When you say Baja California, I think most people are instantly going to think “Off-roading and military car inspections…” Well, yeah, that’s totally possible and I’m sure you’ll come across that, but we’ve had some pretty incredible Baja road trips. Doing a road trip through Baja California is a really fun and interesting option for either family travel or adventurous adults. A drive through northern Baja is all about the rugged coast and beautiful valleys, and a Baja California Sur road trip gives you picturesque towns and amazing snorkeling experiences.
We’ve got two Baja road trips that we’re going to recommend. Each part of the Baja Peninsula is so different that you’re guaranteed totally different experiences. We’ll start with a Baja California Sur road trip for now and you’ll see how cool it is!
Check out our book, The Road Trip Survival Guide!
Need to Know for Renting a Car in Mexico
No matter where your Baja California Sur road trip is going to take you you’re going to need your own vehicle. This is actually, for me, the most stressful part about going on vacation and wanting to explore the Baja. Just the act of getting the rental car. When you look online you’ll see rental cars for $2 a day or $5 a day, which seems like such a great deal.
Once you go to pick up your car no matter what the reservation is that you’ve made and the insurance you’ve selected online, the price of all that will be completely different… and so stands the one tricky part of our Baja California Sur road trip.
Example: We recently rented a car in Cabo San Lucas and we’re only planning to have it for 2 days. We found it for $11 a day and selected the insurance that most appropriately fit our needs. Once I got there to pick it up I had to choose the type of car I wanted and then select the type of insurance I wanted which they required to be purchased through the rental agency no matter what you have done online. $11 a day quickly turned into $65 a day. And it’s not because I wasn’t savvy; it’s because that’s just how it is no matter what you’ve pre-arranged or think that you have set up.
Find a Rental Car for San Jose del Cabo (Cabo San Lucas) here!
Tip: The best way to get a good deal on a rental car is to tell the agent what your budget is and know that you will be spending anywhere from 15 to 20 USD per day on insurance in addition to the daily rental costs. Do you really need that big fancy car or can you get away with the teeny tiny Chevy-something-rather?.. and it’s actually called a Chevy, not a Chevrolet.
Also, know that you should keep your tourist card with you at all times just in case you are stopped and that you should truly follow all posted road signs. Even though a Baja California Sur road trip sounds like a blast and a way to go have a lawless adventure, that’s not the case. Follow the speed limit signs even if they seem silly and remember, all of the speed limits are in kilometers per hour (KPH) not miles per hour (MPH).
Where to Rent a Car if You’re in Cabo San Lucas
If you haven’t already, be sure to look at our Guide to Cabo San Lucas, as you’ll find lots of information in there all about the Cabo area, including where you fly into. If you’re doing a Baja California Sur road trip, you’ll be flying into Los Cabos International Airport (SJD). From here, you’ll either head to your hotel in San Jose del Cabo or venture 45+ minutes away to Cabo San Lucas.
When staying in Cabo San Lucas, you can either rent a car at the airport (SJD) or rent a car in the town of Cabo San Lucas. We typically rent one in town if we are planning a Baja road trip, as that way it’s less expensive than transportation back and forth to the airport.
Note: when you land in SJD and when you even just are picking up your rental car you WILL be faced with timeshare presentation salesmen. They are everywhere, and they might not even seem like they are talking with you about a timeshare, but ultimately they may try to get you to participate.
Read our FULL ARTICLE about Avoiding Timeshare Presentations in Mexico
Can I see Whales on my Baja California Sur Road Trip?
That’s a great question! Yes! While there are whales easily spotted from the shores of Baja California Sur, and in particular from Cabo San Lucas, there are times that whales are more prevalent. The official whale watching season is from December 15 through April 15 (weeks 49-14 if you’re a timeshare person) but we’ve seen whales in June and October too.
For the famous gray whale observation experience, where the whales just hang out with their babies, that happens in Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Ocean. To get here, it’s nearly a three hour drive from La Paz. You can see whales other places too, but this is the most famous and unique.
Baja California Sur Road Trip Plan
Here’s your road trip plan to cover a good portion of Baja California Sur (BCS). We are hitting up some beautiful towns, beaches and remote natural wonders. You’ll love this trip, either as a three day plan or a 7 day road trip that you can take your time enjoying.
