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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Biggest Bass

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Biggest Bass

The closest most anglers along Baja California’s Pacific coast ever get to catching a member of the tropical grouper family is when they have hooked one of their distant cousins, such as a calico bass or cabrilla. Up until the mid-1960s, however, there were healthy stocks of giant black sea bass (Stereolepis Gigas) thriving in the rocky lairs along coastal islands such as Islas Coronados off Rosarito Beach, and Todos Santos, which lies a few miles west of Ensenada Harbor.

Sadly, abusive harvesting over a period of many years took a heavy toll on larger members of this slow growing species. North of the border, protective moratoriums were eventually enacted to save this valuable resource, and have been in place for several decades.

The good news is that Baja California still supports a viable number of these fish, particularly around the volcanic islands located in the mid to upper portion of the Sea of Cortez. This type of angling is the specialty of the Mothership panga fishing businesses operating out of San Felipe.

Baja's biggest bass

Juvenile black sea bass have spots, which eventually disappear by the time they reach 80 pounds or so. Mature fish can weight out between 400 and 600 pounds. Image: K&M Sportfishing

Today, juvenile black sea bass are occasionally being caught in California waters, and although they must still be released immediately, it is a sign that bodes well for the future of this valuable species.

Another positive indication of the healthy population increase of giant black sea bass in southern California waters is the growing number of sightings from observers who have seen them swimming just off Southland beaches, as well as escalating incidental catches being reported by commercial sportfishers in the region.

On the Pacific side of the peninsula, the waters off of Bahia San Quintin are still a well-known haunt for giant black sea bass. Proceeding south, grouper populations begin to increase, particularly around rocky structures. This fact adds to the ultimate challenge of catching and actually landing one.

Baja's biggest bass

Captain Kelly Catian of K&M Sportfishing out of Bahia San Quintin
shows off two of Baja’s biggest bass.

One of the most effective techniques for catching a large grouper involves a lot of teamwork and cooperation. The skipper positions the boat within 50 yards of a likely grouper hole, and then places the engine in neutral. The angler then drops over a sturdy bottom rig connected to an 80 to 100 pound test fluorocarbon leader, which is baited with a live mackerel. The line is kept tight with the weight on the bottom until the angler detects a pick up. At this precise moment the angler alerts the skipper to hit it, at which time he throws the boat into gear and immediately pulls away from the spot until the fish is too far from its rocky cavern to return. Once a big grouper is allowed to lodge itself back into its home, it is almost impossible to extricate.

When fishing for them, however, it is extremely important to release the smaller ones as soon as they are caught so that they may have the opportunity to leisurely grow into big ones. As an example, black sea bass weighing 30 pounds or less should be returned to the water. While you may not be used to releasing such a good eating fish of this size, it should be remembered that this species is capable of eventually growing to weights of up to 700 pounds.

Admittedly, when it comes to elegant table fare, there is nothing quite as delightful as a large, thick fillet of black sea bass, or mero, as it is referred to in Baja California. Its flesh is firm, white and delicate, with a flavor that has occasionally been compared with fine shellfish. Bake it, sauté it in garlic butter or grill it over mesquite. The fact of the matter is, unless you overcook it, this is one type of fish that is difficult to prepare improperly.

Catching and landing one of these huge groupers can be the angling experience of a lifetime. But even while fishing for them legally in Mexican waters, it is still important to always let your conscience be your guide. is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at


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Off the Beaten Track: Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), Where the Old West Never Died

By Carla White
Rancho Meling, where the old west never dies!

Rancho Meling, where the old west never dies!

For me, Thanksgiving has always been a time to wrap myself in the comfortable blanket of tradition. Someone’s tradition, anyway. To explain, I grew up all over the world — I really don’t have my own family holiday customs and patterns. So, my idea of tradition easily morphs from a vision of Waterford crystal and bone china in Connecticut, to a pit-roasted wild boar in Australia, to kebabs and tabouli in Lebanon. Luckily, there are always friends and loved ones to share the ‘comfortable blanket’ with me, and 2012 was no different as, on Thanksgiving morning, three of us set off in the truck and headed south down Highway 1 from Ensenada to create yet another new tradition. Journeying about 3-3.5 hours, we cut inland at the rough-hewed burg of San Telmo (about eight miles south of Colonet), to head towards San Pedro de Mártir. Our destination: the famous Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), where the old west never died. Just 45 minutes from the main road (not always the smooth-paved route that now exists), we arrived, the rancho clearly marked by a big green fancy sign proclaiming the name, and indicating that rooms, food and even big toilets would be available. Who could want for more? We gave thanks.

