Dazzled by Mision 19 in Tijuana

The foodie world exploded when the New Yorker published a seminal piece on Tijuana‘s master chef Javier Plascencia and his new temple of gastronomy Mision 19. Additional rave reviews followed an another important article in the New York Times. Javier grew up on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, is a surfer and has done a lot to help revolutionize the image of Tijuana and Baja. Along with Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra in the Guadalupe Valley, Benito Molina and Solange Muris of Manzanilla in Ensenada and Javier and David Martinez of Boules and Muelle 3 in Ensenada have really helped to bring about a food revolution in Baja and Mexico.

Javier Plascencia, who told the New York Times, “I am proud of being from Tijuana.”

Since Javier has kindly agreed to be one of the featured chef’s at the WiLDCOAST BAJA BASH on June 2nd (along with Molina, Muris and Hernandez and music by Nortec Collective-Hiperboreal), I paid him a long overdue visit at his temple of food in Tijuana’s Zona Rio district. Buy your tickets now and get them here.

Let’s just say it was on of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Javier is super gracious and obviously a genius at taking the authentic food of Baja and Mexico and creating a new, unique and brilliant cuisine that is nothing like I’ve eaten before.

I started off the meal with a nopal salad. Delicioso!!

Octopus with pistachio and garbanzo. I love pulpo and this was grilled and incredible.

After an amazing vegetable soup, I dug into my main course, fresh tuna.

Coyotas with cafe granizado and dulce de leche ice-cream.

Mision 19 is located in the Via Corporativo bulding on Mision de San Javier 10643, Zona Rio, Tijuana. Don’t wait to go there.

Seafood Suite at Ensenada’s Muelle 3

On Thursday I spent the day at the WiLDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE office in Ensenada. Our team went out to a simple but delicious meal at Muelle 3, David Martinez’s stunning simple new restaurant in Ensenada.

Our first course was sashimi and seafood ceviche. Both were fresh and sumptious.

We then had a sort of new twist on a fish taco, with smoked marlin. It was amazing.

Gigliola the chef at work.

That was followed by a bowl of steamed mussels and almejas blancas.

Muelle 3 is at the north end of the malecon in Ensenada. This is where the pangas leave to head out to Todos and where fishermen bring in their daily catch. While we were there a parade of pescadores walked by with sharks slung over their shoulders.

Historic Surf Weekend in San Miguel

Sean Fowler nails it during the final heat.

“My brother Travis and I were competing in the Vans Pier Classic and lost out on Friday, March 30th,” said Mexican-American ripper Dylan Southworth, who lives in Sayulita, north of Puerto Vallarta. “We saw the swell was on the rise and figured we would head down to Ensenada.”

Dylan and Travis were part of an international crew who found themselves surfing a historic swell at San Miguel in Ensenada on Saturday and Sunday as part of the 2012 2nd Annual Walter Coloca Memorial Open Surf Contest organized by United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO) and WiLDCOAST.

Luis from Venezuela during the opening heat.

That wasn’t all that was going on.

“On Friday March 30th, the day before the surf contest we held the first ever forum, La Nueva Ola, on the state of surfing in Baja at CETYS University in Ensenada,” said Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO.

“Scientists, surfers, coastal conservationists, politicians and business owners discussed issues related to coastal access, water quality, the economic value of surf spots and efforts to improve the current situation of the region’s coastline.”

Speakers from Pronatura, Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC), WiLDCOAST, Surf Ens, CETYS University, Locales Surf School and UAPO presented their collective efforts to engage youth in the sport of surfing and reestablish a clean and accessible surfing environment.

“Although limited coastal access and poor water quality is currently limiting economic and recreational opportunities for surfing, there is a new wave in Baja California to improve the situation,” said Zach Plopper of WiLDCOAST.

Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO.

The forum was a good way to launch the Walter Coloca Open over the weekend. More than 60 surfers from Mexico, Venezuela and the U.S. came together to surf in the second year of an event organized by Ramirez.

“The contest is about one ocean, one passion and one family,” he said. “We share the same ocean so it is important to come together and surf together. Waves bring us together across the border. We are all part of a surfing family.”

Saturday was for the junior, school and body board divisions. Venezuelan Derek Gomez ripped his way to both finals in both the age 12-15 and 16-18 divisions. Judges and spectators were amazed by his solid style and explosive surfing.

Travis Southworth.

