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Tijuana to Los Cabos: Exploring Mexico's Baja California from top to bottom

Jan. 16, 2022
13 min read
La Paz, Mexico
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Baja California in Mexico gets a lot of attention. Famous for its southernmost tip at Cabo San Lucas and its northern border at Tijuana, Baja California is rich with interesting places to visit in between. Considered a safe and smooth driving route, the road from Tijuana to Los Cabos is increasingly traveled by adventurous visitors interested in more than sombreros and margaritas. The true culture of Baja California can be found somewhere in between the two popular cities, which is why more and more people are exploring the beauty of Baja from top to bottom.

The terrain itself is as varied as the residents, ranging from beaches, forests, deserts and snowy mountain ranges to placid waters teeming with sea life. Apart from the most visited destinations of Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas, the rest of Baja California is a fascinating opportunity for discovery. Adventure sports, deep-sea fishing, swimming with dolphins, wine tasting amid vineyards, new taste sensations and more are all part of what visitors can enjoy on this journey.

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Driving from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas

The best way to explore the Baja Peninsula is by car, with several stops planned along the way to fully enjoy the many interesting places from north to south. It's a 22-hour drive if done in one long swoop, and the roads zig-zag across the terrain to join major destinations and provide natural stopping points. A round-trip drive is possible or visitors can rent a car in Tijuana and drive it to Cabo, leaving the car there to return north by air. Either way, it’s a colorful adventure on safe roads with some toll roads along the way to save time.

To fully enjoy the road trip and explore the stopping points listed below, plan for the experience to last 10-14 days. Each of these stops presents interesting opportunities to stay and experience the local offerings.

  1. Tijuana - begin here on Highway 1 (toll roads throughout the trip)
  2. Valle de Guadalupe - Highway 1 South to Highway 3 east (74 miles)
  3. San Felipe - Highway 3 east to Highway 5 South (177 miles)
  4. Guerrero Negro - Highway 5 South to Highway 1 South (249 miles)
  5. Loreto - Highway 1 South (259 miles)
  6. La Paz - Highway 1 South (221 miles)
  7. Los Cabos - Highway 1 South (98 miles)

Driving across the border from the U.S. to Mexico into Tijuana is very easy. Cars with U.S. license plates are rarely stopped at border crossing kiosks, and traffic flows relatively quickly with newly upgraded access systems.

Stop in San Ysidro in San Diego before crossing to purchase Mexican auto insurance at one of the drive-through brokers positioned close to the highway ramps. Mexican auto insurance can be purchased by the day, or check with your own insurance carrier to see if your policy can be amended to include driving in Mexico.

If planning to drive a rental car, check first with the auto rental company to make sure they allow you to drive the car into Mexico because many do not. It may be easier to rent a car in Tijuana, and there are several reputable car rental agencies that make it convenient and affordable. Most are located at the Tijuana International Airport (TIJ), which is a short taxi drive from the border crossing.

Some suggestions as you plan the drive:

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  • Toll roads will only accept cash, payable in U.S. dollars or Mexican pesos. We recommend exchanging some money into pesos to make paying for tolls and other things easier.
  • Credit cards and debit cards are accepted at most businesses, but not all. U.S. dollars are widely accepted in the Northern parts of Baja in addition to pesos. As you drive South, pesos will be more commonly used.
  • Stock up on snacks before you go, or plan to stop at one of the roadside convenience stores outside of Tijuana if you’d like to try Mexican snack food as well.
  • When stopping for gas, look for Pemex stations which are the most prominent fueling options. “Sin Magna” means unleaded gas. Gasoline is measured in liters instead of gallons in Mexico, so familiarize yourself with the conversion rate: 1 gallon = 3.785 liters. All gasoline purchases must be completed in cash only.

Stop #1: Visit Tijuana

Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the Baja California Tourism)

If you plan to spend a day or two in Tijuana before embarking on your journey south, there is plenty to see and do in this bustling border city. The food scene here is impressive, with quite a number of chef-driven restaurants, street eateries and microbreweries drawing attention from foodies around the globe. The art scene is strong, with areas decorated by murals and street art that belongs in a museum. Shopping here is also memorable, and visitors can work on their barter skills with the craftsmen at market stands at outdoor Plaza Rio Tijuana. If nightlife is a draw, Avenida Revolucion has been drawing visitors and locals for decades and offers a large number of clubs, discos and bars.

If a stay in Tijuana is not on your list of places to visit, you can head directly from the border to the next stop in Valle de Guadalupe, just under 75 miles away.

Must-visit restaurants and bars during a stay in Tijuana include:

Stop #2: Valle de Guadalupe

Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico. (Photo by Jon Bailey for The Points Guy)

After the energy of Tijuana, visitors can relax among the vineyards of Valle de Guadalupe where more than 100 wineries are ready to welcome guests for wine tasting and more. Many wineries here include onsite restaurants — in fact, some are quite notable — and several also offer lodging. The food and wine selections here are quite advanced and yet still unsullied by corporate brands, so the tasting experience in Valle de Guadalupe is relaxed, personalized and very accessible. Plan to spend a night or two here to take in the offerings before embarking south.