We gave thanks to be at Rancho Meling

Just to be clear, I didn’t coin that phrase:  ‘Rancho Meling, Where the Old West Never Died’.  It is the name of a book written by Paul Sanford and published by the Naylor Company (Book Publisher of the Southwest).  It was written back in 1968, but my suspicion is that things at Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), haven’t changed all that much.  Now you can read about the history of the ranch in the book or find blips about it online. There’s some romance, for sure, and ultimately Meling Ranch is the result of a marriage that took place between two pioneering families who came to northern Baja in the early 1900s, the Melings and the Johnsons.   Today, there remain remnant structures of that era, even though the ranch was destroyed in the 1911 revolution and later rebuilt. It still encompasses 10,000 acres on a small stream in the foothills of Sierra San Pedro de Martir.  Its access to water means that aspen trees thrive, as do gardens and fruit trees (and an amazing hybrid walnut/pecan tree) thrive that have been lovingly tended over the years.  It is an oasis in the harsh lomas and high desert of the region.

Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch) is perfect for families, for relaxing, and for outdoor activities.

Young proprietor of Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch) Christian Meling welcomes visitors to this tranquil, gentle place, sometimes with his wife Emily, and their daughters Edna and Emily.  After checking into simple and basic rooms (there are approximately 10, and two family cabins) with very comfy beds, that are spotlessly clean, most equipped with pot-bellied stoves that — take it from one who is challenged — are easy to light, and small gas lamps for when the generators turn off at around 9 p.m., it is time to explore the grounds.  What fun!  Rancho Melingis still a big cattle ranch, but there are pigs, and goats, and turkeys (ps–our Thanksgiving bird came from CostCo), and quail, and all kinds of farm creatures guaranteed to create some photo opps.  There are swings, and a swimming pool, and the sense of a hundred summer-times echo here as all is drenched in late afternoon sunlight, buzzing bees and occasionally the distant sound of ranchero music from the workers’ ranch house.

Chilaquiles, a breakfast fave at Meling Ranch

Foods at Rancho Meling offers a lot to be thankful about, as well.  In true ranchero style, they are basic but delicious and perfectly seasoned and filling on a chill November night.  The roast turkey (that turned into succulent chilaquiles for breakfast) was accompanied by homemade frijoles (beans), hot rolls and gravy, Olga’s amazing turkey stuffing that added just a hint of black olive, and two kinds of apple pie.  Set in the lodge (which ever reminds me of the Ponderosa Ranch) with a roaring fire blazing in the ample stone fireplace, and bright conversation by strangers who all bathed in the glow of Rancho Meling’s hospitality, nothing could have been be more homey, more warming and more traditional.

The National Observatory in Baja California is shared by scientists throughout the world.

Lulled to sleep by the distant cries of coyotes, and nudged awake by the crackly sounds of roosters and chickens, we all felt embers of excitement start to burn in anticipation of a day of exploration, knowing that the evening would bring more of Rancho Meling’s coziness and comfort.  So, what to do? Over the morning meal, Christian explained the array of diversions available in this remote and fascinating part of Baja.  First, it is important to know that the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir is one of the peninsular ranges of Baja, and the highest peak is the Picacho del Diablo, at 10,157 ft, also called Cerro de la Encantada.  It is the highest point in Baja California and in all of Baja, and on a clear day, both the Sea of Cortezand the Pacific Ocean can be seen.  In fact, it is so high that it can be seen from as far away as Sonora, Mexico.  This area is also home to the National Observatory (9,280 ft) which was built in 1975 and hosts scientists from around the world to take advantage of the region’s altitude, low humidity, clear skies, lack of residual ambient light and low atmospheric pollution to observe activity in the universe.

