and offers great views. The run was the first exercise I'd gotten in over a week. Mexican food, cervezas, and Delicados hadn't been doing my fitness any favors.
After the run I packed and headed down the coast. I checked out each beach. I wanted a palapa that had at least one wall to block wind, a smaller crowd, and preferably no behemoth RV's. I also really wanted a table of some kind for cooking, but wasn't too optimistic. Each beach was nice. Some were packed others had no one. I ended up staying at Playa El Requeson. It's unique in that it's a sand spit between too small bays, both protected by an outer island. At low tide you can walk to the island. I'd looked at this beach several times online over the years and always wanted to camp here. Plus, it only had six palapas, each with two sides, no big rigs, no beach bar, no Margaritaville, and various items I could use to fashion a little table!
I setup camp and paid $80 pesos ($5 dollars, btw) when the attendant came over. Then I rode up the highway to the next beach, Playa Buenaventura. From the road it looked like it had a store. It turned out to be a bar and a great one at that. I had fresh yellowtail for lunch and used their wifi. They sold me some beers, packed in ice, and let me fill my water bottles. This was a cool place and steps from the water.
After lunch I checked out a deserted beach I'd spied earlier. While researching the area before the trip I read a review of Concepcion on Trip Advisor. One review complained about how RV's on the beach ruined the experience of such a beautiful area. My hunch was that on such a large bay, there were bound to be plenty of primitive beach camping opportunities. This little beach was one such place. Sure, it wasn't as perfect as the popular beaches, but it was still primo beach front camping in its own right. I walked around the mangroves since it was low tide, took some photos, almost got my bike stuck in camouflaged mud, then headed back to camp.
I spent the rest of the day walking out to the island, building my table, and meeting everyone camping on the beach. It was a friendly group. Throughout the trip people have been curious about the bike. I've been approached almost everyday and its been a great way to meet people. The family camped next to me was from Jackson, Wyoming. They'd been in Baja for three months and were working their way back up the peninsula. They'd been digging up clams and invited me over that night to have some. They insisted no seasoning or sauces were necessary - just boil and eat. They were right. The clams weren't fishy and were delicious all by themselves! A dad and son pulled in at sunset. They were from California and had a couple new KTM 690's on the back of their pickup. They were headed to Cabo where they had a condo. They came over after dinner and we talked for a couple hours about dirt bikes, traveling, and Baja. I pulled out my maps and they pointed out notable spots all over the southern tip. The dad had been coming to Baja for decades.
I finished the night under my palapa listening to music, drinking Tecates, watching shooting stars, and updating my ride report in Evernote for my next encounter with wifi. Oh, and the wind finally died, resulting in dead calm on the water. Great day.
Playa El Requeson from the road
Side road that goes along the water from El Requeson. If you want privacy you only have to ride down roads like this to find tons of great, private camp sites on the water.
A little table makes camp life so much easier.
Cindy and her son digging up clams on the far end of our beach. We ate them later.
Hola to those of you following along. I've taken trips before but never maintained an online journal as I went. It's neat to share the experience, especially since I am traveling solo.
Yeah, I'm super thankful I got the window to escape Denver when I did.
GB, cool idea on the QR code decals. I'm going to order some of those. I've always been kind of a lurker on ADV, and about my riding in general. Maybe those decals will encourage me to be a little more active in the virtual community!
Regarding Diggerled's comment: Por Cierto!
I woke around 6:00 for some reason. I could see the bay and eastern sky through the mesh of my tent. The sun was just starting to rise. It was beautiful. I got up and snapped some photos. Then I went back to bed!
I awoke a couple hours later. Brian was by his truck laughing at me as I unzipped my tent. They'd been up since sunrise hiking around the bays. He was getting a standup paddleboard off his truck. He asked if I wanted to try. I'd never SUP'd before and jumped at the chance. He gave me some quick instruction and off I went. I was wobbly but it was easier than I thought. I instantly wanted one. I found out Brian is a sponsored SUP racer. He said he could hook me up with a good deal.
