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Plan the perfect trip

Following are sample itineraries featuring Ensenada’s highlights.  But be your own adventurer, and feel free to mix, match and come up with your own plan (and if it’s really good, share it on traveler reviews!)

Ensenada is often called “the friendly port,” offering a casual and unhurried environment that provides everything to make the traveler happy and comfortable.  With ocean, vineyards, hills and valleys – not to mention abundant possibilities for dining, shopping and recreation — it is an ideal destination for a day, weekend, week or month.  Here are some ideas for possible itineraries to enrich your visit to this area.

One-, Two- and Three-Day Itineraries

Arriving on a cruise ship?  Passing through town on your way to other Baja adventures?  Or just crossing the border for a quick day-trip to Ensenada and then back to the United States?  You’ll definitely wish you were staying longer, but even a one-day trip to this city can be packed with activities, sight-seeing, tastes, and shopping.  Here are just a few ideas:

Itinerary 1:  Downtown Ensenada


1. Start at the National Civic Plaza, memorable for its huge Mexico Flag.  This is a great meeting place, as the flag is visible from multiple locations throughout town.  Just near here is the main downtown Starbuck’s (which Americans say has better coffee than any Starbuck’s in the U.S.), but there are a number of fantastic coffee house alternatives nearby, as well.

2. A few blocks away is the Centro Artesanal, on the ocean-side of Costero Blvd.   This is a gallery not to be missed, with a fine selection of local indigenous art from the Paipai, Kiliwa and Kumiai Indians – including basketry and pottery – as well as Casas Grandes Pueblo Indian pottery.

3. Cross Costero Blvd., and head to the Riviera del Pacific Cultural and Convention Center (this is a preferred location for local weddings and fiestas) and to CEARTE (the modern state art museum).

4. Go to Lopez Mateos street, the shopping district for everything from silver, to arts and crafts (especially Day of the Dead arts), and more.  Make sure to visit Fausto Polanco to see what true artisan hacienda-style furniture is all about.

5.  Refreshments?  Near the corner of Lopez Mateos are three must-dos:  Mango Mango (mango margaritas), the original Hussongs Cantina, and Ultramarino (best tempura oysters in Baja).

6.  Visit the Mercado Negro – the black market for fish, which is on the waterfront.  This is photographer’s paradise, with long aisles of exotic crustaceans and gleaming fresh fish all being hawked by fishermen and noisy vendors.

7.  Late lunch or dinner?  Try Muelle Tres and their menu degustacion, a sampling of things from the ocean, for a 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. meal.  And for dinner the choices are broad:  Everything from El Charro, which offers inexpensive family eating and fresh-off-the-spit rotisserie chickens, to El Rey Sol that offers elegant French dining.

Itinerary 2 — La Bufadora

Photo by Lynn Gatch, the Estero

From the port area or from downtown Ensenada, you can sign-up with a bus or taxi tour that will take you about an hour south of town to the famous La Bufadora, the blow-hole that is one of few in the world.  The cost varies, but generally a taxi will run around $50, and bus tours are less ($12-15).  The drive to La Bufadora is interesting, taking you through farmlands (where much of Ensenada’s organic produce is grown) and along part of the estuary that is home to grey heron, giant egrets, mussel shoals and more.  Visitors disembark at the edge of town, to pass through the gauntlet of stalls and shops that guard the way to the blow-hole.  Sounds daunting, however, it is an entertaining walk and some of the curio stores feature wonderful folk art, fabrics and more.  Not to be missed are the grilled clams that can be purchased at food stalls.

Itinerary 3 — The Wine Country

A car is ideal, but there are taxis, shuttles and busses that can be arranged to take you on a wine-and-food gastonomic tour of Mexico’s Wine Country, the Valle de Guadalupe.  Prices will vary depending on the number of wineries visited and stops made.  This area is about 20 minutes from the city of Ensenada, on Highway 3 Ensenada-Tecate.  Today, much like Napa Valley, most of the wine region is encompassed in a valley created by Highway 1 that runs along the southern hillsides and the ‘free road’ that  parallels it, to the north.  It is an area that could involve even two and three days to visit, but a day-trip will allow you to stop at some of the major wine venues, and eat along the way.  In this itinerary, recommended stops right off the main road might be Liceaga winery, Casa de Piedra winery (tours only by appointment), Tres Mujeres winery, and a lunch stop at Laja restaurant (open Thurs.-Sun.).  In the afternoon, journey to LA Cetto winery (Mexico’s largest) at the southeast end of the Valle de Guadalupe and make a fun stop at the winery right next door, Doña  Lupe.  There you can sample a platter of olives and cheeses while you sip the rich wine produced by Doña Lupe’s son, Daniel.

Leaving via the LA Cetto dirt road, you head back towards Ensenada, turning off the main highway into the humming  little hamlet of Francisco Zarco, home to the Russian Community Museum with memorablia of the early settlers in the wine valley.  This road guides you to Monte Xanic (pronounced Shaneek) winery and Chateau Camou, both perched on hillsides and with beautiful grounds and tasting rooms.  Further along, you enter Ejido Porvenir.  Ejido Porvenir is home to La Escuelita (the little wine school), and is also your gateway to some of the Valle’s most outstanding wineries:  Adobe Guadalupe (also an elegant bed & breakfast), Baron Balche, Bibayoff and others.  At the corner where this road intersects with the ‘free’ road, is the JC Bravo wine-tasting room.  Once you have partaken, turn left on the road and head west, back towards Ensenada.  Keep watch for the “La Villa del Valle” signs that will steer you off the paved road and onto a dirt track, bisecting the valley.  Eventually, you will come to what is arguably the most innovative and trendy winery, restaurant and bed & breakfast in Ensenada.  La Villa del Valle is a country retreat, Corazon de Tierra is a cutting-edge eatery, and Vena Cava is Phil Gregory’s most unusual wine tasting room and cava.

After visiting here, you return to the dirt track and continue heading south, ultimately rejoining Highway 3 to Ensenada.

Itinerary 3 – A Visit to Ojos Negros and the Cheese Cave

Just 30 minutes east of Ensenada, on Highway 3 to San Felipe, is the agricultural town of Ojos Negros.  The road to this quiet burg is winding and hilly, leading you through scrub-oak canyons and rock terrain.  Most interesting are the boulders just outside of Ojos Negros that are painted in spiritual and/or whimsical fashion.  There is one with huge black eyes (Ojos Negros translates to ‘black eyes’), another with a fanciful alligator and yet another depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe.  Shortly thereafter, you dip onto the high valley floor and continue several miles down the highway.  On your left, you will see a steel warehouse structure and several small signs that are posted on the fence.  One of those signs that says ‘Cave de Quesos’ will point you down a paved road.  From that point, continue approximately 7 kilometers (the road will become a dirt road), following the ‘Cave de Quesos’ signs.  Eventually, you will come to Rancho La Campana, owned by Marcelo Castro Ramonetti, an oasis of tall green trees, black and white cows, and rolling fields.

Tours are by appointment and only on weekends, but a visit to the Ramonetti cheese tasting room is an Ensenada highlight.  Marcelo makes European-style, aged cheeses that have become famous throughout Mexico.  Even better, on Sundays, you can arrange to have a picnic under the oak trees, following your tour.  Marcelo and his family will grill up rib-eye steaks, duck breast or other seasonal menu items to your order.