An extended road trip across the deep Southwest has long been one of my bucket list items and a few months ago, I was able to fulfill that dream in grand fashion. MotoQuest, one of America’s premier motorcycle tour companies, granted me the opportunity to ride along on one of their “Baja Adventure“ tours, from Cabo San Lucas at the bottom tip of the peninsula, 1500 miles north to Los Angeles.
Tres amigos- (L-R) Jimmy, Lyle, and the author, before setting out from Cabo San Lucas
It simply doesn’t get any more “deep Southwest” than Baja.
Accompanied by two childhood chums, Lyle and Jimmy, we flew into Cabo and met up with Darin, Lyle’s son and MotoQuest tour guide, and his bride Savannah. After a delish lunch of fish and shrimp tacos, we rode northeast out of the city, Darin and Savannah following in a chase truck with our luggage, tool kits, and trailer they were hauling back to LA.
Our mounts were a pair of Suzuki 650 V-Stroms and a BMW F700GS. Perfect bikes for this kind of riding- plenty of power on the open roads, quick and nimble in the often hilly and mountainous terrain, and mile-eaters on long stretches across open landscapes.
Mexico 1, headed northeast out of Cabo
Baja, Mexico is a dry, arid peninsula, stretching southeast from the border with Southern California. And yet, Baja is rife with life, with a wide variety of desert flora and fauna flourishing among the rock and sand. We beheld forests of cactus 20ft high, yucca plants and desert rose, and plant life beyond description. The stark, harsh beauty of the peninsula is breathtaking.
The road gets curvy in the mountains south of Los Barriles
Our first leg took us out of Cabo toward La Paz, on the legendary Sea of Cortez. We rode MEX 1, a highway that runs the length of Baja, winding its way back and forth across the peninsula, coast to coast. The roads in Baja California Sur, the southern province, are well surfaced and maintained. Speed limits, however enforced in towns and cities, are more suggestions out on the long stretches between municipalities. That’s probably all I should say about that…(wink). Riding MEX 1 alternates between exhilarating curves up and down the mountain and mesa passes, and long stretches across flat, wide open lands. The pavement surface is a somewhat coarser compound than U.S. highways, which actually aids grip when canyon and curve carving. Motorcyclists are treated with much more respect south of the border, as trucks and automobiles will either slide to the right, or signal you around with their left flasher when the way ahead is clear, to allow passing. Quite refreshing, considering the dangers often faced riding back home.
Sunset over the bay at La Paz, looking west
The road to La Paz winds through the quaint Mexican communities of Santiago and Los Barriles, among others. MEX 19 would have been a more direct route, but not nearly as scenic, according to Darin. At one point, my iPhone flew off the handlebar mount I was using, when I neglected to fasten it correctly. Searching up and down the stretch of road, two older Baja fellas stopped to help me, and promptly found my scuffed but intact and functioning phone. Very thankful for those “Good Samaritans”. Riding along the Sea of Cortez, the waters are clear, calm and emerald green, as opposed to the rough and turbulent waves of the Pacific. High, craggy cliffs open up to reveal secret lagoons, often dotted with campers and tents. These are evidenced the length of the eastern coast.
A little cantina outside El Cielo, in the Baja interior
La Paz is a large city on the sea, with beautiful architecture and seaside pleasures. Ride through town and stay at the Club El Moro Hotel. The personnel are warm and friendly, the accommodations classic Mexico, and the dining in their small cafe is delightful, with a gorgeous view out over the bay. Authentic cuisine is also found up and down the oceanfront. Leaving La Paz, MEX 1 snakes back northwest toward the interior, for miles and hours. Infrequent towns mean monitoring your fluids- your bike fuel and your personal hydration. We rode hard across the high plains, making for the cities of Ciudad Constitucion and Ciudad Insurgentes.
East of Ciudad Insurgentes, the road got pretty technical (read: fun) not long after this
At Insurgentes, MEX 1 turns back east, crossing the plains toward the coastal mountains in the distance. Back in the craggy peaks and valleys, the road once again gets technical, winding toward the Sea of Cortez. So much fun, diving deep into corners and throttling hard out, enjoying the light, nimble handling and instant power of the “Wee-Strom” I was riding. Be sure to stop at a few scenic overlooks down to the shores- many photo ops. Take care, however, as these turnouts are gravel and sand.
One of the many breathtaking scenic overlooks on the road to Loreto, viewing out across the Sea of Cortez
Just south of Loreto, take a break at Vista Al Mar, a thatched roof restaurant right on the beach, with incredible food and views across the waters. MEX 1 continues along the Sea of Cortez, offering endless visual delights.
