The West of Baja
Girmantas | Windsurfing, Kitesurfing, Travel, Spots | June 14, 2010
Baja – the legend of Pacific which is known to majority of water sports and wave lovers. However, even being here doesn’t mean that you’ll succeed to see and experience this legend. Those who are lucky – will never forget that.
If you own a private jet – you may just pick the spot you want to get and there’s definitely an airstrip close by. If you don’t – no worries, Mexican Highway 1 does it’s work. But let’s start at the beginning. One option is to fly in to Los Angeles/San Diego and rent a van/camper there, the other – to fly in to Mexico. Both options have some pros and cons. One of the most important factor is price and car rentals are much cheaper in US, moreover you have no chance to rent a camper in Mexico. Most of the spots are within a reach with a regular cars/vans but there are no accommodation options (except Punta San Carlos and some flat water spots) so everything you bring with you is going to be everything you got!
If you are coming by road from US you may choose between two border crossings in Tijuana and Tecate. The traffic in Tijuana is incredible, some sources count over 300.000 border crossings a day. The city is big and this route is not so friendly. We were advised to take a route through Tecate. There is no traffic, easier to navigate and many says – it’s safer. The only thing you should know while crossing the border – From US you can legally enter Baja California till Ensenada for 72 hours without visa. So nobody is taking care about visas on the border. It’s your duty to find immigration office on the border, get the quote, pay ~$20 USD (in pesos!) in a bank and get your visa. Otherwise you will have to find immigration office in Ensenada, or pay some fine when exiting the country. Or you might sneak out the same way you got in…
Driving in Baja is easy, the main highway goes through the deserts, valleys and some mountains. Still it is not recommended to drive during the night. In the northern part of Baja mostly due to the crime, but also in south it is not very safe – there are a lot of cows on the roads, pavement is not very good in some places and so on. At every few hundreds km your car might be searched at military post. For the first time it might be stressful, but later on you simply get used to it. Practical advise is to have your personal stuff like passport or wallet in your pocket. It’s not that the officers would try to steal from you, but it’s totally unpleasant when someone goes through your wallet. We also have been advised not to stay overnight outside the campsites and (especially during the night) avoid stopping in remote places. Even if you see the flashlights behind you – keep driving till some gas station or other place with some people around. Many travelers can tell stories of robberies and you never know how and if it happened. But it is known that there is some part true in every single story. We haven’t had any problems or inconveniences during our trip, though we have never pushed the limits too far.
Baja Almanac is the best map you can get for Baja. The map has GPS data, so it is great for the real off-road adventures. We, on the other hand, had a simple tourist map, the roads were not very accurate, but we have reached our destinations with no stress. We also had some legend that we put together before the trip with an expert of Baja. Most of the spots can be reached by dirt roads only. Some of them are graded, some of them are pretty rough (even graded), some of them are totally off-road. If you go to the main spots only – regular van is enough, but for further exploring 4×4 and high clearance is a must.
After you reach the spot camping is the next stage of the outdoor survival experience. We have been told that this is a desert, but we never realized what does it actually mean. You are staying there with no wind shadow, sand and dust blown to your face. Some cover for the car is crucial. Two windsurfing board bags covered the bottom of the van, and some mats we had inside the car covered some sharp rocks outside. We were traveling light, so the camp looked the same. Carpet is a great thing to have as well as some camping chairs and maybe even a small table. And no – we are not spoiled. You simply need some place to sit on and cook food.
Also for the first stay in Punta San Carlos we have underestimated some supplies like alcohol and water. In the desert the water and other liquids evaporates incredibly fast. You need to drink, make food, wash dishes (can do that in the ocean), shower (at least time to time) and so on. Luckily we managed to get some fresh water and extend our stay for few more days. Experienced travelers count at least a gallon (3.8 l) of water per person per day. You will not find a lot of food supply in the most of the spots. Only a few spots have some stores or even restaurants within reach. On the other hand you can get some fish and seafood in the fish camps or you can catch it yourself.
Wind and waves
Desert and ocean is always a good setup for the wind. Baja is no exception. On the Sea of Cortez side the windiest season goes from November through April. On the pacific side N-NW wind blows almost all year long, still the best season is from April through November. Beginning of the season (Apr-May) gets the strongest wind and the fall is better for the waves. Local fishermen jointly points out Septiembre as the month with the biggest waves. But don’t forget that wind conditions in the fall are milder – weather is warmer, wind picks up later in the afternoon and rarely gets as strong as in the springtime. Cool weather above the Pacific protects the most spots and pushes down the hurricanes in the summertime. Hurricanes, in the meantime, generate some South swell.