Equally impressive was Imperial Beach’s Josh Johnson who scored a perfect 10 (the only 10 of the event) in the 12-15 semi-finals with a double barrel ride across the entire cove section of San Miguel. Josh placed second in his division.

Zach Randall, 13, from East Lake Middle School came in third. Second place in the 16-18 division went to Andres Aguirre from Ensenada.

Also making the final were Michael Roccoforte from El Cajon, and Jorge Olvera from Ensenada. Paloma Aguirre of San Diego won the Open Body Board division with Ensenada’s Jose Peralta coming in a close second.

The Open Division of the contest took place on Sunday with an increasing combination of swells. I joined Imperial Beach surfer Sean Fowler and South Mission Beach’s Craig Macias in the rising swell Sunday.

Dylan Southworth

“The swell was the product of a compact, but intense, storm that was located just a few hundred miles off the California coast,” said Kevin Wallis, surf forecaster for Surfline. He said it brought 30-50 knot-plus winds and seas of over 30 feet.

“Because of the storm’s proximity to California, the swell it created rapidly filled in and it was kind of like someone flipped on a light switch, going from small to moderate size surf from a previous swell to very large surf in a matter of 30-60 minutes as the new west swell filled in. Definitely a cool thing to witness.”

Mysto waves north of San Miguel.

When I arrived at San Miguel on Sunday, the surf was in the 3-4’ range. By the time the contest was over the sets were 6-10’.

“This was definitely the latest I can remember seeing a swell of that size and westerly direction, which allowed it to get into many SoCal breaks,” said Wallis.

“Thirty surfers put on an exceptional show of surfing for the spectators and judges,” said Plopper, who helped to sponsor and organize the contest.

Women's finalists.

Dylan Southworth surfed consistently to the final and took home first place. In a close second was Imperial Beach’s Sean Fowler.

Placing third and fourth were Cheyne Willis from Hawaii and Travis Southworth. In the women’s division big-wave surfer Narra Nunez took the win and Everardo Montoya won the longboard division. Both surfers are from Ensenada.

Zach Plopper and Men's Open Finalists.

“The 2012 Walter Caloca contest at San Miguel in Ensenada was one of the best contests. The vibes were great; surf was pumping all weekend, especially with only three other people out,” said Fowler. “Thank you to the locals and all the sponsors for throwing such a great contest.”

“Travis and I we found ourselves in the final with great waves,” said Dylan. “Super stoked to get the title,” said Dylan. “A lot of good competitors entered and everyone was ripping.”

Travis Southworth.

Zach Plopper after the contest was over when the swell started pumping.

That's me in my first or second heat. I stared the semi right after finishing my second heat, competing against the Southworth brothers and Luis from Venezuela. I was super tired and they all ripped! it was an honor to surf with them--all great guys and great surfers!

Magnificent Animals: Why Sharks are Good for the Ocean and For Us

Dovi Kacev at work. Courtesy: Dovi Kacev.

Dovi Kacev grew up in South Africa and San Diego. A longtime La Jolla surfer, Dovi is finishing up a joint SDSU-UC-Davis Ph.D. in Ecology. For the past 11 years he has carried out research on shark ecology and conservation which has allowed him to study sharks in the wild in San Diego, Baja California, and the Caribbean.

Serge Dedina: As a surfer who grew up in South Africa where there are a lot of sharks, why did you choose to make your life’s work the study of the ocean’s apex predators?

Dovi Kacev: From as early as I can remember I have been interested in sharks, but I did not think of becoming a shark biologist until I was in college. Learning about how important their roles are to maintaining balanced ecosystems, how little we know about their biology, and how much trouble they face due to human pressures, led me to realize that there is a lot that we need to understand better about sharks.  This led me to a career in shark biology.

Dedina: On Tuesday, surfers and a photographer spotted what appears to be shark in Imperial Beach. What is the typical migratory pattern of these animals and what is their conservation status?

Kacev: We have many different species of shark in Southern Californian waters and each species has different migratory behavior and habitat preferences. The shark in the photograph in question looks like it is either a white shark or a basking shark, both of which are known to use local waters and both are protected species due to conservation concerns. Recent tagging studies have shown that adult white sharks tend to come to California in the fall but migrate offshore to an area in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for much of the year. Juvenile white sharks are known to spend more time in the the Southern California Bight. Much less is known about the behavior of basking sharks, but scientists are trying to learn more about them with a new tagging study. Much like it is difficult to identify the species from the photo, it is not possible to estimate the size without some sort of reference.

