Is it possible to do a road trip down the Baja Peninsula on a budget? Our response to that is an unequivocal yes. Not only have we hitchhiked the Baja Peninsula, we have also driven the length of it (down and back) on two separate occasions. Our experiences have armed us with all of the information you need for a Baja California road trip on a budget.
All rates are reflective of July 2018 when the exchange rate was 1 USD = 20 MXN.
Baja California Road Trip Budget Breakdown
Naturally your finances will dictate the framework of your trip. Our budget is $15 each per day, so keep this in mind as a benchmark for what follows.
This piece will focus on all aspects of your road trip on both Transpeninsular Highway 1 and Highway 5, if you are Baja bound. You’ll find advice on vehicle maintenance, tolls, driving conditions, accommodation options, cheap eats and frugal ways to while away your time. We’ll also include the odd treat that you can splash out on and insider tips you may be unaware of.
Even if you’re hitchhiking and backpacking the Baja our trip tips will take you from the border in the North to Land’s End in the South – all whilst watching your pennies.
Baja California Road Trip Tips
- This is the Baja, hotel rates are higher here than on mainland Mexico.
- Border town hotels are even more expensive. Get an early start and stop overnight as far from the border as you can.
- Hotels in Mexico often list their prices on site. It is o.k. to haggle for a better rate. By offering to stay longer you may get a discount.
- Don’t pre-book. You can haggle if you just walk-in. Just be prepared hotels may be sold out. Have a Plan B.
- Hotels in larger, more popular cities frequently raise their rates on weekends. Avoid weekends!
- Auto motels (hourly motels) can offer more favourable nightly rates.
Food & Drink:
- If there are two of you split a plate rather than ordering a meal each.
- It is perfectly acceptable to bring your own beer or any drink you wish to consume into an eating establishment.
- Brown bag it instead of going to a bar. Buy a tin of beer, wrap it in a street bag and find a nice spot to discreetly enjoy your drink.
- Consult our posts dedicated to the cheapest eats along the Baja Peninsula and the best spots for fish tacos – a Baja staple.
- Have small bills for tolls (and everything else). Trying to get change for a bill any bigger than a 20 Peso note anywhere in Mexico is equivalent to capturing a unicorn and equally as confounding!
- If you already have dollars but need to exchange them for Pesos, Banco Azteca is the only bank we found where you do not need to be an actual account holder in order to exchange money. Ensure you have two forms of I.D. with you for currency exchange.
- Larger cities will also have walk up cambio kiosks a.k.a. casa de cambio, whereby you can exchange your dollars/home currency.
- Bring flypaper. You will need it and you will not find it anywhere on the Baja.
- Bring basic camping equipment – chairs, pots and pans, pillows, stove etc…
- Bring a hammock, if you have one. Most beaches have palapas with sturdy support posts – ideal for stringing up a hammock.
- Stock up on water for pennies from a local purificadora . All you need are your own empty containers to fill.
- Gather your own firewood wherever you may find it. Campfire restrictions are not enforced nor are they posted.
- For a quick firelighter, use a ball of cotton wool slathered in Vaseline.
- Bring a kayak, a bike, a fishing rod or something to while away the hours.
- Bring a hip flask and a small funnel to fill your hip flask, to help while away the hours.
Although beach camping on the Baja Peninsula is beautiful, it is definitely wise to have some outlet to kill time. We have been known to refer to it as the Blah-ha! So we cannot recommend enough having a kayak and a hip flask!
Need more info? Check out our post for everything you need to know about Baja camping.
Driving in Baja:
- All of Baja Mexico is in the Free Zone. You do not need a T.I.P. (Temporary Importation Permit).
- Arm yourself with a Baja California Map for driving in Baja.
- Do not drive at night, herd animals like to soak up the heat of the tarmac road during the night whilst having sweet dreams.
- Military checkpoints are common and not to be feared, as long as you are not carrying anything illegal.
- You will encounter potholes like you’ve never seen before.
- You will encounter topes (speed bumps), often with their own potholes.
- Llanteras are like Mexico’s answer to a local pit crew. They specialise in replacing your punctured tyres with used tyres.
- Road trips in Mexico will challenge your fortitude as a driver.
- Read our complete guide to driving in Baja Mexico: What you need to know
Time Zone Change:
- Do not forget to change your clocks/watches when you cross from Baja California to Baja California Sur. Guerrero Negro and all points south of there are one hour ahead (forward) of Baja California (Baja North).
What’s in a Name?
