1-week itinerary for visiting Baja Sur, Mexico
A desert oasis in Baja California Sur
All participants of our trip were tested for CoVid-19 prior to flying and had negative results for the virus. We did this to ensure the safety of the locals we were visiting. At the time of writing this, it is not enforced, but it is highly encouraged.
What is so special about Baja California?
Baja California, one of Mexico‘s most compelling and popular destinations, enchants visitors with its tantalizing desert landscapes, rich marine life, and lush oases. Its fascinating human history adds to the allure, showcasing remote cave paintings, historic Spanish missions, fabulous seafood, and luxury beach resorts.
My Experience in Baja
We were cut off from the rest of the world. Disconnected. Buzzards were already circling the white SUV, clearly out of place. Three brazen city-boy souls were off in search of adventure, on a road trip across the deserts of Baja California Sur.
Baja Sur as a whole is one of those special spots in the world. Adventures lay around every corner. Its landscape changes constantly as you catapult down its straight-shot highways.
From our launching pad of La Paz, we managed to squeeze in 3 other destinations on this minivan voyage. This mini itinerary was definitely a bit rushed, and I’d recommend at least doubling the amount of time in each destination, or choosing just two or three of our destinations for a week-long trip… unless you are just trying to tick off boxes.
We first arrived in La Paz, located on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja California Sur. La Paz, which is a great city in itself, could easily make for a relaxing holiday without leaving it at all. There’s a ton of great restaurants – from local taco shops to seafood, to more western-influenced such as a restaurant that specializes in ribs! There are also some beautiful natural attractions, such as taking a day trip out to the island of Espiritu Santo (a full-day boat trip, including snorkel gear, should be about 1200-1500 pesos each), which is an environmentally protected island full of sea birds and sea lions! There’s also a locally famous beach called Balandra, which has waters similar to those found in Cancun, and has a daily limit on the number of people who may enter to visit! There are easily a few days worth of things to do here, even if its intent for this itinerary is just an arrival point.
As there are not really any buses going direct between all the smaller cities or towns in Baja California Sur (they mainly just go between the bigger cities), we decided to rent our own SUV for the drive. Avis had the best deals, with both a location in the city (where we picked it up) and a location at the airport (where we could drop it off at the end of the trip). We packed up our newly rented SUV, and parted ways alongside our new friends Nomadarte, who would be driving their baby-blue 1978 VW Combi! Together we would all be exploring the Pacific-facing region of Baja Sur, which is called Comondú.
The roads and highways in Baja California Sur were immaculate! That may be due to the low traffic they see, or perhaps the nice climate year-round – though I assume they are also well cared for as there is a LOT of desert between each town and city – so if you were to burst a tire on a pothole, you’d be pretty stranded. The landscapes crossing the highways of Baja California Sur are absolutely awe-inspiring! You could go from vast deserts with almost nothing in them to a cactus forest, from flat to almost mountains hills, from arid to oasis, all in the blink of an eye, and frequently too!
Our first destination was going to be the furthest northern point for our trip, to a Pacific ocean surf town called San Juanico. It’s world-renowned for having one of the longest surf breaks in the world, as the shape of the cove allows the wave to ride parallel along the shore! In its best conditions, apparently, it can run a full 2 kilometres (which makes for about a 10-15 minute surf ride)!
Getting to San Juanico, it’s possible to make the journey in a little over 5 hours, passing through only a couple of small towns on the way (make sure to fill up on gas as needed, as there’s nothing in between those towns). However, if you miss the first turn-off to get to San Juanico, you may end up doing what we did, and going on an off-road adventure – which would easily make some of the most experienced travellers cry. The second turn-off takes you on the Baja 1000 – a road built for the motocross course. Let’s just say it was terrifying at best, and you REALLY want to turn at the first turn off, which is the sign pictured below – completely covered up by surfers who are trying to keep its location secret, though in turn making it quite dangerous for others. Turn left immediately at this covered-up sign, and you’ll be a-ok, with perfectly paved roads which go directly to San Janico.
San Juanico, Baja California Sur, Mexico
A couple of things to note about San Janico. It’s off the grid. There is almost no cell or internet service, nor is there electricity in this town. A few places have generators and solar power, and you can buy limited internet packets (which I assume run through a satellite link) – but that’s it. You are otherwise disconnected here – which for some is a vacation come true! No work emails, no Netflix – just you and your destination.
There are only a few options for food and accommodations in San Juanico. We stayed at a place called Cowabungalow Hotel, which is run by a really nice American couple. It’s solar-powered huts and has a surf-themed bar upstairs. The couple is lovely, and great for a chat too. The accommodations were very comfy, each hut with a twin bed set up inside, except for one which had a double.