The food scene in the Valle is strong, and you should definitely visit at least one of these great spots:

Related: Guide to Mexico's answer to Napa Valley: Valle de Guadalupe

Stop #3: San Felipe

San Felipe, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the Baja California Tourism)

San Felipe is beachfront near the northern tip of the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California. This body of water will be a continuing part of your journey south, and San Felipe is the first opportunity to enjoy its beauty and bounty. Seafood is a specialty in this once-sleepy fishing village, and the town claims its place in history as the origin of the fish taco.

Fishing, off-roading and beach time are on the top of the activities list in San Felipe, along with other outdoor adventures like horseback riding on the sand, jet skiing in the calm sea and golfing on one of the local courses. A very laid-back destination, San Felipe is a spot to rest, relax and enjoy the lapping waters at the ocean’s edge. Rest up, fill up, fuel up and ready yourselves for the drive ahead.

If you're looking for somewhere to eat while here, try any of the following:

Stop #4: Guerrero Negro

Guerrero Negro, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the Baja California Tourism)

Named for a shipwreck (The Black Warrior) on the sand bars off its coast in the 1850s, Guerrero Negro is a Baja destination less visited than many. Known for its windy and colder weather, it feels different than most other stops along the peninsula for its non-touristy vibe. However, opportunities to view wildlife make it a worthy stop along the drive south.

Gray whales migrate thousands of miles from northern seas to give birth in the warm lagoons near Guerrero Negro, and in January through April, the whale watching here is legendary. Gigantic nests perch on poles and roosts throughout the area, where ospreys (sea eagles) build their homes and raise their young. Also, don't miss the Dunas de Soledad, ever-shifting sand dunes that melt mysteriously into the Pacific Ocean. Lodging and dining experiences here are limited.

Note that this town is the official division between the northern state of Baja California and Baja California Sur. It also marks the change in time from Pacific Standard Time to Mountain Time, and those heading south will need to set their clocks one hour ahead.

Seafood is the dominant dish in Guerrero Negro, and you can't go wrong with any of these restaurants:

  • Restaurante el Faro
  • Las Casuelas
  • Santo Remedio Restaurant & Bar

Stop #5: Loreto

Loreto, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the Baja California Tourism)

Loreto is one of those special destinations in Mexico that epitomize a relaxed beachside lifestyle. It’s small, quaint and quiet, with incredible food and easy access to the warm and swimmable Sea of Cortez. Home to the first in a long line of missions, the town was formed around fishing and ocean activities.

The Sea of Cortez is home to nearly 1,000 species of fish and sea mammals and some 5,000 species of marine invertebrates. It is one of Earth’s most biologically diverse locations, and many parts are protected including a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the season of December to March, several species of whales migrate to the warm waters of the Gulf of California and are easily visible from tour boats. You can take a boat to see eight different species of whales up close including orca, humpback, gray and blue whales.

Loreto boasts a surprisingly broad set of options for dining, including these favorites:

Stop #6: La Paz

La Paz, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the La Paz Tourism Board)

La Paz is the capital city of Baja California Sur and sits perched on a bay. The warm waters here are nearly waveless, which is very inviting to marine life and has made La Paz a fishing hub. Experiences here tend towards the ocean where it is possible to swim with docile whale sharks, the largest fish on the planet.

Regular boat tours take visitors to see whales, dolphins, seals and more around the local waters and nearby islands. An ocean paradise for adventure and discovery, La Paz offers scuba/snorkel experiences, kayaking and paddleboarding, sportfishing, kite surfing and many other activities. Because of this bounty, the authentic seafood cuisine here is recognized as among the best in Baja.

The dining scene in La Paz is a bit more sophisticated with these options:

Stop #7: Los Cabos

(Photo of The Cape Los Cabos by Melanie Lieberman / The Points Guy)

Without a doubt, Los Cabos is one of the most popular destinations in Mexico. Located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, the rocky desert terrain here drops down into azure blue seas — the Pacific Ocean on one side of the point and the Sea of Cortez on the other.

Los Cabos is actually two destinations in one: The original town of San Jose del Cabo is more quaint and historic, while the mighty fishing village of Cabos San Lucas has swelled to welcome cruise ships and visitors from all over. In either location or the corridor in between them, the resorts here are designed for maximum beauty, refinement, comfort and enjoyment. Most hotels, restaurants and shops cater to an international clientele, and the gorgeous ocean offers bountiful ways to enjoy its riches. World-renowned golf courses, spas, restaurants, beaches and water sports all combine to make this an ideal terminus for an epic Baja California road trip.

Related: Why the JW Marriott Los Cabos is great for travelers

These dining spots are worthy of a venture from your hotel:

Returning to the US

Once Los Cabos is reached, the rental car can be returned and it's time to head home. If you are driving back north, you will trace the same route back — it’s the only road that spans the peninsula from north to south. You can also fly back to Tijuana, San Diego or beyond.

Flying from Los Cabos International Airport non-stop to Tijuana is usually affordable and convenient. A pedestrian bridge has been built from the Tijuana International Airport across the U.S. border. Cross Border Xpress (CBX) charges a small fee for the massive convenience it offers American citizens. Better yet, flights to Tijuana from Cabo are generally far less expensive than travel to an American or other international destination. Almost every major airline has flights to and from Los Cabos, with nearly 50 direct flights departing to U.S. and Canadian destinations such as Atlanta, Chicago, Calgary, Denver, San Francisco, New York, Toronto and many more.

Featured image by La Paz, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the La Paz Tourism Board)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.