Baja California Sur is a magical place that not many make time to explore.
Sure, everyone knows of Cabo San Lucas, but BCS is so much more than that. This region has long been a haven for nomads, surfers, travelers, and artists looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the USA and Mexico.
Ask anyone who visited before–chances are, they were completely enamored by the region’s distinct aesthetic and culture. From laidback towns with just the right amount of common comforts to dusty roads leading to some of the best beaches to surf and explore, Baja has a certain charm that’s hard to find anywhere else.
If you’ve managed to dedicate a few days to a few weeks exploring Baja California Sur, you’ve made the right choice! And in my opinion, a road trip is one of the best ways to see what this region has to offer!
Being so easily accessible from Cabo and the West Coast, a Baja California Sur road trip is completely doable no matter how much time you can spare. Got a few days? You could easily explore 2 towns. Got a few weeks? Well, then you’ve got time to see a lot more.
This guide was meant to help you discover some of the best towns, attractions, and things to do in Baja so that you could have the most unforgettable road trip. Let’s get into it!
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Where Is Baja California Sur Located?
Baja California Sur is bounded to the north by the state of Baja California, to the east by the Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortez), and to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean. That little peninsula that’s removed from the Mexican mainland? That’s where Baja California Sur is located.
The peninsula is interestingly divided into two states: Baja California in the north and Baja California Sur below that.
Baja California was one Mexican territory until 1930 when it was split into the two parts that we know and love today. The northern part kept the name Baja California, while the southern part eventually became Baja California Sur.
Baja California consists of towns such as Tiajuana, Ensenada, and Rosarito.
Baja California Sur, on the other hand, consists of towns like Loreto, La Paz, and Todos Santos.
Best Time To Visit Baja California Sur, Mexico
Because of how Baja California Sur consists of both the desert and the coast, the weather generally remains warm and pleasant throughout the year. Unlike many other true desert towns of Mexico, the ocean breeze helps keep the region cool even during the peak of summer.
If I had to pick the best time to visit for outdoor exploration and sightseeing, I’d recommend the months of January to April. Not only will there be high chances of near-perfect weather, but you will also escape the peak season crowds, and have the chance to spot gray whales in the distance!
When we road-tripped through BCS in late February, the weather was absolutely perfect. Daytime temperatures hovered in the low 80’s, while the nights cooled down comfortably into the 50’s (very similar to the Northern California weather I’m used to).
During all 11 days we were in the BCS region, the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky!
Of course, the “best time” to go really depends on what you’re looking to do. Here are a few distinct travel periods that can help you decide when you want to go:
- November to April: This is whale watching season in Baja California when gray and humpback whales make their yearly migration to these shores to breed and mate. Chances of seeing whales are very high!
- October and November: This is when the summer heat and humidity have given way cooler, more pleasant daytime temps. This is considered low season, meaning you’ll find better deals on hotels and accommodations.
- December and January: These are great months for surfing in this part of the state. NOTE: The town gets very crowded over the holidays in winter (as well as the week leading up to Easter during Semana Santa), with Mexicans flocking to this region for vacation.
- July to October: While the summer months are hot, this is also considered the region’s hurricane season, with August and September being the wettest months. Hurricanes are most frequent during the month of September.
How To Get To Baja California Sur
To make the most of your time, we recommend starting your road trip from within BCS (as opposed to driving in from the top of Baja California.
Most major airlines fly directly into Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) in San Jose del Cabo. This is the airport that most tourists fly in and out of when they visit Cabo San Lucas.
Another option is the La Paz International Airport (LAP). In you are flying into BCS (as opposed to driving down from the USA), you’ll need to rent a car.
Choosing a rental car company
After doing countless hours of research and being stressed out about all the negative reviews I was coming across for the majority of the American rental car companies, I narrowed down the trustworthy businesses to the following: BBB Rentacar, Cactus, Alamo, and Los Cabos Family Rental Cars are all good companies to book with.
Of course, your personal experiences may vary, but generally, these companies have a good reputation, unlike the other companies who will entice you with a low price, then do everything to upcharge you for insurance.
If I were you, I would get quotes from all of these companies and go with the one that provides you with the best quote and all the car features you’re looking for.
What I’ve noticed is that some car rental companies offer cheaper prices for rentals of 4+ days. This is something you could definitely take advantage of if you plan on having a longer road trip!
For my trip, I ended up renting with Los Cabos Family Rental Cars.
Though the price for the car did look steeper than what I was seeing elsewhere on the web for rental companies like Hertz, Avis, etc., I did like the fact that I was promised “no surprises”.