The rest of the beach campers congregated in front of our campsites. We spent the rest of the morning hanging out and paddling around the bay. We had become a tight little community. We were all headed in different directions and shared information about where we had been. Matt and Cindy packed up the van and kids and headed off to Guerro Negro to see the whales. Brian convinced me to stay another night so I could ride bikes with he and his dad. They wanted to have lunch at the beach bar I told them about. We rode up and had lunch. We all ordered the yellowtail. The owner was there today and told us the story of meeting his ejido wife and starting the bar/vacation rental compound they had. Apparently he spent 10 years fending off hostile takeover bids and death threats. With that behind him he said he was finally ready to sell. If you have $6 million, this little slice of the coast could be yours.
Steve and Brian planned to take their KTM's around the south end of the bay and up to the point. Since that was more than the V-Strom could handle at a quick pace, I decided to ride to Mulege and stock up on supplies. The ride was fun since the bike was unloaded and I took the side cases off. I rode down the river road in Mulege. At the end I stopped to take a photo from the bridge that goes up to the zocalo. Two kids walked up and asked for stickers. I guess that is what everyone has who rides in Baja. I didn't so told them sorry and rode the 100 feet into town. I shopped at the little market on the square.
I rode back to camp, unloaded and talked to the couple from Vancouver in the camper van. Then I took off for a quick ride to the south of the bay and maybe a mile or two on the dirt road. Along the way I was flagged down by a woman standing next to a white Dodge Dakota Sport. It turned out to be three woman. Their truck wouldn't start and asked if I could help. Fortunately they broke down in front of a garage and the guy came out and had the truck running in about one minute. I think it was just a loose wire. While all this was happening one of the women was asking if she could ride on the back of my bike to La Paz. I told her I wasn't going that way until tomorrow. She said she would wait! The other women were laughing. They were all middle aged and a bit on the heavy side. They were also not shy and very flirtatious! I was laughing and did my best to keep up with their questions in Spanish and come up with replies to fend them off. As I put my helmet back on they thanked me and told me how handsome I was. How come this never happens with cute women my own age?
I rode down the South Bay road a bit and ran into Steve and Brian. They said the road was rough but wasn't bad the first few miles. I continued riding to the beach and took some photos. That's when I realized I was very low on gas. I couldn't believe I didn't notice this when I was in Mulege. I needed to ride back to Mulege and fill up since I was going south to Loreto tomorrow and there was no gas in between. At first I was mad at myself but then I started having fun riding the curves on the highway again. Since I'd ridden the highway several times now, I focused on the road instead of looking at the scenery. It's all curves and elevation changes! It reminded me of the Peak To Peak Highway in Colorado. The ride back was equally fun.
I got back to camp and Steve and Brian made me dinner for getting ice. After dinner I made a fire on the beach in front of my palapa. Steve, Brian, and the guy from Vancouver came over and we drank beers, passed a bottle of tequila and talked until midnight.
In the morning we all packed and said goodbye to Requeson. Brian said I could use one of their boards if I came and camped at Scorpion Bay with them. I was thinking I would probably do that. I rode south to Loreto. The highway curved inland to the desert. It was hot! But an hour later I was in Loreto. As you approach the city you descend toward the coast. It instantly cooled off 15 degrees. No joke.
Since I wasn't going to stay I at least wanted to ride through town and get a quick look. I rode around the Districto Historico which was a few blocks from the water and the malecon. It was a cool place. I stopped to grab a coffee and hopefully check my email. Walking around I decided I needed to stay a night and check this place out more. I talked to Carlos at an info booth who took me to Hostel Casas Loreto. For $35 a night this place was nice! I had a private room with bath, AC, cable, and wifi. Plus there was a communal kitchen and purified water. The owner, Able, let me use the hose to wash the salt off my bike and park it inside, right outside my room. I paid for two nights.
I walked to the plaza, ate lunch, and checked email. I returned to my room and took a hot shower. After three days of beach camping I was funky! I took a nap and then walked around town for a couple hours. I had a few Modelo Especials (about $2.50 each) and called it a night.
I planned to take a kayak/snorkel/whale tour the next day. But in the morning I had an email from a company I interviewed with right before Ieft. They wanted to schedule a call early in the afternoon. So I hung around town and added credit to my Skype account. BTW, Skype voice calls to the States cost 4 cents per minute. In the meantime I took my clothes to a lavendaria, went for a run, and ate lunch.