Dedina: Is it likely the shark is still hanging out in Imperial Beach? Is there enough food locally to sustain them? And what are they typically feeding on?

Kacev: This all depends on the size and species. Last year basking sharks were sighted spending time off of Imperial Beach. They primarily filter feed on small copepods in the water column. Juvenile white sharks seem to take up residency in Southern Californian waters. As juveniles, they are fish feeders, and pose little risk to people. Adult white sharks are known to be seasonal residents in certain locations in central California and Mexico, but to the best of our knowledge tend to be just transient in our waters. If that was an adult white shark, there is no reason to expect that it is still in the area.

Dedina: How many white sharks are out there along our coast?

Kacev: This is a difficult question to answer as sightings are so rare and therefore data on white shark abundance is hard to come by. The most recent study of adult white shark abundance in Northern Californian waters estimated that there are between 200 and 300 adult individuals, which is a pretty small population. Another recent study suggests that the population size may be growing, but growth of shark populations happens at such a slow rate because they take a long time to mature and reproduce at a slow rate. The simplest answer to this question is that the population is likely quite small and that they are more threatened by people than they are a threat to us.

Dedina: Are there any locations in Southern California and especially in San Diego County that you have identified as having larger numbers of sharks?

Kacev: There are areas of seasonal aggregations of leopard sharks and smoothhounds, but none for the larger, more pelagic sharks.

Photo courtesy Dovi Kacev.

Dedina: You have been carrying out research outside of Black’s Beach. What are you and your colleagues observing there?

Kacev: The area off of Black’s Beach is interesting because of a large submarine canyon. We see a lot of leopard sharks, guitarfish, and bat rays. We occasionally catch juvenile thresher sharks in the area, which we tag and track.  In all of my time surfing, diving and fishing in that area, I have yet to see any large, potentially dangerous sharks.  This is not to say they do not exist there, but not in particularly high densities.

Dedina: What is the role of sharks in maintaining the balance of the ocean? Do we really need sharks?

Kacev: Sharks often act as apex predators and as such they are important for controlling the population sizes and behaviors of the species they feed upon.  Research on the East Coast has shown that in certain areas where sharks have been over fished, populations of rays have blossomed leading to the collapse of shell fish fisheries, because the rays feed on the shell fish. Healthy ecosystems need to be in balance and this requires maintenance of all the levels of the food web.

Shark carcasses in Mexico. Courtesy Dovi Kacev

Dedina: You have been traveling down the coast of Baja California to carry out shark research. What have you found there?

Kacev: We have found that in Baja there are a lot of fishing camps that catch a lot of sharks and rays, particularly juveniles. These fisheries are likely to have a large impact in the shark populations in the region. We have also found that in general the fishermen in Baja understand the importance of sustainable fisheries because their livelihoods depend on there being healthy populations of these fish. As a result, most of the fishing camps have been very accommodating to our research.

Dedina: There seems to be a lot of documentation and reporting now about shark sightings along the California coast. Is the population of sharks increasing?

Photo courtesy of Dovi Kacev.

Kacev: It is difficult to say whether shark populations are increasing, the population of ocean users is increasing, or the likelihood of people reporting sightings is increasing. It may also be a combination of all three factors. It is important to note that most shark populations are low relative to historical abundances, so even if their populations are increasing they are still of conservation concern. Even if shark populations are increasing, they do so at a very slow rate. Also, since sharks play such an important role in our coastal ecosystems and many species are of conservation concern, we should be celebrating if their population are indeed increasing. I hope that with continued increase in public curiosity and education, people will realize that sharks are a welcome part of our ocean system.  Instead of fearing them, we should respect them.

Dedina: California just passed a ban on the sale of shark fins. Why should we care about the plight of these animals?

Kacev: We should care about the plight of sharks because they are magnificent animals and our ocean ecosystems rely on them. Beyond just the value of sharks for their ecosystem services, it is important to remember that many people’s livelihoods revolve around the oceans and fisheries. Any disturbance that effects the balance of the ecosystem could eventually lead to the collapse of various fisheries.

Photo courtesy of Dovi Kacev.

Baja’s Booming New Food Scene in Ensenada

Ensenada has always been Tijuana’s cooler, hotter but more elegant and down-to-earth cousin. A seaside town with a vibrant port set in the magnificent Todos Santos Bay, the collapse of the tourism economy hit Ensenada hard. But thanks to the energy and passion of a small group of vintners, chefs and restauranteers, Ensenada is back –in a big way.

