Baja Mexico With Kids
Most of the Baja peninsula is an unbroken wave of desert landscape with unique plants like the boojum tree creating a Seuss-like atmosphere. Jutting between the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez, the northern border is with California. Tijuana, a town long known for its day tourists, poverty and the party crowd is the gateway, but not representative of life in the rest of Baja. As you head further south, past Rosarito Beach, an old fishing village turned tourist resort town and Ensenada, a popular cruise port, the towering condos fade away and the desert landscape unfolds in front of you. Little towns dot the barren landscape here and agriculture, instead of tourism, reigns supreme. In the middle of peninsula is the Desierto Cental de Baja California and the Catavina Boulder Field, magical places with hundreds of species of cactus, many of them only found here in this peninsula. Further south are the bays, at Guerrero Negro and Magdalena, where Gray whales come to breed and have babies. Continue down the road to La Paz, a fishing town with a small tourism and then the big enchilada for tourism in Baja, Cabo San Lucas.
Cabo San Lucas
At the tip of the Baja Peninsula is its most famous town, or more precisely two towns, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, know together as Los Cabos. In the early 1900s, Cabo was a quiet fishing village. After an American company opened a tuna fishing operation there in 1917, Cabo began to see an influx in tourists. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s, when Mexico marked it for tourism development and built the transpeninsular highway, that the Cabo area began to see real growth. Today, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo are filled with hotels and restaurants catering to tourists and the area between the towns, known as The Corridor, is lined with first-class resorts. Cabo San Lucas has long been known for its sportsfishing, some of the best in the world, and underwater scenery. Our kids are most interested in seeing the fish, rather than catching them, so we decide to scuba with Sunshine Divers. They have top of the line equipment, are great with kids and we see lots of life, like sting rays, huge schools of fish and tiny Christmas Tree worms. The kids want to get to know some of the area animals a bit better, so in town, we visit Cabo Adventures where we go out whale watching (whale watching season is December – March here) and swim with dolphins in their on-premise tanks.
In addition to the ocean, the area around Los Cabos is known for its desert scenery and they’ve come up with some interesting way to see it. At Wild Canyon Adventures, visitors can take Tomcar buggies on a ride through the desert, along a similar route as the ending of the infamous desert race the Baja 1000 or opt for an overview of the desert on their eight zip lines. One of the zip lines if 300 feet in the air and runs the length of almost nine football fields! Another great way to combine the desert and ocean scenery is on horseback. We went riding at Rancho Carisuva on the Pacific side of the peninsula. After winding our way through tall saguaros and blooming cactus, we headed out on the beach where Gray whales breeched in the background!
Whale Watching in Baja
During the winter months, mainly January – March, Gray Whales make Baja their home. And, unlike other whale watching tours where you see the whales as they pass by, en route to somewhere else, these whales are calling the small bays home. So, the whales aren’t moving fast, and in fact, will come right up to the small tourist boats, giving visitors an up close look, and sometimes even feel for the whales. We took a 4-day whale watching tour with Andiamo out of San Diego. The first night we loaded onto modern buses, and lucky for us there were two other families with kids, so the kids had lots of fun playing together as the guide gave plenty of information on the area and what we would see. We stopped for the evening in Rosarito Beach and were up early the next morning and back on the road to Guerrero Negro. Although it was a long drive that day, the guide kept it interesting with information, games and plenty of stops. We went a small hike through the Deseierto Central de Baja California, where the guide showed us the unique landscape with bizarre plants that inspired the drawings of Dr. Seuss…think truffula trees. The kids thought the boojum trees were cool…tall trees with just a single trunk and no branches. And this, is the only place in the world where boojums (pictured above), and many other plants, grow. The next morning in Guerrero Negro, we headed out through the salt production fields to Scammon’s Lagoon where we boarded small boats to see Gray Whales. And see them we did! On the two trips we made into the lagoon that day, we could feel and hear all the whales around us as they purged air through their blowholes and slapped the water with tails and fins just feet from our boat. We saw whales mating, playing, swimming with babies and watching us. At one point a whale came so close we could touch it (which we did!) and hung around, just watching us from the water. It was an amazing experience and the education for the kids was unbeatable. Seeing whales that close, and learning about them and their environmental survival stories from the on-board naturalist from Scripps Aquarium, brings the drive for conservation in all of us to a whole new level. The next day, we hiked with some local kids through the Catavina Boulder Field before heading back to San Diego, after a quick shopping stop in Ensenada.
Family- Friendly Places to Stay in Baja Mexico and Los Cabos
All along the peninsula there are small, private and government run hotels. There are also lots of camping opportunities on the huge bays of the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. In Rosarito Beach, La Paz and Los Cabos there are bigger resort hotels with full-service restaurants and activities.
Guerrero Negro: Desert Inn: This small hotel is based around an open courtyard and hosts colonial architecture. Its location, 15 miles from Scammons Lagoon, is its main draw. The 28 rooms are clean and they have a full service restaurant.
Cabo San Lucas/San Jose Del Cabo: Dreams Resort Los Cabos: This all-inclusive resort is a great place to stay for families. When the kids want ice cream or to play mini-golf, you don’t have to reach for the wallet, you can just say yes… and, with four different high-end themed restaurants, the food is incredible. As for entertainment, there is always something to do. A beachfront infinity edge swimming pool with water slide and swim-up bar (which serves excellent smoothies) is the center of the resort. Nearby, there is monster size chess, mini-golf, croquet, beach volleyball and, our boys favorite, Euro Bungee, a trampoline that you are strapped to with elastic bands and are slingshot 20 or so feet into the air. The Explorers Kids Club gives parents some time on their own and at night they host big-screen movies on the beach, dance parties and marshmallow roasting campfires.
Getting to/around Baja Mexico
There are international airports at Tijuana, San Felipe, Loredo, La Paz and Los Cabos. Most major North American based airlines fly into Los Cabos and many fly into La Paz as well. The transpeninsular highway makes overland access to Baja a breeze. ABC runs long-distance bus service on the peninsula. There are also tour companies, like Andiamo, running multi-night bus tours of the peninsula. Taking a car onto the peninsula, although it does involve some paperwork, is fairly easy to do. The road is in pretty good shape and there are plenty of interesting towns to stop in along the way. There is also carferry service from La Paz to Mazatlan and from Santa Rosalia to Guaymas/San Carlos.
In Los Cabos, there is a bus service that runs between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, passing all the resorts of the corridor along the way. There is a shuttle van from the airport, but if there are more than four passengers in your group, a private taxi is the way to go.