Entering San Pedro de Martir National Park

To get to the observatory for our tour (Fernando, a government engineer at the facility guided us), we entered the National Park at a cost of around $5 per person.  And what a national park!  The only true pine forest in Baja, this fantastic area of pine- and boulder-studded mountain in the heart of Baja offers diverse wildlife, hiking trails (for the die-hards, the Altar trail is a must-do–about 2.5 miles each way, but pretty much straight up), vistas, and more.  There is even a museum, that hopefully will be open soon.

California Condor

There is a California Condorviewing area, too, which is part of a larger multinational project spearheaded by the Baja California Condor Release Project.  The condors are not always in sight, but when they are, it is a magnificent opportunity to experience and give thanks for the grandeur of nature.

Artifacts of the past are everywhere at Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), bringing a feeling of the ranches western history alive.

Back at the ranch, there are other things to do, including signing up with Christian for a 4-day or longer trail ride through the forest.  Riders can hire horses or a burro for the trek, camping at spots along the way.  It is obvious that this is one of Christian’s favorite ways to show off the region — as he talks about camping in the evenings, and the animals that can be seen along the way, his eyes sparkle with enthusiasm.  No takers in my group…at least, not this time.  Or you can just hop around the property on horse- or burro-back, after a relaxing nap in one of the tree-shaded hammocks.  Exploring, fishing, swimming, off-roading:  It’s all fun, but the seductive thing about Rancho Meling is the sense of the past and a quiet atmosphere that makes you glad there is no WiFi, no cell service and no television.  A game of cards on the porch, with a cold beer or a steaming coffee, the whistlin’ winds and an occasional neigh from the corral…interrupted only by the ring of the Chow Bell at 6 p.m., and a hearty repast of meat soup, and roasted potatoes.  Olga scores again!

Christian Meling brings the hospitality of generations to Rancho Meling when he welcomes guests.

We are already plotting our next visit to Rancho Meling, to be weclomed by Christian, Ramon, Andres, Olga, Antonio and Aki.  It’s a great stop on the way north or south in Baja, and just a great stop, period.  It also has its own landing strip, and Christian promises that he is planning to bring people down from the US soon, most likely starting in 2013.  For us, it is a quick drive that will become a tradition in our family; maybe even our new Thanksgiving.  I am so thankful to have had a life that includes adventure, living in Baja, and good friends.  Now, I have something new to give thanks for:  knowing a bit more about Rancho Meling, where the old west never died!   Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch) is a serene get-away, just a half-day drive from the US border.  

Want to find out where to stop along the way, or where to have lunch at some Highway 1 restaurants?  Visit is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at

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El Marmol in San Quintin: A Unique Piece of Baja History

El Marmol in San Quintin is off the beaten track, a short side-trip from the highway into Baja’s past.

By David Kier, author of The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California 1697-1834

The abandoned onyx quarry and mine town of El Marmol in the San Quintin region (about 100 miles from the town of San Quintin, and near Cataviña) makes an interesting Baja excursion. The site is famous for being the location of the world’s only onyx schoolhouse. Mining the stone began soon after the deposit was discovered around 1900. The location was first called ‘El Tule’ then ‘Onyx’ on old maps before the final name, El Marmol, which is the Spanish word for marble and onyx. The deposit at El Marmol in San Quintin covers an area 1200 feet wide, 3000 feet long and 40 or more feet thick.

El Marmol students and their teacher, about 1953. Photo by Ralph Hancock.

Onyx is formed by springs depositing layer upon layer of lime-laden water over time. These types of water deposits also create limestone and marble, but onyx is much harder and thus polishes nicer. This process of onyx formation can be witnessed today about 4 miles east at El Volcan where active soda springs are laying down new deposits that may become onyx in a few thousand years.

The Southwest Onyx and Marble Company of San Diego has worked this site since about 1905. A prospector discovered the beautiful stone deposit and it would become the largest onyx quarry on earth. Kenneth Brown and his father before him managed the operation. Before onyx, the Brown family mined copper on Isla Cedros, off the west coast of central Baja California.

Working the mine in El Marmol in San Quintin in 1941. Photo by Max Miller.

