where the desert meets the sea of cortez
Baja is not just a place. It’s a way of life. Technology and innovation have changed our lives irreversibly. Our children will never understand life without selfies and the internet, and we will never have a chance to experience the wild west. You can’t go back in time, but fortunately you can go to San Felipe Baja!
Our $10k beachfront shack we bought near San Felipe Baja 13 years ago takes us back to a different time. You wake up when the sun rises and gives you light. There is no electricity where we live 40km south of town, which means no crowds. Imagine having beautiful pristine beaches and miles of desert trails all to yourself.
The few people that do live in the south campos rely on a few solar panels to charge a few batteries to run a few lights. Propane runs most refrigerators and stoves, and water comes from a well or a truck. It takes a little getting used to primitive housing conditions. I recently burnt my fingers trying to reach into the crowded propane stove (I used lavender and frankincense to ease the pain). Septic systems don’t handle toilet paper, and we have to light the water heater twenty five minutes before we are ready for a hot shower.
you’re not in san diego anymore toto
It’s hard to believe we are only 5 hours away from San Diego. Most people pay thousands of dollars a month to share walls there. We couldn’t reach our nearest neighbor with a rock, and we pay $1300 a year in rent (our house sits on leased land).
People in the states worry about crime when they think of Mexico. Maybe we are kidding ourselves, but most people know each other around San Felipe Baja. You know the street vendors, you know your neighbors, and you know the restaurant owners. If someone drives into your campo (neighborhood), your landlord or neighbor will see the trail of dust coming from a mile away.
Without all the people and technology, you can get more in touch with the land and nature. There’s no shortage of beautiful natural scenery to inspire your creative side. You might even find yourself in front of a canvas with some paint or collecting artifacts to add to your yard art.
the tide rules in san felipe baja
It’s hard to escape nature in San Felipe Baja. The tide and the weather are powerful forces that influence daily life there. When the tide rises enough to cover the rocks, fishermen launch their boats, kids go swimming and gringos hit golf balls into the sea. When the tide goes out, it’s time to collect the golf balls, mussels, clams and octopus from the exposed rocky shore. Our landlord makes an amazing ceviche from the seafood he collects in the morning low tide.
High tide is the perfect time to visit the natural hot springs of Puertecitos, just 70km south of San Felipe Baja. As the tide begins to recede, the healing waters of the hot springs are exposed at the perfect temperature. You don’t even have to take the roads to get there. Hop on a buggy or jeep and and take the beach.
an off-roading paradise
Regardless of the tides, you can always fire up your favorite off road vehicle and explore the beach and desert. You can ride up and down the beach for miles and miles, only occasionally passing and waving to another person. Or you can head inland and explore the desert trails that host the famous Baja 250. When the race is on, you can get as close as you dare to the trophy trucks as they fly by you across the desert.
the santa ana winds are your friend if you kitesurf
When the winter Santa Ana winds start blowing dust everywhere, most people stay inside and play games or try in vain to clean the dust from their house. However, that’s when a few of us pump up our kites and let the wind drag us around the Sea of Cortez on our surfboards.
Baja is one of the few undeveloped places in the world where the desert meets the sea. Everyone knows how great it feels to stand on the beach and look out to the sea. However it’s a whole different experience to glide across the water and look out at the desert, mountains and beach.
Baja seems like one of the last frontiers not yet spoiled by human development and regulations. If you ask our landlord what the rules of the campo are he will tell you there are no rules. Sure, some overzealous old timer may try to put up his own 5mph sign along a dirt road, but there’s no one to enforce it.
Forget about having a schedule. In San Felipe Baja, things happen when they happen. If you ask someone a question that begins with when, the answer is mañana (tomorrow). The desert is littered with half built structures that we call mañanas.
We wouldn’t mind if those half built structures never get finished, let alone mañana. The beauty of San Felipe Baja is its pristine undeveloped nature. The lack of crowds is what makes it special – that and those amazing desert sunsets. I don’t know why, but the sky there produces incredible sunsets every night.
After sunset, you might find yourself around a campfire with friends and family, but don’t get too comfortable. People go to sleep soon after it gets dark, called “Baja midnight” (which ranges from 7-9pm). Lights are used sparingly at night so as not to drain solar powered batteries. This makes for some amazing night time skies filled with more stars than you have ever seen.
The best thing about Baja midnight is that we will wake up when the sun rises and do it all over again mañana. Every morning as we sip our coffee and stare out at the sun rising over the sea, we are reminded why we love San Felipe Baja.
clifftop ocean views and uncrowded surf breaks
We spend a lot of time enjoying the beauty of the Baja desert from Cabo north to Rosarito. However, we also welcome the opportunity to enjoy the greener parts of Mexico. One of our favorite spots is Rancho Banderas Punta Mita. The lush and tropical green mountains of Punta de Mita make you realize how mainland Mexico is almost a different country than Baja.