Starting point: San Jose del Cabo
San Jose del Cabo (airport code SJD) is where you will be flying into to start your Baja California Sur road trip. This is a beautiful place to begin because San Jose del Cabo has an amazing collection of beaches, Old Town, resorts if you want to be fancy, and the most beautiful estuary. Even though we usually stay in Cabo San Lucas when we’re touring we always make sure that our Baja California Sur road trip takes us into San Jose del Cabo for at least a day or two. It’s a great place to visit or to make as a home base if you are only wanting to do day trips around instead of a circular road trip.
The main square of Old Town San Jose del Cabo is beautiful and it’s built up perfectly around it for tourists that DON’T want to experience touristy Mexico. There are plenty of artisan shops, galleries, and very down-to-earth Mexican restaurants that will give you that perfect Mexican/Baja feel. Every time we go there we stop into this one furniture store that we would love to ship everything back from because the craftsmanship is so solid and each piece is so beautiful.
Tip: If you want to buy any large items in Mexico, such as a piece of furniture or art, the shopkeepers or furniture makers will usually work with you to provide surprisingly inexpensive shipping options. It might take a few weeks to get your piece but you’ll be able to bring a beautiful piece of Mexican art home.
The Mission in San Jose del Cabo is a really beautiful one. It’s a very active church so you’ll need to be extra sensitive to activities at the church but you’re welcome to go in and explore as well as photograph within reason (and withing respectful bounds).
Our other favorite activity in SJD: the estuary in San Jose del Cabo is a really unique stop on your Baja California Sur road trip. The lush Mexican jungle that surrounds the river is teeming with life. From the cattle that are wandering through the woods and surrounding fields to tropical birds and pelicans, there’s always something to look at. The Estuary Trail is a kid-friendly trail and a stroller does great on it. Don’t miss it.
Tips for San Jose del Cabo
Be sure to load on your sunblock or carry an umbrella because there’s not much break from the sun along the trail and you’ll probably want to chill by the river and bird watch for a while.
And while it might seem like something you don’t have to worry about during a Baja California Sur road trip, bug spray is very important in certain areas, particularly the estuary and botanical gardens. You’ll need it no matter what month you’re visiting, as both the no-see-ums and the mosquitoes can really be a pain. It’s not as bad as visiting the Everglades, but it can be back in peak summer months.
San Jose del Cabo Beaches to Visit
Other wonderful things to do in San Jose del Cabo are all centered around the beach. Not far from the many beach access points you’ll find the botanical gardens which have hundreds of varieties of cactus as well as many of the resorts of the town.
And if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path beach, with a car you can access the East Cape beaches, which are wonderfully secluded and have the coolest tidepools around. They have become more and more developed, but still very nice.
For more ideas about snorkeling and fun beaches in the area check out our post on snorkel destinations in Baja California Sur (and it has some maps!).
Baja California Sun Road Trip Stop 2: Cabo San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas is so much fun, and not just for spring breakers. Of course this is part of the Baja California Sur road trip plan. Famed for being a spring break destination it is so much more than that. Cabo San Lucas is a place to have amazing food and really get in touch with your inner mermaid or merman.
Between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas there are at least three great beaches for swimming and snorkeling, so you might as well take some time in your itinerary to stop here (maybe even a whole week). This is where we normally stay when we are traveling around Baja California Sur, road trip or not.
We love taking advantage of the timeshare we purchased in 2016 and never miss the chance to explore further within both the Old Town tourist section and up into the neighborhoods and surrounding areas of Cabo San Lucas. It may seem like the only places to stay in Cabo are going to be timeshare properties but there are lots of cute little hotels.
Before timeshares took off there were adorable, small boutiques all around the old town area. Siesta Suites and Los Milagros hotels are two adorable and ideal spots to spend a few days in Cabo San Lucas, or there is the, Casa Bella, which is one of the oldest hotels in the area.
Tours in Cabo San Lucas
The most common activity you’re going to find people doing in Cabo San Lucas is either drinking margaritas or just laying on the beach, but there’s so much more to do. Like I said snorkeling is amazing in Cabo San Lucas. We love to do catamaran tours which have proven fun with large groups of friends, as well as smaller tours either on our own in our vehicle or booking through a tour operator.
