Kids in Baja: Despite what many may think of traveling anywhere in Mexico, Baja is as safe as many places in the United States. With a little prudence, you can have a healthy, fun trip with kids in this unique desert by the sea. Here are a few tips for traveling south of the border with kids:
- Before you go, see your doctor about medicine for any stomach aliment or diarrhea you might encounter. Drugs for kids are different than those for adults. Stick to eating at the main restaurants in town, not roadside taco stands (although these are probably fine). Many restaurants use only purified water and ice, and are used to serving tourists. We spent two weeks eating at local restaurants with kids 5 to 13 years old and no one (including the adults) got sick once. Make sure you are current on vaccinations (tetanus, etc.). Tale a well-stocked first aid kit, including lots of Band-Aids for those cactus encounters. Benadryl cream works well for any stinging cells you might encounter while swimming.
- Take toilet paper.Once you cross into Baja, towns and facilities get scarce, so having some toilet paper handy is a good idea (make sure to dispose of it properly). Most Premix gas stations have clean restrooms, so if you are stopping for gas, make sure the kids use the facilities because it can be a long way between stops.
- Seriously consider taking a car DVD player. Okay, this might not be for everyone, but traveling more than 3,000 miles can go a lot more smoothly if they can watch a few Scooby Doo movies instead of counting cactus.
- Expect snakes and scorpions.Yes, you are in the Sonoran Desert, so there are critters out there you would rather not encounter, just as in Arizona, Utah, Texas, California. Pay attention to where kids are exploring in the desert, and teach them to avoid flipping over rocks (where scorpions hang out) or hiking through the desert at night (when rattlesnakes are hunting). Stingrays are found in warm sandy waters, so have everyone shuffle their feet when walking on the bottom.
Crossing the Border: In San Ysidro, the last exit before crossing into Tijuana, make sure to exchange money and fill up with gas. Most gas stations in Baja take only cash, so you need to be covered. There are places to exchange money in major towns (including Mulegé and Loreto, near Conception Bay), but take enough cash for the trip down. Gas was around the same price we were paying in the United States at the time. Immediately after crossing the border, stop at the tourist office, which is about 100 meters away. From here you can walk back and get your tourist visa for your trip. Beginning in 2006, everyone will need a passport in order to get a tourist visa.
After getting your visa, start driving south and you will quickly see a right turn for the cuota (toll road) to Ensenada. Make this turn and you are home free, basically following the Highway 1 signs all the way south. If you have questions, ask for directions and a map at the tourist office. A good online resource for driving in Baja is http://www.bajainsider.com/.
Driving in Baja: Highway 1 extends 1,059 miles from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, and it is a nice two-lane paved route. The road is narrow, with minimal shoulders, so be alert when trucks are passing. Driving at night is not recommended because of livestock that occasionally roams the highway. You will need Mexican car insurance to be covered while driving in Baja. Many companies offer policies right off the Web; just do a quick search for Baja car insurance. Gas can be found in most towns now; gone are the days of waiting for the gas truck to arrive to supply the station. The longest stretch we encountered without gas was between El Rosario and Guerrero Negro, so be sure to gas up in El Rosario for your drive through the Catavina Desert.
You will encounter various military checkpoints along the way. Just be friendly and helpful, and chances are they will send you right through without any delay. Do not take recreational drugs or the family .22 unless you want to experience a Mexican jail.
Itinerary: An easy two day-drive to Conception Bay follows this itinerary:
Day 1. Spend the morning at the border getting money exchanged, buying car insurance (if you haven't already), and getting your tourist visa. Drive south to San Quintin, and enjoy the views of the Pacific along the way. Eight kilometers south of San Quintin is the El Pabellón trailer park, an excellent car-camping spot right on the Pacific Ocean with clean bathrooms and showers.
Day 2. Continue south, driving through the incredible boojum trees in the Catavina Desert south of El Rosario. Cross over the peninsula after Guerrero Negro and get your first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez at Santa Rosalia. A short drive from here and you arrive in Conception Bay.
Where to stay: Conception Bay has numerous beaches open to camping. Generally, you pay around $5 a night to camp, and more if you want to rent a palapa for shade. EcoMundo (www.ecomundobaja.com) is highly recommended. Not only do they have palapas for rent (with cots and even beds), but they also rent kayaks and snorkel gear. Fresh purified water and showers are available, and they serve breakfast and lunch if you get tired of cooking on the camp stove. An added bonus: Greg and Tracy will give you a free cold beer (or soda) if you collect a bag of trash while staying there. They are helping keep the bay clean! If hotels are your style, Mulegé has numerous options; try www.bajaquest.com/mulege for information.
When to go: Baja is most popular in spring and fall, with warm temperatures and less likelihood of strong winds. During the winter the temperatures are mild, although strong northerly winds can blow and keep kayakers on the beach. Summer is less crowded, but it can get hot in July and August. We went in June, saw very few other travelers, the ocean was in the low 80s, and the air temperature hovered around 90 degrees-a perfect escape from the snowy mountains of Colorado!
Resources: A number of good guidebooks cover Baja, including Baja & Los Cabos, by Danny Palmerlee, and Baja, by Joe Cummings.
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