K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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The Baja California Peninsula extends from Mexicali in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south, boasting 1,900 miles of coastline. While it’s known for its beautiful beaches and desert environment, there are soaring mountains, waterfalls, and abundant wildlife to discover on land and in the sea. If you’re looking for some of the most captivating places with lots of Instagrammable moments, these are some of the most beautiful destinations in Baja to put on your list.
Lovers Beach is one of Mexico’s most famous beaches, officially known as Playa del Amor, one side bordering the wilder Pacific while the other borders the calm Sea of Cortez. As it can only be reached by water, you’ll need to hop on a water taxi from the Cabo marina or Medano Beach across the clear azure waters, but that adventure is all part of the fun, with opportunities to view incredible rock formations, caves and marine life along the way. Once you arrive, enjoy relaxing on the golden sands or snorkeling among all sorts of tropical fish. Trips run every few minutes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – you’ll set the return time with your captain.
A popular day trip from La Paz, Playa Balandra often ranks among the most beautiful beaches in Mexico – in fact, USA Today named it No. 1 in the country. It offers powdery, soft, white sands that frame a stunning shallow turquoise lagoon that’s ideal for swimming or wading at low tide. Bring a picnic to enjoy under one of the palapas and swim or walk out to the unique mushroom-shaped rock that’s become the beach’s symbol. Stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking are possible here too. Paddle through the mangrove forest, looking down to see countless tiny, bright-colored fish darting through the roots of the trees.
If you want something stunning and remote, one of your best bets is Punta Arena, accessed by a bumpy dirt road about 35 minutes from La Ventana on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. The strip of white sandy beach rarely sees much traffic but it offers outstanding snorkeling and diving in incredibly clear blue waters among all sorts of tropical fish, dolphins and even flying mobula rays that leap as high as six feet out of the water around sunset. There are no facilities so you’ll need to bring food and drinks – during the summer months, you’ll want an umbrella for shade.
Located in the central part of the peninsula, San Ignacio is a small, pretty town with lots to offer. The gorgeous lagoon on the road is part of the Rio San Ignacio, one of the only two real rivers in all of Baja California Sur. It’s home to the San Ignacio Mission, founded by the Jesuits in 1728, worth visiting with its Baroque altar, wood and gold plate with seven religious oil paintings, while the river through offers activities like kayaking and swimming. A popular road trip stop in the Baja Peninsula, visitors can also explore the nearby aboriginal cave paintings, and during the winter months, join a whale-watching trip to the famous lagoons where the gray whales give birth to their calves every year.
The majority of Mexican wine is produced in the Guadalupe Valley in the Ensenada area of Baja, where Spanish colonialists brought vines over with them during the conquest. Wine production was continued by the area’s missionaries, a practice that continues today. The valley is covered with beautiful vineyards – even if you don’t drink wine, driving through makes for an incredibly scenic road trip. Of course, for wine enthusiasts, the valley boasts plenty of wineries for tours and tastings.
One of Mexico’s most underrated destinations, Todos Santos is just an hour north of Cabo San Lucas, but the beach here stretches for miles, and most of the time there are only a handful of people there. While the surf is too powerful for swimming, it’s the perfect place for a tranquil stroll, watching whales in the winter or just soaking up the sun. The colonial town itself is particularly charming with cobbled streets lined with all sorts of colorful art galleries and little boutiques in addition to offering a thriving food scene with a wide range of delicious eats.
Bahia Concepcion begins just south of the town of Mulege and stretches for just over 20 miles, offering some of the most dramatic scenery in Baja, complete with pristine white sand beaches and a bay boasting dazzling arrays of blues and greens while offering tranquil swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. Just some of the marine life you might encounter in the clear warm water include puffer fish, angelfish, green and brown moray eels, sweet lips, turtles, sea lions, manta rays, octopus and even whales. It’s the ultimate beach paradise for truly getting away from it all.
La Rumorosa is the section of the Sierra Juarez that descends from Tecate to the plains of Laguna Salada, stretching to Mexicali. Its name comes from the sound of the wind that whistles between the alien-like rock formations. The striking views over the rocky mountains in the distance and the majestic expanse of the Laguna Salada all the way to Mexicali, are some of the most impressive in Baja, with strategic lookouts along the way to enjoy them.
From the local fisherman’s beach, Punta Lobos, at the south end of Todos Santos, a coastal trail begins just behind the old turtle processing plant that will bring you to a variety of breathtaking views, including dramatic rocky outcroppings, the crashing waves of the Pacific, and dazzling emerald lagoons. From mid-December through early April, there’s a good chance you’ll see plenty of whale spouts and maybe even a breach or two. While you can hike longer if you choose, trekking to the Old Port and back takes about 90 minutes round trip – if you go at low tide you can enjoy a refreshing swim.
The Malecon in La Paz is a three-mile-long waterfront promenade lined with restaurants, cafes, bars, shops and all sorts of vendors on one side, and the Sea of Cortez on the other. Take a stroll, stopping at the pier to look in the clear water filled with colorful fish and check out all the sculptures, created by local, regional and national artists, most of which have a sea theme. The highlight of its beauty is the grand finale of any day, a glorious sunset.
Cabo Pulmo Underwater National Park, referred to as the “jewel of the East Cape region,” is one of the world’s best places for diving. It stretches for five miles from Pulmo Point to Los Frailes and is surrounded by undeveloped desert and soaring mountains. Discover idyllic beaches that give way to a calm, shallow bay that houses one of just three living reefs on the entire continent. There are multiple outfitters offering small group diving tours allowing you to experience this 20,000-year-old ecological treasure that holds many of the 800 marine species in the Sea of Cortez.
Magdalena Bay is filled with striking beauty and abundant wildlife from pelicans to whales. In fact, it’s best known for offering close encounters with gray whales that congregate here between mid-January and mid-April before heading north to Alaska on their annual migration. Lots of other creatures enjoy the shelter found here as well, including an abundance of sea birds seeking sanctuary in the large swathes of mangroves neighboring the bay.
Cascada Sol De Mayo offers an oasis in the desert, nestled at the base of the Sierra Laguna mountains. While it feels like it’s worlds away from the party crowds in Cabo, it’s just an hour’s drive north of the airport, providing a fabulous tranquil alternative for swimming. Visitors can leap 25 feet into the calm pool where a waterfall flows in by taking a short hike on a well-marked trail. While guided tours are available, it’s easily reached independently via Highway 1 – take the turn off to Santiago and watch for the Sol de Mayo and Waterfalls signs.
Located near Mulege in the San Francisco Mountains are Baja’s most impressive rock art pictographs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the paintings date back more than a thousand years – some are even more than 7,000 years old as found through carbon dating. There are about 250 caves, all located in El Vizcaino bioreserve, with drawings that depict humans and their rituals, animals and tools, believed to have been made by the Cochimí, indigenous inhabitants of Baja California.