Baja California

Travel Guide North America Mexico Baja California

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Introduction

Baja California is one of the 31 states in Mexico and is located in the northwest of the country, bordering California, USA. It is the northernmost and westernmost of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. Before becoming a state in 1953, the area was known as the North Territory of Baja California (El Territorio Norte de Baja California).

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Geography

Baja California encompasses a territory which exhibits diverse geography for a relatively small area. The Peninsular ranges of the California cordillera run down the geographic center of the state. The most notable ranges of these mountains are the Sierra de Juarez and the Sierra de San Pedro Martir. These ranges are the location of forests cognizant of Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains. Picacho del Diablo is the highest peak in the whole peninsula. Valleys between the mountain ranges are located within a climate zone that are suitable for agriculture. Such valleys included the Valle de Guadalupe and the Valle de Ojos Negros, areas that produce citrus fruits and grapes. The mineral-rich mountain range extends southwards to the Gulf of California, where the western slope becomes wider, forming the Llanos del Berrendo in the border with Baja California Sur. The mountain ranges located in the center and southern part of the state include the Sierra de La Asamblea, Sierra de Calamajué, Sierra de San Luis and the Sierra de San Borja.

To the east, the Sonoran Desert enters the state from both California and Sonora. Some of the highest temperatures in Mexico are recorded in or nearby the Mexicali Valley. However, with irrigation from the Colorado River, this area has become truly an agricultural center. The Cerro Prieto geothermal province is near Mexicali as well (this area is geologically part of a large pull apart basin); producing about 80% of the electricity consumed in the state and enough more to export to California. Laguna Salada, a saline lake below sea level lying between the rugged Sierra de Juarez and the Sierra de los Cucapah, is also in the vicinity of Mexicali. The state government has recently been considering plans to revive Laguna Salada. The highest mountain in the Sierra de los Cucapah is the Cerro del Centinela or Mount Signal. The Cucapah are the primary indigenous people of that area and up into the Yuma, AZ area.

There are numerous islands on the Pacific shore. Guadalupe Island is located in the extreme west of the state's boundaries and is the site of large colonies of sea lions. Cedros Island exists in the southwest of the state's maritime region. The Todos Santos Islands and Coronado Islands are located off the coast of Ensenada and Tijuana respectively. All of the islands in the Gulf of California, on the Baja California side, belong to the municipality of Mexicali.

Baja California obtains much of its water from the Colorado River. Historically the river drained into the Colorado River Delta which flowed into the Gulf of California, but due to large demands for water in the American Southwest, less water now reaches the Gulf. The Tijuana metropolitan area also relies on the Tijuana River as a source of water. Much of rural Baja California depends predominantly on wells and a few dams. Tijuana also purchases water from San Diego County's Otay Water District. Potable water is the largest natural resource issue of the state.

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Cities

  • Ensenada is a popular vacation spot for both Mexicans and folks from the United States. Cruise ships stop in Ensenada and the malecon fills with holidaymakers in search of great seafood from the scores of restaurants set up along the water.
  • Mexicali is the capital of Baja California and is a rather drab city. There is not much of interest to tourists here, although this is a great place to cross the border as an alternative to busier Tijuana.
  • Tijuana has had a reputation for years as an anything-goes party spot. There is more to this city beyond the crazy nightlife and the touts, though. Tijuana surprizes with several museums and cultural diversions as well as a budding craft beer scene.

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Events and Festivals

Most of the fiestas of the state of Baja California are related to the anniversaries of the foundation of municipalities, the celebration of local Roman Catholic patron saints or exhibitions of the most popular produce of the particular region. The majority are observed at the local level and, given that the greater part of the municipalities have few inhabitants, the festivals can be a bit austere.

Day of the Dead

Although the Day of the Dead is also celebrated in many Latin American countries (and also in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa), the Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is most intensily celebrated in Mexico where it is equal to a National Holiday. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Although it is about the Dead, it is also a celebration where eating and partying both are common as well.