Punta de Mita is a beautiful coastal region about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. Its secluded green coastal cliffs run for several miles north until you reach the quiet little town on the bay. The road is quite narrow and windy though, and so I did have to take some peppermint essential oil to calm my stomach.
Rancho Banderas Punta Mita is a resort on the cliffs just outside of the small town. We chose this spot so we could enjoy the clifftop ocean views and uncrowded surf breaks. The sunsets there are also perfect every night!
Two of the breaks (Veneros and Paredon) were a short walk up the beach from Rancho Banderas Punta Mita. There’s nothing like being able to walk to the waves and surf the warm waters in a swimsuit. However, if you can’t handle intense heat and humidity, you may want to skip this region all together or visit in December.
peppers restaurant at rancho banderas punta mita
The Restaurant at Rancho Banderas Punta Mita had excellent food and gorgeous scenic views. We never had to wait to be seated or pay inflated resort prices like many other places. Meanwhile the infinity pool and 2 for 1 happy hour had a way of sneaking into our daily routine.
w punta de mita
A new W hotel opened this year just a few minutes walk north on the beach. This gave us several more upscale restaurants (The Spice Market and Venazu) to explore without having to bother with driving. We also caught some stunning sunsets by their gorgeous pool.
You can even see tiny Marietas island which sits about 10 miles off the coast. Marietas is famous for its hidden beach which rumor has it was created by explosions from government test bombs. At high tide, you have to swim under a rock arch and through a cave to get inside the “beach of love.” At Low tide, an entrance opens up large enough that you could enter by kayak.
After you swim through the underwater cave, you reach a tiny beach where you can only see the sky through a large hole in the ceiling (or is it the ground?). It’s even more beautiful than Leonardo do Caprio’s secret beach in “The Beach.” We didn’t have a waterproof camera but Manny J. Soto (@ohhh_itsmanny on Instagram) took this picture which does it justice.
You can catch a boat to Marietas from Punta de Mita for about $70 (half the price that tour campanies charge from Puerto Vallarta). There is also excellent snorkeling around the island preserve.
day trip to sayulita
Another 30 minutes north of Rancho Banderas Punta Mita is Sayulita, a bustling little surf town with lots of energy. It usually has a very gentle surf break reminiscent of Waikiki, which attracts both beginners and seasoned longboarders.
We spent a whole day in Sayulita walking around exploring the beaches, bars, restaurants and shops. We also stumbled upon Playa de Los Muertos, an interesting and beautiful secluded beach surrounded by a cemetery at the south end of town.
If we ever stay the weekend in Sayulita, we will have to try Villa Amor. The boutique hotel nestled on a jungle hill next to Playa de Los Muertos is a popular scenic destination for weddings.
road tripping to puerto vallarta
When there were no waves, we rented a car for $50/day to explore. Just 10 minutes south of Rancho Banderas Punta Mita we found a beautiful marina called La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. There were two nice restaurants with great views of the marina but unfortunately they were closed for summer until November.
We continued south to the crowded downtown area of Puerto Vallarta. We had heard about a new observation deck at the top of the hills surrounding the city. The steps up to the observation point begin at an excellent restaurant called Si Señor. After a delicious meal, the staff was kind of enough to give us directions up and around to Mirador La Cruz where we could see all of the Bay of Banderas and Puerto Vallarta.
Although the observation deck was still under construction, the 360 degree hilltop views were amazing. The few hundred steps to the top only took about 15 minutes but made for an intense leg workout. My husband’s leg cramped on the first large step down, and I had to nurse it back to health with essential oils (deep blue rub).
los arcos preserve
About 15 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta we found excellent views of the famous Los Arcos marine park near Mismaloya. Like the Marietas, this is a protected area popular for its excellent snorkeling and unusual rock arch formations.
If you haven’t tried chocolate coffee tequila, stop at Mama Lucia tequila distillery not far from the Los Arcos lookout. After the free tour and tasting, we decided to bring home a bottle to enjoy at home. Yes, Chocolate coffee tequila! It’s our new favorite decadent desert drink!
dinner with a view in mismaloya
We rarely treat ourselves to “fancy” dinners, preferring to spend our money on more vacations. However, if you are going to treat yourself to the best restaurant in town, you can do it for 1/4 of the price in Mexico versus California. The 19 peso to one dollar exchange rate is extremely favorable for us tourists. We remember when it was 10 to 1 just fifteen years ago! We treated ourselves to an amazing meal at Le Kliff in Mismaloya, known for its incredible views.
You can see all of Bahia de Banderas from Le Kliff, and it really helped us put the area in perspective like a map. From here we could see that all of these little towns and bays are part of one very large bay (Banderas) with Rancho Banderas Punta Mita directly across from Mismaloya, and Puerto Vallarta at the middle of the C shape.
After a lot of sightseeing, the waves picked up for the second half of our week. Finally, my husband was in heaven surfing, and I was able to get back to my Jodi Piccult book!