The sun doesn’t set here, it explodes. It explodes in a vibrant spectrum of technicolor, igniting the imagination and rekindling an otherwise faded spark internal. The expansive freedom of this big kid’s playground seems near limitless. A five-minute drive from San Diego transports visitors to a unique cultural experience. While not a comprehensive telling, the following is a list of knowledge gained and lessons learned during five months traversing the 1,000 mile long land mass of Baja, Mexico.

I chose to drive from Tijuana to Cabo and back up, crossing back into the United States via Tecate. To be experienced properly, at least two weeks should be allotted for such an excursion. You can make the round trip drive in under five days but you would miss pretty much everything. If you are not in close proximity to the border, there is the one way option. Fly into San Jose Del Cabo, rent a vehicle (read Jeep), and return it at the Tijuana airport. If you do not have that kind of time, my suggestion is a flight into San Jose Del Cabo followed by a road trip loop through the southern aspect of the peninsula known as Baja California Sur or BCS.

Danger/ Crime/ Local Scams:

Danger seems to be the first thing on most American’s minds when traveling through Mexico is mentioned. The Baja peninsula is a relative safe zone from the cartel violence of mainland Mexico. In the five months I spent traversing up and down the 1,000 mile strip, I never once felt as though I was in danger. Violent crimes against travelers are very rare and more often than not come about as a result of very poor decision-making. If you are looking for drugs and prostitutes at 3am in ANY city in the world your chances of giving up more than your dignity increases exponentially.

Crimes of opportunity are prevalent. Don’t leave your wetsuit drying on your roof rack while you spend an hour in the mercado and you won’t have to buy a new one. If you leave your flip-flops on the beach while going for a surf, they may not be there when you get back. Don’t leave your laptop unattended at the coffee shop when using el bano. The general thought is, if you have enough money to carelessly leave stuff laying around, then you shouldn’t have a problem replacing it.

There are two primary levels of police that you will encounter, federal and municipal. I was pulled over by two federal police officers outside of the airport. When I asked in Spanish why I was pulled over they said that they didn’t need a reason. When I was polite and explained that I am a writer traveling through they shook my hand and left. When I was pulled over by municipal police a couple of months before that, they all but demanded that I “pay my fine on the spot.” Again, I was courteous and explained my situation. The scam they like to use is threatening to take your license to the courthouse forcing you to retrieve it the following day and pay your fine. They are banking on the fact that you don’t want to shift your plans. They aren’t really allowed to take your license so you can call their bluff and offer to pay “a lesser fee” right there. Depending on your infraction you will likely end up paying between 200 and 1,000 pesos ($15-$70 US dollars.)

Two general rules for traveling through Baja (and most foreign countries) to avoid unnecessary potential danger are simple: Don’t drive at night and don’t let the gas tank drop below half full. I won’t drive through most parts of Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City after dark on empty and I won’t do it in Mexico.

Explore Baja: Everywhere You Should Be