Other Events and Festivals

  • FotoFilmTijuana is a festival that takes place annually in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. It is a photography and film festival and had over 22,000 attendees in 2017. Held in July at the Tijuana Cultural Center, the event is a showcase for Mexican and international filmmakers, photographers and performers. The festival comprises competitive sections for short films, and includes feature films and documentary films. The first edition was held in 2017, and included the films William: El Nuevo Maestro del Judo, La Habitación, and Heroyna in the main selection. The second edition took place on July 27–31, 2018 at the Tijuana Cultural Center, and included 14 feature films, 12 short films, and a contest for new directors through FilmFreeway, which resulted in six finalists and a winner for the Best of Show award.
  • Grito de la Independencia - September 15th is Mexican Independence Day! A massive celebration involving plenty of singing, dancing and fireworks takes place in the Zócalo. Everyone here awaits an appearance from Mexico's president who rings a bell from a central balcony of the Palacio Nacional overlooking the Zócalo. The president then shouts out the Grito de Dolores, or the Cry of Dolores which was Father Hidalgo's famous call to arms against Spanish rule in 1810.
  • Dia de la Candelaria. Candlemas is held February 2nd and commemorates Jesus being introduced into the temple 40 days after his birth. This nationwide celebration sees many different ways of celebrating and many towns in Baja California State hold processions, bullfights and dances. Of course, plenty of delicious, traditional foods are served during Dia de la Candelaria as well.
  • Carnaval is held in late February or early March throughout Baja California State and all of Mexico. This big party is meant to celebrate the 40 day penance of Lent. Carnaval always takes place during the week or so prior to Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Sunday. Mexicans celebrate this holiday with fireworks, food, dancing, parades, dancing and drinking.
  • Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a huge celebration which starts on Palm Sunday. This is a very popular time for Mexicans to take a short break; as a result, it seems most of the country is on the move, with buses and hotels often booked out. As for the celebration of Semana Santa, expect colorful processions and many masses at churches everywhere.
  • Día de Nuestra Seňora de Guadalupe, or Day of our Lady of Guadalupe, is held December 12th. There is a week-long build up to this religious celebration in honour of the Virgin who appeared to the indigenous Juan Diego in the year 1531. Since then, the Lady of Guadalupe has been Mexico's religious patron and her veneration is very significant. It is traditional for young boys to be dressed as a Juan Diego and for young girls to be dressed in indigenous garb and brought to a special mass, held at many churches throughout the country.
  • New Year's Eve. Mexicans celebrate New Year's Eve or locally known as Año Nuevo, by downing a grape with each of the twelve chimes of the bell during the midnight countdown, while making a wish with each one. Mexican families decorate homes and parties, during New Year's, with colors such as red, to encourage an overall improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow to encourage blessings of improved employment conditions, green to improve financial circumstances and white to improved health. Mexican sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, the recipient whose slice contains the coin or charm is believed to be blessed with good luck in the new year. One can expect a lot of firecrackers, fireworks and sparklers being fired. At midnight there is a lot of noise and everyone shouts: "Feliz año nuevo!" People embrace, make noise, set off firecrackers, and sing Auld Lang Syne.
  • Cinco de Mayo is an annual celebration held on May 5. The date is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. The victory of the smaller Mexican force against a larger French force was a boost to morale for the Mexicans. A year after the battle, a larger French force defeated Zaragoza at the Second Battle of Puebla, and Mexico City soon fell to the invaders.

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Weather

Baja California's climate varies from Mediterranean to arid. The Mediterranean climate is observed in the northwestern corner of the state where the summers are dry and mild and the winters cool and rainy. This climate is observed in areas from Tijuana to San Quintin and nearby interior valleys. The cold oceanic California Current often creates a low-level marine fog near the coast. The fog occurs along any part of the Pacific Coast of the state. Rainfall in the Tijuana to Ensenada area is about per year, increasing inland with elevation. Tecate, in the mountains east of Tijuana, receives of precipitation per year.

The change of altitude towards the Sierra de Baja California creates an alpine climate in this region. Summers are cool while winters can be cold with below freezing temperatures at night. It is common to see snow in the Sierra de Juarez and Sierra de San Pedro Martir (and in the valleys in between) from December to April. Due to orographic effects, precipitation is much higher in the mountains of northern Baja California than on the western coastal plain or eastern desert plain. The highest slopes receive up to of rainfall per year, during winter frontal passages and summer thunderstorms. Pine, cedar and fir forests are found in the mountains.

The east side of the mountains produce a rain shadow, creating an extremely arid environment. The Sonoran Desert region of Baja California experiences hot summers and nearly frostless mild winters. The Mexicali Valley (which is below sea level), experiences the highest temperatures in Mexico, that frequently surpass 47 °C in mid-summer, and have exceeded 50 °C on some occasions.