The majority of our meals and activities were arranged by a very nearby restaurant called El Burro en Primavera (which means a Donkey in the springtime, but apparently is an innuendo as well). They have some amazing meal options and the menu appeared to change daily. We also arranged some surfboard rentals while we were there, and there’s an option to go out on a fishing boat too, though unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do both. Pretty much anything you want to do while here can be done quickly and easily through them. We did also eat at a local fish taco spot overlooking the main beach, called Restaurant Bahia – they were delicious, and came out quickly too. I could easily have spent a few afternoons just sitting there reading a book, and drinking a few cold ones, watching the waves roll in.
Other than the surfing and fishing trip, I’d say there’s not a whole lot more to do here, other than to unwind, swim, read, hike and mix with the locals! Though we only spent two nights here, I could have easily extended that to 3 or 4.
From here, we went back out to the highway (this time on the correct, paved, non-Baja1000 highway), and continued a bit further up past the original junction. Within about an hour from the turn-off, we crossed over from a vast, endless desert with some mountains and hills, around a turn, and into an Oasis paradise! Welcome to La Purisima, Baja California Sur.
La Purisima & San Isidro, BCS, Mexico
La Purisima is the epitome of a desert oasis. Located in a volcanic field with natural springs, La Purisima offers lush vegetation, rivers and lakes, with an array of activities to explore throughout. Our hosts were the lovely family that owns and operates Cabanas La Purisima. The town itself is quite small (about 15 small streets), and many of the buildings along the main strip appeared to be abandoned. This means pretty much everything you’re going to be able to see, do, eat and experience here will be through the help and connections of your hosts.
Everything we did in La Purisima was over-the-top above our expectations. Perhaps it was partially due to having just come from such a chill, slow-paced, nonchalant town such as San Juanico? Or perhaps it was because we were some of the first guests to visit since the pandemic started, and their hospitality juices were surging through their veins? Either way, La Purisima was certainly a highlight. In our 24 hours here, we managed to have a full-on freshwater lobster feast, an all you can eat, best cuts of meat, bbq feast, and a breakfast of a very unique local dish made of shredded deer-jerky, rehydrated and fried with potatoes (I’m feeling full, multiple times over, just thinking back on those meals).
Activity-wise, we went on a horse-drawn carriage ride around the small town. We headed out to Cerro El Pilón, an inactive volcanic mountain on the edge of the neighbouring San Isidro. We visited El Pilón’s nearby spring-fed lagoon, where we were able to kayak and SUP (stand-up paddleboard). We visited the host family’s private vineyard, as well as their palm-date plantation (dried fruits that grow on certain varieties of palm trees).
I don’t know how we could have possibly crammed anything more in – and this was all while staying in some gorgeous cabins, each so incredibly massive, they had at least 3 double beds in each (some with kings). Though only having one night stay in them seemed to not do them justice.
Although it sounds like a lot, it never felt too rushed. That said, there were more rock formations nearby I would have liked to have seen, and it wouldn’t have been so bad stretching out all those activities over a few more days. You could even do a bit of Urban Exploration (URBEX) to see some of the abandoned buildings in the centre of town. I’d say 3 nights would be a comfortable stay here to go at a slower pace and have more opportunities to explore the region.
Adolfo López Mateos, Baja Sur, Mexico
Right after a late breakfast, we started our journey south, down to what would be our last new destination on this epic adventure – Adolfo Lopez Mateos (I also heard it referred to as Puerto Lopez Mateos while there, being a port town). It was about 3 hours south of La Purisima, just off the highway heading back towards La Paz.
Our hotel was just off the main road right before getting into the town itself. As a result, we didn’t get to see much of the Adolfo Lopez Mateo, though it looks like it’s pretty small as well. The town isn’t the reason people visit, however. Located in the north of the extensive Magdalena Bay, this small fishing port is considered one of the best points to observe the Gray Whale. It should be noted, however, that the Gray Whales only tend to be in the bay between January to April as part of their migration and mating.
We arrived at the Mangrove Hotel, which is an aptly named waterfront property facing some mangroves across the sea. It’s a very modern hotel and has a gorgeous layout. We noted that there were even some kayaks available to use, though, after the drive from La Purisima (and having kayaked the day before), we just wanted to eat and settle before our next planned adventure, which would be a boat cruise on a long pontoon boat, through the vast bay and mangroves.
Being a nature enthusiast myself, I’m always excited to see more landscapes and ecosystems. As we weren’t here for the Grey Whale season, I was interested to see what else the region had to share. Our boat arrived right to the shore of the hotel, and we hopped in, excited for our cruise. The boat had some pretty good speed, and as we cruised along the seemingly endless coastline, we realized just how big this bay is (and we barely saw any of it after several hours). I suppose it needs to be big for whales to come in for a season. We made it to an area that is woven with thousands of mini mangrove islands. As we went between them, we saw some occasional sea birds take flight. For anyone who’s big into bird-watching, this would be a great activity.