Onyx was used to make ornamental objects, inkwells, bookends, statues, and more. A bathtub for the silent film era’s vamp, Theda Bara, came from a block of El Marmol onyx. In 1936, a 60-ton, 38-foot high statue named Vision of Peace, in Saint Paul, Minnesota was made from El Marmol’s blocks of onyx. Originally named ‘Indian God of Peace’, it is considered the largest carved onyx statue in the world.  The giant statue sits on a slowly revolving base at the entrance to the city hall and county courthouse in Saint Paul.

Mining the onyx was simple compared to the difficulty of transporting the heavy blocks to San Diego. The blocks were originally taken to Puerto Santa Catarina, some 50 miles away by a mule train. Trucks with solid rubber tires would replace the mules. At the beach, the blocks then were ferried through the surf to ships. As roads in Baja were improved, the blocks were trucked all the way to San Diego.

With the advent of plastics after World War II, the demand for genuine carved onyx dropped, and the mine closed in 1958. Nothing else could keep people living in such a harsh place and so the town of 115 people vanished, leaving only the onyx-made schoolhouse behind. In recent years, artists still collect small quantities from the site for carvings. Sadly, nearly half of the onyx schoolhouse was demolished for the stone. Since then a fence was erected to serve as a protection or perhaps to show it has some value as a historic site. The onyx quarry along with the schoolhouse, some concrete slabs, and a graveyard are all that remain of the town.

Getting to El Marmol is not difficult and only it is 9.3 miles from Highway One on a mostly level, graded road. A sign marks the turnoff 56.5 miles from the El Rosario Pemex station, near Km. 148/149. As you approach El Marmol, see the graveyard on the right, and then pass the road left to El Volcan and La Olvidada. The schoolhouse is just beyond.

El Marmol Today

Pickup trucks or four-wheel drive vehicles can go 4 miles northeast to Arroyo el Volcan where soda springs and a rare cold-water geyser are making future onyx deposits. To find the site, set odometer at the schoolhouse and take the road northeast to a fork at Mile 2.0. Turn right, and drop steeply downhill to the bottom at Mile 4.0, in the El Volcan arroyo. The geyser site is up the arroyo to the right (south), less than half a mile (it may be possible to drive half the distance in the arroyo and walk the remainder). Many pools of water and mineral deposits make it an interesting visit. If lucky, you could witness the monthly eruption of El Volcan. The soda-powered geyser is reported to spew a 60-foot fountain for several minutes, once each month.

The road beyond Arroyo el Volcan passes a mineral stained slope of tiny springs at Mile 4.2 from El Marmol and once continued to the La Olvidada barite mine at Mile 10.3. The road has been washed out before reaching the mine, but the views of the Sea of Cortez and wild countryside await those who take it.

David Kier is author the The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California 1697-1834, that covers the histories and interesting facts around the 48 missions — starting with the first mission established in Loreto in 1697 —  founded in Baja during this time period.  

Want to take your own journey of discovery in Baja?  Find out where to stay near El Marmol! is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Kayak Fishing in San Quintin

Kayak Fishing in San Quintin

by Taylor Abeel,  Taylor Abeel Photography

Last week I followed a semi-professional kayak fisherman who is also a 2nd grade teacher, Jon Schwartz ( on a two day excursion down to San Quintin, in northern Baja to take take some pictures for a few sport fishing magazines that he is working with. It was an interesting experience to say the least… Jon was quite a character but a very friendly, fun travel companion nonetheless. I even got a few nice steaks of white seabass and yellowtail out of the deal which made some great fish tacos the next day for a crowd of 14 friends with leftovers!

Here are a few pics from the trip. If anything comes of it (i.e. publishing in a magazine) I will let you all know!

Kayak Fishing in San Quintin Baja San Diego area photographer  Taylor Abeel’s new travel blog site will come live soon.  Abeel specializes in wedding and travel photography.  Stay posted and we will update information on his website.    

Want to find our more about kayak fishing in San Quintin?  Where to stay?  What to eat?  Visit is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at

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Magical Cataviña

by Meghan Fitzpatrick

Nestled in the desert, right in the middle of Baja and just south of El Rosario, lies Cataviña, referred to by many as “Magical Cataviña.” Why?