The Baja Peninsula is somewhat polyonymous! You will hear it referred to as Baja Mexico, Baja California and the Baja Peninsula. If that’s not enough it is then divided into the states of Baja California (Baja North) and Baja California Sur (Baja South). Let’s not forget the Baja California Sur abbreviation of B.C.S. as you enter Guerrero Negro. So throughout this piece I will interchange how I refer to the Baja, using all of the aforementioned.
There are 6 border crossings onto the Baja Peninsula.
- San Ysidro, CA to Tijuana MX (24 Hours)
- Otay Mesa, CA to Tijuana, MX (24 Hours)
- Tecate, CA to Tecate, MX (5:00 am – 11:00 pm)
- Calexico, CA East to Mexicali, MX (Mon. – Fri. 3:00 am – Midnight, Sat. & Sun. 6:00 am – Midnight)
- Calexico, CA West to Mexicali, MX (24 Hours)
- Andrade, CA to Los Algodones, MX (6:00 am – 10:00 pm Daily)
No matter how you cross the border, as long as you are a foreign citizen regardless of age you MUST fill out the official entry form to enter Mexico. The FMM form (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) is also known as the Mexican tourist card, sometimes referred to as a Mexican tourist visa.
Upon completing the form and paying the fee your passport is stamped and you will be given the bottom section of the form. This is your Mexican tourist card, make sure it has a valid stamp before leaving the counter and also check the stamp in your passport. Do not lose this card!
We have encountered 2 different ways of paying for the FMM tourist card, both at the same border crossing. Our first experience had us take our paperwork to the on-site cashier where we received an official receipt for our payment. Unfortunately our second experience involved just paying the guy behind the counter that stamped our forms. The price was listed in pesos but we chose to pay in dollars in order to hang onto our pesos.
Long story short, we were had second time round. We ended up paying an extra $10 more each than if we had just paid in pesos. We recommend paying the amount in whichever currency is posted. Also, know your exchange rate, have a calculator with you and get a receipt!
Where to Begin?
Mexico Highway 1 (Transpeninsular 1) runs the length of the Baja Peninsula from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. The border crossing at San Ysidro or Otay Mesa will put you directly onto Transpeninsular 1.
The border crossing at Tecate will leave you with the option of taking either Highway 2 West or Highway 3 South, both of which link up with Highway 1. Alternatively if you plan on exploring the East coast you can take Highway 2D (a toll highway) to Mexicali where you will link up to Highway 5 South. For more about Highway 5, see Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur below.
Ensenada, Baja California
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 104 km (65 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 108 km (67 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 235 km (146 mi.) via Toll Highway 2D
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 322 km (200 mi.) via Highway 2 and Toll Highway 2D
Ensenada is a busy port town and is therefore one of the main cities in Baja Mexico. It is also the closest major city to the border after Tijuana. As a result of such it is one of the more expensive places to find accommodation. Having said that it is also one of the better cities to stock up on any supplies you may need for your Baja road trip. There is even a Walmart there.
Where: Calle 2 and Alvarado, Zona Centro.
Rates: 600 MXN (30.00 USD) per night – Mid-week; 1,000 MXN (50.00 USD) per night – weekends
Although the website claims it is kid friendly, I’d leave the kids at home. Here you can get some extra decor – mirrored ceilings and stiletto shaped chairs! There are also the extra t.v. channels and you can rent the room in a block of 4 hours. In short, this is also an hourly motel. Weekends are very popular and they charge a higher rate during this time, roughly $50 per night. Hotel Hacienda is centrally located and there is parking. As budget hotels go in Ensenada, this is probably one of your better options if you stay in a hotel here so therefore aim for mid-week rates.
Budget Alternative to a Hotel
Too cheap to stay in a hotel? So are we! It is possible, not necessarily permitted, but possible to very discreetly sleep in your vehicle in the parking lot of any of the casinos in town. We have personally availed of the parking lot of Skampa Casino and Casino Caliente. These lots are very small, so discretion is key. Be prepared to possibly get moved on or to have to pay a mordida (literal translation is bite), also known as a bribe in Mexico.
Local Pemex stations have been recommended on iOverlander. Having been hit up for a mordida in the middle of the night, we wouldn’t recommend it.
Food & Drink:
Address: López Mateos and Alvarado, Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
Hours: 10:30 am – 5:00 pm Daily (Closed Tuesdays)
Of all the things to do in Baja California, eating fresh seafood should be top of your list. La Guerrerense has been serving up seafood tostadas for over 40 years but shot to prominence when it was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” in 2012. Is it the cheapest seafood around? Probably not, but it may well be the best chance you have of trying a sea urchin ceviche tostada at this price – 90 MXN ($4.50 USD).
