A motorcycle journey to the tip of Baja was the focus for this year’s annual February jaunt south of the border. We were able to criss cross Baja and travel to the very southern tip reaching Cabo and make it back home to Sacramento in 17 days. With less than two weeks for traversing Baja, our trip was mostly pavement with only a couple of off-road extravaganzas to spice up our ride. We embarked on this 3500-mile journey with a loose itinerary and had no confirmed hotel reservations. Our goal was to travel the entire peninsula reaching the southernmost tip at Cabo and back to Sacramento in just over 2 weeks. The purpose of this article is to share our route and point out highlights that made our trip one we would love to repeat.
Logistics for Planning a Moto Criss Cross of Baja
Safety Tips for Motorcycling Baja
We rode our adventure bikes rather than the dual sport bikes so there were no worries about what to do with a trailer. Not having any hotel reservations, we thought it prudent do have a backup plan so we did carry minimal camping gear. For safety, we carried the Garmin InReach Garmin Inreach and signed up for a search and rescue service plan (SARS 50) Geo Travel Safety.
Remember to leave your weapons at home, firearms and Tasers are illegal in Mexico. Not a day went by that we were not stopped at many check points. We were questioned and sometimes searched for weapons and drugs. There was a strong police presence throughout Baja, especially around La Paz. Those with whom we encountered were always professional and courteous.
Mexican Insurance and Visa for Baja Motorcycling
We used Baja Bound to purchase the required insurance for the motorcycles. We have used Baja Bound several times and highly recommend the company. Their web site is very informative and easy to use. From BAJA BOUND you can also find the links to Instituto Nacional de Migración (aka INM). This is the Mexican agency that will issue the required FMM tourist card (similar to a visa). Through this link, CLICK HERE explained fully on their web site, you can access the online FMM card application. In advance of our trip Jon acquired the visa online and paid all the required fees. The visa application will ask for a hotel or address of intended destination. So, have something in mind to put on the application. It only asks for one address regardless of your plans or length of stay.
Mexican Pesos and American Dollars for Baja Travel
We spent the night in San Diego the day before crossing the border into Baja. In Tecate, USA, just before crossing the border, we topped off our gas tanks at Ramco, purchased water, and changed money all in the same stop. Jon exchanged $1000 USD to Mexican Pesos. We found it difficult to use American money, especially in southern Baja. Also, banks in small towns did not want to exchange money unless we opened an account. The ATMs were very crowded with long lines so we were happy we had made the advance exchange.
Border Crossings for Baja Motorcyclists
Crossing into Mexico at Tecate was really a breeze because of Jon’s advance planning. After getting waved across the topas, we ended up parking to the right at the rear of the immigration office. Turn right on the first street immediately after the border gate. We parked to the right at the side entrance of the immigration building (NEXT to the white car on the left of the photo below) which is 10 yards down the first street to the right. It is a one-way street and the right turn is not in the right direction but the armed policeman directed us to make the turn and park. I stayed with the bikes, under the careful eye of an armed immigration officer. Jon entered the building carrying both our passports, visas, and bank receipts. Within 10-15 minutes he emerged, stamped visas in hand and off we went.
Take care when crossing the topas! Topas are the white and yellowish dots across the street and inside the border crossing. They are slick raised half circles that you must roll across, you cannot dodge nor go between.
At the end of the trip, returning to the USA was just as easy via the Mexicali/Calexico border crossing. There is no need for motorcyclists to wait in the long line. In Mexicali, stay in the lane to the left of the barricade and follow the signs that say local traffic—what looks like a return to Mexicali. Just before the lane takes a left turn going back to Mexicali, there is an opening in the barricade for motorcycles to turn right. After entering the barricade opening, an officer will direct you to the appropriate exit.
We carried copies of our motorcycle title, Mexican insurance, and visas with us at all times. No one ever asked to see our papers. We were stopped at many checkpoints everyday. Sometimes we were searched by armed police looking for drugs and weapons. Having our paperwork and visas made me feel safe and confident.
Gasoline for your motorcycle in Baja.
Most days of our route we found more than 1 option to purchase gasoline from an official Mexican Premex station . Often premium was not available but our motorcycles ran well on the regular octane available at Premex. One area of limited availability was just before and after Catavina. It is a good idea to either carry extra gas and/or purchase it from the roadside trucks at Catavina. We did not on this trip because we carried plenty. However we have in the past purchased gasoline from the trucks ($5/gallon) and it was good quality. But it does make one feel nervous to fill your moto with something out of a can in the back of a pickup. Also, on the return trip from Guererro Negro to Gonzoga Bay and then to San Felipi, plan your gasoline carefully. There are long distances through construction areas where there is no gasoline. Then in Gonzoga Bay the gasoline station has very irregular and short hours of operation. Sometimes it has been open and at others not. I recommend filling up in Guererro Negro and carrying extra just in case there is no gasoline in Gonzoga Bay.