Northern Baja gets both North and South swell. Though central area is a bit more complicated. Punta Eugenia and Isla Cedros blocks the South swell to the most of the points. And due to the shoreline only big N-NW swell works there. Some spots have high cliffs or sand dunes creating the wind shadow perfect for surfing, some has extra thermal or bay effect great for windsports. Punta San Carlos and Punta Abreojos are the spots known the best for windsurfing and kitesurfing. And there is a reason for that. Both spots are facing South – so clean and nice swell is coming straight from the deep Pacific. Third reliable spot would be Isla Natividad (offshore of Punta Eugenia), It’s the last stop for the South swell before it reaches Punta Canoas, Punta Camachu and Punta San Carlos in the North. A few remote breaks on the island provides some quality big waves and strong offshore winds are great for windsurfing. Further south you can get some good sessions in Punta Conejo and Punta Marquez. While Conejo with it’s lefts is more oriented for surfing, Punta Marquez is actually the last right handed break with enough wind for kiting or windsurfing. The rest of the spots are better for surfing and also are much more crowded and urbanized.
Wind is usually picking up in the afternoon, but in some spots further North it may start to blow as early as 9-10 am. Usually it’s consistent 10-14 m/s on a good day, up to 16 m/s on a strong day and 7 to 10 m/s on a light day. Best choice for windsurfing is 70-80 liters wave board and sails in a range from 4 to 5 sqm. On light days something bigger might help, but usually if the swell is up – there is enough wind. For kiting on light days (or early afternoons) you might need a 9-10 sqm kite, but for stronger days you may go out even on a 6.
Some spots that we were lucky to ride a wave:
Punta San Carlos
We were told that the road to San Carlos (due to some strong rain in the winter) was the worst over the last 10 years. 3 hours off-road drive was quite tiring. The closer to the spot you get – the worse the road gets. So the only thing you should focus on – patience! We made it without big problems, Mercury got a few dents on the exhaust system and oil tank, but nothing fatal.
There are two options for accomodation: SoloSports provides full-board accommodation in tents with fly-in or drive-in options from San Diego; or you can camp on your own. SoloSports have built a few outhouses and collect a camping fee, but that’s about it. Camping conditions are pretty rough. When the satellite is working you might get some internet at the lounge too, but… we never got lucky. There are no stores in the spot nor in the fish camp. Still you can get some fresh fish or seafood. If you don’t want to go there (usually the boats are coming back when the wind is up), or you don’t know spanish – Pablo, who lives downwind the camp in arroyo, can get you some stuff straight to the campground.
Nobody would describe the windsurfing conditions better than the locals so once you’re there – take your time to chat with the camp staff or regular visitors. The beauty of Punta San Carlos is the incredible variety of conditions within a 2 miles range. You have big and massive Bombora that closes out in a 270 degrees angle like an amphitheatre. This break is further outside and is great for jumping. Then the wave transforms to the beach break that is perfect for beginners and learning – some closing out sections create perfect lips for the aerials and other tricks. Further downwind the wave peels on The Point, where it kinda re-borns, rises up a little bit and starts it’s second mile down to the bay wIth it’s final chord at Chili Bowl that is seen in the most media coming from Punta San Carlos.
Punta Abreojos is much more civilized spot. Paved road comes straight to the town, though camping conditions on are even worse. While in San Carlos the desert ground is hard and rocky, in Abreojos you will find sandy dunes. With no shade to hide, the sand is blown everywhere. Also more civilized means more people around. Cars are cruising by, some local Mexicans comes to hang out and it might be not very pleasant if you’re just having your breakfast or want to chill. On the other hand they do no harm and as long as it stays this way – we’re only the guests.
The town is right there, so you may get some basic supply and go out to one of a few restaurants or tacos stand for a dinner. The good thing about Abreojos is internet. It seems that the town has some good connection and with low number of users it was the best we got in Baja. A few restaurants have WiFi, public library has some computers and WiFi network and also Froggy internet cafe provides internet at their workstations.
Right after noon the wind picks up and the fun begins. In a way similar to San Carlos – Punta Abreojos has a variety of breaks and even flat water. Still the conditions are quite different. If you want to have some fun in flat water there is an lagoon in La Bocana, North of Punta Abreojos. You can even have a 10 miles downwinder either on flat water side or outside in the waves. Once you reach the town there is a nice break right past the big lighthouse. It’s very rocky and hard to enter and exit the water right at that point, but upwind you will find some sandy beach. Down in the bay wind gets a bit gusty but the beach break is still fun. It’s preferred by the kiters more than a windsurfers because of it’s size and speed. Downwind of the town wind gets more clear and the beach break right before the point gets slightly bigger, though a bit messy. It’s a great place either for jumping or riding. Cross-shore winds are pretty steady and the bottom is sandy. Right at the point the wave bends to the next bay and creates perfect side-off-shore conditions for the waveriding. Waves has to be at least logo high to work here, otherwise it’s never gonna get up enough for a nice cutback on a windsurfer. Offshore wind is quite a hazard in this spot and you don’t want to step on a sting ray in the water too.
We definitely gonna come back for more of this wave some day. However, next time we’ll be better prepared. Next time we’ll have more time. Next time we’ll explore more. And we’ll start our trip a bit later – at the end of April.