Further south along the Pacific coast, the Mediterranean climate transitions into a desert climate but it is milder and not as hot as along the gulf coast. Transition climates, from Mediterranean to Desert, can be found from San Quintin to El Rosario. Further inland and along the Gulf of California the vegetation is scarce and temperatures are very high during the summer months. The islands in the Gulf of California also belong to the desert climate. Some oases can be found in the desert in which few towns are located – for instance, Catavina, San Borja and Santa Gertrudis.

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Getting There

By Plane

The Tijuana-General Abelardo L. Rodtríguez International Airport (TIJ) is the main airport. It is served by Mexican airlines Aeromexico and Mexicana as well as a few low cost carriers: Volaris, Interjet and VivaAerobus. It is mainly a domestic airport, although in recent times Aeromexico has started including it on routes from Mexico City to Tokyo-Narita and Shanghai Pudong International Airport. As such, it can be used as an alternative way to reach California from Asia.

By Car

From the United States there are border crossings into Baja California at Tijuana, Tecate, Mexicali and Los Algodones. Tijuana is the busiest land border crossing in the world - expect plenty of traffic both ways. Consider crossing at all these locations during the week at non-peak times. Currently, no vehicle permit is needed for vehicles entering into Baja California without anything in tow. Rules change frequently for vehicles towing trailers.

By Bus

Buses from the United States and from Baja California Sur stop at all major towns and cities. For detailed information on fares, carriers, schedules and station locations, check out Rome2rio.com

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Getting Around

By Car

There is one main road running the entire length of the peninsula from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas - the Transpeninsular Highway. Although in mostly decent condition, this road is not for the feint of heart! There is no shoulder on the side of the road and very few guard rails to protect motorists. Filling stations are often hours apart from one another and livestock commonly crosses the road throughout the day. Having said that, a trip down the Transpeninsular Highway remains a classic road trip and is full of opportunities for both beach and desert camping.

By Bus

For an overview of schedules and connections, check thebusschedule.com. Also check out rome2rio.com.

By Bicycle

There is a slow but steady trickle of travelers riding their bicycles in Baja California. On the Transpeninsular Highway this is fairly straightforward. It's easy to find the way, and in populated areas small shops or restaurants can be expected almost daily, and there are plenty of good wild campsites, and RV parks. A traditional touring, or hybrid bike is an excellent choice for the Transpeninsular. The middle stretch of the road and the peninsula present regions that are both very mountainous and desolate. Riding a bike on the numerous other roads would certainly require a mountain bike, and would be preferable with a support vehicle due to the difficulty in acquiring basic supplies (the main concern being water) and the difficulty carrying baggage on rough roads. Trying to travel by bike unsupported off the Transpeninsular is for those who don't distinguish between masochism and adventure. Either on or off the Transpeninsular, good quality tires, lots of patches, spare tubes, and other puncture resistant measures are important, due to the large numbers of vicious thorns. Drivers on the Transpeninsular Highway are often very reckless, however most drivers treat cyclists with more respect (perhaps due to their novelty) than cyclists get elsewhere in North America. If one chooses to bike in what is normally a very hot climate and incredibly remote region at times, the whole endeavor should only be undertaken with much prudence and planning.

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Eat

Seafood

Since the peninsula is surrounded by the ocean, seafood of all varieties is on offer. Mexican seafood restaurants here are often palapa-style establishments serving an incredible variety of dishes at very reasonable prices. Shrimp, clams, octopus, conch, ray and oysters fill the menu along with countless varieties of scaly fish, all cooked dozens of different ways.

Fish Tacos were born here years ago and remain a form of Baja comfort food to this day. Chunks of white fish are battered and fried, then served in flour tortillas with a slaw dressing. Garnishes like cucumber, salsa, cilantro are served on the side.

