To Hell with Tijuana

Wild at Sea: Kayaking the Pacific
Photo by Erik Gauger

From our starting point in L.A., we take the San Diego Freeway to the border, follow signs through Tijuana and hit Highway One. The transpeninsular highway winds its way south through fields of cactus farms, red-dirt vineyards, and large coastal cities. Direct ocean views are rare until we approach El Rosario—223 miles from the border.

About 10 miles north of town, rugged sandstone—stratified layers of varying shades—make up the hills, mountains, cliffs, and rocky beaches. The landscape rivals the beauty and wildness of Big Sur; it's perfect for what we want to do: kayak. Although the sport's more commonly associated with the Sea of Cortez, this stretch of Pacific is also one of Baja's best paddling areas. With swelling waves that are as rugged and wild as the coastline, though, you have to know what you're doing: Even experienced paddlers don't take off unless the surf is calm.

It was precisely these shores that landed Baja on the map. The "Manila Galleons"—Spanish tradelines from Manila en route to Acapulco and Barcelona—battled English pirates here in the 17th century and helped bring gold, spice, exotic foods, and fashions to the protected bays of Ensenada and points south. Baja (it was known simply as California back then) became middleman to the Latin world's spices, to Italy's tomatoes, to Mayan dyes and inks, to English teas.

We paddle south through these historic waters, toward El Rosario. The ribbons of sandstone undulate, mimicking the water. It's deceptively calm today, but a sea cave cut into the wavy walls provides evidence of the rough seas' battle with the coastline. The unpredictable waves pick up steam, so we set camp on a bluff overlooking the deep blue waters and watch harbor seals playing near the shore, which holds a colorful array of seashells.

Camping on the coastal beaches of Baja is free almost everywhere, and no permits are required. Since there are several access roads to the beach from Highway One, finding a secluded spot is easy. The Pacific coast is much cooler than the rest of Baja, so be prepared for windy and chilly nights, even in midsummer.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »