All of the Best Camping in Baja California
A different world, environmentally and culturally, thrives daily beneath the sun just south of the United States. It’s a land of fish tacos and dirt roads, exotic birds and endless summers.
For those adventure seekers ready to roll down the windows and rock their rigs south of the border, Baja California is often the sights first set. Instagram photos promising free camping along endless beaches leave every RV dreaming of selling everything and rusting away in some sleepy town where neither the tortillas nor the sunshine ever ends.
Sometimes described as “Mexico Light,” whether you’re just looking to get warm for the winter or thinking Baja might be a good place to get your toes wet before exploring Mexico’s mainland, this peninsula sandwiched between the mighty crash of the Pacific and calmer waters of the Sea of Cortez makes for guaranteed adventure and as much peace and quiet as you can shake a Tecate at.
That said, let’s take a drive through Baja California, stopping at every Mexican nook and Spanish cranny worth visiting along the way.
There are two ways to head into the heart of Baja, either from San Diego and down along the Pacific Coast, or along the Sea of Cortez, where your first beachside stop will no doubt be San Felipe. With its relatively sleepy oceanfront district full of locals selling their day’s catch out of coolers and restaurants where instead of free chips and salsa they dole out heaping helpings of clams, this coastal village offers a vacation experience without fattening their prices to meet their American visitor’s wallet size.
Beyond the oceanfront neighborhood, San Felipe is a bustling town with the last “big grocery store” you’ll find for hundreds of miles. La Palapa RV Camp, with its picturesque beachfront palapas (basically little shelters often equipped with a table and in this case, RV hookups) and walkable distance to town, makes for the perfect place to get away from town–and grow accustomed to Mexico’s take on the toilet and what passes for a hot shower.
South of San Felipe, Puertocitos offers a similar experience but adds to it a hot spring where the water’s temperature changes from frigid to scalding as it mixes with varying degrees of the sea during low and high tide.
This slew of ramshackle palapas, some in further states of decay than others, is your next best chance to lose your feet in the sand and let the days float away. The small village nearby offers another restaurant priced so well you’ll wonder if the only thing keeping you from throwing away your kitchen is the somewhat long walk along the beach to get there — though it’s a kick looking at everyone’s more permanent palapa and beach house setups, imagining the sheer number of American retirees who’ve tipped an ocean’s worth of Coronas back as they make the most of their social security.
The longevity of your stay will mostly depend on your level of comfort with what you’ve brought with you. Showers are nowhere to be found and your personal needs otherwise will be at the mercy of not oft cleaned outhouses, some tipped over, while a gas station back on the highway serves as your primary source of goods outside of the restaurant in town.
Bahia de los Angeles
Archelon is what you see on the cover of a magazine. – Van Tramp
Farther south along MX-1’s highway journey leading us into longer and longer days, out of the way Bahia de los Angeles affords picturesque oceanfront living for less than $10 USD per night.
The road to Campo Archelon less traveled indeed, it is a place less suited to RVs–and perhaps downright impossible for all but the most intrepid of Class A drivers–than those in vans and truck campers. While basic amenities like bathrooms are available, cell service (and access to the Internet in general) will have been left behind miles before and you’ll need to spend your time enjoying paradise in its stead.
After the endless stretch of MX-1 that serves as a gas desert and leaves more than a few travelers who didn’t fill up stranded, the relatively small town of Guerrero Negro seems like a metropolis.
Indeed, the sheer number of mechanics alone shows how valued a destination these streets are to the greater area, and its main corridor is flitting with restaurants, tallers (ie, workshops) of all professions and places to replenish your water stores. Cell service fills the spaces between brightly painted, often crumbling, homes and stores.
While camping is available in town at a restaurant’s parking lot, stock up for a few days worth of beach camping and head to Laguna Ojo de Liebre–a national preserve of sorts–where a one time admission price allows you to camp for as long as your stash can support you.
Grey whales come here to raise their babies in the calm, safe waters of the bay. You can hire a tour guide to set you and your party to sea where you may spot these mamas breach or if you’re lucky, come up to your small boat and allow you to pet them.
There’s a small museum and restaurant onsite as well, though it’s not walking distance from the camping area.
Desierto de Vizcaíno
A small peninsula reaches westward into the Pacific Ocean from Guerrero Negro, where dirt roads and fishing poles are likely see more desert pronghorns than cars going by.
Campo Sirena, the mermaid, is little more than a few square yards of sand and a small shack, but its yet another perfect place to do nothing but soak up the Mexican culture as you explore Baja. While the view of the beach is immediately blocked by some homes, a short walk will get you around them to see the horseback vaqueros riding their four legged friends down the beach.
