Southern Californians are lucky, but we often forget. In just 30 minutes from San Diego is another country with fantastic food and a culture starkly different than our own. In fact, you can actually just drive straight through the border. It’s about as easy as international travel gets.
While a lot of Americans have refrained from going to Mexico in light of the violence and drug wars, things are turning around. Tourism is picking back up crime has been on a decline since 2012. Although Tijuana can still be argued as being a risky spot, there are many other safe places to visit.
In my opinion, if you have the chance there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go.
Interestingly, the decline of tourism in the last 8 years has had one positive. Baja is no longer flooded with tourists, the dollar and English speaking residents. Visiting the area these days actually feels like being somewhere foreign– the way it should be!
Renting a beach house in Baja is the perfect way to enjoy the area. Head down south, bask in the sun, drink a margarita and order some fish tacos while watching the sun go down. It really doesn’t get better than that.
Oh yeah, it’s also half the cost of vacation rentals in San Diego.
How to Rent a Beach House in Baja
The stretch of coastline between Rosartio and Ensenada is dotted with housing communities, condos and small villages. Although a lot of the hotels and houses have been maintained, much of the other infrastructure is lacking. It’s a sleepy region, free of hustle bustle and traffic clogged intersections.
When you rent a house you’ll want to do research on where exactly it’s located. Being too close to Rosarito might not be as safe as a community farther south. At the same time, some condos and houses might be pretty secluded, so you’ll need a car if you want to visit restaurants and bars in the area. (Taxis work too, but they take a lot of patience.)
The websites VRBO, HomeAway and AirBnb are great for finding vacation rentals in the area. Pay attention to the reviews and descriptions so you know exactly what you’re getting. If most reviews are positive and detailed, you can almost be sure things will go smoothly. Housing communities are great since they provide security, beach access and other amenities like tennis courts and/or pools.
Make sure to look up the address and take in mind what’s nearby. The stretch of coastline is quite long.
Our house was in the gated community of Mision Viejo (around kilometer 50). For a three bedroom house with beach access, two BBQs and 24 hour security we paid $150 per night and a $350 deposit. It was a great place to stay, but wasn’t within walking distance to much. About a 10 minute drive north was the touristy lobster village of Puerto Nuevo, a great place for lunch. Within a short drive south were a few great bars and restaurants.
Where to rent a beach house in Baja:
If you want to be near a city with nightlife and shopping: Choose Ensenada over Rosarito. It’s safer and full of activity, shopping and nightlife. Many cruise ships port here during the day.
If you want a popular gated housing community: Look for listings in either “Las Gaviotas” or “Mision Viejo”.
If you want to be outside a city, but near a few bars and restaurants: Look for places near kilometer mark 55-60. Around here are the bars La Fonda and Splash. Great places to enjoy the scenery, the food and a nice stretch of beach. (Most addresses note the kilometer mark to help you gauge location. Kilometer 0 is at the start of the highway at the border).
How to Get to Baja:
Having a car in Baja will make for the easiest and most flexible trip. Having a car at your beach house will prove to be convenient for visiting the store, restaurants and surrounding beaches. Although driving across the border might be overwhelming, only about 10 minutes will be spent navigating Tijuana before you are on the highway towards the coast. If you are a confident driver, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Make sure to purchase car insurance before crossing the border. Get off the freeway at one of the last few exits and you’ll see various places to purchase daily coverage (roughly $25 per day, depending on the value of the vehicle).
The entire stretch of Baja is maintained by toll roads, so make sure you have some change handy.
Taking a taxi to your house is also possible, but once there you might be a bit stranded. Try to get the number of a taxi cab or make sure you can have the ability for the front desk/security to call one for you when you need to go somewhere.
How to take a taxi from the border: After parking and walking across the border, follow the crowds across the bridge (5-10 minute walk) to the parking area of yellow taxis. A few people will confront you at once so try to bargain hard. You can get to Rosarito for about $30 per taxi and the farther south you need to go the more the price will go up.
We paid $50 per taxi to get to about kilometer marker 55 (Mision Viejo community). On the way back to the border, we paid $50 for an entire taxi van (which was split between 8).
You can also take the the ABC bus if you prefer, but these will only get you to Rosarito or Ensenada. From the Mexican side of border, you’ll have to take a taxi to the bus station.
How to Get Back Across the Border
The biggest hassle of a trip to Baja is returning home. The border crossing can take anywhere between 30 mins to 3 hours if walking, and at least an hour to three if driving. This all depends on the season, the day of the week and the time.
When we returned on Sunday afternoon the border wait was so long (and the hangovers so bad) that it was coined, “the trail of tears”. I don’t think anyone will be doing that again for a while.
There are a few ways to avoid the eternal wait to get back into the U.S. You can either:
1. Get a Fastpass from a participating business (cheapest way).
2. Use the “Ready Lane” by having a passport card.
3. Apply for a Sentri pass (most difficult).
(For a detailed description on each, check out this link)
What to Visit in Baja:
- La Fonda: A famous bar with great margaritas and huge tequila shots. The outside deck on the cliff overlooks the beach and has a great view of the coastline.
- Splash: A fun bar with live music and good food. The bar is right near the water and the waves splash up onto the rocks.
- The blowhole (La Bufadora): The second largest marine geyser in the world, this blowhole shoots water up to 60 feet in the air. It’s cool spot to stop by if in the area.
- Ensenada: Ensenada is a fun city to visit. There’s bars, restaurants, shopping and tons of drunk tourists from the cruise ships. The people watching is great.
- Wine tasting: Near Ensenada, the Guadeloupe Wine region is an up-and-coming destination for wine lovers.
- Puerto Nuevo: A small tourist village full of restaurants serving lobster with Mexican sides. Some restaurants are pretty overpriced, so scan your options before committing to any one place.
- Popotla Fish Market: A great place to visit for a unique experience. Anthony Bourdain even visited during his Baja California episode. Here, the fishing boats drive straight up onto the beach and become market stalls. There are also make-shift restaurants on the sand which serve ‘ceviche’ and ‘micheladas’. Some locals drive straight onto the beach and through the water to get to the other side, the sandy area where children play in the waves. If you have a kitchen, stop here to buy cheap seafood for dinner!
- Know some Spanish: The decline of American tourists in the area has also meant a decline in English fluency. While I remember most people speaking English in Baja when I was younger, these days I found my Spanish to be extremely helpful. Try and brush up on some basic Spanish before going, or just expect for not everyone to understand you. Regardless, your lack of Spanish shouldn’t be a deterrent for visiting. Of course, at all bars and restaurants people will speak English.
- Be aware of your surroundings: In general, Baja feels very safe and it’s likely you won’t have any problems at all. It’s still important to take caution. I wouldn’t recommend going out in Rosarito past dark as there are rumors of cartel members that frequent the area.
- Haggle hard: All prices for taxis and souvenirs will be raised for tourists. Don’t be afraid to haggle or walk away if the price still seems too high. If the vendor won’t budge at all, even after walking away, you probably know it’s a somewhat fair price.
- Don’t be scared! Renting a beach house in Baja makes for a great vacation, and if you keep your wits about you, you shouldn’t encounter any problems at all. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of the great food, friendly people and beautiful scenery south of the border.
Have you been? Would you be into renting a beach house in Baja?