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The Baja Peninsula is the world’s third-largest peninsula and stretches for 800 miles, from Tijuana in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south.
It’s also split into two states: Baja California and Baja California Sur (“sur” translates to “south.”) The whole area is often just called “Baja,” at least by the tourists.
While many envision Baja as the place to go to soak up the sun and drink margaritas all day, it offers a whole lot more than that, especially for outdoor adventurers. It’s home to deserted stretches of pristine sands, soaring mountains with waterfalls and tranquil swimming holes, and desolate wilderness areas where thousands of cactus dot the landscape as far as the eye can see.
There are more options for things to do than you’ll likely have time for, but these are some of the best things to do in Baja to put on your vacation bucket list.
1. Have a Close Encounters with Grey Whales
Baja’s major lagoons attract gray whales who seasonally migrate from Alaska to mate and give birth in Mexico’s warm waters. Magdalena Bay, Scammon’s Lagoon, and San Ignacio Lagoon the most well-known places to see whales in the area. Though you might expect them to be defensive since they have newborn babies with them, the whale mothers sometimes approach boats and have even lifted their calves to “show” them to boats.
Referred to as “friendlies,” the whales actually seek out human contact, maybe as a way to introduce their young to people – but scientists really don’t know exactly why they do it. The best time to see whales is between mid-January and early April, with February and March as the peak times for interaction. The state closely regulates how many boats can approach the whales and only a few pangas (small boats) are allowed on the lagoons at any one time. You’ll want to book ahead with a reputable outfitter like Baja Sur Tours, which is owned by a highly knowledgeable local who is passionate about the whales. This is one of the best things to do in Baja for anyone who loves animals or marine biology.
2. Participate in Baby Sea Turtle Releases
Sea turtles are often victimized by commercial fishermen who use long-line and gill nets that can entangle and kill the animals. But sanctuaries in Baja have been doing their part to raise them in safe areas before releasing them into the ocean.
At the beach in Todos Santos, just an hour north of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific Coast, a local sanctuary releases baby Pacific leatherback turtles every day between December and April just before sunset. Soon after breaking free from their eggs, they’re released from empty coconut shells, crawling across the sand towards the ocean, usually with a lot of tumbling along the way. Having people around also scares off the birds of prey that may otherwise try to make a meal of the tiny turtles.
Visitors and locals can witness the experience or even participate, cheering the tiny turtles on as they slowly (and sometimes quite awkwardly) make their way down to the water.
3. Go For the Big Catch
Deep sea fishing is popular in Baja as this is the world capital of marlin fishing. Nearby Cabo San Lucas is popular year-round, but from June through October, you can catch striped marlin, blue marlin, and occasionally, even black marlin in the waters further north near Loreto. There are plenty of fishing charters and outfitters for beginners and pros alike, along with your choice of types of boats – 12-person party boat, anyone? You can also charter a smaller boat and head out on a multi-day trip with just your group and a guide to help you find the biggest fish in the gulf.
4. Experience the Thrill of Going Off Road
Baja is Mexico’s most famous region for off-roading, internationally famous for races like the Baja 1000. From beaches to rugged desert trails, the landscape welcomes all types off-road vehicles, including ATVs. You’re pretty much guaranteed a thrilling ride with tours led by experienced guides (safety equipment and instruction provided, of course.) There are dozens of tour companies between Ensenada and Cabo for adventures that include climbing mesas to take in spectacular views of the cacti-filled landscapes or rolling along ocean-view cliffs at 30+ miles per hour.
5. Hang 10, Bro
The Baja Peninsula has long been popular among surfers thanks to consistent waves and hundreds of reliable surf breaks down the Pacific Coast. If you plan to visit Cabo, as so many do, Playa Los Cerritos is the best surf beach to visit, located just 40 minutes north. It’s ideal for beginners with a gradual surf break and little-to-no current, but when waves and wind due start to roll in, you’ll see experienced surfers coming to get in on the fun. The most consistent swells roll through in the winter, but no matter when you come, you’ll find surf shops that offer lessons, gear, and more, along with plenty of cheap food stands and beach bars. Taking a surf lesson is one of the best things to do in Baja especially if you follow it up by hitting the beach or sipping a fresh-made margarita.