The call was delayed a couple times. We finally had it at 3:00. It's convenient that Baja Sur is on Mountain time. On the call, the company, Acceller, offered me the job. I accepted and we agreed on a start date of March 15. Coincidentally that is the day my current severance package expires! I was feeling great. I could enjoy the rest of my trip knowing I didn't have to find a job when I returned. To celebrate I walked to my favorite cafe, drank Modelos and studied my Spanish workbooks.
I walked toward the malecon and had a great fish filet for dinner at the Giggling Dolphin. At first I thought it was too "gringo" and I'd made a mistake. But the service and food were great. The owner gave me the wifi password of the hotel next door. So I sat there for a couple hours drinking beers and updating my trip report.
When I got back to the hostel, Abel was just about to serve some food he'd prepared. It would have been rude to refuse his invitation! I had beans with fresh tortillas and talked with my fellow guests.
After my second dinner I chatted for a while and turned in. I scheduled a kayak tour for 8 a.m. with Carlos.
Mulege River Road
South Bahia Concepcion
Loreto (That's the ocean through the trees on the right.)
Washing my bike in front of the hostel.
Bike parked outside my room.
I'm convinced this the nicest room 400 pesos will buy in Loreto.
My favorite taqueria - Tacos Del Rey, on Calle Suarez.
Colorado represent! Outside the Giggling Dolphin.
Second dinner back at the Hostel. That's Able on the left; serving his home made beans and salsa verde.
you still better finish this report, though :D
Looks like fun!
I had huevos muchaca at, you guessed it, Cafe Ole. Carlos was to meet me there at 8:30. We got started a little late since the couple going with me hadn't arrived yet. They finally arrived and we walked five or six blocks to the marina on the north end of the malecon. My boat mates were an older French couple. I said hello and introduced myself in French. They appeared to appreciate that.
I thought I booked a boat ride to the islands and then kayaking and snorkeling once we got there. I guess there was a misunderstanding. I got over it. We boarded a panga and rode 15 minutes to Isla Coronado. There was almost no wind so the water was very smooth. We stopped and viewed a sea lion colony. Other boats were snorkeling with the seals. I don't know why we didn't. We rode to a beautiful sandy beach. I tried to snorkel but the water was freezing! I waded around and then fell asleep on the beach.
When we got back and I packed and checked out of the hostel. I fueled up, got money from the bank, and stopped for flautas. I guess I made a mistake and ordered two plates. Oh well, I ate them while the staff laughed at me.
It was a little over three hours to La Paz. The highway intermittently hugged the coast. Some of the views from the higher sections were amazing. I didn't stop for pics since I was concerned about getting to La Paz before dark.
The whole time I was riding in view of the water and mountainous islands, I was thinking people need to see this place now. The recession only put on hold Mexico's and other international interests to develop the shit out of this place. It's so gorgeous. The water is so clear. Sea life is abundant. Come see it before every cove has a resort and golf course. Its already happening.
The highway eventually winds inland for the remainder of the journey south to La Paz. It was 95 degrees the whole way. The scenery is unremarkable. I was happy when caught my first glimpse of the bay and La Paz. I rolled into town at sunset. La Paz is the biggest city in Baja. Still, traffic wasn't too bad and I was cruising the famous malecon in no time. 30 minutes later I had a room at California Hotel Casas Des Heuspedes. It was kind of a dump. But I just wanted a room and the price was right - $240 pesos. They had wifi and let me pull my bike into the courtyard. I ate fish tacos at the cart in front of the hotel and bought a sixer of Dos Equis at the OXXO (Mexico's 7-11).
Tomorrow I'll do a cursory inspection of La Paz and then head south an hour or so to Cabo Pulmo. Pulmo is where I'm taking my girlfriend in a couple days. I've heard mixed reports of the beach road leading from the highway to Pulmo. Before I ride with her from the airport to the beach, I wanted to check out the road's condition. If it's super soft I'll figure out an alternative. Plus, being there a day early will allow me to unload my stuff before I pick her up.
Loreto from the water.
Hotel in La Paz
The Malecon in La Paz
Hey there, I am enjoying your RR! I have a 2007 DL650. I plan on riding it down to Baja next spring. I was just down in San Jose Del Cabo for a week. My wife and I rented a jeep for a couple of days, and drove the East Cape road, to Los Frailles, Cabo Pulmo. The is camping on the beach, and the snorkeling was good, at the base of Mt Trinidad. The water is cold though.
The road was good but sandy in places.
Have a great time!
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