Vanlife diaries #40: Bahía de los Ángeles, San Ignacio & Mulegé, Baja Mexico
Our first full week in Baja was every bit as magical as we might have hoped, and perhaps even more so— it was an incredible blend of secluded beaches whose quiet bays teemed with marine life, vibrant cactus gardens extending all the way to the water’s edge, ancient cobbled towns, and palm-fringed emerald lagoons. We can hardly wait to explore more!
What we’ve been up to this week
Bahía de Los Ángeles, Baja California
On Sunday, we awoke in Playa del Oro and drove back into San Felipe to walk along the beach before setting out early on our long drive to Bahía de Los Ángeles, where we planned to spend the next several days.
Delightfully, the drive took only 4.5hrs with stops (despite reports that it might take as much as 6hrs without) and the road was excellent, wrapping through the cactus-filled Valle de Cirios before finally spitting us into the sleepy but impossibly scenic town of Bahia de los Angeles in mid-afternoon.
Perhaps most ridiculous was one report I’d read that the drive to Bahía de los Ángeles was SO long and SO boring that you might wish to “stab yourself in the eye with a cactus thorn”.
Quite the opposite, Dan and I were glued to the windows the entire time, watching the landscape transform from sandy beach to thick desert, intrigued by the almost fantastical cirios (Boojum Trees) that rose like elephant tails between slender saguaros.
Upon arrival in Bahía de los Ángeles, we checked out the highly recommended Campo Archelon in town (a beachfront campsite with wifi, recycling, and a delicious on-site cafe), but weren’t terribly thrilled by the prospect of camping a few feet away from our many neighbours.
Instead, we ventured 10min down the road to Playa La Gringa and found the perfect free boondocking site, 100m+ from our nearest neighbours and situated on a more sheltered section of the bay that just begged to be kayaked and snorkelled in— which is exactly how we spent the next 4 days.
Truly, it’s hard to even begin to describe the magic of Bahía de los Ángeles. Parked only a few steps from the water’s edge, we awoke early every morning to a staggeringly beautiful sunrise, the water stretching like glass into the distance, beckoning us out at 6am to explore some new corner of the bay.
That exploration included strapping on sandals and venturing up and over the hill to discover more hidden beaches and aerial views of the crystal-clear water below, as well as taking our new inflatable kayak out to the point and jumping in with snorkels to glimpse the vibrant aquatic world right beneath us.
We saw stingrays gliding over the sand, colourful fish darting between the rocks, dolphins swimming gracefully on the horizon, and millions of hermit crabs & sea snails, their polished shells catching light and drawing us below the surface to investigate.
There was just as much activity above the water, dozens of pelicans putting on a grand show of diving beak-first into the water for fish, who responded in turn by leaping out of the water by the hundreds in perfect unison, their silver scales reflecting the sunlight like confetti exploding from a piñata.
I’d truly never seen anything like it, but perhaps best of all was heading out under the new moon and shining our flashlight into the waves, gasping as the same school of bait fish leapt from the water wherever we aimed our light— responding like a symphony orchestra to every flick of the conductor’s wrist.
Under the cover of darkness, the bait fish even disturbed bioluminescence and we soon found ourselves splashing around the shore at midnight just to see the bright green flecks of light flying like sparks. Pure magic.
For all the stress and long days involved in getting down to Baja, it’s been nothing but pure joy since we arrived, finally free to spend our days swimming, playing in the tide pools, or just reading in the sun.
When we headed into town on Tuesday to grab lunch at Siete Filos (the cafe at Campo Archelon) and use their wifi to do some trip planning for the coming week, we felt like new people, recharged from all our time outside and buoyed by the other wonderful vanlifers we’d already met, including Lance from Missouri who’d DIY converted a Promaster very similar to ours and was tentatively dipping his toe into international vanlife after a long trip through the US.
In fact, we owe much of our current success and happiness in Baja to new friends we’ve met along the way. We’ve learned about the best places to go and which spots to avoid, had neighbours mind our stuff while we drove into town, and even survived a rather unpleasant experience with the support of the people camped just behind us.
I won’t narrate the entire ordeal, but essentially a local man parked his car about 20m in front of our van one evening, which we thought was odd given the vast expanse of the beach available. He proceeded to sit in his car for an hour smoking something (we suspect crack, based on another similar story) before driving off, only to return 30min later and park about 10m from our van— this continued all through the evening, getting closer each time, until he finally pulled within a few feet of the front of our van around 2am.
There is NO reason to ever park this close to someone on an open beach, so we feared the worst— but we were locked in the van, and our neighbours, a lovely group of people from Escalante UT, were within shouting distance, so we assured ourselves that nothing bad could really happen.
Still, we anxiously peered out our curtains every 20min to see if he was there, finally catching a glimpse of something we didn’t want to see (illuminated by the light of a pipe, the man was aggressively masturbating). We hardly slept until he left at first light (around 5.30am), genuinely so confused as to why he’d choose to do that RIGHT in front of us.