Address: Av. Ruiz 113, Zona Centro.
Hours: 11:00 am – 2:00 am Daily (Closed Mondays)
Hussong’s Cantina is touted to be the oldest cantina in Baja California. As a result of which it is slap bang on the tourist trail, but you will find plenty of locals here too. Frequented by Hollywood’s glitterati during it’s heyday, Hussong’s Cantina continues to attract quite the crowd. All prices are listed on a board above the bar.
Mexico may not be known for it’s wine, but 20 km (12 mi.) north of Ensenada you will find the vineyards of the Valle de Guadalupe. Known as the Ruta del Vino Ensenada, it is also referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico. The wineries in this region have become a favourite weekend getaway of Southern Californians. Not only have the wineries and their wine tastings built up a reputation, but so too have the chic restaurants with Michelin star chefs that accompany them. Not exactly free, but maybe you fancy a tipple and a splurge.
A quick spin along the coast will take you to La Bufadora Ensenada. Located 34 km south of the city this marine geyser (blowhole) is a quick diversion off of Transpeninsular 1. Make sure you get there at high tide for the full effect and if possible try to get there early, especially if you want to avoid the vendors that line the thoroughfare to this free natural wonder. Otherwise you may be left wondering why you even bothered!
San Quintín, Baja California
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 286 km (178 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 290 km (180 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 417 km (259 mi.)
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 493 km (306 mi.) via Highway 2 and Toll Highway 2D
What is there to do in the town of San Quintín? Not a whole lot, but this is where one of our favourite budget hotels on the Baja is. Conveniently enough right next door to the hotel you will find the best tacos you may ever eat. San Quintín is just a good stopping point to break up the journey.
Where: Carretera Transpeninsular 1 southbound at Km. 190, San Quintín, B.C.
Rates: 400 MXN (20.00 USD) per night
This clean, basic hotel has been our go-to since 2013 and we keep returning. The shower is almost big enough to turn a car around in and the hot water is ample. The Wi-Fi works better in some rooms rather than others. The beds are comfortable and clean. Don’t plan on watching too much t.v. though, there are only a couple of fuzzy channels available. There is parking on-site.
Food & Drink:
Tacos Los Poblanos
Address: Transpeninsular 1 southbound, just beyond “Hotel Uruapan”, San Quintin, B.C. Mexico
Hours: 9:30 am – 12:00 am Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, (Closed Tuesday), 9:30 am – 3:00 am Friday and Saturday
Drool-worthy beef tacos you will remember for the rest of your life are the basis of the menu here. You will see many places called “Tacos Los Poblanos” during your travels throughout Mexico but none will ever compare to this one. Let the queues of locals attest to their reputation. These tacos come with a very strong Drifter’s Recommendation.
Less of a side trip and more of a continuation of your journey south you will find Cataviña. You will encounter this blip on the radar 110 miles south of San Quintín. This small town is known for it’s gypsy gas and some minor cave paintings.
However it is the dramatic change in the landscape around Cataviña that is so striking. A dry barren landscape suddenly becomes filled with thousands of massive boulders. These boulder fields interspersed with Boojum trees and Mexican Giant Cardon cactus continue for miles.
Bahía de los Ángeles (Bay of L.A.)
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 641 km (398 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 644 km (400 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 527 km (327 mi.) via Highway 5 through San Felipe
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 604 km (375 mi.) via Highway 2 and Highway 5 through San Felipe
Bahía de los Ángeles is located on Highway 1 which is an off-shoot of Transpeninsular Highway 1. Just follow the signs for Bahía de los Ángeles at Parador Punta Prieta which serves as the junction of these two roads.
Set in an amazing backdrop of mountains, boojum trees, cacti and desert, the town sits on the Sea of Cortez. Not only is fishing a way of life for most of the locals, but sport fishing for yellowtail is the main tourist draw here.
Within the town you will find any basic supplies you may need, however come prepared. The pace of life is slow here and things that you take for granted elsewhere operate at a different speed in Bay of L.A. For e.g. there are two petrol stations in town, when they are out of petrol you may find yourself waiting up to a week for a delivery!
There are a few hotels in town but we chose to beach camp so we cannot attest to any of the accommodation options available.
Budget Alternative to a Hotel
You guessed it – beach camping! Playa La Gringa is only 5 miles away from town, and there is ample dry firewood for the taking along the way. Rather than the powdery white sands of Bahía Concepción this little gem of a pebble beach is overlooked by most. Summers on the beach here are brutal as there is no shelter to be had, unless you have your own awning or canopy.
