Baja California – One of the Most Popular Mexico Holiday Destinations with Tantalizing Desert Landscapes, Lush Oases & Rich Marine Life!
Baja California, it’s a beautiful destination that rests on Mexico’s west coast, and if there’s one thing that needs to be set straight right out of the gate it’s the fact that Baja California is in Mexico – it isn’t the California you’ll find in the United States of America!
For many travellers this might be a laughably obvious statement, but for some who aren’t at all familiar with this part of the world it’s easy to understand how the names of these two different places (in two entirely different countries) could be confused. Baja California is, after all located directly under the American state of California, and even its name translates to English as Lower California!
So Where Exactly Is Baja California Located, Anyway?
The Mexican state of Baja California exists on the Baja California Peninsula – this is the long arm of Mexican territory reaching down from the country’s northwest, shielding the states of Sonora and Sinaloa from the Pacific Ocean.
The Baja California Peninsula separates the massive Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California, stretching out its full length of one thousand two hundred and forty seven kilometers, or seven hundred and seventy five miles. That’s quite a reach!
Ranging anywhere between forty kilometers or twenty five miles wide at its most narrowest point, to more than three hundred and twenty kilometers (or two hundred miles) at its most widest point, the Baja California Peninsula offers roughly three thousand kilometers of coastline! That’s about one thousand nine hundred miles of beach and rocky coast to explore.
The Baja California Peninsula is almost one hundred and fifty thousand square kilometers of fascinating terrain, separated from the mainland by the Colorado River. Wait, does that make the Baja California Peninsula an island? Not quite!
Two Mexican states make up the Baja California Peninsula, and these states are of Baja California Sur which is the southern part of the peninsula with its capital city of La Paz. The northern part of the peninsula belongs of course to Baja California.
Baja California – Let’s Take a Look Back in Time…
The history of Baja California goes back – way back – to a time about twelve to fifteen million years ago. Of course it didn’t exist as a state back then, but some important rumblings were happening deep in the earth that would change how the country of Mexico would physically map out its states many, many years later.
The peninsula was actually a part of the mainland’s North American Plate, the tectonic plate that Mexico still remains a part of. However, the East Pacific Rise began to sneak a chunk of this continent when the Pacific Plate to the west pulled it from the mainland. The Baja California Peninsula, along with the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur belong to the Pacific Plate.
Very slowly, this part of Mexico is making a great escape northwestward and out into the Pacific Ocean! You’d have to check back in after a few million years to see how far it’s travelled.
Pressing the fast forward button from the time that the peninsula separated from the rest of the continent, to the time when the region saw its first groups of people coming to live, you’ll find yourself only about 11,000 years into the past instead of millions.
The first people to inhabit the peninsula arrived there roughly 11,000 years ago, and it’s thought that there were actually two native groups making their homes on the long stretch of coastal land. The south was home to the Cochimi, and the north was home to the Yuman language groups of Kiliwa, Paipai, the Kumeyaay and Cocopa, as well as the Quechan people.
The ways that these people adapted to their environment were both curious and impressive, as well as varying. For example, the Cedros Island group of Cochimi just off the west coast of the peninsula were apparently very adapted to a maritime lifestyle; the Kiliwa, the Paipai, and the Kumeyaay people were more or less hunter-gatherers but didn’t seem to have the need to travel great distances. The Quechan and the Cocopa people living the northeast practiced agriculture along the floodplain of the Colorado Rivers lower region, while the Cochimi who lived in the peninsula’s Central Desert were adapted to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the move.
There were also a group of people called the Guachimis, and they arrived from the north bringing with them their incredible artistic abilities. They are the people who are credited for the creation of the majority of the Sierra de Guadalupe Cave Paintings. Unfortunately not much else is known about the Guachimi people, other than the fact that they inhabited this area of Baja California some time between 100 BC and the arrival of the first Europeans.
Speaking of Europeans, it wasn’t long before they were on the Baja California scene. Arriving in what is now the state of Baja California, Francisco de Ulloa came to explore the peninsula’s west coast about as far north as the Island of Cedros. Many explorers would return to the peninsula from Europe over the years until a permanent Jesuit founded mission colony was built at Loreto during the year 1697.
Baja Californina Today – What to do and Where to Go?