For sure the inspiring allure of the Adobe Guadalupe Winery and the wineries of the Guadalupe Valley has had a positive impact on the restaurant scene in Ensenada. Restaurants like Kalifa in the Viento seaside complex between San Miguel and the port are also destinations along with Boules at San Miguel. And for a post dinner coffee and desert check out Luis Arriagas art-filled cafe, Cafe Arabica at #1010 Second Street, just off downtown.

Last week I had the pleasure of eating an amazing lunch–one of the best seafood meals I’ve ever eaten in Baja at the amazingly down-to-earth and unpretentious Muelle 3 located on Ensenada’s malecon.

Owner David Martinez has put together a simple menu that is all about serving simple, fresh, and incredibly tasty seafood.

Calamar frito. Very tasty!

Our WiLDCOAST group sampled the menu starting with clam chowder, then moving on to fish and clam ceviche, mussels and frites, plates of sashimi, and then squid and octopus risotto. It was all fantastically fresh and delicious.

The best ceviche I've ever eaten. Photo: Lenise Andrade

Check it out at: Blvd. Teniente Azueta 187 (sobre el Malecon), Ensenada: 646.174.0318, 646.151.9292

David Martinez (left) of Muelle 3.

Luis Arriaga, the delightful owner of Cafe Arabica.

Wombats Surf in Baja

My kids filmed and edited this little video on our recent trip south of the border that includes their little buddy Josh.

Chasing the Swell in Baja

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Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

Last weekend’s large surf capped three-weeks of clean consistent surf, the best run of waves in over a year. The past weekend we experienced one of the largest northwest swells in about three years.

Many surfers took advantage of the swell to experience pristine waves and wilderness south of the border.

The week before Christmas, my family (my sons Israel and Daniel and wife Emily) and I joined the Johnsons (Daren, Terri and Josh), on a trip into wild Baja that involved driving through endless mudpits, howling winds, packs of coyotes, and empty barrels.

Our trip was a return to old school adventure in Baja that requires a high-clearance 4×4, nerves of steel, and an excellent sense of direction. To reach the coast, we endured more than 50 miles of mud traps.

The small storms that passed through Southern California before Christmas resulted in four days of rain—the most it has rained in central Baja in more than five years. The desert hills were green, with flowers poking through the spiny cactus, and birds fluttering around the water holes.

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Israel Dedina at Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

By the time we arrived at our destination, both my Tacoma and Daren’s Ford F-350 were drenched in mud.

We spent the week surfing empty points and exploring the craggy coast. WiLDCOAST the organization I am the the director of,  has conserved about 30 miles of the coastline here, focusing on the conservation of the headlands, points and wetlands that are entirely undeveloped with the exception of tiny encampments of friendly fishermen and their families.

One day a fisherman dropped off a few lobster to sample. Israel, Daniel and Josh learned how to prepare and grill lobster Baja style—butterflied, over red-hot mesquite coals.

Nothing tastes better than fresh lobster tacos after a day of surfing.

Another day, we boarded Daren’s homemade dune buggy and scouted the coast. At one embayment we found empty waves and a fisherman’s pickup drowning in the sea.

Apparently the driver attempted to make it through surf at low tide and hit a tidepool. Our attempts to haul him out were unsuccessful and the pickup was submerged within the hour (his fishing co-op colleagues apparently hauled him out hours later).

Toward the end of our stay, the dreaded ferocious Baja northeast winds hit, creating dust clouds and blowing out the surf. We survived the night, but headed out home the next morning. Upon our departure we spied a large, confident and well-fed pack of coyotes meandering across the salt flats.

The day before Big Friday I borrowed a longboard and caught some fun ones. Photo: Jeff Knox.

A few days after our return, my sixteen-year-old son, Israel, joined a crew of Coronado surfers including John and Thomas Holder and veteran lifeguard Stan Searfus, for a trip to Todos Santos Island.

“Going out to Todos, one of the world’s most beautiful big waves spots was inspiring,” said John, who was on break from his stint serving in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

“It is a stunning place and the surf was pumping. In between sessions we saw migrating gray whales, dolphins and enjoyed the natural beauty of one the last pristine treasures of northern Baja.”

