This post was most recently updated on May 20th, 2019
“Baja California. Are you serious? The WHOLE family?!”
While the exact exchange is lost to the passage of time, this was the essence of how my world-traveling and blogging wife responded to my suggestion for our family of six. She was in one of those logical, responsible moods 😉 But I was missing the annual trips I’d made with high school-aged young men from our church. I wanted my family to glimpse the reasons why Bahia de los Angeles had come to mean so much to me as one of the ultimate camping spots.
Is a trip South of the border starting to grow on you? Or maybe you just want a few minutes now to imagine. Regardless, off we go!
Leaving early from San Diego
The Wilcox family loves a good road trip and that’s definitely part of this experience.
Google maps does an accurate job of estimating the 424 miles a San Diegan will travel in about 9 hours. https://goo.gl/maps/bz7RR. That’s an average of 45 mph so don’t expect to set any land speed records. Trust me, you do not want to deal with a speeding ticket in another country. Try the autobahn if you’re in it for the velocity. I did and loved it! [Germany, History & the Autobahn!] Also, the drive is through many pueblos, offering a glimpse of another era and culture. And when you shift from coastal Baja towards the Sea of Cortez side, you enter the winding ascent of part of the Sierra de San Pedro Martir mountain range. You’ll be stopping frequently for gas; keep your tank no less than half full at all times.
A stop in San Quintin
We loved spending an hour or more in San Quintin, the last outpost of civilization on the journey. San Quintin offers great food options for lunch and has a good grocery store to pick up anything forgotten. The roadside shacks offer the freshest seafood snacks and we’ll forever remember being serenaded by a Latino Elvis at a sit down restaurant! There are fresh, handmade tortillas here too and they are super inexpensive.
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
Along the way you’ll need time just to get out and stretch your legs perhaps to do some bouldering as well as take photos of stunning scenery. Finally, you’ll encounter a few military checkpoints looking for drugs or guns. No worries. You won’t be needing either! 🙂 With all that, the trip is about a half-day affair.
Arriving at the Bay of Los Angeles
Your arrival into the Bay of the Angels will be a heavenly experience if timed with the sun setting at your back. There are few vistas as picturesque as the sunset over the Bay of L.A. Peaks and islands cast dark shadows while the desert comes alive in golden browns. All of this intermingled with the deep blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. See how this sunset stacks up against a few others if you’d like “As the sun sets…” It does families good to see these vistas instead of always being locked in on our fabulous digital handheld gadgets…check out Unplug! for more ideas.
Baja sunset and evening
At the close of day the waters are still a little agitated from breezes as well as the massive tides that ebb and flow. But by time morning dawns on your first day in camp you are treated to the definition of tranquility. The Sea of Cortez is as smooth as a mirror and the same beautiful palette from the previous day’s sunset is replayed. All of this with possibly no other camper in sight if you set up at La Gringa (about 8 miles north of town and a little over half of that unpaved but passable by sedan or minivan). I have never heard such beautiful silence except in Santorini.
Even the in-town, on-shore sites at Daggett’s as well as the motels are hardly overcrowded. The Bay of L.A. is one of fewer and fewer places where you can truly get away from it all.
In between the picturesque tranquility of morning and evening is the wonder of the night. Truly isolated from any source of optical pollution you see the night sky ablaze in stars, planets, and galaxies complete with occasional shooting stars and satellites visible in their orbits. Rarely does a cloud block your view and certainly no trees or buildings will obstruct it 😉 You may truly be tempted to disbelieve your eyes at this celestial sight.
Yet that is not the only stage for a nocturnal light show. Sometimes the waters of the Sea of Cortez are brought to life via organisms in the water that glow in response to motion. Drag a hand or the blade of a paddle through the water and it’ll be like painting on a canvas. Kayak through the waters and see your wake light up in bioluminescent color. One time we were thus engaged when we began to see large streaks of light moving beneath us. Not anxious to learn what creatures were staging this glowing dance below, we quickly returned to shore!
Setting up camp on the beach
Perhaps the best for last is the abundance of marine life that drives so many activities within steps or strokes of your campsite. From the comfort of your camp chair, watch the activities of pelicans including their dive bombing method of fishing. On one visit we met researchers studying these amazing birds. Step to the water’s edge and you’ll soon be at a tide pool. You’ll find a wider array of starfish and other creatures than in your everyday, local tide pool. Another unique thing you’ll find in Baja is the monstrous tidal swings of the Sea of Cortez. I don’t know where else this happens. When we had a larger boat with us on one of our trips we had to anchor it quite a ways from the shore so that it would not end up beached at low tide! Take care where you set up your tent ;). If you need a camping resource, here’s a comprehensive camping guide for you to peruse.
If you’re willing to get wetter, snorkeling is an excellent way to cool off in the heat of the day and see a ton of sea life even just feet from the shore. If you’re inclined to harvest fish yourself by Hawaiian sling you can later have the freshest fish tacos ever! Or simply enjoy the beauty and variety that awaits. I’ve seen everything from moray eels to angel fish. One time while snorkeling I found myself enveloped in a school of fish. Be still and the school would draw very close to me but with any rapid movement they would dart away.
A nautical craft may be more to your liking. We bring kayaks and friends have sometimes brought small motor boats that we could easily launch without a trailer. Our kayaking and boating journeys have yielded encounters with whales, seals and manta rays just to name a few.
The manta ray even indulged one of us with a “piggyback” ride until he grew bored. At that point his abrupt turn to the bottom of the bay left his human rider on the surface.
The elusive whale shark
One thing I have yet to do is swim with the whale sharks. Always good to have a reason to return! These are usually spotted in the south Bay so a trip into town is required. There you can get some groceries and use the internet cafe as well. A Turtle tracking project near town is also worth a stop. You might consider making a contribution of some sort to the town. We did that by bringing clothing that we and friends had donated.
Hiking a volcano
If you prefer to stick to land you can hike nearby hills for beautiful views of the area. There is even a dormant volcano that makes for a good challenge though you have to first get to it on Isla Coronado/Smith. You can explore by off-road vehicle as well, including getting to even more remote campsites.
For a truly memorable road trip to picturesque campsites that offer unmatched tranquility and freedom from the fast technological pace of life, Bahia de los Angeles is hard to beat. The wildlife that you’ll experience there as well as the contrasting culture you’ll observe makes this outing really stand out. A Baja journey might be just the thing for you now or in the not too distant future!
(Since this post was published, Darren has returned to Baja to swim with the whale sharks. Be sure to read about his adventure and see amazing drone footage by my son-in-law!)
This is my husband’s first post on Postcards & Passports. He is an avid outdoorsman and traveler. He loves exploring, especially when it includes water and wildlife. We are a traveling family, and I encourage all of my family to share their travel experiences with you! Thanks, Darren…I love you!