Come equipped with your own kayak, snorkel etc… you will love exploring the crystal clear waters here. Unlike the other beaches on the Baja there are no vendors on this beach renting out equipment, nor were there any vendors coming around selling anything when we were there.
For those of you who really want to get away from it all Bay of L.A. is perfect, not to mention beautiful. On top of all that camping is free here.
Food & Drink:
Grab a bite to eat in town or cook for yourself. Should you plan on eating in town get there early, the town is closed up by early evening. Expect seafood to predominate most menus.
Take yourself and your vehicle on an adventure out to the isolated Misión San Francisco de Borja Adac. Although only located 57 km (35 mi.) away from Bahía de los Ángeles town, 24 of these miles are on a bumpy, rutted, gnarly dirt road. The final 10 miles to the mission are the worst, having said that if you take it very slowly you will make it.
Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 710 km (441 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 714 km (444 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 597 km (371 mi.) via Highway 5 through San Felipe
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 662 km (411 mi.) via Highway 2 and Highway 5 through San Felipe
Although the actual town of Guerrero Negro is relatively drab, it has become a favourite stopping point of ours. Give us a great budget hotel and some tasty, cheap street eats and we are happy.
Guerrero Negro officially marks the separation of Baja California (Norte) and Baja California Sur. It is here that you will change the hour time difference. You will also pay 20 MXN (1 USD) at the agricultural inspection station to have the underside of your car sprayed to keep Northern Baja insects out of Southern Baja! ‘Cause you know, they won’t just walk or fly into southern Baja, they rely on a lift.
Guerrero Negro is home to the largest evaporative salt production facility in the world. Tours of the evaporative salt beds are available.
Hotel La Posada De Don Vicente
Where: Carretera a Guerrero Negro, Guerrero Negro, B.C.S., Mexico
Rates: 350 MXN (17.50 USD) per night
Hotel La Posada De Don Vicente is hands down the best value budget hotel on the Baja Peninsula. Not only is it the cheapest hotel we’ve found on the Peninsula but it is the best in our budget range anyways.
The rooms are huge, the beds are comfortable, the shower has loads of hot water and best of all (for me anyways) the television has not just VH1 but it also has VH1 Classic – Score! Oh yeah and it’s clean. Again these rooms are basic, but let’s remember our budget. There is also secure on-site parking. Wi-fi works great.
Food & Drink:
Tacos El Muelle
Address: Emiliano Zapata 12, Guerrero Negro, B.C.S., Mexico (Next to Farmacia Similares)
Hours: About 10 am to about 2 or 3 pm
Choosing the best fish taco on the Baja is near impossible. However Tacos El Muelle may just edge out the competition. The secret is in the seasoning of the batter, and that is just how it shall remain – a secret. For 23 Pesos ($1.15 USD) why not indulge in a few of Baja’s best fish tacos at this local food truck. In case you didn’t know Tacos El Muelle comes with a very strong Drifter’s Recommendation.
Guerrero Negro’s greatest claim to fame is that of being one of the best spots to go whale watching in Baja California from late December through April. Just south of the town lies Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, also known as Scammon’s Lagoon – a favourite Winter getaway for these great grey giants. Naturally this means you’d better pre-book accommodation if you plan on being here during whale watching season.
Grey Whales make a 6,000 mile journey from the Bering Sea to breed and give birth in the warm lagoon waters of the Baja Peninsula. Humans journey from all over the world to witness this spectacle. There are many Baja whale watching tours and cruises to choose from during whale watching season. Regulations are in place to ensure these operators practice responsible whale watching, in compliance with these guidelines.
Other areas on the Pacific coast offering whale watching tours are San Ignacio Lagoon and Bahía Magdalena (Magdalena Bay). Whale watching seasons vary according to location so check beforehand.
If your budget and timing allows, this may be the time to treat yourself to this once in a lifetime opportunity. Expect to pay around $50 USD per person per tour.
Looking for something different, little visited and free during your visit to Guerrero Negro? Check out the Dunas de Soledad, located 6 miles north of town, close to the military checkpoint. Thanks to the winds, this ever changing landscape is in a constant state of shape shifting. Make sure you bring your camera, with sunrise or sunset being the optimal time to take snaps.
Mulegé, Baja California Sur
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 983 km (611 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 986 km (613 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 869 km (540 mi.) via Highway 5 through San Felipe
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,113 km (692 mi.) via Tecate and Ensenada
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 946 km (588 mi.) via Highway 2 and Highway 5 through San Felipe
Mulegé is a sleepy little town in the Summer, but Winter is a whole different story. Every October snowbirders from the U.S. and Canada flock to the beaches just south of town. Here they set up camp in everything from pop-up trailers to massive RVs hauling every toy they could need to while away the Winter.