Last-minute surprises in pricing are a HUGE pet peeve for me, and I wanted to have a stress-free vacation, so I bit the bullet and went with a company with positive reviews and a good reputation. And so glad I did–our car rental experience was seamless!
We met a member of the family-owned car rental company in the parking lot of the airport, signed some final paperwork, paid for the car, picked up the keys, and off we went!
Pro Tip: If you’re from the USA, you don’t need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Mexico. Booking a car as soon as possible will save you money compared to waiting last minute. (I accidentally waited until the last minute, and a lot of rental companies were out of available cars, oops!)
Opting for full coverage rental insurance in Mexico
If you were in the USA, I’d typically recommend going with insurance provided by your credit card. However, because this is Mexico, I’d suggest that you consider purchasing full coverage insurance.
Why? One thing to remember is that Mexico is not the US. Things work a little differently here, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Laws are different in Mexico and if you have an accident, you will be held until all damages you caused are paid for.
With full coverage insurance, if something were to go wrong, all you’d need to do is show your coverage to the local police and contact your rental car company. They’ll make arrangements to bring you a replacement and assist you in the reporting process so that you can continue on with your trip.
I’m not too familiar with the car accident laws in Mexico, so it’s always best to check your policy and your credit card coverage terms, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry, especially while on vacation?
Baja California Sur road conditions / driving tips
Alright, once you’ve picked up your car, you’ll need to begin driving!
Generally speaking, the roads in Baja are fairly good. Other times, you can expect pothole-y roads.
The main highway, México 1, runs the whole length of the peninsula from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. This highway is mostly well-paved but is in a constant state of repair (since it’s the main road, it’s well-used). You can expect some to encounter areas where road construction may be taking place.
When traveling in the Cabo, Todos Santos, La Paz areas, you will very little to worry about. You’ll be driving on a well-maintained highway until you get inside the towns, which may then turn into a mixture of dirt and paved roads, depending on where you plan on visiting.
No matter where you are though, be prepared for unexpected curves where cows and goats may be hanging out. You’ll have to be sure to drive slow when you see those yellow signs warning of animal crossings!
To be ready for all cases, if possible, I’d recommend opting for an SUV with 4-wheel drive. That way, you won’t have to worry about the bumpy roads that aren’t as well maintained (such as roads to some restaurants and beaches).
Our small sedan did just fine, but we did have to drive significantly slower on bumpy dirt roads. A larger AWD vehicle would have been able to handle these roads better!
Keep in mind that while you’re on the highway, you’ll need to pass a toll booth and ultimately pay 97 pesos (~$5 USD) for toll. The toll booth is shortly after leaving the Cabo Airport area, and you won’t pay until you hit the end of the toll road.
Have some cash on hand. We kept a few 100 peso bills in the glove compartment just for this reason.
Once you get your ticket from the first toll machine, do not lose it! Just stick it in the glove compartment and keep it safe. You’ll need it when you pay at the end of the toll road.
Note on safety: It is recommended that you drive only in the daytime, not only in Baja California Sur, but all over Mexico.
Complete Map Of This Baja California Sur Road Trip
At first glance at the below map, you’ll notice a lot of markers. But don’t let that scare you! There is no need to visit all these stops if you don’t want to.
This post is meant to help you discover towns/attractions that you’re most interested in. So, let’s dive into some of the exciting towns you could visit on your Baja California Sur road trip!
13 Towns To Visit On Your Baja California Sur Road Trip
1. Cabo San Lucas
As one of Mexico’s major tourism destinations, Cabo is home to lots of hotels and resorts spanning all budgets, spas, bars and restaurants, golf courses, and more. More simply stated, this is Baja’s lively party and resort area.
It’s also the jumpoff point for a lot of Baja’s amazing tours, activities and adventures. There are tons of fun activities nearby including the ever-popular ATV and camel rides, sailing trips to the famous Arch, luxury snorkel and sail trips, and more.
If you’d like to see what this city has to offer when night falls, a very popular thing to do is to go on a sunset sail before going out to the bars/clubs.
2. San Jose Del Cabo
From Cabo San Lucas, make your way over to San Jose del Cabo, best known for its thriving arts scene (even more so than in Todos Santos), sandy beaches, and colonial buildings. This is a laid-back colonial gem–a true 180 from the Cabo atmosphere!
With a rich and colorful history dating back to the 1700s, this postcard-perfect town is best known for its arts scene. In fact, if you can time your visit for a Thursday night, you’ll get to partake in what the town is best known for–its Thursday evening art walk!