The town doesn’t offer much in the way of groceries or other services, and cell service is just plentiful enough to drive you crazy waiting for a Google search to load.
Leaving the Vizcaíno desert, Campo Rene feels like a cross between the resort from Dirty Dancing and a Mexican summer camp. Osprey and pelicans careen through the spaces between where the clearest sky meets the riparian wetlands while dolphins jump out of the water to break their shadows. A restaurant with a large porch or a short walk to the sea provide escape from what is otherwise a small parking space for your campsite, while more local families ride bicycles or ATVs to pass the time.
The highlight of this next small village along your way is a small square, lined with thrift stores and convenience stores, all bowing to a large church at the end of the park filling the middle. Something closer to forest camping can finally be found along the palm tree lined river that flows through town, particularly at Campo Los Petates, where waterfowl and Europeans setting up tents after a long day on motorcycles will be your neighbors.
If you have begun to fall more in love with the curious commonality that is camping in restaurant parking lots while traveling through Baja, the amusingly named Rice & Beans RV Park will leave you laughing at its concept of an “RV park,” but if you don’t mind yet another parking space with a restaurant–and in this place’s case, a swimming pool–attached, you’re in full on business here.
Rolling down a hill with single lane streets full of locals going about their daily life, Mulege feels more like visiting someone’s hometown than a vacation destination, yet it has more places to camp than anywhere else we’ve visited on this tour to date.
It can be thought of as the gateway to the Bahia de Concepcion, a vast expanse of nothing but gorgeous just far enough south that you won’t likely make the trip back to Mulege all that often. Luckily, the town can fill days, if not weeks, worth of exploring and offers more traditional RV camping such as Huerta Don Chano RV Park, or find yourself a spot in the grass and pick your own oranges at Ray’s RV Park & Resort (sadly, Ray is no longer with us, but his wife drives a shrewd bargain these days). They even provide the means to squeeze them if, perhaps, you brought some champaign and the morning is calling for mimosas. You’ll likely have the place to yourself in the winter, but come summer its pool serves as a major hotspot for locals looking to cool off.
Bajia de Concepcion
Just as no doubt you’ve come in search of pristine beach camping in Baja California, so have troves of Canadians, Americans and Europeans as well. Somehow, it seems, they all end up here. Perhaps because it’s the first most beautiful, most accessible place with ample camping — both free and cheap. Its proximity to Mulege and otherwise sheer force of nature at its sexiest leave its shores well stocked with retirees, travelers and those northerners who’ve decided to call Mexico home permanently. This phenomenon has resulted in a small herd of places to stop and sip cold cervezas, wandering ice cream trucks at full on boondocking spots, and a beautiful mix of languages from around the world mingling with the waves lapping against the sand.
Find a palapa to hang your hammock at Playa El Burro, where you can sip margaritas at the adjacent bar by night and rent snorkeling and kayaking gear by day, or pull up a parking brake somewhere a bit less conspicuous, such as La Perla.
Puerto San Carlos
Crossing Baja from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean, Villas Mar y Arena positions itself perfectly at the crossroads of Middle of Nowhere and Somewhere Everybody Goes. At least, that’s what it seems, as the restaurant portion of this tiny resort is always packed with locals taking their time with a meal and foreigners from around the globe alike enjoying a beverage on the shaded patio. High and low tides are dramatic here, as is the sunset. San Carlos itself has plenty to refill your coffers or try a different restaurant than the one offered at Mar y Arena.
As to camping, you can purchase electric for a small additional fee, but you’ll just be running an extension cord to a normal plug on the patio, and otherwise your spot is typically only just large enough for you to pull in and out of. Luckily, there’s no shortage of seating at the restaurant or beachfront.
Our travels take us back to the gulf side of Baja (the Sea of Cortez is also known as the Gulf of California) and south to the largest city we’ve seen since entering Baja, Loreto. It’s a common stop for those traveling through this stretch of earth, and Riviera del Mar RV Park rarely sees an empty night. Positioned in a part of town that allows for easy walking to many of the city’s attractions, from trinket shops to the former capitol buildings (as this was the region’s original capital) to, and you won’t find this in most of Baja, a restaurant serving craft beer.
While much of Loreto is still very much a traditional Mexican town, the beachfront area is the first truly built up resort town like one might be expecting as their southern travels lead them closer to Cabo. All around, it’s a great place to get some much needed laundry done, fill up your water and stock up the pantry for more reclusive locations once you leave town.