Photo by Adolfo Tecla,

What is known is that Cataviña is the point where the north and south portions of Highway 1 — the Transpeninsular Highway –finally met during its epic construction back in 1973. However, this special place is also the home to numerous cave paintings, giant cacti that look as though they were plucked from Dr. Seuss’ imagination, boulders the size of SUV’s, prehistoric blue palm trees, and beautiful and rare breeds of mixed desert vegetation.

Cataviña has also inspired countless beautiful, panoramic photos and vistas, and is thus an incredibly popular destination for any nature-loving tourist.

The residents of Cataviña make their living, generally, from tourism. While camping is a popular choice for many tourists visiting Cataviña, the town also boasts the well-known hotel, the Hotel Mision Santa Maria, which has a swimming pool, an excellent restaurant serving traditional Mexican fare, and is definitely the most famous (and the nicest) place to stay in Cataviña.

Hotel Mision Inn Catavina

Located in and around Cataviña are a number of cave paintings (rupestres) – most around 1,000 years old. These paintings hail from the Yumano and Cochimí indians that have inhabited the Baja peninsula for many generations. (While, today, cave paintings are few and quite literally far between, they can still be found in remote parts of Baja).

Extreme climate conditions in this part of Baja have been largely responsible for the fact that most of the cave paintings have not survived. Frequent wind, combined with hot and cold temperatures, have led to the erosion of most.  Fortunately, due to the protection of deep caves and rather tortured rock formations found in the Cataviña area, there are considerably more paintings remaining here than in most places in Baja. Today, the lure of these  cave paintings, along with Cataviña’s amazing landscapes, make hiking and ATV-riding very popular activities for tourists exploring this beautiful desert landscape.

The blue palm trees of Cataviña are another rarity of the region. After a huge earthquake split the Baja peninsula from the rest of Mexico millions of years ago, these palms remained in Baja, alone.  They died out on the mainland of Mexico, but are especially prevalent in Cataviña.  Now, the unusual collage of giant rock formations (in fact, the Catavina Boulder Field) and some highly odd-looking cacti (including the famous cirio  cactus) make Cataviña’s environs look like something out of a Salvador Dali painting.

Perhaps the most magical part of Cataviña is its “La Poza de Escuadra,” a naturally occurring oasis in the middle of Cataviña’s desert. This oasis is said to possess actual magical qualities – but whether that is the water source or the air or something entirely different remains to be seen…or, perhaps, experienced!

Where is Cataviña?   Cataviña, Baja California is a small town on Highway 1, located at km 118, south of El Rosario and 66  miles north of the junction that takes visitors to Bahia de Los Angeles.

What is there to do in Cataviña?  It is a great place to hike in the desert, visit the Boulder Field, and explore caves and rock formations.

Why would I stop in Cataviña?  Because it makes a perfect stopping place on the road from northern Baja to Baja Sur (southern Baja).  It offers respite for weary travelers who are on the road to Guerrero Negro, to the south, or to Ensenada, to the north.

Have you been to Cataviñia? We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences about the area if you have, and see any pictures you may have! is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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San Quintin Museum: An Interesting Stop on Highway 1

by Meghan Fitzpatrick

On August 27, 2011, the town of San Quintin, Baja California, opened its first-ever museum, “Museo de San Quintín, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo,” named for the famous Portuguese explorer who was the first to navigate the coast of what is now California.

The museum is dedicated not to Cabrillo, however, but to the memory of Don Luis Rodrigues Avina (1914-1992), who moved to the San Quintin Valley with his family from Michoacan, itself a major farming region. In 1952, he founded Pinos Produce, still owned and operated by his family, which now directs massive tomato and produce shipping from its main office near the Mexico border. The operation, which is commonly known as Rancho Los Pinos, manages approximately 5,000 acres of vegetable growing farmland and 85 acres of hothouses primarily in the San Quintin region. It has played a huge role in the growth of this agricultural hub.

Located approximately three hours south of Ensenada, the museum focuses on the rich history of the region – a history that is abundant with paleontological and archaeological heritage. San Quintin has been a magnet for palaeontologists for several decades now, ever since the discovery of large quantities of fossils, bones and ammonites in the area that are thought to have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years.