Always top of your tank when you find an open station and you can hold more gas. On days we expected a longer route, we filled our Giant Loop gas bag. Law requires that station attendants and not customers fill the tank. The station attendants do not like to fill the bag and wave their hands saying “no.” Just take the nozzle from them and fill it up yourself. They did not object to that.
Food and Water Safety for Motorcycling Baja
Typically, I do not eat fresh fruits and vegetables and especially avoid lettuce in Mexico. I cannot refuse cilantro, limes, onions, and tomatoes so these are my allowed exceptions to the fresh produce rule. Otherwise, I eat everything and have very rarely gotten ill. Use common sense and choose your taco stands wisely. Street tacos are fabulous but look for the stands that have a refrigerator or deep ice chests, and some evidence of water used for cleaning, small sink, faucet. If you shop for food and choose any produce buy the iodine bottle located in the produce section and soak your food in water with a few drops of iodine before consuming.
There is plenty of bottled water throughout Mexico. Fill a camel pack or carry bottled water everyday. I love margaritas and enjoy them with ice. I guess I have been lucky because I have never gotten ill from the ice.
Language Barriers for Moto Travel in Baja
Many people worry about not being bilingual and traveling in Mexico. Don’t worry, it is really not a problem. Of course the further south and more remote you find yourself, the less likely you are to find Mexicans who speak English. Mexicans are welcoming and friendly people. Try a few Spanish words and they are glad to try and help you. Draw pictures, hand gestures, point, etc. Take a short phrase book or a google translator, memorize a few key words and you will get by fine.
Communications on a Baja Motorcycle Journey
Cell service is pretty good across Baja as long as you are near any village. Of course there is nothing in the middle of the desert but as soon as you find gasoline, lodging, markets and taco stands there will be a signal. Vicky has AT&T, North America plan so using the phone in Mexico is the same as in the USA, no outrageous international fees. We also used Hotels.com to book our lodging, usually by noon of the same day.
Most hotels do have free WiFi but the quality varies from very poor to fair.
Just in case we were in the middle of the desert and needed help, we carry the In-Reach for prepaid two way text communications and search and rescue functions. Luckily, we have not needed to use these services yet.
A Route to Criss Cross Baja by Motorcycle in 12 Days
With logistics covered, we were on our way for what turned out to be 12 days of fantastic motorcycling to the tip of Baja and back to the USA. From Sacramento to Cabo and back we covered 3500 miles. The Mexico itinerary unfolded as follows:
Day 1: San Diego to Tecate to El Rosario (268 Miles).
Our point of departure from the US was Hotel Iris at 625 Hotel Circle, San Diego. Hotel Iris is inexpensive, clean and safe with parking for the motorcycles directly in front of the room. From Hotel Iris, it takes about an hour to get to the border crossing at Tecate.
625 Hotel Circle South
San Diego, CA
GPS Coordinates: 32.760404, -117.168931
Phone: 619.297.1691 $89
After crossing the border we headed south going toward Ensenada but careful to avoid Tijuana. We traveled south to south-west on highway 3 through Valle de Guadalupe, a rich fertile land full of wineries offering tours, accommodations and fine dining. Time prohibited us from indulging this time, but it is a place I would like to spend more time in the future. We kept going southwest toward the coast and stopped in Ensenada for lunch, gasoline and pharmacy. We made it to El Rosario late in the day. After a gasoline stop on the edge of town we found Mama Espinosa’s Restaurant. Baja Cactus is a no-frills hotel next door to the restaurant and we booked a room there and immediately went for dinner and drinks. The room was plain, clean, quiet, and cheap (about $35 for 2). The parking is very secure and right in front of your room.
Km. 55, Carr. Transpeninsular, 22390 El Rosario, B.C., Mexico
Phone: +52 1 616 165 8850
GPS Coordinates: 30.059007, -115.725251
Days 2 and 3: El Rosario to Guerrero Negro (223 miles).
