If you're thinking about escaping the winter blues for a warm weather bike tour, I'd encourage you to check out Baja California. As a hibernating Ohioan during the winter, it offers everything I wanted in a cold weather get-a-way: not one, but two beaches (Pacific and Sea of Cortez), Mountains, plenty of vitamin D, laid-back and kind Mexican hospitality, cheap beer and tacos de pescados.
There's a few good blog posts that I would recommend if you want to get more details on how to plan for your bike tour or backpacking adventure.
Baja Divide (95% off road so make sure you're using the right bike and equipment)
These posts offer great advice so I won't overlap what they've said. What I wanted to share are some tips my trip taught me and some pictures and videos that might nudge you to buy your ticket to the peninsula right now.
Route and Road Conditions
If you're sticking to the road, the Baja is one of the easiest routes to navigate. It runs in two directions, north and south so it would be pretty difficult to get lost. I was impressed by the road condition on highways 5 and 1. They appeared to be relatively new (last 5-7 years), or at least that what I was told from some of the local Americans who come down for the winter months.
When I went in February I chose to go north to south (Tijuana to San Jose del Cabo) and had a tailwind 75% of the time. The majority of the riders I met going south to north were coming over from Central and South America and were saying how rough the wind was. Wind is a really big factor on the peninsula and one that I under estimated so I was delighted that I was going north to south.
One of the factors, and one that I actually prepared for, was the width of the roads, or lack thereof, traffic, and large semi trucks. Knowing this I decided to take a bus from Tijuana to San Felipe. This was an attempt to skip the heavier boarder traffic in the north. In general, the traffic was limited most days so there was room for you and the other vehicles that would pass. The bus and semi truck drivers were very considering of you and your bike, often times even waving or encouraging you up the hill. My rule for trucks, if there were two passing at the same time or if a truck from behind could have a difficult passing (i.e. curve or hill) I would always get off the road.
The bus network in the Baja is really nice so if you're running behind on your itinerary, you want to take a few more days off to enjoy la playa, or run into a mechanical issue, you can always take a bus in the larger towns to get you to where you need to go (ABC and Aguila are the main bus companies in the Baja). This may vary on the amount of passenger luggage, but what I found is that you can store your bike in the luggage department as long as the wheels are taken off your bike.
Starting on the Gulf (Sea of Cortez) side meant that I would be taking highway 5 south and then connecting to highway 1 via Coco's Corner. There's about a 25 mile (40 km) stretch, starting little before Coco's Corner and going until you reach highway 1 that is still under construction (February 2017). Although I could have got through it, my 1.4 in (36 mm) tires weren't ideal for the trail so elected to get a ride from my host Miguel in Punta Bufeo. From there I stayed on highway 1 the majority of the way south. Check out my entire route below:
Two Must Do's!
- Pet the grey whales. I'm not sure if there's any other place in the world where you can pet a whale. These intelligent, playful, and highly curious mammals can reach almost 50 ft and weigh 40 tonnes. From my understanding, their curious nature and desire for human interaction is why they allow you to get so close to them. It's a beautiful experience and one that you can do for around $40 (seasonality will apply).
2. Sleep under the stars on the playa of the Bahía Concepción. The entire ride along the bay was one of the most memorable experiences I had during my tour, but the highlight was sleeping under the Milky Way. You can't imagine how many stars are actually in our galaxy. It was a wow moment that I'll never forget. I stayed on the Playa El Burro and would recommend it because it doesn't have RV hook-ups.
Two Equipment Tips
- Run tubeless tires. There are cacti everywhere (obviously it's a desert). Even if you're on the road they'll be broken bits of cacti and glass that can be unavoidable. If you hit a cactus, like I did, it could be a trip ender or at least a pain in the ass to hold air because of how small the needles can be. Even if you can tweezer them out, the majority will break off and work their way through the rubber at a latter more inconvenient date. When I go back to the Baja, or if I'm in a desert environment, I'll be sure to run tubeless after my lessons on this trip.
- Be prepared not to find a bike box for the plane ride home. Even though I was lucky enough to find a bike box minutes away from my hotel, there's not a lot of inventory in the area. Wrapping your bike with Saran Wrap is an alternative (idea credit #BajaDivide on instagram).
Febuary 2nd-21st 2017
650 mi (1,040 km) on bike
14 days saddle time
46 miles per ride day AVG
2 bus rides
2 beaches (Pacific and Sea of Cortez)
10 different tequilas :)