During this weekly event (November through June), you’ll get to sip wine, sample cheese, wander the area’s cobblestoned streets, and meet some of the friendly artists and gallery owners in Baja California Sur.
And regardless of what day you visit, you will have ample opportunities to enjoy great food and live music in many of the local restaurants. If you happen to be there earlier in the day, you can visit a beach!
If you’re looking to venture a couple of miles away from the East Cape coast, Miraflores is a great road trip stop. Miraflores is a small town just 30 minutes inland from La Ribera and 45 minutes north of San Jose del Cabo along the Baja California Sur.
This town, founded in the early 1700s, is known for its friendly atmosphere as well as for the leather and furniture handcrafts! Common leather goods include belts, wallets, bags, shoes, huaraches, and saddles. If you’re looking to bring home some handcrafted items, this is the town to visit!
Shopping is only one of the attractions the town has to offer–other highlights include going out into nature for a refreshing dip in the nearby hot springs or taking an off-roading adventure via ATV.
Miraflores is also known for its pitahaya harvesting season. Pitahaya may also be more commonly known as pitaya or dragonfruit.
In fact, during the month of July, the Pitahaya Festival (Fiesta de la Pitahaya) takes place, where visitors can enjoy all types of goodies made of pitahaya–expect fresh drinks, gelato, salads, and even a pitahaya colada! (Move over piña colada, there’s a new drink in town!)
Sitting at the midpoint between La Ribera and Miraflores is the little town of Santiago. Upon entering this town, you won’t be able to ignore the sheer number of palm trees here. The town is also really big on sustainable agriculture–and mangos!
Santiago is also home to leather makers and artisans that produce everything from jams, pastries, honey, fresh cheeses, chorizo, and pinole (a ground maiz mix combined with spices to make cereals, baked goods, tortillas, and beverages).
Start your exploration in the downtown area, or Centro. Enjoy the plaza, the colonial-style buildings, and the free museum that showcases giant fossils and marine remains like mollusks shells and whale bones.
Don’t miss the chance to grab some local cuisine in one of the restaurants within the picturesque plaza!
5. Cabo Pulmo Nature Reserve
Once you’ve driven over to the East Cape area, do not miss the chance to visit Cabo Pulmo!
Spending a day out in the Cabo Pulmo Marine Reserve is one of the most popular things to do in the La Ribera area. Cabo Pulmo is a protected area made famous by Jaques Cousteau when he described it as the “Aquarium of the World”. What strong and impressionable words!
Because of its natural and pristine beauty, and the fact that it’s the only living reef in the Sea of Cortez, Cabo Pulmo Nature Reserve is protected by the government.
The marine reserve was established in 1995 to protect the reef, and in 2005, UNESCO recognized it as a World Heritage Site. There are eight separate fingers of the reef–four close to shore and four further out in the bay. Because the reef begins just a few meters off the shore, Cabo Pulmo is an extremely accessible diving and snorkeling spot.
There are various tour companies that lead half-day or even full-day tours to Cabo Pulmo, including snorkeling adventures and scuba diving tours.
A typical tour consists of all the gear you need (including wetsuits, masks, and fins) so you can comfortably and safely explore the reef. You’ll be able to swim alongside fascinating marine life including eels, giant groupers, big-eyed jacks, sea turtles, whales, sea lions, and more. Lunch is typically included as well.
If this sounds like a great time to you, check out some of these tours offered by Cabo Adventures:
- Cabo Pulmo National Park Snorkel Expedition from Cabo San Lucas
- Cabo Pulmo 2 Tank Certified Dive with Lunch
If snorkeling is not your thing and you’d rather go scuba diving, Cabo Pulmo is a great place to do that. Because there is a living reef here, scuba diving adventures are quite common.
6. La Ribera
Looking for a more off-the-beaten-path destination in Mexico, far removed from the crowds? La Ribera, Mexico is one of the few undiscovered jewels of the Baja California Sur region.
Located at the southern end of the Baja Peninsula, this sleepy little town has a population of close to 2,000 people, made up of locals who work at nearby resorts, fishermen, ranchers, and farmers.
This up-and-coming area is starting to expand, so over the next few years, prepare for an influx in tourism! (The Four Seasons has already set up shop here, with their new property Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas–so you know it’s real. Nancy Silverton’s restaurant, Mozza, is here too!)
Already, even when much of the area hasn’t been developed yet, the La Ribera/East Cape Baja area offers attractive amenities for tourists and locals alike.