The town offers all you could need for beach camping – a mini supermarket, a laundromat, post office, restaurants, street food, a purificadora and petrol station. Most businesses are closed by 8:00 pm, so this is not a party town.
As you round the bend and catch your first glimpse of Playa Santispac, which is the first beach you’ll encounter heading south, it becomes obvious why people return here year after year. Miles of undeveloped beaches dot the coastline of Bahía Concepción; claim your spot and spend your days kayaking, swimming, birdwatching, fishing and relaxing in stunningly natural surroundings.
Hotel La Noria
Where: Transpeninsular 1 southbound, Mulegé, Baja California Sur.
Rates: 350 MXN (17.50 USD) per night
As this is the only budget hotel we have stayed at in Mulegé, it therefore gets the review. Unfortunately it’s not a terribly good review. La Noria is way overpriced for what you get. The Wi-Fi is abysmal, there is no hot water, the television doesn’t work and the beds are none too comfortable. Don’t expect to get too much sleep during your stay, the noise of traffic just outside your door will guarantee that. In short, either be prepared to spring for a more expensive hotel or otherwise beach camp.
Budget Alternative to a Hotel
Two words – beach camping! Take your pick of the beaches, sling a hammock and set up camp. You won’t be disappointed, just come prepared. The price of camping is negotiable so make sure you haggle and get a receipt. Expect to pay at least 100 MXN (5.00 USD) per night. Caretakers typically come around during late evening to collect fees.
Bahía Concepción continuously makes top 10 lists of the best sea kayaking in the world! Paddle out to deserted islands all within reach of even a novice paddler. For those of you who like stand up paddle boarding (SUP), the glass-like waters of the bay are perfect for a peaceful paddle, not to mention ideal for snorkeling too.
If you have embarked upon a Baja California road trip this is your holy grail. Beach camping doesn’t get any better than paddling about in these waters and sleeping under a star filled Baja sky.
Food & Drink:
Address: Northbound side of Transpeninsular 1, Mulegé, B.C.S.
Hours: About 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Closed Tuesday
You will find quite a few establishments in Mulegé offering the ubiquitous fish taco, but none can beat Mariscos Peralta’s. We discovered this simple little stand in 2013 and have been dreaming of these tacos since. Located on the side of Transpeninsular 1, it couldn’t be handier to stop for the ultimate Baja snack – a deliciously crisp fish taco and an ice cold beer. Tired of fish tacos? Switch it up and try some cold, fresh ceviche.
Aside from drifting from beach to beach, you can check out the old prison museum in Mulegé. The prisoners in the past were released during the day to work in the town and returned to their cells at night! You can also visit Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé, perched on a hilltop in town.
Loreto, Baja California Sur
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 1,117 km (694 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 1,121 km (697 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,004 km (624 mi.) via Highway 5 through San Felipe
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,247 km (775 mi.) via Tecate and Ensenada
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 1,080 km (671 mi.) via Highway 2 and Highway 5 through San Felipe
Loreto is firmly established on the tourist trail. If your budget allows you will find plenty of things to do in Loreto; scuba diving, kayaking, snorkeling, charter boat deep sea fishing tours and plenty of deluxe accommodations. Take a boat tour to Isla Coronado, just off the coast and enjoy the local marine life.
As for the rest of us on a budget, our sight seeing activities may be a wee bit more limited but we can still amble about town, have a discreet brown bag beer on the malecón and enjoy some cheap eats.
Where: Boulevard Salvatierra, Loreto, B.C.S.
Rates: 420 MXN (21.00 USD) per night
Finding budget hotels in Loreto is not the easiest feat to undertake. Look no further than Motel Salvatierra, a basic budget hotel, centrally located. This favourite amongst locals is well run, clean, has plenty of hot water and on-site parking. Tip: If you need strong Wi-Fi, request room 118. It is very close to the office but the Wi-Fi signal is top notch.
Food & Drink:
Pollos Asados California
Address: Corner of Boulevard Salvatierra and Calle Manuel Márquez De León, Centro, Loreto, B.C.S.
Hours: 12:30 pm – 6:00 pm Daily
This is a firm local’s favourite and is typically closed by 4:00 pm because they are sold out of chicken. Stuff yourself silly on a whole chicken, chips (french fries), corn tortillas and salsa, all for just 150 MXN ($7.50 USD). Half orders are also available. Follow the locals and the advice of your Drifters. The staff are incredibly friendly here.
