Baby Steps in Baja

My first road trip to Mexico makes my wine and food dreams come true, satisfies my fish taco addiction.

Let’s address this right up front. Crime there is out of control. Gang violence is so rampant that children follow acid yellow street signs to school to avoid being ambushed. But enough about Chicago.*

I’ve traveled to several countries in Central and South America, and whenever I tell friends where I’m headed, the response is typically either “That’s awesome!” or “Are you insane?”. I’ve never felt unsafe, whether I’m bar hopping in Medellin or tearing down a dirt road on a bicycle at midnight along the Rio de la Plata.">" alt="None">

by Mary Beth Abate

I wasn’t born adventurous. I can barely make it over the Coronado Bay Bridge even as a passenger. But to use a very tired cliché, the Internet is your friend. And like any vacation, a little planning will usually get you through the annoying parts pretty quickly.">" alt="None">

by Mary Beth Abate

My personal travel agent and husband, John, found a great two bedroom, two-bath condo for rent in Le Mision area of Baja. It was about halfway between Rosarito and Ensenada, a short distance off Route 1. Reasonably priced, gated, quiet, good amenities, pet friendly, spectacular view. Perfect jumping off point for lobsters in Puerto Nuevo, wine tasting in the Valle de Guadalupe, or lunch at the fish market in Ensenada. We booked two weeks, got our paperwork in order, and packed up the car.">" alt="None">

by Mary Beth Abate

Crossing the border at Tijuana was easier than navigating security at almost any US airport, even with our cat. No shoe removal required. Coming back through at Tecate, we spent maybe 10-15 minutes because we declared some Mexican limes. They’re not on the banned list, but citrus always gets an inspection. Information about which border crossing has the least traffic at any given time is readily available, so why waste precious vacation time sitting in line for hours?

Our escapes revolve around eating, drinking, scenery and culture. Instead of buying gifts for each other at birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, we save for travel. Our photos are of markets, local people, animals, food and landscapes; neither of us is in more than a handful. I usually consider myself semi-knowledgeable about food when I travel, but I wasn’t at all prepared for the culinary adventures I had in Baja.

First stop,">Puerto Nuevo.

*Source:">The New York Times


Oh no! I was hoping to keep the Valle de Guadalupe a secret.

I hope you don't get anybody killed by having them think that Baja is just business as usual. There are still a lot of narcotics problems, made worse by deportations of violent criminals to Tijuana, and the closing or cutbacks of Mexican prisons. I did Travel Agent work on the Baja, and I always notified clients of every scam, pothole, and other potential problem, and how to avoid it. Yes, Chicago is worse.


Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

Selecting a safe travel destination falls under the “a little planning” part I mentioned, akin to making sure your passport isn’t expired and packing your prescription medication. Some trips take more planning than others, obviously. There are plenty of online resources to facilitate.

Other behaviors – being aware of your surroundings, not flashing your designer clothes, expensive jewelry or wallet full of cash, being polite and respectful to locals and other tourists, avoiding public drunkenness, staying in well populated areas and absolutely not buying, selling or using illegal substances are just common sense in Medellin, Baja, the Gaslamp District, or the UTC mall.

I use experienced and well-reviewed travel assistants who live and work in my destination country whenever I travel outside the U.S. They are invaluable, especially when there is a language barrier. They will be in or close to the same time zone if you do need to call them. They’ll explain cultural differences, and tell you where to find the best shoes, the best bars, and the best bakeries. They’ll customize your trip for you, so you get the most bang for your buck and avoid what doesn’t really interest you. For this trip, though, I used an excellent San Diego travel service just to get a visitor’s visa ahead of time, rather than purchasing it at the border crossing.

A visit to a municipal tourist center is another a good way to familiarize yourself with your surroundings. I spent about 10 minutes in the Ensenada tourist center and explained that I was writing about the Baja culinary scene. The gentleman who assisted me provided directions to several restaurants, wineries, artisan breweries and food producers, ranging from white tablecloth to very rustic, that weren’t on the tourist map.

Many countries, including Mexico and the U.S., are releasing dangerous, violent criminals as cost cutting measures. But it’s important to look at facts, not sensational headlines that may be profit or politically motivated.

According to, which uses U.N. based data to assess the crime rates of cities and nations worldwide, Mexico ranks at 14 per 100K for homicides in 2010-2011, behind other popular vacation destinations like St. Lucia (19), the Bahamas (25), St. Kitts (52), Jamaica (62) and Honduras (67). Mexico has substantially lower crime rates for assault, kidnapping and rape than Canada, yet the U.S. State Department has issued no warnings against travel across our northern border. (Source: Prominix 2012, adjusted for unreported crime). In comparison to major U.S. cities, the per capita homicide rate for Mexico City is 9, Mexico overall, 14, Chicago, 15.2, Philadelphia, 19.6, Washington, D.C., 21, St. Louis, 40.5 and New Orleans, 49.1.

If I had been writing about taking a road trip to New Orleans, would you still have said “I hope you don’t get anybody killed”?

....or if you'd written about Beverly Hills would anyone have commented about crime in LA? Beautifully put, Mary Beth.

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