After a few hours, we started to head back towards the hotel, this time on the far side of the bay, along a very long sandy island covered in dunes. At one point, we asked if we could hop out for a few minutes… and what a surprise that was! Climbing up the first dune, we were met with hundreds of dunes spanning as far as the eye could see, in every direction (less the sea behind us). This very quickly became one of the most exciting moments of the trip, as we all ran in different directions, and explored the rolling dunes. It just happened to be the golden hour, with the sun starting to set, and the light and shadows were spectacular. You could watch the fine mist of sand blowing across the tiny ripples which covered every dune as if at any moment it would expose a hidden treasure beneath. Our few minutes easily turned into an hour of dune hopping, before we had to head to the boat to beat darkness on our journey back to the hotel. Many said they would come back just for the dunes, to explore several more times, or simply to spend more time out there in one go. I feel like the 1 day/1 night was sufficient during the off-season, but were the whales there, 2 or 3 nights would make for a more full stay.
Upon arrival at the hotel, dinner was being prepared – another lobster and seafood feast. This would be our final meal together as a group, and what a perfect meal it was! We proceeded to a nearby firepit shortly after eating to have a campfire and a beer and to chat about all the events from the week together, one last time. It was a perfect end to a near-perfect week. Let us never speak of that San Juanico turn again.
We headed back for the last 3-4 hour drive into La Paz the following morning, where we headed out to some nearby beaches. We weren’t able to get into the famous Balandra beach, unfortunately, due to their daily limits of visitors, and our late arrival. It was still a great feeling to come back to La Paz. A sense of a modern city again – civilization. Warm showers and cold beers. I could see myself revisiting La Paz again in the future, even without any epic road trips around the region.
All in all, this was a full-on, very full itinerary – a bit over the top for the time we had, but you could also pick and choose fewer stops, and simply opt for longer stays in each, depending on your interests and holiday time. Baja California Sur had never really been on my radar before, but it most certainly is now, and I hope to get back to see the rest of it sometime soon!
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
This is a map of our itinerary (though don’t trust the section taking you to San Juanico – you really need to just turn at the covered highway sign).
Do – Activities & Attractions
Most of the destinations had a few different activities to choose from, as listed above. Asides from what was listed, there isn’t a lot more in each town, as they are all quite small, between 1000-2000 people in each. If you have a particular activity you want to do in mind, you might choose the town you are visiting based on what is available in the aforementioned itinerary. La Paz was the exception, being a bigger city of 200,000+ people, there are several more activities here, with the highlights being the beach and the island visits, as well as people watching on the boardwalk (Sunday nights are best for this).
Stay – Accommodation
In Lap Paz, we opted to stay at Posada LunaSol, because it was a family-run guesthouse. It was a proper hotel, with a pool, and the staff were great and very accommodating. It was located about a 15 mins walk into Centro, where all the action happens at night. We chose this to be able to get away from the action when we wanted but being accessible too. A friend stayed in Centro and although the location was great, he wasn’t as impressed with the hotel itself, while another friend opted to stay close to a harbour (there are two)… his harbour ended up being quite far from the central part of La Paz, which made it a bit more difficult to get to and from when we all planned to meet up. Based on where others stayed, and our impressions of our hotel, I’d definitely recommend Posada LunaSol.
In San Juanico, there are a couple of options. Because of the ethos and vibe of Cowabunga Hotel, I’m really happy that’s where we stayed. It’s cute and convenient, and only a 3 mins walk to the edge of the beach (or cliff overlooking the beach, rather). I loved that it is solar-powered as well!
In La Purisima, I’m pretty sure that Cabanas La Purisima is the only option. There may be another hotel in San Isidro, the neighbouring town, though for the service we got at our hotel, and the meals, the giant rooms, and the activities available, I really wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.
In Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, there were a couple of hotel options. I really liked the Mangrove Hotel, due to it being right on the water, and it was very modern. The firepit at the end was perfect too. I would happily stay there again.
Eat – Restaurants
You will be able to find much of the traditional Mexican fare in La Paz, with some taco stands, and lots and lots of seafood restaurants. Being a bigger city, there are also some international options available.
San Juanico had very limited options, with only a few restaurants, so you will be subject to what is available there, and what their daily menu consists of.
La Purisima only had food at La Cabanas hotel, from what we could see, and though it was FANTASTIC, there wasn’t a big menu to choose from, and they often cooked the same food for everyone there at each mealtime.
Adolfo Lopez Mateo’s food options were also fairly limited, and though our last meal was fantastic, I wasn’t as impressed with the breakfast or lunch options we had at the hotel. I did see that there were limited restaurant options in town though, so you should have a few options available if you aren’t interested in eating all your meals at the hotel.