Mama Espinosa’s is a great place for breakfast and shopping for your Mexico Highway 1 stickers! Afterward, we headed southbound on Highway 1 toward Catavina and crossed the Catavina Desert. It is a beautiful desert of unique giant Cardon cacti and unusual rock formations referred to as the Catavina Boulder Fields. Leaving Catavina, the scenery became less and less interesting and the riding became more and more challenging. We encountered the worst wind I have ever endured on a motorcycle. We estimate it was at least 50 to 60 mph mostly crosswind but sometimes a tailwind too. The road became full of pot holes big enough to swallow a basketball. It was some of the most challenging highway riding I have ever done. See photos and other details of this ride day on our blog at: https://2shareourride.com/2018/01/29/motorcycle-ride-mexico-hwy-1-south-of-el-rosario-baja-2018/
The further south we traveled the land which was mostly desert, became punctuated with a few small villages and some irrigated farm land. There were enough places for gas and a warm Coca Cola.
We arrived in Guerrero Negro in the early afternoon and checked in to the Malarrimo Motel. This was our only pre-planned destination. We had made an online reservation at their website but never received a confirmation so we were a little nervous. But things went well, our room was great, and the restaurant was fantastic. This place has a bar, outdoor patios, indoor dining, camping with shower access, RV parking, and 2 small stores. Malarrimo Tours coordinates a whale watching experience complete with door to door shuttle service, boat ride, lunch, and guides ($50 per person). You can read more reviews on TRIP ADVISOR MALARRIMO ECO-TOURS
To see a collection of excellent hotel photos by Trip Advisor former customers CLICK HERE.
The Malarrimo restaurant was the best of our whole trip. It was such a good experience that we stayed in the hotel a total of 3 nights throughout the trip. I recommend the more expensive room if you can swing the $65 for an air-conditioned room that sleeps 4. We also stayed in the $36 room (sleeps 4). Although clean, it was a little noisy and a bit cramped.
Day 3 was a no ride day devoted to Whale Watching. The experience was simply unbelievable. Shortly after the boat left shore we began seeing whales, mothers and their babies. It was constant and close up. The whales are friendly and want the human attention. They swim all around the boat and surface often to be touched. Just incredible.
Emiliano Zapata SN, Fundo Legal, 23940 Guerrero Negro, B.C.S., Mexico
Phone: +52 615 157 0100
GPS Coordinates: 27.968232, -114.030118
Day 4: Guerrero Negro to San Ignacio to Mulege (257 miles).
The route from Guerrrero Negro to Mulege starts out boring but becomes more scenic as the road winds down toward the coast. About midway across the desert you come upon the oasis town of San Ignacio. It is a fabulous town full of rich history with church, mission, main square (zocalo), ice cream shops, restaurants, and everything you might need. Jon got a hair cut while I went to church.
From San Ignacio we took a side trip south to the Pacific inlet called San Ignacio Lagoon. The trip required a good bit of dirt and sand riding that was a real joy. It was isolated and we were able to play with the drone and enjoy the afternoon of off-road riding. We visited the Cabanas San Ignacio and Antonio’s Ecotours before back tracking back to San Ignacio village and completing our trip west to the Gulf of California.
We enjoyed incredible views as we descended to the coast and took the cut off to Mulege. After photographs at the Faro de Mulegé, overlooking the Gulf of California, we found Hotel Serenidad and settled in for the evening. Apparently, the Hotel was very well liked in the days of John Wayne and well attended by Hollywood elite. The landing strip is still operational and the bar is well stocked. We parked in front of our room, beside the pool and had a fabulous dinner and great margaritas. The room is spacious and clean. The bed is as hard as a cement slab and the amenities are minimal. The price is right ($65 for 2).
Frente a la Playa s/n, El Cachano, 23900 Heroica Mulegé, B.C.S., Mexico
GPS coordinates: 26.898296, -111.959031
Day 5: Mulege to Puerto San Carlos (208 miles).
The ride south from Mulege starts out lovely. The road winds along the coast providing scenic views of coastal coves and private beaches. Near Posade, we stopped at Black Dog Cycle Works south of Mulege (km 112) to say hello to Kurt and Martha Forget. Kurt was glad to see us and generously supplied the coveted Pero Negro Sur stickers. Once the road turns inland and heads west toward San Carlos the scenery changes to boring flat sandy fields. San Carlos is a seaside village, offering whale watching tours, boating excursions, fishing, and not much else. It is clean and well organized but all-around, just an ordinary kind of place. It is an end of the line destination and a very quiet little town. Our accommodations were fabulous and if you want to just relax and hang out at the water’s edge, Villas Mar & Arena is perfect. I would not make this in and out trek again nor do I recommend it for someone travelling Baja on a short schedule.
