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Baja California (North)

Region 1: Baja California (North)


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The 1000-mile long Baja California peninsula is divided into the two states of Baja California and Baja California Sur—north and south. Baja is a popular holiday destination for fishing, sailing, and surfing enthusiasts, especially Southern Californians, and attracts almost five million visitors each year. The region is well known for the large annual migration of gray whales, which appear in the Pacific coastal lagoons here to give birth to their calves from January to March. Exotic game fish—dorado, marlin, sailfish in summer, cabrillo, and snapper all year round—make it a powerful draw for deep-sea fishermen.

Wine tasting around Ensenada is another attraction in the north. The startling contrast of the Sea of Cortés, an ecological treasure trove and official biosphere reserve that divides the peninsula from the desert landscape on the mainland, makes the whole eastern side of Baja a unique scenic attraction. The islands in the Sea of Cortés, also known as the Gulf of California, are a protected refuge for wildlife and migratory birds.

Yachting enthusiasts enjoy Baja, California’s 24 nautical ports and stops that form an imaginary chain dubbed the Proyecto Mar de Cortés, formerly the Escalera Náutica, or Nautical Ladder. Launched in 2001, the project is the prodigal child of Fonatur, the National Tourism Fund, and is seen as a top priority on its agenda. Investment monies have been poured into the development of land, sea and air infrastructure and support services.

While the improvement of basic health and education services was also part of the plan, Fonatur to date has done little to improve the conditions of health care in Baja California.

a href=“tijuana-travel-health-safety.html”>Tijuana, a border town made extremely popular during the U.S. prohibition, used to be a major destination for partygoers. Now it is a modern cosmopolitan city as well as a throbbing industrial and demographic hub with a population of around two million, an international airport, foreign manufacturing plants (called “maquiladoras”) and has reportedly become a hive of cultural activity. While its “sinful” image has declined, it continues to lure younger North American revelers because of Mexico’s earlier drinking age (18 rather than 21) and its proximity to the border.

A Mexican bill decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of illegal drugs, designed to help combat major trafficking, was passed in Spring 2006 and has sparked U.S. concerns about the effect on vacationing students in this region. While it is too early to assess its impact, tourists should be aware that the sharp contrast in what is legally permitted on different sides of the border creates extortion opportunities. Crooked authorities may want to take advantage of vulnerable outsiders who are not aware of the law and their rights. Police shakedowns and mild harassment can affect younger visitors here, who are advised to be informed and keep emergency numbers on hand (available in the Mexico: Health and Safety Travel Guide.

Tourists and expatriates have begun to explore farther down the peninsula, discovering oceanside attractions and activities in towns like Rosarito and Ensenada. These towns mark the beginning of the country’s prized vine growing region, as well as the edge of the Sea of Cortés, such as San Felipe, which is growing fast as a foreign retirement community.

Northern Baja California – Safety

The summertime heat in Baja California can be quite oppressive. Visitors to this region should be aware of the changes in temperature and plan their days accordingly. Outdoor activities should be scheduled for the early part of the day or in the evening. If you plan to drive throughout the peninsula, make certain your car engine is in premium condition, especially your air conditioning. Be sure to keep an emergency supply of drinking water and shading in the event of a breakdown.

Seawater pollution is a health issue for tourists. Information from Mexico’s beach water advisory reports suggests the beach most affected in this region is Rosarito. For more information, read our Beach Water Advisory.

Many beaches along the Pacific coast of Northern Baja California are not suitable for swimming. Red beach flags are clear indications that you must not swim, but under varied systems in use in Baja, so are yellow, green and blue flags. The only real go-ahead sign is a white flag—and even then, remember that there are no lifeguards, and beaches are often not marked at all. Do not interpret the absence of a beach flag to mean conditions are safe, but instead check with locals, a hotel concierge and (in the case of Ensenada, for example) with the tourist office.

Recent reports suggest that HIV infection is about to explode in this area—on a level comparable with U.S. metropolitan cities—a detail some tourists should be aware of and thus take the obvious precautions.

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