Other Specialties

  • Mollete is an open faced sandwich consisting of a bolillo roll smothered in refried beans and melted cheese.
  • Carnitas are slow braised meats usually bought by weight. These often come with tortillas to wrap the meat in. Any meats cooked in this fashion are always tender and very rich in flavor.
  • Cabuche is the flower from the biznaga cactus. this edible flower is a delicacy in San Luis Potosi state. There are many dishes this flower can go into and many ways to prepare it on it's own.
  • Chiles en Nogada - this dish is meant to represent the Mexican flag's 3 colors; red, white and green. The red portion of this dish is a garnish of pomegranate seeds, the white from a cream sauce and the green from poblano chili pepper.
  • Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on organic corn ears due to the lack of anti fungal chemicals introduced to the crop. When cooked and added to certain dishes huitlacoche is very earthy in flavor.
  • Pozole - Choose either red or green pozole. This corn and chile based soup is very tasty and is served at many comedors and loncherias in marketplaces throughout Mexico.
  • Rosti-Pollo - Roast chicken is a hugely popular meal in Mexico and represents an astounding value for travelers on a budget. Order a whole, or half chicken. Each order comes with french fries, unlimited tortillas and salsa.
  • Birria Stew - Birria is typically goat meat but many establishments prepare it with beef. The broth is a tomato and chili based one although it is not too spicy. Fresh diced onions and cilantro always accompany birria stew as a garnish. Of course, unlimited corn tortillas are served with each bowl.

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Drink

Beer

Since this is Baja Mexico, Pacifico is the best beer to accompany your seafood and makes for a very refreshing drink. In fact, nothing could be finer than a fish taco or a giant plate of seafood washed down with a cold Pacifico. This brand is widely distributed throughout the state.

Mexico has many brands of national beer that are quite good. Corona, Rio Negro and Pafico are some very popular brands. Pacifico is oddly not well distributed across Mexico and the same can be said for other brands; Montejo, Leon, Victoria, Superior, Carta Blanca and Estrella are national brands that can be difficult to find at times depending on where you are in Mexico. Lately, both Tecate and Indio brands have become the most widely distributed beers next to Corona. Many of the beers mentioned are brewed by Mexico's brewery powerhouses - Modelo and Cuauhtemoc.

One of the traditions in Mexico is to add lime to beer, adding a pleasant acidity. Another popular way to drink beer in Mexico is to mix it with lime, tomato juice, spices and assorted chili-based sauces. This drink is known as a Michelada and is very popular in hotter climates throughout Mexico and actually makes for a very refreshing concoction.

Tequila

For many, Mexico is synonymous with tequila. There are countless brands of tequila, ranging from absolutely horrible to some that are smoother than water. Remember though, you don't have to eat the worm! A good tequila will have a smooth, peppery flavor.
Tequila is the signature firewater of Mexico and nearly all of it hails from the state of Jalisco. Here, small agave plantations and larger haciendas churn out a staggering number of brands. Of those brands, there 5 varieties of tequila:

  • Oro, or gold is possibly the poorest quality of the lot. That gold color this variety is known for is artificial and this tequila really burns the throat. It is best used in cocktails and margaritas.
  • Plata is also known as Blanco and represents the next lowest quality of the 5 varieties but tastes better than the Oro variety. This is unaged and the flavor is much less complex, making it suitable as a mixer rather than a shot for sipping.
  • Resapado means rested and this variety is aged for up to 9 months. Flavor profiles become more complex and respado makes for a good introductory sipping variety. Expect a clean, sharp taste with a subtle peppery finish.
  • Aňejo. This aged variety, conditioned in oak barrels for up to 1 year, is very smooth and sweet. Many people enjoy this variety as an aperitif, or even an after dinner drink. Certain brands of aňejo represent a very good value, especially considering the amount of nuanced flavors created by each distilleries' aging techniques.
  • Extra Aňejo, or vintage, is a relatively new variety. This is aged for 3 years, often using other types of barrels aside from the traditional oak ones. This is best sipped neat. Extra Aňejo has boosted the craft tequila market in Mexico.

Mezcal

Mezcal is a very intense drink, mainly drunk in southern Mexico. Some of the poorer varieties have a terrible after taste, but the nicer ones can be ok.
Mezcal can sometimes be as high as 60% alcohol, so enjoy this drink with caution! Mezcal is made from 1 of around 20 different species of agave, some of which
can take decades to mature. Only once will a mature agave sprout the flower whose sap is fermented to make this potent potion. Some varieties include:

  • Minero is distilled in clay pots and is a very high quality variety. Subtly smoky in flavor and very smooth.
  • Arroqueňo tends to be a subtly sweet-tasting Mezcal. Many find this to be the most pleasant variety. The flavor begins a bit bitter but quickly finishes sweet and warm.
  • Joven means young, and this variety is simply unaged and therefore a little bit rough.
  • Tobalá is named for an actual variety of agave plant, grown in mountainous regions.

