Northern Baja is loaded with incredible places to visit, many being a short drive across the US border. It’s spectacular having two oceans and a variety of inland places to explore here. We have a series of driving videos on our YouTube channel documenting and showing many of the roads in Baja to help visitors get a feel for things before hitting the road.
Highway 5 – Mexicali to San Felipe
Mexicali is a common border crossing and it spits you out right on Highway 5. It’s a good option for those wanting to push south to the Sea of Cortez immediately. Between Mexicali and San Felipe, you will cross a series of wetlands (rivers) with some options for camping or hotels.
As you near San Felipe, the Sea of Cortez becomes visible. San Felipe is a great beach-side town with plenty of services. It’s close to the border, making it a convenient place to explore by vehicle in Mexico.
It’s also popular with off-road folks and racers as there is plenty of desert and sand dunes abound. If you ride dirt bikes and buggies, there is a big community in the general San Felipe area.
Highway 5 – San Felipe to Highway 1
After leaving San Felipe, highway 5 follows the Sea of Cortez without any major towns for a long while. Getting gas in San Felipe is a good idea although there is a station or two along the way south. They also have great food options, quality mechanics and groceries, so stock up while you’re in town.
You will find camping and some hotels in places like Puertocitos and Punta Final. These are all very nice places to stop and explore. Otherwise, this section of highway is scenic but pretty lonely. It’s perfect for camping, kayaking and enjoying the sunshine.
Highway 1 – Tijuana to Highway 5 Junction
Tijuana going south follows highway 1 through Ensenada and along the Pacific Coast for a very long ways. Surfers like this stretch as do anglers wanting to fish the Pacific. Ensenada is a bustling city with service but the entire drive is dotted with small towns. San Quintin is a good jumping off point for fishing as well.
After El Rosario de Arriba, the road drifts off the coast and crosses inland, eventually meeting highway 5 at Chapala. This desert is stunning with big saguaro cactus and mountain views. Make sure you gas up before running this stretch however. Also carry plenty of water because it’s dry and services are limited.
Highway 3 – Tecate to Ensenada
Follow the Ruta de Vino signs out of Tecate. As you leave the town and enter the countryside, everything slows down. It’s a beautiful stretch of highway lined with big vineyards in the Valle de Guadalupe.
You can make Ensenada in a day but stopping to taste wine and stay at a vineyard or two is ideal. Many visitors come specifically for this reason and turn around without ever reaching Ensenada.
Highway 3 does continue after Ensenada, cutting across the peninsula from the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez. I’ve done this drive and the road was in good shape. It was a shorter time period than expected but it does cross a remote desert.
Highway 2D – Tecate to Mexicali
There isn’t a major reason for most folks to drive this route. It has plenty of truck traffic crossing a steep mountain pass riddled with switchbacks. You can avoid it by traveling south on Highway 5, Highway 1 or Highway 3.
I did this drive on one trip because I was curious and it did not disappoint. While inefficient, the pass is absolutely stunning with massive boulders strewn across the mountains. I was surprised and impressed and it’s really not a far drive. I wouldn’t want to drive this in bad weather or a big rig but it was fine in my pickup with a cabover camper.
Highway 1 – Chapala to Santa Rosalia
This section is long and you’d do well to gas up whenever possible. Guerrero Negro is an important gas stop when I drive this section of highway. Plan ahead if you want to make side trips as well.
Not long after Highway 1 and Highway 5 meet you will find the turn for Bahia de los Angeles. This is a remote and magical bay where whales frolic and the marine life is abundant. It’s out there and just perfect for camping and getting off the beaten track.
If you stay South on Highway 1 rather than making this turn, there are some remote campsites along the pacific as well. These are best suited to adventurous folks with 4wd rigs. Eventually, you will reach Guerrero Negro, a great place to whale watch when the season is right. South of Guerrero Negro, the remote roads to Bahia Asuncion and Punta Abreojos are appealing for those wanting to explore remote places.
Otherwise, the highway leaves Guerro Negro and cuts across the peninsula yet again, meeting the Sea of Cortez in Santa Rosalia.