If you’re looking for a diversion from donning a swimsuit or a snorkel, take yourself for a drive through some stunning scenery to Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó. Known as the jewel of the Baja California mission churches, it is one of the best preserved on the peninsula. Want to explore more Baja California missions? Here are 5 more accessible missions, complete with driving directions, photos and a little background on each.
For those of you who’d rather stretch your legs and get out for a hike, you can either arrange a guided hike or strike out on your own. Be mindful of private property and exercise all precautions for hiking in the desert. This can be unforgiving territory, with even more unforgiving weather conditions. The book Hiking Loreto is a wealth of information specialising in this vicinity.
As you drive South from Loreto keep an eye out for Mirador Frida. Here you’ll find spectacular views of the Sea of Cortez and some cocos frios! A large paved pull-in is provided, bathrooms are not. However it is a great photo opp. stop.
Ciudad Constitución, Baja California Sur
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 1,264 km (785 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 1,268 km (788 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,151 km (715 mi.) via Highway 5 through San Felipe
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 1,228 km (763 mi.) via Highway 2 and Highway 5 through San Felipe
Aaaaah, Ciudad Constitución, you have nothing to offer but a great budget hotel with flamethrower Wi-Fi and some wonderful cheap eats. For those of us in the know this little town is a great place to hole up for a few days and get some work done, or just relax in a place where no-one expects anything from you.
Where: Transpeninsular 1 northbound, Centro, Ciudad Constitución, B.C.S.
Rates: 370 MXN (18.50 USD) per night
Another of our favourite hotels in Baja Mexico and for many good reasons. Often you get what you pay for, but here the price is deceptive considering what you get. You are located right in town and have covered on-site garage parking. The rooms are spotlessly clean, have excellent Wi-Fi, lots of hot water, comfortable beds and cable (with VH-1). The staff are absolutely lovely too. Hotel Conchita is an incredibly well run establishment. All of this for just $18.50 USD per night!
Food & Drink:
Address: Transpeninsular 1 southbound, Centro, Ciudad Constitución, B.C.S.
Hours 8:00 am – 7:00 pm Daily
Many people don’t seem to realise that rosti pollo is just as big a go-to as tacos for many Mexicans. Located just across the Transpeninsular Highway 1 from Hotel Conchita, Pollos Lucas serves up heaping mounds of chicken, chips (french fries), macaroni salad, corn tortillas and salsa. A pollo entero (whole chicken) costs 150 MXN ($7.50) complete with all the trimmings. You can also get a half order. Regardless of the posted hours, once they are out of chickens they close up shop.
Just a block behind Hotel Conchita is Parque Libertad de Expreción, complete with a little gazebo and some benches. This is simply a good spot to relax, people watch and discreetly enjoy your brown bag beer. Travel doesn’t always have to be an adventure filled, adrenaline pumping rush.
La Paz, Baja California Sur
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 1,529 km (950 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 1,564 km (972 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,358 km (844 mi.) via Highway 5 through San Felipe
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,602 km (995 mi.) via Tecate and Ensenada
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 1,434 km (891 mi.) via Highway 2 and Highway 5 through San Felipe
La Paz is a hugely popular destination for gringos and local families alike, and with good reason. There are plenty of things to do in La Paz for all age groups and budgets. Explore the whale museum, take advantage of great photo opportunities along the malecón, find street art, enjoy fresh seafood and indulge in all that a big city has to offer.
Along with Cabo San Lucas, La Paz also offers quite a few casa de cambio (cambio kiosks) if you need to replenish your pesos.
Hotel Bahía de La Paz
Where: Venustiano Carranza and Benito Juárez, La Paz, B.C.S.
Rates: 400 MXN (20.00 USD) per night
Although not located right downtown, this is without doubt your best budget hotel choice in La Paz if you are on a Baja California road trip. For 400 MXN (20 USD) our room had two double beds. Unfortunately they were out of smaller rooms with one bed for 300 MXN (15 USD) per night on our visit. The Wi-Fi was alright, there was plenty of hot water, the shower was huge, the television didn’t work and there was a parking lot out front. Hotel BahÍa de La Paz is a very clean and well run establishment.
If you don’t have your own wheels and parking is not a priority, we recommend the following, having stayed there ourselves in 2013.
Where: Santos Degollado 209, between Francisco I. Madero and Revolución de 1910, Centro, La Paz, B.C.S.
Rates: 350 MXN (17.00 USD) per night
Basic, clean and located right downtown, Pension California is the budget backpacker’s choice in La Paz. All of the room’s fixtures are made out of concrete, even the base of the bed and wardrobe!
