Baja California’s raw beauty and stunning contrasts draws visitors year-round. Most common is the entry point at Tijuana, just south of San Diego. While convenient to accessing the area’s coastal towns of Puerto Nuevo, Roasarito and Ensenada, the border crossing is large and somewhat confusing, and drivers need to be quick on their toes to catch the right road out of town. Coming back into the United States this crossing can be a nightmare, with wait times of 2-3 hours often being the norm.
Instead of accessing the region via Tijuana, try a trip into Baja via tiny Tecate. About an hour east of Tijuana, the crossing is one of the smallest on the entire US-Mexico border. Tecate makes a great gateway into the heart of Baja and draws visitors interested in visiting the region’s famous wine country, Valle de Guadalupe.
Tecate in and of itself makes a great stopover for a quick taste of everyday life in Mexico with a grand Central Square and park where you can often enjoy live music and various community events. Traditional taquerias (taco shops) dot the streets and one of the best is Los Amigos with two locations in town. For just a few dollars, sample some of the best Carne Asada (grilled beef) you will have anywhere prepared either as a taco or quesadilla. Los Amigos specializes in Carne Asada and all their beef is cooked fresh over an open grill throughout the day.
Just outside the main part of town is the iconic Rancho La Puerta resort and spa. For more than 60 years this oasis has drawn visitors for healing treatments, delicious vegetarian cuisine, spa services, hiking and classes. If you can’t commit to one of the ranch’s multi-day packages, several “Saturdays at the Ranch” one-day sessions are offered throughout the year.
Journey a bit out of town on Highway 3 and park your bags at Rancho Tecate, one of the oldest hotel and resort properties in Baja. Originally started as a ranch nearly 200 years ago, the property offers equestrian activities, a vineyard and rolling hills perfect for a morning hike.
Rancho Tecate makes a great base for exploring the Valle de Guadalupe, which starts just 30 minutes south. Wander between the region’s more than 50 wineries and sample varietals such as Nebbiolo and Grenache, reminiscent of wineries in Spain or Italy. As an added bonus, the wines of this region are extremely affordable with many fine bottles available for under $20.
Two of the valley’s most well-know names are L.A. Cetto, a landmark winemaker originally founded in 1928 and Las Nubes, which means ‘the clouds’ in Spanish. The sprawling patio overlooking the valley at Las Nubes makes a wonderful pit stop and you can enjoy an artisanal cheese plate with locally-sourced products as you try various offerings.
You can map your Baja wine tasting adventure with some of the various maps and guides now available such as Discover Baja: http://www.discoverbaja.com/baja-california-information/cityregion-guide/valle-de-guadalupe/.
After a day enjoying the lush landscape and rolling hills of Baja, take the paved and well-maintained Highway 3 back up to Rancho Tecate and enjoy a meal in their fantastic dining room, again featuring locally-sourced meats and cheeses. Rooms are spacious and comfortable and depending on the season, can easily be booked for less than $100/night.
Best of all, when you are finished with this Baja getaway, simply hop back on Highway 3 right back into Tecate, follow a few turn signs and you can be back over the border into California quicker than the time it took to read this article!
About the author: Aimee Cebulski
Author Aimee Cebulski has been furiously catching up on lost time as a traveler after a five-year battle with fear of flying grounded her dreams of visiting far-flung destinations in her mid-20s. Now, she’s proud to have 52 stamps in her passport and considers each new one a triumph over fear.
She’s worked as a freelance writer and photographer for almost 15 years and currently calls San Diego, California home. Her work has been featured in a number of travel, business and lifestyle magazines, web sites and photo galleries. She recently combined her love of travel, new cultures and writing with release of The Finding 40 Project (www.finding40.net), a book about women turning 40 years old around the world.
Always encouraging friends and families to follow their adventurous spirit, she believes strongly in the eye-opening power of travel and can’t wait for her next destination, whatever it may be!
After returning from a volunteer trip to Cambodia in 2008, she organized and hosted a photo exhibition of her work called “Photography Works,” which raised more than $2,000 to fund water programs for The Trailblazer Foundation and Imagine Ankgor.