6. Take a Powered Hanglider Tour
Cabo Sky Tours offers what’s arguably the best view of the Cabo coast: from a powered hang glider. You might see pods of whales migrating or manta rays jumping and you’ll definitely get a birds-eye view of famous surf breaks, mountains, and the iconic Land’s End. It’s a rocky formation often referred to as “the end of the earth,” where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. You’ll also be able to look down at Lovers Beach and Divorce Beach and huge groups of playful sea lions.
This is a safe yet thrilling experience that can be gentle, extreme, or somewhere in between. You get to pick the level of adventure. Ernesto, your pilot, has thousands of hours of experience flying and was the first pilot in Mexico to receive an Ultralight Airplane Pilot’s License from the Federal Civil Aviation Agency.
7. Hit the Greens (or Learn to Play)
Cabo is also famous for its golfing opportunities, with world-class options that showcase dramatic views, including some of the most breathtaking oceanfront holes you’ll find anywhere in the world. There are certainly some well-regarded courses here, but they’re not all pretentious, so there are plenty of places where you can try playing a round while enjoying some local beers from the beer cart as you go. Serious golfer should consider hitting the Diamante Dunes Course, which Golf Digest ranked as the best in Mexico. The resort also has a 10-acre lagoon, hiking trails, and a fabulous spa.
For some of the best views in the area, head to Cabo del Sol’s Ocean Course, now known as the Cove Club Golf Course. Its greens fees are relatively inexpensive and many holes have sea views, stretching for over a mile along the Sea of Cortez. Four oceanfront holes sit right above the crashing waves.
8. Soak in Pristine Pools and Hot Springs
In the lush Sierra de la Laguna mountain range, you’ll find not just scenic hiking trails, but plenty of hot springs and tranquil natural pools in which you can take a refreshing dip. Agua Caliente, one of the best, is just a little over an hour’s drive from Cabo near the town of Santiago. You can hang out in the sun on on the large boulders and jump straight in when you get too toasty.
While it’s possible to visit on your own, most people opt to take a guided tripr to save themselves the hassle of figuring out transportation and where to go. One of the most intersting ways to visit it is with a professional naturalist – this one available through Airbnb Experiences includes opportunities for spotting the region’s famous flora and fauna along the way. It involves a bit of hiking and ensures you can find your own private area to soak up nature.
9. Dive in Cabo Pulmo National Park
One of the world’s best off-the-beaten-track dive spots is just 60 miles from Cabo in Cabo Pulmo National Park. The remarkable biodiversity of the Sea of Cortez is magnified by the presence of one of North America’s few remaining living coral reefs, estimated to be 20,000 yearsA true hidden gem, many oceanographers, marine biologists, and film makers have come to experience what’s referred to as the “Jewel of the East Cape.” The five-mile region stretches between Pulmo Point and Los Frailes, surrounded by mountains and undeveloped desert.
Serious divers know this is the place to be to feel like you’re in the heart of the marine landscape. From schools of snappers to bull sharks, rays, moray eels and jackfish tornados, the abundance of sea life here is impressive. You can even dive on wreck. There are plenty of outfitters in the area that offer daily scuba diving boat tours, though you can also do an intro to scuba diving class if you’re never been in the water before. You’ll stay shallow and learn the basics, though you’ll have to do a full multi-day class to get certified.
10. Explore a “Magic Town”
Many tourists simply fly into Cabo, take the shuttle to their resort and never leave. But there are lots of charming small towns well worth a visit that provide an authentic taste of Mexico far away from the guidebook-waving crowds. Todos Santos, an officially designated “Pueblo Magico” (“Magic Town”), is just an hour away. A colonial town and artists’ colony, it’s become famous for its thriving food scene – hopping from taqueria to taqueria for dinner is one of the best things to do in Baja.
You’ll find nearly an endless list of fantastic dining options with restaurants that use ingredients from area organic farms and freshly caught fish. It’s enjoyable just to wander through the small town, browsing the shops and art galleries or taking an occasional break at one of the many cafes to watch the world go by.
11. Sip Margaritas at Sunset
While in Baja (or anywhere in Mexico, really) you don’t want to miss the chance to sip margaritas at sunset. And one of the best places to do it is just north of downtown Todos Santos at the Green Room. Hidden away on Playa La Pastora, the tables are scattered about on the sand. They mix some of the best hibiscus margaritas on the Pacific Coast and serve up fabulous gourmet Mexican fare, best enjoyed with friends against the backdrop of a setting sun.
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