There was one vegetarian in our group, and he had no real difficulty getting veggie food along the trip. If you have other serious dietary restrictions, they may be a little harder to appease, depending on what they are, given the limited options.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
You should be able to visit this region at any time and be ok weather-wise. Our trip took place in late October, and the weather was hot, but comfortable for the entire trip, without raining once.
If you are going for the whale watching, they should be in the area of Adolfo Lopez Mateos between January to April. There are also migrations around La Paz between November through January.
The hottest time of year is between April – June and could be unbearably hot for you if you’re not used to the heat.
Safety – Possible risks
Is Baja California safe in 2023?
Baja Calfornia Sur is safe for the most part. The areas of Rosarita, Ensenada, and the Guadalupe Valley are known for being low-risk and tourist-friendly, ensuring a pleasant and secure experience for visitors.
There are occasional stories you’ll hear on the news of this region, if not of Mexico as a whole, though from my personal experience, everyone was incredibly friendly, nice and helpful, and welcoming of foreigners. That said, just as you would in an unfamiliar neighbourhood back home, always use your best intuitions and be safe. Lock your car and hotel rooms, use safes when possible, and be friendly but don’t put yourself in situations that don’t feel safe or comfortable.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Overall, the pacific coast of Baja California Sur is reasonably priced. Meals averaged between 120-400 pesos per person (about $6-20 USD – drinks not included). Our accommodations generally averaged 1000 pesos per night (around $50 USD), per bungalow/room. Most activities we under 1000 pesos ($50 USD), with the exceptions being the boat tour of Espiritu Santo (1500 pesos per person – $75USD), and the mangrove boat tour (4000 pesos – or $200 USD) for the whole boat.
One thing to consider is that there are almost no ATMs or banks throughout the entire area, likely due to the poor internet connections. This means you need to bring enough cash to pay for the majority of the trip (including at gas stations). I would suggest not keeping it all in one place, and hiding it between bags, and compartments in your vehicle – and bring more than you expect you’ll need.
You also need Mexican pesos, as most places will not accept or exchange USD, nor are there banks along the way to change them at.
I pulled out all the money needed while in the city of La Paz, using my international bank card. If you plan to do this, understand there are daily limits, and inform your bank before you leave home, so they don’t lock your card for unusual behaviour (a quick call to your bank or credit card company should be all you need to do this).
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Most of what makes Baja California Sur so special is how untouched it really is. Even the towns are tiny, and for the most part, cut-off from much of the outside world… and they like it that way. Be sure to be respectful of local customs and practices while in each destination, understanding you are one of the few guests each place sees.
The desert is also an amazing ecosystem that has taken hundreds of thousands of years to be able to sustain any forms of life within it. Though it looks, in places, like a lot of nothing – life exists there. Please don’t throw your trash from the window while driving. I know it seems like common sense, though at every stop we made along the highway, we did see a bit of trash on the sides of the roads – so try to keep it as uniquely beautiful as possible, and make sure you have an extra bag for your snack wrappers to dispose of at proper waste bins later on.
If you are reading this during the time of Co-Vid 19, please also make sure you take adequate precautions to wear masks, wash your hands and socially distance yourself in each destination. Many of these towns are isolated and safe as a result. Let’s do our part to keep them that way.
Everyone also got CoVid tests 4-5 days before travelling, to make sure we were safe to fly (many tests take up to 3 days to get results back). It may or may not be enforced in your local airports – and it’s just a responsible thing to do, both for yourself and for the locals you are going to visit.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Baja California Sur is a relatively untouched paradise waiting to be explored. That said, travel is a bit difficult, as you’ll likely end up self-driving. Makes sure you have a valid international driver’s license (easy to get, with a valid driver’s license back home). It is also some pretty rugged terrain – even with well-paved roads – you want to make sure you have enough water and snacks on hand should you get stranded for any reason. There’s not much phone/internet signal in many of these destinations, so if you do get stuck, you’ll likely have to wait for the next person who drives by… and may need a bit of Spanish to communicate with whoever that might be. The biggest Reality Check is definitely making sure you take the proper turn to San Juanico and not the second turn down the motocross road. After 23+ years of continual travel, that was one of the scariest roads I’ve driven on. With these precautions in mind, this could be one of the most exciting, off-the-beaten-path adventures you may ever take! Each destination had its own special package full of magic waiting to be unboxed.
JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off-the-beaten-path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
Check out the stories from my fellow road-warriors who joined me in Baja California Sur:
The Life of Jord:
Flying to Baja California Sur – First Impressions of West Mexico
Mexico Off The Beaten Path – a Desert Oasis in Baja Sur
BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR – so much MORE than just Los Cabos
Lost Boy Memoirs:
Have you ever taken a real off the beaten path road-trip? Where was it and what made it so unique?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!