Tip: check out CaboSanLucasTours.net for a cool booking company that is readily available if you have questions or needs around your tours and activities. We’ve used them for guided tours in Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos and Cabo Pulmo National Park.
We also book tours for ourselves through Viator, but when you’re visiting Cabo for the first time, the white glove service of CSLT is great.
And one of the best parts about exploring Cabo San Lucas on foot actually is finding small, hidden restaurants. It’s not like you’re going to find bad food once you’re up away from the marina so happen into wherever looks like it’s going to be a fun dining experience. We have our favorites that we go to but we’re always willing to try something new.
Tip: One of the best placed we’ve discovered is a really fun restaurant that is much nicer than what we normally go to, called Maria Jiminez. “Why don’t we pick this random place that was so nice looking?” We walked by we saw a lady behind a straw screen making the biggest, most beautiful sopes we’ve ever seen and we had to stop in. So glad we did.
Cabo San Lucas Beaches
For adding the Beaches of Cabo San Lucas (CSL) to your Baja California Sur road trip plan, you don’t have tons of options directly in town. Most of the resorts on the way into Cabo have their own beach access, and then Playa Chileno and Playa Santa Maria just east of town have lots of parking, but IN town it’s limited.
Within CSL you have Playa Medano (main beach), Playa Publico (cannery beach) and Lovers Beach (accessible by boat). You’re best to enjoy beach days between towns or at a resort in Cabo, and then on days that you are fully based in Cabo and not interested in driving, do your tours and shopping.
Check out our Guide to Snorkeling Around Cabo San Lucas for more details.
Baja Road Trip Stop 3: Exploring Todos Santos
We fell in love with this town almost 20 years ago and keep on going back. Todos Santos is an essential stop for a day or two on your Baja California Sur road trip. “Todos Santos” means “All Saints.” It’s not called All Saints because of the awesome girl group from the 90s, but because all the doorways in the old town I have saints above their lintels and the town is dedicated to its Catholic heritage. They are kind of adorable and amazing.
Tip: All of the wooden Saints above all of the really beautiful doors make for a wonderful activity, whether it be going on a saintly scavenger hunt for photographing all of the different things. Photographing them is tricky because they are so high.
Other things that will draw you into Todos Santos include the beautiful views from up on the hill, the cultural museum, countless delicious food options, and then of course the draw of the Eagles. Yep, the Hotel California is in Todos Santos.
FYI, this is NOT the actual Hotel California from the famous song, but is running with the idea of it, including being located right by the mission. There was a whole lawsuit by the Eagles about the namesake and their song… Not real, but still nifty.
If you really want to you can stay at the Hotel California or you can even dine there but there are other places you could stay as well. And you might as well get an expensive drink across the street at the Tequila Sunrise bar. For staying in Todos Santos, the Hotel Casa Tota is affordable, directly in the historic downtown, and is charming.
More Things to do in Todos Santos
And if you are an Eagles fan and know the song Hotel California you know that one of the lyrics talks about hearing the mission bell. The mission in Todos Santos is on a really beautiful Plaza with a gazebo, benches, palm trees and a beautiful church façade. Also on this Plaza is a beautiful Mexican art deco Cinema. It’s a stellar photo stop.
Note: we’ve been in Todsos Santos for Halloween and discovered their Dia de los Muertos celebrations are great. Between decorations, street vendors and a parade of countless kids dressed like skeletons dancing in the street it’s much better than the celebrations in Cabo San Lucas.
The Todos Santos Casa de la Cultura is also a great stop. It’s half museum and half botanical garden. Unlike the more modernized or more developed cities in Mexico, Todos Santos is still quite small, charming and authentic. You’ll see just what this means by stopping into the history center.
Visit the cemetery at the top of the hill, Panteón Antiguo de Todos Santos, if you have time. It’s unique with its tombs and graves, and is a great example of how the community continually respects their history and loved ones.
Beaches Near Todos Santos
And if you’re looking for a nice beach day while you’re visiting Todos Santos, Playa Pacifica is about 20 minutes to the South and is gorgeous and unspoiled. You can’t swim at it but you can let the waves crash against you and check out the really beautiful tide pools. The reason you can’t swim is because the undertow in that spot is so strong, so be smart.