For those of you with daring spirits, stalwart vehicles, and a steady hand (four wheel drive wouldn’t be the worst idea either), a twisting dirt road through the desert transforms into a steep and rocky one down to the beachside village of Agua Verde, where a few homes and a small building painted bright Pacifico awaits anyone who bothers to make the journey. The beach here is lined with cliffs, sailboats moored far out to sea and few other neighbors to notice. It’s unfortunately covered in trash, but if we all take a moment to pack a bag or ten, perhaps those of us visiting can help inspire something in whoever’s leaving the garbage here, in one of Mexico’s national parks.
Should the roof of your rig be crowned with a surfboard or two, El Conejo is a popular spot where the ocean crashes just so that no less than four score and seven board shorts worth of Californians can be found catching waves, waiting to catch waves, and sitting on the beach, sandy toes, talking about the waves they did or didn’t catch that day.
There are three parts to this beachy camp. The northern section, where most of the campsites are located within tall coastal foliage is your only chance at shade and comes with a primitive shower. The hot spot for surfers, both literally and in that groovy surfer way, lies in the middle and you’ll find most folks who hang ten doing so there. A third, more southerly area is significantly more remote and perhaps the only free portion of this stretch of sand named for the rabbits you’re unlikely to see.
This city’s name means “Peace,” and while it has a reputation for being higher in crime than much of the rest of Baja California Sur, most of that crime will never be seen by traveling RVers. The malecon, that is, the area along the water in the center of town, provides a range of dining experiences from taco dives to upscale Mexican, American tourist traps to an Applebees and a boardwalk dividing it all from the water. This will be the first town you’ll find a Walmart and a McDonalds. You can also catch the ferry here, headed to the mainland, should your desires lead you farther south than just Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo.
Should you be the walking type, Aquamarina RV Park provides gated camping with hookups, near the water and not terribly far from town, either.
A Christian summer camp allows RVers similar amenities, but driving distance to town. However, given Campestre Maranatha’s religious bent, activities such as loud late parties or last night’s beer cans strewn around your morning campsite will not be tolerated. Its nicer than usual bathrooms, laundry and swimming pool more than make up for such a shortcoming, should you perceive it that way.
North of town, beyond where one might grab the ferry, Cafe on the Beach provides a sort of mini-resort experience where camping in the parking lot is permitted, while Playa Tecolote does so on a larger scale and with endless, free camping.
Arguably home to the Hotel California, Todos Santos is famous for its abundance of little art shops, many of which are filled with work from artists native to lands farther north and prone to speak English. For a traveler having spent enough time in Baja to make it this far by car, you’ll notice that it’s particularly more populated with American and Canadian vacationers, and the prices have been adjusted accordingly.
This has lead to multiple upscale restaurants featuring fare you will likely be happy to partake of after what is often a pretty redundant menu in the smaller towns of Baja. Pizza, crafty tequila and lattes can all be found here.
While there is camping in Todos Santos proper, the free camping north of town at La Pastura tends to attract the most travelers.
Cabo San Lucas is everything you might expect from a Mexican beach destination. A thriving town honking with traffic and every amenity you can imagine, including an upscale marina area, complete with microbrewery and fancy shopping mall, and endless stretches of packed beaches hanging onto the bottom of Baja California.
Los Cabos is also home to a very small place one can camp. Cabo Surf Safari provides electricity to plug into and access to a bathroom with shower. Owned by the son of the family which runs the entire block and his wife, (an American woman from Oregon), their home serves as a hostel, and their driveway a campground for one or two very small vehicles (think vans and truck campers, maybe a short Class C.) There’s plenty to do within walking distance and cabs are easily hailed in the city.
The other Cabo, San José del Cabo, is a more typical city with a historic area worth visiting as well.
Rounding the tip of the peninsula will bring you to Los Barilles, a sloped town that’s become quite popular with northerners, featuring a real RV park with amenities and free camping alike.
Los Barilles Beach is an easy walk through the sand to oceanside restaurants and the small town itself, where no shortage of shops selling Mexican rugs and jewelry, tacos and cerveza, mechanics and a FedEx location await.
Martin Verdugo’s Beach Resort is a more typical RV park, still oceanfront (though not the sites), with a nice pool to boot, while Playa Norte RV Park is more laid back and tends to attract the hippier side of life to its parking spots.
Whether you’ve come to avoid the cold of the north (and the crowds of the American southwest in the winter) or to experience the joys of our neighbors to the south, Baja is the perfect place to brush up on your Spanish, make a few friend or two in your native language and experience what traveling outside of the United States is like without needing a boat to get there all while truly experiencing a radically different culture. The Mexican people tend to be kind, patient and happy to help, and in return most travelers learn to extend the same courtesies to their hosts, making Baja a particularly enjoyable place to slow down and smell the seaweed for awhile.