A fossilized mollusc

The museum has more than 550 documented items in its collection, including dinosaur bones, fossilized molluscs and invertebrates, mammoth bones, volcanic rocks, and tribal artefacts speaking of indigenous peoples in the area. Many of the fossils and remains found in the area date back to the Cretaceous era (more than 65 million years ago), in addition to remains from humans from almost a million years ago. Remains from hunters and gatherers from 700,000 years ago have been found in the area, as well.

In more recent history, it is known that Spain founded two missions in the San Quintin area, Our Lady of the Rosary Viñadaco and Santo Domingo de la Frontera. And the British, too, played an interesting role in San Quintin, even leaving as a legacy what is popularly referred to as the English Cemetary. All of this and more is recounted within the museum, which – since opening its doors — has already received over 8,000 visitors. Impressive for an agricultural town that derives most of its tourists from the highway!

The idea for the museum was originally presented to the Baja California Central National Institute of Anthropology and History by the agricultural group “Rodriguez-Hernandez.” This group also owns “The Old Mill” in San Quintin, a popular restaurant and motel for tourists and locals, and what was once the milling site for the British “Milling Company of San Quintin” in the 1800’s.

Estuary of the Bay of San Quintin, as seen from the patio of The Old Mill

The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free. For more information about the museum, please visit their facebook page HERE.

How to get to San Quintin:  Highway 1, the Transpeninsular Highway that runs from the US border at Tijuana all the way down to the tip of Baja, passes directly through the city of San Quintin.  You will know you are approaching the town by the vast acres of tomato and strawberry farms that surround it.  It is approximately a 2.5-3 hour drive from Ensenada.

Where to go in San Quintin:   A visit to The Old Mill restaurant is a lovely way to pass time.  At the mouth of an estuary, this restaurant/hotel is an area landmark.  San Quintin beaches are famous wide and empty stretches of sand, often littered with sand dollars and crab shells (maybe the very kind of crabs served up at the Cielito Lindo restaurant, famous for its ‘dirty crab’ dish.) is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at

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Lobster Burritos? Mama Espinoza’s South of San Quintin!

By Meghan Fitzpatrick

 Mama Espinoza’s restaurant is the famous landmark that puts the small agricultural town of El Rosario on the map for tourists and travelers. Born in 1908, Mama Espinoza has been serving her famous lobster tacos and burritos to people passing through El Rosario since 1930.

A landmark south of San Quintin, famous for lobster burritos

Before 1973, the town of El Rosario was known as “the end of the line,” because, if you were driving south down the Baja peninsula, it was the last town with a paved road. After El Rosario, the roads were treacherous and the journey south could be perilous. However in 1973, the completion of Highway 1 (otherwise known as the Transpeninsular Highway, running the entire length of the Baja Peninsula) changed El Rosario’s identity and it soon became a popular place to stop off before continuing down the long and smoothly paved road south through Baja. The road has recently been upgraded, once again, and continues south to the next stop, Cataviñia, without a hitch.

In addition to the completion of Highway 1, in 1967 the main promoter of the NORRA off-road racing tournaments organized the first ever Baja 1000 – a race that is today infamous around the world. The Baja 1000 is an off-road race that spans the entire length of the Baja peninsula, 1,000 miles, hence the name “Baja 1,000”. On the map for the Baja 1000, Mama Espinoza’s restaurant was the very first checkpoint.

 The drivers in the race were all blown away by Mama’s delicious lobster tacos and burritos (and her crab soup, shrimp dishes and breakfast machaca are no slackers, either). They went back to the US and into Baja and told everyone about Mama Espinoza’s delicious food and soon her place was legendary! Mama Espinoza’s was such a huge success that it has remained a key Baja 1000 checkpoint for over 40 years now. The inside of the restaurant is decorated with memorabilia from past races and drivers, making it almost like a museum of the Baja 1,000’s history.

 Mama Espinoza, whose real name is Anita Grosse Peña, has lived a very charitable and admirable life. Kindness and generosity are two qualities she believes to be very important, and you can see this carry over in her restaurant. Mama Espinoza’s was founded under the pillars of honesty, respect and quality of service. These were all important to Mama Espinoza to ensure that people would return again and again and that her customers never had a bad experience.