Tip: to find Playa Pacifica, as you head north out of Cabo San Lucas on the way to Todos Santos, watch on the water-side of the highway for a small, adorable roadside chapel. There is parking and a dirt road to walk down to the beach. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it… like with many sites on any Baja California Sur road trip.
If you would like to swim (of course you do!) Playa Todos Santos or Playa la Cachora are both directly west of town and are easily accessibly. There is also the beach at Punta Lobos, but it’s a bit further away and the road tends to be more rough.
One big HEADS UP though, is that as you approach any of the beaches, be aware of sand and soft dirt areas in the road. Once upon a time when I brough my friend and my niece to the beach in Todos Santos we got stuck in a sandy area and had to push our car to get back onto hard-packed dirt road… Not my favorite Baja California Sur road trip experience.
Road Trip Stop 4: La Paz, the Capitol of BCS
When you continue on your Baja California Sur road trip your next stop after Todos Santos is La Paz, which is the capitol of the state. La Paz is a pretty sprawling city, so it’s best to have a map at the ready for getting to the main drag that you’re there to see. The old part of the city and the Malecon are the two most interesting and fun spots to visit within La Paz. You’ll find museums and galleries, as well as local goods ranging from fresh roasted coffee to pottery.
La Paz is kind of the crowning jewel of a Baja California Sur road trip because it’s got the city and culture and food directly along the beach. The Malecon is one of our favorite strolls to take in BCS (and the estuary trail in San Jose del Cabo). From start to finish, there are beautiful sculptures placed all along the path with continuous beach access. On one side of the street you’ve got ceviche and ice cream and on the other you have this perfect bay on the Sea of Cortez that you can walk directly out into, full of shells and fish.
Sites to Visit in La Paz
The historic area of La Paz is full of galleries and museums. There are squares for sitting and shops to wander through. It’s very quiet, except during a festival weekend, and it’s a great snapshot of Baja California Sur life without all the resorts encroaching on the town. I love it.
We really enjoy visiting the Museo Regional de Antropología E Historia (anthropology and history), as well as walking through the historic cemetery (I know, it’s a thing we do everywhere. You should visit Savannah with us!). The Panteón de Los San Juanes is full of colorful tombs and graves and is very unique, different from the Todos Santos site.
Also, stop into the Cathedral, Nuestra Señora de La Paz, to see a beautiful, active church. Donations are welcome, and if you’re visiting during services, be respectful.
Moving onto the Malecon, you’ll LOVE all the art everywhere. As you stroll, you’ll have plenty of spots to get in the water or just benches to sit on and watch La Paz go by. We love visiting La Paz on our Baja California Sur road trips!
Tip: The Hotel Perla is a neat place to stay on the Malecon for a really cool experience. The Perla is where we always have lunch, but it’s also a vintage boutique hotel with views of the bay.
Tip: if you love murals and street art, La Pax is full of them! They even have a Wyland mural, The Sea Life of Cortez, that reminds me very much of the murals you’ll see on a Florida Keys road trip.
Water Activities and Beaches Around La Paz
After coming from Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos, you’ll LOVE how calm the waters off La Paz are. The Ensenada de La Paz, or the protected harbor the city sits on, is beautiful with very mellow tides. Outside of the protected harbor is the large bay coming off the Sea of Cortez, which is also still rather protected, making the beaches wonderful for swimming and snorkeling. This is the mellow Mexican destination you are doing your Baja California Sur road trip for.
Another cool thing about the Sea of Cortez near La Paz is the migration of the whale sharks. If you can go with a responsible guide who adheres to the rules, you can have an incredible encounter in nature, meeting the largest members of the shark family face to face. Also, you can get tours up to Isla Espiritu Santo National Park, which is its own marine wonderland.
Check out our Guide to Eco Tours in Los Cabos here!