Springing forth into modern day Baja California, you might be considering making this state in Mexico a part of your vacation itinerary – and who can blame you? Miles of beaches, dramatic landscapes, thrilling activities and relaxing sunsets.
Baja California is a place that provides all of this and more, including awe inspiring dormant volcanoes and charming old mission towns. Its remote deserts are incredibly vast considering they’re bookended by great bodies of water. Hiking, camping and outdoors activities are plentiful.
Areas of Baja California include:
Bahia de Los Angeles
Areas of Baja California Sur include:
Cabo San Lucas
Time for a Baja California Road Trip!
Among these areas there are many different routes you can take if you’re planning on taking a road trip down and around the peninsula – which is, quite frankly, probably the best way to see Baja California!
If you’re considering packing up for a Baja California road trip you should know that the vast majority of the peninsula’s coast is made up of an assortment of beaches, most of them very lovely. Typically you’ll discover that the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula is less rocky, and more sandy than the side facing the Pacific Ocean making beach-going that much more enjoyable – but to each his or her own.
Road trip routes consist of the General Baja Highway, Tijuana to Mexicali on the Mex-2, Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas on the Mex-1, Mexicali to San Felipe on the Mex-5, Ensenada to Crucero de Trinidad on the Mex-3, as well as Tecate to Ensenada on the Mex-3.
Seasoned pros at the Baja California travel routes suggest that visitors to the region do this road trip as a wine tour! You’ll be able to discover a minimum of ten different wineries along the route, some of them offering a tour of their vineyard and winery as well as a sample in their tasting rooms. Additional wine tasting rooms are also found in Ensenada.
The Pacific side of Baja California is an ideal place to take advantage of the terrific surfing opportunities you’ll come across, and the interior of the peninsula is where you’ll encounter desolate and remote deserts with large sand dunes, mountains and cactus. Needless to say, this region is a very diverse part of Mexico!
What Else is There to do? How About Swimming, Diving, and More!
Go whale watching while you’re traveling down the peninsula, as the waters off Baja California are home to Orca, Sperm whales, Bryde’s whales, Fin whales, Blue whales – basically a whole lotta whales! Depending on the time of year you’re bound to see at least some of them when you arrange a whale watching tour with one of the many different tour operators working off the coast…
And what an incredible coast it is! The snorkeling and diving opportunities will knock your socks, er, diving fins off. Snorkeling, free diving, and scuba diving are all on the menu when you check out the different opportunities waiting for you in Baja California. Just don’t be on the menu yourself when you’re swimming with the great white sharks off Guadalupe Island, or the schools of hammerheads near the Seamount.
If you love camping, why not make a week-long camping and kayaking tour your number one holiday plan? Tour operators such as sea-quest-kayak.com can show you the basics of kayaking if you’ve never set foot near one before (they’re pleasantly easy to learn, and you’ll find that you can pick up the skill quickly!)
Fishing is also an excellent way to spend a little time out on the water, and there are a whole host of fishing tour operators to be found in Baja California. The area has long been looked upon as being one of the very best places for fishing! You can catch sailfish, marlin, tuna, wahoo, yellowtail and dorado, which are all thriving in the surrounding waters.
Of course, a vacation to Baja California wouldn’t be complete without making the time to see one of the most incredible sites the peninsula has to offer – the Cave Paintings located in a variety of archeological sites around the region.
The cave paintings consist of rock art found in many different locations around Baja Califonia, and some of the locations are easier to get to than others. Of course, the best and most well preserved of these sites are the ones that are the most difficult to reach!
The paintings became known to the Spanish missionaries during the 1700s, only becoming known worldwide in 1962. At first, the cave paintings were thought to be around 2000 years old, however, carbon dating tests have shown that the paintings might actually date back thousands of years before that.
It’s suggested that if you’re going to see the cave paintings, give yourself a full day to get there and back and appreciate the time spent there. That way you don’t have to feel like you’re rushing to get back to anything else on your Baja itinerary that day.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and hit the road, see the ancient rock art and swim with the sharks! Climb a volcano, hang ten, and go snorkeling off the rocky coastline. Walk in the footsteps of the people who have lived in this region for thousands of years and see what drew them to this part of the world – incredible natural resources and incredible beauty.
Visit the North American destinations category to learn more about best places to visit in America!