I was reluctant to even recount this story for fear of painting an unfair portrait of Baja, which has been (in all other ways) a wonderful, special, and very safe place— but it was an important learning experience for us.
- We always sought secluded boondocking sites in the US, the farther from people the better, but in Mexico and all our travels south, we now know that we need to be within reasonable proximity of other campers.
- We also need to get in the habit of ALWAYS introducing ourselves to our neighbours, so that we can have their back and they can have ours— whether it’s shouting at a sketchy person poking around the van when we’re not there or being comfortable knocking on their door in the night for backup, knowing who’s camped nearby and being able to look out for each other could prevent a genuinely bad situation.
Had the family from Utah not set up their camp just behind us (about 20m away), we would have been far enough from every other camper up the beach (more than 100m) that no one would have heard us shouting over the wind & waves or come to investigate if we honked. We didn’t need to call for help in the end, but it was hugely comforting knowing that we could.
We hung out at the neighbouring camp for several hours the following morning, relaying all the weird details of what had just happened, and actually ended up moving closer for safety that night. All the men in the group were prepared to confront this guy if he came poking back around, but thankfully, he arrived while we were in town that afternoon trying to sell some dirty fish out of his car and was sent away firmly by our new friends.
As we all sat around their fire drinking and chatting later that evening, we were reminded yet again of the natural, effortless bond that forms between travellers— and of the safety in numbers. We slept like babies that night.
Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
Leaving beautiful Bahía de los Ángeles behind in the middle of the week (and yes, we are choosing to remember it for all its beauty rather than an isolated ugly encounter), we drove about 3.5hrs from Baja Norte into Baja California Sur, the southern (and only other) state that comprises that Baja Peninsula.
It was with great disappointment that we learned the whales were a full month “late” arriving to Guerrero Negro on the Pacific Coast— due to food scarcity, biologists believe the whales are now spending a longer winter up north— so we enjoyed a quiet night boondocking behind the sand dunes just outside of town before continuing along Highway 1 the next morning.
San Ignacio, Baja California Sur
Our next stop was in San Ignacio, a charming colonial-style town whose bright Misión and flower-covered lanes completely charmed us.
We caught up on some work (or, in Dan’s case, researched our next campsite), made a handsome new friend (who we contemplated cat-napping), and enjoyed a delicious lunch of fish tacos before scooting along to our final destination.
Our drive out of town and through the desert was absolutely beautiful, enormous clouds collecting over the peninsula’s only active volcano complex, Tres Virgenes.
Mulegé, Baja California Sur
Back on the Sea of Cortez (Baja’s east coast), we planned to spend a day in Mulegé— but enjoyed it so much that we ended up finishing the week here, camped near an adorable German family of 5 (@Old_German_Fire_Truck) at another incredible boondocking site right on the beach.
Once again, we woke with the sun each morning to wander on foot over the hills in search of interesting wildlife, shells, and rubbish (which Dan was collecting in an effort to clean up the beach).
As we ventured through the saguaro cactus that grew right up to the water here, we eventually spotted a bustle of activity off the coast— an enormous pod of dolphins was playing and jumping just out from the point!
We watched excitedly for about 30min before I finally insisted that we return to the van, inflate the kayak, and get in the water with the dolphins, who were still splashing in the same big cluster alongside dozens of sea birds.
The dolphins had finished jumping by the time we hit the water, but we easily paddled nearby and then sat in amazement as a pod of maybe 100 dolphins swam all around us, a chorus of exhales each time they surfaced and the occasional spout of water the only sound on an otherwise quiet morning.
It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed— and less than an hour later I was snorkelling with blow fish, in awe of how many incredible encounters we were having all from the quiet shores of our free campsite.
We spent 3 nights in total camped at Punta Prieta, leaving only once to drive into town and re-stock on some ingredients and a large stash of local tacos for a grand feast.
One of our favourite things when we arrive to a new spot is comparing local restaurants, so we certainly couldn’t pass up the opportunity to weigh-in on the ongoing debate for Mulegé’s best tacos— Asadero Dany vs Mario’s.
After careful consideration of no fewer than 4 restaurants, we agreed conclusively that Mario’s pescado tacos simply can’t be beat— in fact, they were the best fish tacos Dan or I had EVER had. I eagerly await the eatery that will top it in the coming weeks!
Finally, at the end of what was such an incredibly jam-packed week that I can hardly find room for all the photos in a single blog post… we drove up to the Misión de Mulegé to take in sweeping views of the emerald, palm-studded lagoon that wraps through town.
It’s entirely free to visit and there wasn’t another person there when we arrived, walking quickly up the somewhat dilapidated stone steps to the overlook— and gasping at the vibrant colours and incredible scenery beneath.
At every turn, Baja reveals a little more of its magic to us. And it’s safe to say we’re hooked.
Where we stayed this week
- Boondocking at Playa La Gringa in Bahía de los Ángeles, BN (free; 5-7 Dec)
- Boondocking in the sand dunes just outside of Guerrero Negro, BCS (free; 8 Dec)
- Boondocking at Punta Prieta 5km from Mulegé, BCS (free; 9-11 Dec)