7 Baja California Sur Road Trip Tips
Thinking about taking a road trip around Baja California Sur? Then you’ve come to the right place. Baja California Sur is the southern half of the two states that make up the Baja California Peninsula. Though it is home to the famous tourist city of Cabo San Lucas, this beautiful state has much more to offer. Putting in a little effort to get off the tourist track will reward you with magical small towns and empty white sand beaches. Read on for what you should know before taking a Baja California Sur road trip.
1. The Scenery is Breathtaking
Before leaving for this Baja California road trip, we read about how beautiful the desert is, but we weren’t prepared for how jaw-dropping it was in person. We were there right after a huge, much needed storm so the rolling hills were bright green and almost tropical looking (I kept forgetting we were technically in a desert). It was so fascinating to see groups of giant elephant cactus (which can grow up to 60-feet tall) next to swaying palm trees. The area just outside of La Paz boasts a gorgeously stark contrast of bright turquoise water of the Sea of Cortez against beige desert hills.
The drive up through the Sierra de la Laguna mountains of Baja California Sur (from Los Barriles to La Paz via Highway 1) was the most striking as there was almost no development other than sleepy little towns. For as far you could see there was just beautiful cactus covered desert – seriously it can be very distracting if you are driving so be sure to pull off onto a lookout spot if you want to get a better view.
2. The Majority of the Highways are Well Maintained
What most surprised us about driving in Baja California Sur was how well maintained the highways were (for the most part). There were a few areas along the way that got a little rough, most of which were where the highways passed through small towns and where Highway 1 lead into La Paz. Be aware of potholes and rough pavement when entering or leaving the south side of La Paz on Highway 1. If you pay attention to how the locals maneuver around the rough roads, they’ll usually show you the best ways to have the smoothest ride possible (be sure you have a spare tire on hand just in case).
3. Driving Etiquette
Driving through Baja is a bit different than driving in the U.S. Traffic laws don’t vary much, but how people drive can. While using the left turn signal usually means you’re going to make a left turn, in Baja it’s also used to communicate overtaking or to indicate that it’s okay to pass. As this can be confusing, it’s best to pay careful attention and wait to make any moves until you’re certain it’s safe to do so. When encountering animals or large yellow speed bumps (often marked by white lines crossing the road that lead to them), most people warn the cars behind them with their hazard lights while slowing down. Doing this lets them know not to pass and to be careful of the upcoming hazard on the road.
When there are two lanes per direction, the left lane is typically used for passing only. Stick to the right lane except when you are passing another vehicle. Stop (or Alto) signs are generally treated like a yield sign. Most drivers slow down to a near stop for the intersection and pass through if it’s clear. Full stops are pretty much only done when there are pedestrians or cars on the intersecting road. We did this too, but made sure not to try it in front of any local police.
There are several federal police checkpoints along the main highways of Baja California Sur. These checkpoints may look intimidating at first, but they are there to keep you safe by deterring illegal activity. Generally they consist of a few federal police officers holding large rifles stopping or waving cars through. We encountered two of them just outside of La Paz – one on the way in and another on the way out. We were waved right through and didn’t have to stop at all. However, if you are stopped and questioned we have heard that being polite and knowing a bit of Spanish helps speed up the process. We have also heard that it is not uncommon to be asked to get out of your car so they can search your luggage. This is routine and being polite while complying with their directions can go a long way.
5. Gas Stations
Pemex gas stations are the most common station you’ll find when driving in Baja. They are generally full service stations where the attendant will fill up the tank for you. Most accept credit cards, though usually only Visa or Mastercard. Keep some cash on hand just in case the station you’re at doesn’t accept card. It’s also good to have cash so you can tip the attendant that assisted you.
6. Animals on the road
As mentioned above, you will likely animals on the highways. The most common are cows and goats. Cresting a hill is the most dangerous time, besides night time, to encounter these animals as you can’t see them right away. Often times they hang out and graze right next to highway. There are usually no fences or guardrails, so if you see them it is best to put on your hazards and slow down as much as you can when passing by them (and take lots of pictures if you are the passenger).
7. Cool Little Towns to Stop In
One of the best parts about road tripping through Baja California Sur is how many charming towns you would likely never have the chance to see otherwise.
El Triunfo is a very small town about 50 minutes outside of La Paz on Highway 1. In it’s heyday it was one of the largest cities in Baja California Sur due to the discovery of gold and silver in the surrounding mountains, but now has a population of just over 300 people. There is an impressive 47 meter (154 foot) smokestack that we could see far off in the distance. Not to be missed is the beautiful gold and orange Iglesia de Triunfo which sits right on the main road.
Los Barriles is a beach town an hour north of the Los Cabos Airport. We ended up spending a few nights here, but could have easily stayed much longer. The town sits right on the Sea of Cortez and is backed by arroyo and beautiful mountain views. If $1 (30 peso) tacos with handmade tortillas and miles of empty beach are your thing, be sure to stop here.
Todos Santos is one of the “larger” small towns on the pacific side of Baja California Sur about an hour and a half northwest of the Los Cabos Airport. This town is aptly dubbed by the Mexican Government as one of the country’s magic towns or “Pueblos Magicos.” It is home to the famous Hotel California and wide open Pacific Ocean beaches. The waters at these beaches are rougher than those on the Sea of Cortez so they are perfect for surfing.
Taking a road trip around Baja California Sur is the best way to experience the state. You get to visit great places off the beaten path with beautiful views along the way. Now get out there and get to road trippin’! Thanks for stopping by and happy travels!