And while La Ribera may not be as popular as other cities in Mexico, don’t let that fool you. The East Cape is a hidden destination that’s definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a tranquil yet exciting beach vacation!
La Ribera is great for exploring nature, horseback riding, ATVing, snorkeling, beaching, and fishing. For more activity options in the La Ribera / East Cape area, check out this post on all the best things to do in La Ribera!
7. Los Barriles
If you are looking for something more intimate than the hustle and bustle Cabo San Lucas offers, you’ll love the small-town charm of Los Barriles. This little fishing village is the kind of place where you can oh so very easily get off the grid!
Los Barriles offers a unique blend of local community vibes, beaches, restaurants, and activities that all come together to make this gem of a Mexican town the perfect off-the-beaten-path destination. The town is best known for its kiting spots, sport fishing and laid-back vibes!
Start at the town center, where you’ll get to enjoy the shops, cafes and taquerias running along the main street Calle 20 Noviembre. In terms of activities, renting an ATV, going kite surfing, or going fishing are popular things to get into.
Beginner to kite surfing? You can sign up for lessons at places like the ExotiKite Kiteboarding School. They also offer wave camps, SUP and yoga. Another option is Vela Baja Adventure Sports which operates out of the Playa Del Sol resort, and offers windsurfing, kiteboarding, free diving, SUP and kayaking.
Where to stay in Los Barriles: Hotel Palmas De Cortez – arguably the best hotel in the area!
8. Todos Santos
This magical town is filled with art galleries, open-air markets, fish tacos, farm-to-table restaurants, and laidback liveliness that’s hard not to fall in love with!
Once known to be a sugarcane-producing town, Todos Santos today is a colorful, eye-catching town! While exploring the town on foot, it’ll be hard to ignore the brightly colored souvenir shops selling everything from rugs to leather goods, and textiles to ceramics.
If you’re looking for some new home decor, a new leather bag, or silver jewelry, this is the place to get it!
If traditional Mexican goods are not your cup of tea, there’s still a lot of shopping that can be done in Todos Santos. The downtown area is speckled with independent boutiques, lifestyle clothing shops, and vintage stores.
Aside from the local treasures at every turn, Downtown Todos Santos has a lot to see and do.
Don’t miss Calle Benito Juarez, the main street with busy restaurants and stores galore. Take note of the old colonial architecture of the town, including its cobblestone streets from the 1800s and the pastel-colored colonial facades on buildings.
Be sure to bring your camera as you explore downtown, because how can you not want to photograph up all the color?! Each and every street is unique and photogenic in its own way, so take the time to wander them (even the quiet ones) on foot.
You can also tour the Misión Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Todos Santos (Mission of Our Lady of del Pilar of All Saints) that was built in 1733. This is the town’s most notable religious edifice. Don’t miss the pretty yellow facade, an altar surrounded by stained glass, and sweeping views over the ocean.
And being such an arts-centric town, Todos Santos is filled to the brim with art galleries. You should definitely spend a few hours popping in and out of the various galleries to check out the range of local artists.
If you’ve dreamed of seeing baby sea turtles up close, Todos Santos is going to really make your dreams come true.
The beaches around Todos Santos are nesting grounds for various sea turtles including Olive Ridleys, Leatherbacks, and Blacks. Head to Tortugueros Las Playitas in the evenings for free public sea turtle releases!
If you’re looking for an unforgettable meal in a picturesque outdoor space, do not miss JAZAMANGO! This might be the prettiest restaurant I’ve ever been to. The restaurant’s location is a little slice of heaven–atop a hill overlooking the entire town.
9. Las Tunas
If you have some extra time in the Todos Santos area during dinner time, head on over to Las Tunas, the next town over. Be sure to come with an empty stomach!
Start at Poke Loko for ultra-Tulum vibes and poke bowls/pizza that are as beautiful as they are delicious.
Then head right next door to 5 Tacos and a Beer for literally five tacos and beer for just under $8 USD. You can choose between a wide variety of taco meats and vegetarian options for each and every taco, which really made the dining experience fun. I mean, look at those tacos–they were as delicious as they are beautiful!
Both of these meals were amazing and we would go back to both in a heartbeat!
10. Cerritos Beach
All the locals know that the best surfing around Todos Santos is at Playa Los Cerritos. Playa Los Cerritos is located about 20 minutes south of Todos Santos and is well-known for its strong surf and massive waves.