I returned to Baja last week with Zach Plopper. We had an appointment to survey a 1,200-acre headland and wetland that WiLDCOAST, is negotiating to purchase.

We scored great waves and were amazed by the beauty and biological diversity and abundance of the coastal desert headland we hope to conserve.

Surf scribe Kimball Taylor and San Diego surfer Chris Patterson also enjoyed the swell. But unfortunately they were both shocked by the flagrant disregard one crew of surfers had for the desert wilderness.

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Israel Dedina on the left at Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

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“Unfortunately, a large group of twenty-something surfers from Orange County had no respect for the landscape, chucking their trash in the desert, ripping out native plants, refusing to bury their own waste and acting disrespectfully in the water,” recounted Chris.

“They had forgotten that all of Central Baja is a national protected area in Mexico and that surfers need to treat the land and local people in Baja with a great deal of respect—since we are the only visitors there.”

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Israel Dedina at Todos Santos Island. Photo: John Holder.

Thankfully, more senior and educated surfers met with the group, politely explained the “unwritten rules” of Baja surf camping and the group cleared out and left the following morning.

So please remember that on your next visit to Baja, to pack out your trash, bury your waste, and leave all native plants alone. American surfers need to be role models for leaving as little trace as possible in a wilderness area that is home to generations of fishermen and ranchers and abundant wildlife.

The Baja Devil Beach Baby

This charming video illustrates how a young grom visits Baja but he trashes the beach and has a bad attitude. He is visited by the Baja Devil Beach Baby and mayhem and violence ensue.

The Best of Wild Baja

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From my Southwest Surf Patch.com column of October 26, 2011.

You don’t have to travel too far to experience the best coastal wilderness on the planet. There is no other place on Earth that provides the outdoor experience and friendly fishing folk in one location as the Baja California peninsula.

If you crave travel plans that bring you in contact with pristine waves, friendly whales and untrammeled wilderness, then pack up your gear and head south.

Whether you fly or drive, fish, surf or dive, the fact is that the real Baja is not found in the large tourist resorts but in the quiet and more remote fishing villages and mission towns far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern resorts such as Cabo San Lucas.

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Here are some areas in which it is possible to experience the best of wild Baja. These are all family friendly locations that provide either camping or small-scale hotel and eco-lodges to get you close to the water and wildlife.

San Ignacio Lagoon: This sheltered mangrove lagoon about 35 miles west of the mission village of San Ignacio is one of the world’s top destinations for whalewatching. Between late January and mid-April, hundreds of gray whales assemble in the shallow waters of this desert lagoon to give birth, mate and escape the cold water of the north Pacific. Numerous San Diego and locally based outfitters provide eco-camps and whalewatching services such as Kuyima, Pachico’s Eco-Tours, Baja Discovery, Baja Expeditions, and Baja Eco-Tours.6604819cee43ce4cc0a751ed8005c9cd

View of the bay with Isla Angel de la Guarda o...

Image via Wikipedia

Bahia de los Angeles:  Located about ten hours south of San Diego, this small fishing settlement on the shore of the Sea of Cortez is a haven for sportfishing, diving and wildlife watching. During the fall there are opportunities to observe whale sharks (with a certified outfitter). The numerous islands just offshore are filled with seabirds and excellent diving and snorkeling. There are a plethora of small eco-camps and a few hotels. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a sea turtle, fin whale, or a sea lion or all three.

Loreto: This lovely and quiet mission town in Baja California Sur on the Sea of Cortez is the gateway to exploring white sand beaches, pristine islands, the jagged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta and hidden missions. Loreto is also one of the best places for sportfishing and diving in Baja. To the north is Bahia Concepcion that provides more undeveloped beach camping and to the south are the dramatic peaks and beaches of Agua Verde.

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Magdalena Bay: This huge mangrove fringed series of bays is a maze of hidden waterways, sand dunes and mysterious islands that extends for more than 100 miles along Baja California Sur’s Pacific coastline. During February and March, gray whales are found near the fishing villages of Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos that also provide small-scale accommodations and basic restaurants. Sportfishermen have long been attracted to the area and birders are also discovering the wildlife of this long forgotten region.