There is a communal kitchen and seating area. Wi-Fi works best in the communal seating area, not so good in the rooms. Staff are very helpful and obliging. Parking is on-street which is why we only recommend here if you are travelling without a vehicle. Directly in front of Pension California is a fantastic fish taco stand – Super Tacos de Baja California Sur Hermanos Gonzalez (Hnos. Gonzalez).
There is a sister pension just around the corner previously called Hostel Convento California, now known as Hotel Hacienda San José offering similar rooms for a similar price as Pension California.
Budget Alternative to a Hotel
Soriana Híper Cola De Ballena (supermarket)
Where: Transpeninsular 1 southbound, Col. El Zacatal, La Paz, B.C.S.
Hours: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm Daily
If you are driving Baja and can sleep in your vehicle, it’s possible to spend a night or two in the parking lot of this Soriana supermarket. It is located a little ways out of town off Transpeninsular Highway 1.
You can access Wi-Fi from the nearby Home Depot. Just don’t spend the night in their parking lot because they don’t want you making yourself at home!
Food & Drink:
Mariscos El Toro Güero
Address: Mariano Abasolo and Calle Sinaloa, La Paz, B.C.S.
Hours: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm Daily
Fancy some fresh seafood at a reasonable price? Go where the local’s go and get there early, especially on the weekend. This large palapa restaurant is legendary and you’ll become a regular yourself after just one visit. Split a plate if there are two of you because the portions warrant it. Name your seafood, they have it. Mariscos El Toro Güero comes with a strong Drifter’s Recommendation.
If your budget can stretch it take a guided tour out to Isla Espíritu Santo, visible from the coast. Tours typically include swimming with sea lions, snorkeling, lunch and experiencing the unique marine life around this Unesco World Heritage Site. Is it any wonder famed marine biologist Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez, “the world’s aquarium”.One of the most popular tours in La Paz involves the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. Whale shark season in La Paz runs from October to April. For those whose budget is flush, you can glamp on Isla Espríritu Santo at Camp Cecil.
For those of us who simply camp, there are plenty of rudimentary beach camping options north of La Paz. Playa Balandra is a favourite and even though you can rent kayaks here, you will wish you had your own. Once you see the turquoise waters and the private powdery white sand beaches you can paddle out to, you will want unlimited time to explore this stunning area. You will also find “El Hongo” here, a natural rock formation that has become the symbol of La Paz. Don’t be disappointed by the rebar reinforcing El Hongo!
Located south of La Paz at km 82 is the Tropic of Cancer Monument Tourist Plaza. There’s not a lot to see, but it’s a good spot to pull in off the road and stretch your legs.
Continuing south on Highway 1 you will pass through El Triunfo – don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Up until very recently it seemed this tiny town was relegated to fade into obscurity. Now these old colonial buildings have become a destination, housing art galleries, local crafts and chic restaurants serving craft beer along with artisanal delicacies.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 1,623 km (1,008 mi.)
- Distance from border at Tecate: 1,627 km (1,011 mi.)
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,510 km (938 mi.) via Highway 5 through San Felipe
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 1,753 km (1,089 mi.) via Tecate and Ensenada
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 1,586 km (985 mi.) via Highway 2 and Highway 5 through San Felipe
Cabo San Lucas is everything you thought it would be – garish, gringified and unnaturally green for a desert environment. Replete with condos, hotels, resorts, golf courses, tours, gimmicky restaurants and everything any tourist could possibly want (except solitude) is here. It’s neighbour, San José del Cabo is the more moderate, toned down version of it’s sister party town.
Here’s the thing, Cabo San Lucas was way out of our budget range hotel-wise. So, if like us you are really only here to see El Arco at Land’s End in Cabo, you are probably only spending the night here.
Budget Alternative to a Hotel
Walmart Los Cabos
Where: Transpeninsular 1 southbound 1, Cabo San Lucas, B.C.S.
Hours: 7:00 am – 11:00 pm Daily
What can we say other than it’s a parking lot and does the trick for a night.
Food & Drink:
Where: Leona Vicario and Álvaro Obregón, Downtown Cabo San Lucas, B.C.S.
Hours: 7:00 am – 5:00 pm Daily
This restaurant is local’s favourite and for good reason, so step off the main drag away from the standard, gringified feed bags and eat like a local. Here you will find rich, delicious birria filled with tender chunks of beef and free refills of the tasty broth. In a town where it is difficult to stretch your pesos, Birrieria Apatzingan offers the perfect budget bites and comes with a strong Drifter’s Recommendation.