If you’re more of a beginner surfer, don’t let my description above freak you out–smaller waves can be found closer to shore. The great thing about this beach is that the sand is soft, meaning if you fall off your board, you won’t get all scratched up.
You can rent a surfboard and wetsuit from vendors along the beach and even opt for some surf lessons!
If you make it out to Cerritos Beach (see below), you need to hit up Barracuda Cantina. These fish tacos are as fresh as they are delightful. They were even featured on Netflix’s Taco Chronicles! Don’t pass up the chance to eat fish tacos right by the beach.
Another popular surfing spot nearby is Playa San Pedrito. This beach is a mix of sandy floor as well as some rocky parts.
11. La Paz
Although La Paz is the capital of Baja California, it doesn’t feel like a capital city at all! Somehow, La Paz has managed to maintain its laid-back fishing town atmosphere, which you’ll feel as soon as you begin to walk around.
It’s a very relaxing stop compared to other super-touristy destinations like Cabo San Lucas.
In a nutshell, La Paz is a great road trip stop if you’re aiming to eat fresh seafood, go on fun boat excursions, and see unforgettable sunsets.
Some of La Paz’s highlights include strolling down the Malecon (oceanfront promenade), swimming with whale sharks (from the months of October to May), taking a boat tour of Isla Espíritu Santo (a small, rocky island with over a dozen white sand beaches and crystal clear water), and hanging out at Balandra Beach.
During our Baja California Sur road trip, we spent some time in La Paz swimming with whale sharks. Our combo tour was jam-packed with adventure! It featured swimming with the gentle whale sharks, snorkeling with sea lions at San Rafaelito, and eating lunch at the picturesque Balandra Beach.
If that doesn’t interest you, you should still make some time to see Balandra Beach. This beach has often been declared the most beautiful beach in Mexico.
The calm, shallow waters of the lagoon are perfect for swimming, SUP boarding, and kayaking. Its crystal-clear turquoise waters contrast the desert’s red hills so perfectly! Definitely a not-to-be-missed destination while exploring Baja California Sur.
Alternatively, there’s also Isla Espiritu Santo, one of the 244 islands that form a UNESCO biosphere reserve, world-renowned for its overwhelming marine life diversity.
While you can visit La Paz on your own and just stroll around town, I personally found it a lot more fun to go on a guided outdoor adventure first (snorkeling, ATVing, sailing, etc).
Loreto is a wonderful little historical town, proclaimed by the Mexican tourism association as one of the Pueblos Magicos, a title granted to towns that have preserved their local heritage, culture, and history.
Historically, this is where the Spanish conquerors landed on the peninsula for the first time and founded their missions.
When you arrive in Loreto, reserve a few hours to familiarize yourself and explore the charming historical center. Take a stroll on the Malecon, get a coffee in one of the cafes in the plaza, and peek into the various local art shops.
From there, visit the Local Museum right in the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, the first founded Mission. It’s a small but interesting attraction, especially if you are curious about the history of Baja California.
Once you’re done exploring the historical charm of the town, it’s time to engage in the natural wonders of Loreto!
One of the most iconic things to do in Loreto is to see the blue whale, the largest animal known to exist on Earth. From January through March, blue whales migrate from the north in search of warmer waters to have their babies. This is a very magical time to be in Loreto!
Another popular landmark here is Coronado Island, known for its white sand beach, turquoise clear water, and great snorkeling.
While there are many things to do in Loreto, if you are limited on time, I would recommend going on a tour of Coronado Island (filled with snorkeling, dolphin watching, swimming with sea lions, and exploring white sandy beaches) or going on a tour for blue whale watching!
Mulege is a town in BCS facing the Sea of Cortez, best known for the Mulege River nearby. The town lies 136 kilometers (85 miles) north of Loreto.
Mulege remains relatively undiscovered, so if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination and you’re up for the drive, add Mulege to your list of Baja California Sur road trip stops. Travelers who visit end up falling in love with the small-town charm that permeates the area.
With your time here, start by paying a visit to all the historical sites and museums to learn about the town’s rich history. Fun ones include the Santa Rosalia de Mulege Mission (the second oldest mission in Baja California) and a museum that served as a prison in town.
From there, head outdoors! Without a doubt, the main attraction of Mulege is Bahía Concepción, featuring gorgeous beaches that are free of crowds and tourists. The white sand beaches of these coves paired with the bright blue waters are considered some of the best in all of Baja.
Playa El Requeson or Playa Santispac are the most visited by travelers, yet they still offer a ton of beautiful, quiet space to get away from it all.
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