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Cabo Pulmo: This tiny village of about 60 people borders the northernmost coral reef in North America. Cabo Pulmo National Park was recently listed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography study as one of the world’s most robust marine conservation areas. A dec

ade ago, local community members, conservationists and the Mexican government joined forces here to ban sport and commercial fishing within the national park and fish and ocean wildlife have rebounced. Cabo Pulmo is now one of the best dive spots in Mexico and is a haven for whales, sea turtles and giant schools of fish and even sharks. Small-scale accommodations abound here and there are numerous sportfishing resorts located to the north. Unfortunately there are plans to build a new Cancun-style resort here so don’t delay visiting this world-class nature reserve.

Staying Safe in Baja

 In 2007, violent assaults and robberies experienced by American surfers and off-road enthusiasts in Baja California rocked the avid Baja travel community in Southern California.

That news combined with the very real violence and media coverage of the drug war in Mexico caused many Baja stalwarts to abandon their lifestyle dedicated to surfing, fishing, off-roading, diving, hiking and just plain enjoying one of the world’s most spectacular natural and cultural regions.

Thankfully, the Mexican government finally responded to the surge in incidents in Baja by increasing roadside patrols and strategically combatting and reducing narco violence.

Tourists are slowly returning to Baja again.

According to Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat, border tourism increased 9.4 percent this year compared to 2010.

As someone who works and plays in Baja California I can attest to the increased security and the fact that for the most part, the majority of the peninsula is as safe as ever.

That is especially true in Baja California Sur, which is considered one of the safest states in Mexico.

Interior of Misión San Francisco Javier de Vig...

San Javier Mission

Last year I took a 2,970-mile round-trip to the East Cape from San Diego with my two teenage sons.

We traveled down some of the peninsula’s most remote coastal dirt roads and encountered friendly locals, lots of smiles, great wave and cold cervezas.

WiLDCOAST, the organization I run, has an office in Ensenada. At any given time our staff can be found in some of the most remote corners of the peninsula or the most trash-infested colonias of Tijuana.

So far we have had no problems at all.

To get an update on the situation south of the border I checked in with some of Baja’s most knowledgable and experienced travel experts who spend lots of quality time visiting the nooks and crannies of our neighbor to the south.

Geoff Hill is the Vice President for Business Development for Baja Bound Insurance and a longtime Baja surfing and travel vet.

Susie Albin-Najera is the creator and editor of The MEXICO Report, MEXICO Travel Writers and is a Community Manager for the recently formed Mexico Today. She has been published in numerous publications including San Diego Magazine, Latin Style, Vallarta Tribune, Baja Traveler, and Baja Breeze.

Angie Mulder is the Program Director for Baja Discovery, an adventure and outdoor outfitter that specializes in natural history tours of Baja California. The company’s destination eco-camp in San Ignacio Lagoon, is one of the world’s premier locations for whalewatching.

Kimball Taylor is the author of Return by Water: Surf Stories and Adventures, a columnist for ESPN.go.com, and a former Senior Editor with Surfer Magazine. He has co-authored books on both Pipeline and Jeffrey’s Bay. He is a longtime Baja California travel vet with many miles of deep Baja surf trips under his worn out tires.

La Purisma foothills, Baja California Sur, Mexico

La Purisima

Patch: From your perspective has the safety/security situation in Baja improved?

Geoff Hill: I really don’t feel that Baja has a safety problem as much as it has a perception problem. Every year I drive an average of 5,000 miles all over the peninsula and always have positive experiences wherever I travel. Be respectful, use common sense and Baja will treat you well. It’s not the scary place the media has made it out to be. I always look forward to being down in Baja. I love the warmth and friendliness of the people that I interact with and the rugged beauty.

Susie Albin-Najera: Baja is an excellent destination for road travel, whether it’s visiting the border territories or heading further south. The real safety issues are just simple road conditions but the toll roads are safe and constantly being improved. I’ve always felt safe driving in Baja, but always encourage people to purchase insurance and take normal road trip precautions.

Baja California Desert in the Cataviña region,...

Central Desert

Angie Mulder: After our nearly three decades of travel in Baja, times have certainly changed, but applying the rules of safe travel has not. Whether exploring the peninsula with guests or pursuing our own adventures, we do not drive alone or at night, and don’t carry a lot of cash or take along expensive electronics. Just use basic common sense. We continue to run our natural history trips without incident.

Kimball Taylor: The safety issue is a tough call. Although instances of shocking violence have decreased in Tijuana and the Rosarito to Ensenada corridor, the discovery of a massive pot farm near El Marmol indicates serious narco activity in Baja.

Patch: If tourists have a problem on the road, what should they do and who should they call?