Taking a glass bottomed boat tour out to El Arco (the Arch) at Land’s end is a definite budget buster, but let’s face it, this is probably the only reason you are here. We were offered a tour for 600 MXN (30.00 USD) so we haggled and got the price down to 500 MXN (25.00 USD). It is perfectly normal to haggle for a better price. Haggling works best if there aren’t too many other prospective passengers and if you arrive at the marina early.
Heading north and in need of a little peace and quiet? Then take a detour off Transpeninsular 1 down Camino Cabo Este to the rugged coastline of Cabo Pulmo. This national marine park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s waters have been protected since 1995. Pulmo Reef is renowned for it’s abundant marine life making snorkeling and diving in Cabo Pulmo legendary.
From San José del Cabo, Camino Cabo Este becomes a rutted dirt road shortly after Punta Colorada. As long as you take it slow you can make it along this road without needing a 4 wheel drive vehicle. However, road conditions are subject to change depending on recent weather. Get here before the developers do!
Highway 5 stretches from Mexicali at the border and continues south to Chapala where it connects with Transpeninsular 1. Highway 5 has been in a state of construction for many years now. From the turn off at Chapala to just south of Gonzaga Bay Road, a distance of about 60 km (37 mi.) the “road” is basically under construction.
Take it slow and your vehicle should be able to make it. There are a couple of sites/forums with great up to date information on road conditions throughout the Baja – Talk Baja Road Conditions and Discover Baja Travel Club.
San Felipe, Baja California
- Distance from border at Tijuana: 368 km (229 mi.) via Toll Highway 2D
- Distance from border at Tecate: 322 km (200 mi.) via Toll Highway 2D
- Distance from border at Mexicali: 197 km (122 mi.)
- Distance from border at Los Algodones: 273 km (170 mi.) via Toll Highway 2
San Felipe is a small nondescript fishing town that attracts visitors in droves. It has a slight honky tonk feel to it and it’s malecón is packed with families strolling amongst the vendors which line it’s oceanfront. Located relatively close to the border, there is a large expat population here.
Hotel Aragón Hermanos
Where: 296 Calz. Chetumal, San Felípe B.C.
Rates: 450 MXN (22.50 USD) per night
This was the cheapest room we could find, and we scoured the entire town. We’re not picky but for a room that reeked of mould this was definitely over-priced. There was on-site parking, however the television didn’t work and there was no hot water.
Food & Drink:
San Felipe is a fishing town so there is no shortage of fresh seafood here. Both San Felipe and Ensenada each claim to be where the fish taco originated.
For a pleasant day trip from San Felipe why not pack a picnic and take a boat from the malecón out to Konsag Island (Isla Consag). This little known island lies 23 miles off shore, about halfway between San Felipe and Puerto Peñasco on the mainland. You are unable to alight on the island. Instead, enjoy birdwatching and the local marine life, or you can even do a spot of fishing from the boat.
As you continue south along the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortés) towns are both small and sporadic, with Puertecitos and Bahía San Luís Gonzaga the obvious choices for camping. Bahía Gonzaga is dotted with sheltered coves and isolated beaches so this a prime spot for sea kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and beach camping. Look for Punta Tijereta, complete with five white sandy beaches. It’s a bit of a paddle to get there but worth it for some perfect Baja beach camping. Alternatively as you drive south find your own perfect spot to boondock during your Baja California road trip.
A Legendary Spot in the Middle of Nowhere
Coco’s Corner is located 195 km (121 mi.) south of San Felipe or alternatively 21 km (13 mi.) from the turn off at Laguna Chapala from Transpeninsular 1. Although this random anomaly in the desert is unknown to many, it is legendary amongst the Baja 1000 devotees and the overlander community.
Stop in for a cold beer and a chat with Coco, if you’re lucky he will produce his guest book and you can add your name to the thousands who have signed before you.
Festooned with ladie’s knickers and bras, Coco’s home may not be gracing the front cover of “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine any time soon, but Coco’s is a shrine for many. Hanging out with Coco is an experience you are not likely to forget any time soon.
Baja California Road Trip Round-Up
Travelling the Baja on a budget is not as easy as travelling mainland Mexico on a budget, but it can be done. Plan your itinerary accordingly depending on how much time you have. The more time you spend beach camping, the more you can stretch your pesos. Let’s face it, the unfettered wilderness of the beaches and coastline is certainly the main draw here.
Hopefully this piece serves as a useful guide for those of you planning a Baja California road trip on a budget. Although it may seem like I’ve covered everything on the Peninsula, I certainly haven’t. If you’ve done your own Baja California road trip and you can add any recommendations or advice, we would love to hear from you!