“There’s so much beauty around us, for just two eyes to see…” -Rich Mullins, songwriter
Santa Rosalia, a beautiful coastal town north of Mulege on MEX 1
We rolled into the seaside town of Loreto, once the capital of Baja, and found a small family-owned establishment called SuKasa Bungalows, across the street from the beach. Owned by a couple from Portland, OR, this charming little locale was a wonderful place to stay. The friendly staff goes out of their way to accommodate your needs. I would love to return and stay a few days in this charming little town.
Crossing the state line from Baja California Sur (the southern province) into Baja California (northern province), Lyle & Jimmy snacking up
Throttling out of Loreto the next morning, we wound our way along the coast, through the beautiful towns of Rosarito, Mulege, and Santa Rosalia. MEX 1 then turned northwest back into the interior, and we bid our final farewells to the Sea of Cortez. Riding hard northwest, we ran through curvy mountain passes, beheld tall dormant volcanoes, jagged peaks, high flat mesas, and verdant desert valleys. I rode in awe and wonder. We finally arrived in Guerrero Negro, on the border with the northern province. After clearing a couple of checkpoints, we continued north for hours, clear skies giving way to overcast, and temps dropping as the day gave way to dusk. We made it to Catavina, a map dot in the middle of nowhere, with a general store, a family-owned diner (with great tacos & coffee), some roadside gas vendors, and two hotels- a nice one on the south end, and a dump on the north end. Guess which one had vacancies? We called it “The Pink Palace”- it was painted pink (sort of), but certainly NOT a palace. Only one hanging bulb per room, a toilet that gave out by the early morning hours, and to top it off, I killed a huge black widow spider on the bathroom wall. Yeah, I didn’t sleep well that night. But, it ended our longest riding day, at approx. 420 miles.
A delicious little taco stand on the west coast, somewhere outside Rosarito
Day 4 saw us ride MEX 1 back to the Pacific coast, along a magnificent stretch of seaside highway not a half mile off the beaches, from Punta Baja to San Quintin, with ocean to our left, and the hills to our right. Farther north, the land is fertile, with fruit and olive groves covering the interior. Driscoll’s is here, with seemingly endless strawberry fields. Groves gave way to vineyards, as we found ourselves riding into Baja’s wine country. We eventually made Ensenada, a large coastal city and our destination for the night. Be sure to ride north through town and lodge at Los Rosas Hotel, a scenic inn overlooking the bay, the islands off the coast, and the vast Pacific Ocean beyond. I enjoyed two “firsts” here- sipped my first Pacifico cerveza, and witnessed my first Pacific sunset, both from a hot tub above the rocky beach.
Breakfast in Catavina, on a mildly chilly morning
Our final riding day we left MEX 1, and took MEX 3 back northeast up through the famous “Ruta del Vino” home to Baja’s greatest wineries. Each lush valley we rode through contained end-to-end vineyards, covering the valley and hillsides. We soon rolled into Tecate, the border town we would use to cross back into the States. Avoid crossing at Tijuana, as it’s considerably more congested. On bikes, we were waved to the front, showed our paperwork, were briefly questioned, and within about 30 minutes, we crossed back into Southern California. We rode the hill country before hopping on US 405/5, skirting around San Diego, and rode along the Pacific coast again. South of Los Angeles, we took CAL 73, bypassing much of South L.A.’s notorious traffic, then briefly back on US 5, before turning off toward Long Beach and MotoQuest HQ.
A Mexican riding group we met up with, near Guayaquil
Another first: We lane-split for several miles on US 5! Somewhat unnerving at first, until we realized motorists pull aside to make room for bikes. Taking it carefully, we soon found it quite convenient, to say the least. We need this back east…
Reluctantly returning our bikes at MotoQuest, we thanked the awesome crew of Kevin, Brenden, Tony and Lee for the fantastic opportunity. This is a great team, and I hope to do more tours with them in the future.
A well-earned jacuzzi & cerveza, in Ensenada
How do I summarize my Baja riding experience? It was the most exhilarating, exhausting, extreme, epic road trip of my life. I’m thankful to have shared it with two lifelong friends, Lyle and Jimmy. Much thanks to Darin, Savannah and the MotoQuest crew, and a special thanks to my friends at Born to Ride Motorcycle Media, for making it all possible.
My first Pacific sunset. Hopefully, not my last