When it comes to just having beach time, you have lots of choices around La Paz. You can access the water just off the Malecon, but then there are also three great beaches just a short drive from downtown:
- Playa Balandra to the northeast (the prettiest)
- Playa El Mogote (dunes beach) to the northwest
- Playa El Caimancito or La Concha just past the Malecon
Last Baja Road Trip Stop: Cabo Pulmo National Park
We’ve made the trek out to Cabo Pulmo National Park twice and each time it’s been amazing. If you don’t add Cabo Pulmo to your Baja California Sur road trip you’re missing out. True, the drive to the National Park entrance is on a crazy road through the mountains and then down to the beach, but it’s just that perfect touch of off-roading that you need on a Baja road trip.
Once you’re down on the Sea of Cortez, it’s an incredibly diverse marine experience. Booking a tour through a registered guide is the way to go for visiting and diving with the sea lions, and then you’ll get to visit the Mermaid’s Lagoon and see everything you’d want to while snorkeling and then have huge iguanas up on the rocks at the beach, and then there’s the actual reef a few hundred yards off shore… So much to see!
Tip: if Cabo Pulmo National Park is a main attraction along your Baja California Sur road trip, be sure to plan for a time of year that you can access as much of the park as possible. Some tours restrict their visits to Cabo Pulmo based on time of year. Late spring and early summer are great times to visit, but you’ll want to wear wet-suits for your time in the water.
Tours to Cabo Pulmo National Park
In the event that you don’t want to do the long drive into Cabo Pulmo National Park yourself, there are quite a few tours that can get you there from Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo or La Paz. While a few days of snorkeling and relaxing is ideal, doing a day trip will be sufficient as well, so whether you drive in yourself on your way back to SJD or you do a tour, you’ll love it.
When it comes to tours to Cabo Pulmo National Park, here’s what you’ll want to look for:
- National Park Admission details
- eco tour notes, why THIS tour is responsible
- list of Cabo Pulmo sites you’ll visit
- what’s included in your cost
- complete tour duration
THIS TOUR goes from Los Cabos and is an all day snorkeling trip into Cabo Pulmo. We’ve done this tour and it was exceptional.
Planning your Baja California Sur Road Trip
While you could plan to have this adventure over four or five days, this trip is ideal for covering 10 days to two weeks. You’ll have ample opportunity for spending time in nature, getting a good feel for the history of Baja California and you’ll get a great tan. As you make your plans and buy your tickets, consider what you really want out of your trip.
Since the destinations you’ll visit during a Baja California Sur road trip are no more than 3 hours between each other you’ll have lots of time for activities and relaxation. I think it’s ideal to have a minimum of two nights in each destination, but you could also do a trip like this like it’s a spiderweb:
- Stay in Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo
- do day trips to La Paz, Todos Santos, Cabo Pulmo…
Doing the home-base version means you’ll have a lot more driving, but it also means that you can come home to the same place each night, which is sometimes a huge help with small kids.
When Should I Visit Los Cabos / BCS?
Los Cabos is the busies from mid December until February. The best weather, meaning the least hot and humid, is during this time and leading up to June. Besides the odd hurricane that may hit (June – Nov) it’s consistently nice and the temperatures tend to be 85 degrees F +/- 90% of the year.
Times to avoid Cabo San Lucas specifically include Spring Break (April) and during the Bisbee Fishing Tournaments, which are usually at the end of October. Everything else is pretty great, pretty mellow, and really lovely for either a Cabo trip or a complete road trip around BCS.
Enjoy your time in Baja California Sur… and then come back to us to plan a road trip around Baja California Norte.
Want to pin our itinerary plan for later? Go for it!
Friday 24th of February 2017
Good tip on the rental car/insurance issue. Thanks. I haven't been to Baja for years. Last time we flew in there were military with machine guns for "security" at the airport. Kinda put a damper on things. But that was over 20 years ago. Now I'm tempted to give it another try.
Sunday 5th of February 2017
I love road trips and this sounds like a great one! The places you visited look amazing and I can't wait to start planning a Mexico road trip.
Sunday 5th of February 2017
You make me want to go adventure in Baja! I love the turquoise water especially!
Sunday 5th of February 2017
What a beautiful trip. That sun, those views, the beaches...no wonder you're smiling!
Saturday 4th of February 2017
Love that you just had fun with the trip and that you mention bringing things home the right way- I remember buying an enormous archery bow in Mexico and getting in trouble at the airport- it was dangerous of but I was an oblivious kid then. Would definitely hit up La Paz for ceviche and ice cream!