Hotel Villas Mar Y Arena
Km 57 Carretera Ciudad Constitucion, Puerto San Carlos, BCS, 23740, Mexico
GPS Coordinates: 24.796615, -112.115237
6: San Carlos to La Paz. (166 miles).
The riding was not all that spectacular until we neared La Paz and were treated to views of the Gulf of California. We stayed at La Terraza del Hotel La Perla, inexpensive ($50) and in a great location at the center of the waterfront. Parking for motorcycles was under-cover near the front entrance of the hotel. Many restaurants and shops were in walking distance. It was a weekend so the Mexican Malecon (beachside walkway) was alive with family outings, music, ice cream, street vendors and much gaiety. The area was also heavily patrolled by Federales armed with machine guns. Their presence seemed oblivious to the locals who went about enjoying the day with friends and family with no worries.
La Terraza del Hotel La Perla
Álvaro Obregón 1570, Centro, Zona Comercial, 23000 La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico
Coordinates: Google Map Link24.162292, -110.317605 https://goo.gl/maps/rUMVKXjz7gp
Day 7: La Paz to Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo (approximately 100 miles).
On leaving La Paz we rode north on Hwy 11 (route not shown on our maps) to the Ferry dock to investigate the logistics of taking the ferry to the mainland at a later date. Also we wanted to check out Playa El Tesoro, a beach camping area some other moto riders mentioned as lovely with very accommodating owners. But the manager there was busy washing down the walkways and wouldn’t even spare the time to sell us a warm Coca Cola. However, we did get some good photos. After the detour north on Hwy 11, we retraced our course and connected with Highway 1 south.
Vicky wanted to check out a waterfall at Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo just east of Las Cuevas. We found so much more than the waterfall and this stop was a highlight of our trip. The local roads leading to ranch were un-paved and really a maze of sandy roadways. For the most part the sand was packed and the ride went smoothly. Occasionally we were forced to navigate some thicker sand in the curves; it was an exciting challenge on our big adventure bikes!! Some of the cattle guards along the way provided bars across the ends but the center was made of nothingness. WATCH carefully and ride to the side so you don’t meet disaster by going down the center of nothingness.
Once at our destination we went hiking and swam in the lagoon under the waterfall. The ranch owners were very accommodating and provided lodging, beer, water and food for the evening. We paid for the food – with a healthy tip, and also $100 American dollars for lodging. Normally food is not provided as guests bring their own from town and cook in the kitchens located next to the cabins. We didn’t know that we would be staying and showed up without food. Not wanting to navigate the sandy roads again at dusk, the Ranchero quickly saw our dilemma and offered to have the ladies in the kitchen prepare tacos for us, yummy beyond delicious!
At dusk the place became vacated by everyone, including the workers. Jon and I were the only human inhabitants on this isolated ranch. It was a little eerie as we were the only guest on this large ranch. But, we felt free to wander about checking out the different cabins and climbing to the rooftop lounges to check out the views of the valley below.
Our brick cabin abode for the evening was charming and comfortable even though we had no electricity nor hot water. We used candles and the tepid water made for a refreshing and quick shower. We were alone with the farm animals. I regret we had no time to explore near the ranch which included hot springs and other sites located along the sandy roads in the vicinity.
Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo
Calle Guadalupe Victoria 410-B, 23500 Santiago, B.C.S., Mexico
GPS Coordinates: 23.498497, -109.790450
Google Map Locator Code: F6X5+9Q San Jorge, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Day 8: Rancho Ecologico to Cabo San Lucas (62 miles).
This was a beautiful ride through trees and hillsides along winding Highway 1 until we reached the outskirts of Cabo. Then the ride turned to congested traffic in a busy metropolitan that gave way to luxurious beach front resorts, one after the other claiming the coastline. We spent half of our entire budget in 24 hours in Cabo. It was 4-star resort, fine dining to the max! Parking was a secured garage with the bikes a long way from our room. There were at least 20 other bikes parked alongside ours but we never met the other riders as the place was so very large and spread out. The food, drinks, shops, pools were amazing. But one night was enough. None too soon we were on our way to see the real Mexico and the rest of Baja.
If you are in the mood for luxury and want to spend $400 to $500 for room, food, drinks, views, fabulous pools and service– give it a try.
