How to make a Baja Sur surf trip safe and enjoyable


(Ed. Note: Linda Van Zandt is a new columnist on surfing and the outdoors who will be running twice monthly in the Light. Look for her articles on surfing notables, insider tips and more in the weeks to come.)

By Linda Van Zandt

If the occasional surf to Rosarito or Ensenada is a standard part of your repertoire, you may be ready for a road trip to Baja Sur. The following guidelines could spell the difference between disaster and dream trip:

Invest in a GPS and corresponding map of Baja Sur. While it’s useful traveling down the relative safety of Highway 1, when you leave the paved road, it can be essential. A well-marked dirt road can quickly degrade into a maze of haphazard trails going seemingly nowhere. With GPS and map you’ll know exactly where you are and can navigate accordingly. Also, when traveling along the coastal salt flats, know the tides and plan ahead. Salt flats at high tide become salt marshes and are devastating to your vehicle. Follow fresh tire tracks only!

Once past Ensenada, do not pass a gas station without filling up. An open Pemex is no guarantee gas is actually available. This holds especially true on Sundays, so avoid traveling that day if possible. Make sure the tank is full before leaving the station. Do not necessarily trust your map if it indicates a gas station lies just ahead. Mexico is notorious for beginning a project then abandoning midway.

No lingering in San Quintin. Leave San Diego by 3 a.m. to give you plenty of time to get your tourist visa (at the Imagracion, on the right just after crossing the San Ysidro border) and be through San Quintin before the produce trucks get on the road and the thugs are still asleep. San Quintin is dangerous so DO NOT CAMP at any of the beaches in and around San Quintin unless you are with a seasoned Baja veteran … and even then, convince him/her to search for better waves further south. Get gas in San Vicente, which is just to the north.

Avoid driving at night. If it’s absolutely necessary, follow a bus. La Pinta’s are reliable, albeit somewhat pricey places to stay. There is one in Catavina as well as Guerro Negro. San Ignacio has two nice B&Bs. Further south, Todos Santos has a few hotels. Do NOT venture off-road at night. EVER.

Everyone takes dollars (know the exchange rate). Double the amount of water you think you’ll need and stoke out the road crews by tossing them a bottle from the cooler. Bring stickers, T-shirts, crayons, anything to give to the kids. If you don’t want unsolicited attention from men, wear a simple wedding band … respect runs high in Mexico for the institution of marriage. Dress conservatively while driving or plan on getting delayed at military checkpoints. Keep cool (flash the wedding ring!) and when asked to exit the car, grab your valuables. Stash your money in several places, like in your shoe, your backpack, and amongst your gear. Do not count on warm water, even in mid-summer and remember, a high-quality sunshade is essential.

Finally, Mexico does not recognize U.S. auto insurance, so for any trip south, be sure to get a Mexican liability policy.

Questions on ocean- or surf-related issues can be e-mailed to Linda Van Zandt at