Hill: To start with, it’s a good idea to carry a Mexican insurance policy that includes roadside assistance and towing. That will give you direct contact to assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. HDI Seguros and ACE Seguros are the two Mexican insurance companies that Baja Bound works with and they both have English-speaking representatives that are ready to assist you. You can also dial 078 anywhere in Baja which is the Tourist Assistance Hotline provided by the Secretary of Tourism.

Albin-Najera: The Green Angels also provide 24/7 free roadside assistance to visitors with mechanical problems. Tijuana, Ensenada & El Hongo toll roads: 01-800-990-3900 Tijuana, Tecate toll roads: 1-800-888-0911

Taylor: By far the most dangerous aspect of travel in Baja is Highway 1 (the trans peninsular highway). Although the highway is being widened and improved in places, it is still just one slender ribbon of asphalt with little to no shoulder and dubious engineering. With the advent of Costco and Home Depot in Cabo San Lucas, commercial traffic and semi-trucks increasingly burden the road. I would advise to keep driving to daylight hours and to refrain from the nighttime blitz drives that were popular in earlier decades.

Patch: What destinations do you recommend visiting in Baja?

Hill: Some of my favorite memories are surfing at Scorpion Bay back in the early nineties when it was still relatively undeveloped. Tucked up in a pine forest at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet is the San Pedro Martir Observatory. They have three giant telescopes at the facility and tours are available every day starting at 10 am. The views are incredible, and on the right day you can actually see the Sea of Cortez to the east and Pacific Ocean to the west. I recommend this trip in the warmer months it can snow on the mountain during the winter. Erendira is a sleepy little farming and fishing village about four hours south of the border that has fun surf, nice spots to camp on the water, good fishing and is a beautiful area to relax and unwind.

Albin-Najera: Baja is a mecca of eco-adventure, marine life, dessert and natural beauty. There are so many ways to enjoy the Baja region. I’ve visited all of the regions in northern Baja and each area offers something special. I recommend visiting all of the areas, either on your own with a road map or via guided tour. You can have great experiences all around Baja. For example, some of the activities available are surfing, scuba diving, whale watching, fishing, cave exploration, off road riding, beaches, biking, art galleries, culinary festivals, brewery tours, world class golfing, and wine tasting. I recommend the Discover Baja California website to get an idea of all of the options. Even just driving along the coastline from Tijuana to Ensenada offers stunning ocean views.

A close-up of a Gray whale's double blow hole ...

Gray whale in Baja

Mulder: Our favorite Baja destinations include the rugged and beautiful desert in Cataviña and San Ignacio. In San Ignacio must sees are the Mission and cave painting museum, followed by dinner at Rene’s. And of course San Ignacio Lagoon, where we spend most of our time. The whales, people, flora and wildlife make it a very special place that keeps us coming back year after year.

San Ignacio Mission / Misión de San Ignacio, B...

San Ignacio Mission

Taylor: I recommend a visit to San Ignacio. The town and mission represent both the romance and reality of Baja. With the famous San Ignacio Lagoon and its gray whales nearby, the oasis is also a way station to San Juanico for those heading south and Punta Abreojos for those heading north.

Patch: What are your favorite places to dine?

Geoff Hill: I am a sucker for carne asada tacos. My favorite stands are Los Traileros in El Sauzal (just north of Ensenada) and Tacos El Yaqui in Rosarito. Tapanco in Rosarito is a great option for a steak dinner, and Rey Sol in Ensenada has a unique French-Mexican fusion that is amazing. If you have never been to the wine country just north of Ensenada you are really missing out! Most people have no idea that there are over 50 wineries producing some unbelievable wines that are just now starting to gain notoriety worldwide. The region is also producing some fantastic artisanal cheeses, jams and olive oil. Most of the wineries offer tours and wine tastings for about five dollars.

Albin-Najera: Tijuana has garnered a lot of positive media attention among foodies and food editors as the new gastronomic hot spot. I could be just as happy eating at a no-name food stall in Tijuana as in a fancy restaurant. As a chilaquiles connoisseur, I am partial to La Casa de Mole in Tijuana, and lobster, Puerto Nuevo-style. There are many new upscale restaurants in Tijuana though, that I’m eager to visit.

Angie: Outside of San Ignacio, we stop for chicken tacos at Quichules, the best beans ever.

Taylor: My favorite places to eat are the roadside taco stands in Ensenada, or just around the campfire.

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