Joined: Jun 2009
Post ride tips on Baja
Hello riders. I've just returned from a three week trip in Baja, and while I'm no kind of expert, I thought I'd pass along a few impressions and suggestions. My trip was 90% paved, so I won't speak to the off road stuff...perhaps on a future trip.
First, if you are contemplating it, make it happen. There is little need to agonize about violence in Baja; old Baja hands and expats describe it as very safe, and I never felt on edge about that risk. You have to concern yourself with safety on the roads, and take normal precautions to avoid theft, but that is motorcycle touring, right?
I did this trip in November and December. The weather is gorgeous that time of year, and it's probably a good time to escape the winter where you live. The downside? If you are camping, it gets dark before 6:00, and 12 hours of tent time is just too much. Because of that, I stayed in hotels, hostels, and B&B's most of the time. It's nice to be in town to be able to stroll, and chat, and pass the evening hours. Traveling in a group may change that calculation. Older guide books suggest hotels as cheap as 20.00, but I found rooms cost from 30.00 to 80.00, so I'd expect that. It is worth it to have a place to secure your gear so that you can wander a bit. I would recommend minimal camping gear. It's warm. Most expats I spoke with don't want to be down there in June/July/August at all. Just too freaking hot!
Local food is great, and I had some of the best meals from the humblest of establishments, like roadside stands selling fish tacos, or asada tacos with the meat cooked on a spit. Shrimp is affordable, and of great quality, as is fresh fish. If you are concerned about getting sick, avoid uncooked veggies, and patronize places with high turnover of food. If the place is popular with locals and moving food, you will be okay. If you love to cook on your trip, more power to you. Given the availability of good cheap food, (even while camping on beaches, there are often restaurants or vendors) I don't think it's worth the time to bring cooking gear. I just carried a bag of protein bars for quick breakfasts, and some water. You won't go hungry in Baja.
The main roads in Baja are generally well paved, and traveling the length of the peninsula is pretty straightforward, unlike 20 years ago. That being said, these roads often have no shoulders, and are often rolling and twisty. The lesson here is to take your time, decrease your mileage expectations, and keep your head in the game. I found the drivers to be courteous, but always expect some random events and ride within yourself. 300 miles a day was plenty for me in Baja, and 400 miles meant being in the saddle all day.
Fuel is available from Pemex, run by the government. What they call Magna Sin (unleaded) is 87 octane. You won't find a full range of Premium and Super like in the states. In the middle of the peninsula, fuel is scarce for long stretches, because it must be supplied either from the north or south. Thankfully, there is fuel available in small quantities from roadside establishments. You will see a sign for a restaurant or mechanic, and the owner will have a sign for gasoline as well. They will sell you a gallon or two from a 55 gallon drum, pumped or siphoned to your tank. You'll pay a bit more for the mark up, but it's just a gallon or two, right? Fuel prices are not very different from the states. You will find things are a bit more random: the Pemex may be closed, may be out of fuel, or the pumps may be broken. That's Mexico- it can be frustrating, but that is also part of the charm of the place.
If I had it to do over again, I would leave a truck at the border, or in San Diego. If I had a problem I couldn't solve, I might look for a mechanic if I was close to a bigger city like La Paz or Loreto or San Jose Del Cabo. But it would be reassuring to be able to jump on a bus back to the states to retrieve the truck for a bike rescue if it came to that. I also thought of the advantages of bringing a smaller DS bike down in a pickup, which would make excursions off the paved much more fun. I took a Vstrom; my DRZ 400 would be happy there. I just wouldn't want to do the highway miles to get it there.
A final thought: Baja can be a bit unpredictable. Everywhere you go, you find stuff is closed or abandoned, or somehow slowly breaking down. The plumbing isn't great, the water may be cold, the road may be washed out, and things are just a bit rougher in all respects. Ah, but here's the trade-off: you have a LOT of freedom down there. Drink a beer on the beach. Nobody cares. Ride your motorcycle on the beach- nobody will stop you. Camp on plenty of beaches for free if that's your style. Go swimming at midnight. There's a lot of land, and not so many people. Having so many options is very liberating, as a counterbalance to a very regulated life at home. Just be safe and have a great time.
I'll follow up soon with a second posting with a list of some places I really enjoyed. I hope this helps!