Playa Grande Resort & Grand Spa
Av. Playa Grande 1, Centro, Marina, 23450 Cabo San Lucas, B.C.S., Mexico
Phone: +52 624 145 7500
GPS Coordinates: 22.876641, -109.908377
Day 8: From Cabo San Lucas back to La Paz. (116 miles).
We travelled north on highway 19 along the western coast of southern Baja. It was a beautiful ride with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean for half of the day. Eventually we left the coast and turned inland where we joined Highway 1 on our way back to La Paz. Once again we returned to Hotel Perla for its safe parking and convenient location on the waterfront near restaurants and for a bargain price.
Day 9 La Paz to Loreto (222miles).
This was a long ride that became more beautiful as we neared the Gulf of California coastline and traveled north into Loreto. The final miles were a scenic ride along the water’s edge dotted with private lagoons and beach side camping. In Loreto we enjoyed touring the city center with shops and restaurants along paved walkways with beautiful manicured greenery and flowers. We stayed at the south edge of town right on the beach at Hotel Oasis. The room was affordable ($88) and rather plain but the patio dining and walking along the beach just outside our room was fantastic. We also parked the bikes on the sidewalk right next to our room. We encountered many other motorcyclists at Hotel Oasis as it is a stop for Motoquest’s Mexico Tours.
Calle Baja California S/N, Centro, 23880 Loreto, B.C.S., Mexico
Phone: +52 613 135 0211
GPS Coordinates: 26.006956, -111.339288
Day 10: Loreto to Guerrero Negro (257 miles).
This ride seemed a bit of a boring commute perhaps because we were backtracking. But back in Guerrero Negro we stayed once again at Malarrimo Motel and enjoyed their fine bar and restaurant. We dined like royalty for only a few pesos.
Day 11: Guerrero Negro to Gonzoga Bay (150 miles).
What a fabulous day of motorcycling! The last one third of this ride in on non-paved roads. Once again we were doing our favorite—riding in the dirt. From the point at which you turn off Highway 1 onto Highway 5, the road is gravel and sand. Much of it is under construction in various stages. There are no services. Carry water, snacks, and gas. This is not a ride you want to be doing at dusk or in the dark. The Mexicans have been working on this road for a few years but it is still a dirt and gravel construction zone inundated with varying degrees of ease and difficulty for large adventure bikes.
We made our way to Coco’s Corner where we stopped for a Coca Cola and a chat with the aging Icon. Always friendly and hospitable he shared news of other travelers, offered us a soda and a place to stay if we were too weary to journey on. Politely declining his offer of accommodations, we continued on to Gonzaga Bay.
Our final night in Baja was spent at Alfonsina’s. The hotel and restaurant are located right on Gonzaga Bay with a sparsely populated and rather isolated beach. You must pass through a guarded gate to reach Alfonsina’s, located at the end of the road next to an air strip. Just tell the guard you are staying at the hotel. At Alfonsina’s we met other moto travelers for conversation, fine food and drinks, and walks on the beach. The food is excellent and the place is clean and adequate– not plush. I saw kayaks on the beach and I believe they belong to the hotel. Other moto travelers were using the kayaks for fishing and snorkeling. It was a fun and relaxing stay at Alfonsina’s.
Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Baja California, Mexico
GPS Coordinates:29.807625, -114.395500
Google Plus Locator Code: RJ53+3R Willard, Baja California, Mexico
Day 12: Gonzaga Bay to Mexicali to San Diego (347 miles).
This was our final day in Baja. Roads were mostly fantastic so we covered many miles easily. The route starts with panoramic scenes of the Gulf of California to the east and fabulous colorful rock formations to the west. The ride deteriorates once reaching San Felipe. It becomes urban riding filled with shops and businesses ending in the large border town of Mexicali. We crossed into the USA at the Calexico border crossing and made our way to San Diego along a southern route. In the past we have taken a more northerly route travelling mostly on Interstate 8. But, depending on local weather and time of year, the northern route can be very cold even low 40’s because of mountainous elevations east of San Diego.
For affordable beach front lodging and dining we chose The Blue Sea Beach Hotel located in Pacific Beach ($183). Secured garage parking was included in the price with the World-Famous Restaurant next door and right on the beach strand. We dined overlooking the Pacific, enjoyed the hotel hot tub and rested in excellent accommodations. The next morning, we ate breakfast at the World Famous and then hit the road for Sacramento, our final ride of the trip.
Blue Sea Beach Hotel
707 Pacific Beach Dr
San Diego, CA 92109
Navigation Files to Criss Cross Baja by Motorcycle
Following are links to access gpx files and google maps of this ride.