Other Drinks

  • Chamoyada is a sweet and spicy type of shaved ice, or raspado or Mango sorbet, prepared with chamoy. It is a part of Mexican cuisine, and is also common in regions of the United States with significant Mexican-American populations. The drink is usually sweetened with mangoes or apricots. It is essentially a combination of chamoy sauce, shaved ice, chili powder, and fruit chunks. In certain variations, a whole fruit popsicle, or paleta, is added to the drink and mixed with the shaved ice. The drinking straws served with chamoyadas also often have tamarind candy on the outside. Chamoyadas do not contain any dairy products. The different flavors of chamoyadas can include fruits like mango, lemon, guava, tamarind, pineapple and strawberry.
  • Champuraddo is a warm and thick chocolate-based drink, prepared with either masa de maíz (lime-treated-corn dough), masa harina (a dried version of this dough), or corn flour (simply very finely ground dried corn, especially local varieties grown for atole); piloncillo; water or milk; and occasionally containing cinnamon, anise seed, or vanilla. Ground nuts, orange zest, and egg can also be employed to thicken and enrich the drink. Atole drinks are whipped up using a wooden whisk called a molinillo (or a blender). The whisk is rolled between the palms of the hands, then moved back and forth in the mixture until it is aerated and frothy.
  • Liquados are a Latin American handmade blended beverage similar to smoothies, made with milk, fruit, and usually ice.They are also sometimes called "preparados" (meaning "prepared"). Licuados and other fresh fruit juice drinks are ubiquitous throughout Mexico. They are sold by street vendors, and in special licuado shops, restaurants, and fruterias (restaurants specializing in fresh fruit).
  • Aguas Frescas, (Spanish for "cool waters", or literally "fresh waters") are light non-alcoholic beverages made from one or more fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water. Some of the more common flavors include tamarind, hibiscus, and horchata. Aguas frescas are sold by street vendors, but can also be found in bodegas (convenience stores), restaurants and juice bars.
  • Atole, also known as atol and atol de elote, is a traditional hot corn and masa-based beverage of Mesoamerican origin. Chocolate atole is known as champurrado or atole. It typically accompanies tamales, and is very popular during the Christmas holiday season (las Posadas).
  • Café de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee beverage. To prepare café de olla, it is essential to use a traditional earthen clay pot, as this gives a special flavor to the coffee. This type of coffee is principally consumed in cold climates and in rural areas. In Mexico, café de olla is made with ground coffee, cinnamon, and piloncillo (known as panela in other countries).
  • Jarritos is a popular brand of soft drink in Mexico, founded in 1950. Jarritos is made in fruit flavors and is less carbonated than popular soft drinks made in the United States or Canada. Many Jarritos varieties are naturally flavored. The word jarrito means "little jug" in Spanish and refers to the Mexican tradition of drinking water and other drinks in clay pottery jugs. Produced in Mexico, they are sold throughout the Americas.

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Sleep

As is typical with all of Mexico, accommodation options in Baja California run from budget hotels and hostels to fancier lodges and resorts, although accommodations on the peninsula tend to be higher in general than on the mainland. Every city and town caters to the traveler as many people traverse the country by bus and often find themselves staying overnight along the way, especially on long-haul routes. Because of this, many hotels can be found around bus stations and in small towns those accommodation options will extend well beyond the transportation terminal. You will find an accommodation type to suit any budget in Baja California.

Many hotels in Mexico (and Baja California) list their prices at the front desk and haggling for a reduced rate for a stay of a few days or more is acceptable. Many hostels have become more expensive than hotels, especially for a couple traveling together. It is very common to find clean, safe, comfortable and centrally located hotels for 200 pesos. Wi Fi is almost always available at these hotels and sometimes cable television and air conditioning are included. Prices for these same types of hotels are at least double on the Baja Peninsula. It is also acceptable to ask to see a room before paying. Ask to see another room if the one shown to you doesn't suit you. Street noise is a problem in Mexico (and Baja California is no exception); rooms facing the road can be very loud. Ask for an internal-facing room if possible. Hot water is often an issue in Mexico and may only be available during certain hours.

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Baja California Travel Helpers

This is version 19. Last edited at 16:46 on May 15, 19 by road to roam. 8 articles link to this page.

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