When the restaurant first opened it was called “Espinoza’s House,” and it was run by Ana and her husband, Heraclio Espinoza. When the Baja 1,000 racers started to frequent her restaurant, the drivers of the off-road vehicles and motorcycles affectionately started to call Ana, Mama Espinoza. The name stuck and soon the name of the restaurant was changed from “Espinoza’s House” to “Mama Espinoza.”

Mama Espinoza: A Baja icon and friend to the road warriors.

Mama Espinoza is today 104 years old, and still enjoys coming into her restaurant to eat and enjoy a glass of wine – though she has retired from running the place. Today the restaurant is run by her daughter, Anita Elva Espinoza Grosso. Anita runs the restaurant upholding the same values that her mother believed to be so important – service of quality, honesty and respect for all of their customers. Mama Espinoza’s business has now expanded to include accommodation for travelers and a family museum next to the restaurant where visitors can learn more about the history of the restaurant and the Espinoza family.

Have you been to Mama Espinoza’s? Tell us about your experience and share any pictures you may have with us here. is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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California Condors, the Devils Peak, and More…All in One Day!

By Valeria Rivas Hamilton

A day trip from Ensenada to San Pedro Martir?   The idea seemed strange to me as I’d always thought of the Park as a remote place, but when Alain Preisser from Baja Wine and Sun Tours offered such an experience, I had no option but to say yes. I had heard stories about close encounters with California Condors, a world class observatoryand contrasting landscapes that can only be found in Baja California. I wanted to experience them!

Valeria Rivas Hamilton’s Day Trip

The park is such an unknown treasure that even Ensenada locals rarely visit it. So if your idea of fun is having a remote national park basically to yourself (except perhaps for the bobcats, deer, coyotes and cows) this is the place to go.

Sierra San Pedro Martir is one of the two mountain ranges that run through the northern part of the peninsula, the other being the more popular Sierra de Juarez where the Constitution of 1857 National Park is located. Both parks have a similar flora consisting mainly of pine-oak forest and surrounded by chaparral and desert shrub.

The group I was in hopped on the tour van at 7:30 a.m. in Ensenada with our much-needed coffees in hand. After about four hours south on Highway 1, and an eastward turnoff, we noticed how the landscape was changing from desert shrub to pine forest.

California Condors

As if the enormous granite boulders and tall pine trees hadn’t been enough to welcome us, we had a party of about 10 condors casually sitting at the side of the road just before entering the park. Alain, the tour guide, told us they were part of an international wildlife conservation program that reintroduced the condors to Baja California as they had come really close to extinction. The birds where so used to dealing with humans that they showed no intention of leaving when we started taking pictures. Their strange appearance made all those condors an amazing thing to see: an unusually large size for a bird, bald heads and black shiny feathers.

After the group had a good dose of California Condor pictures, we drove all the way up to the National Astronomical Observatory built in San Pedro Martir in 1971. This site was selected due to the clarity of the air, lack of light pollution, dryness and generally clear skies.

A park staff member received us at the door and explained the geography and topography: We were standing at an elevation slightly higher than 9200 feet above the sea. We could see the Devil’s Peak (Picacho del Diablo), Baja California’s highest point, the San Felipe desert, the Sea of Cortez and even the coast of Sonora! Such an amazing view.

Once we entered the observatory and climbed the more than 100 steps to the top, we got to see the large optical telescope. The staff member explained Mexico’s astronomy program to us, and how it works in collaboration with scientists from all over the world.

National Astronomical Observatory in the winter

We had a four-kilometer walk waiting for us, so we headed out of the observatory and started hiking to get to the Altar viewpoint, a breathtaking lookout 2,880 m. above sea level. I have to say that it was not an easy hike for those not used to high altitudes, but once you get there you see why is worth it. The walk allows you to listen to the birds, feel the wind on your face, smell the pine needles and study strange granite boulder formations. It’s hard to describe the dramatic contrasting landscape once you get to the El Altar viewpoint platform: A pine-oak forest bordered by dry desert and then the Gulf of California.  Where else in the world can you admire such a scene? all over the world.

After a long day, lunch and a four-hour drive back to Ensenada (arriving at about 9:30 pm), I could not help but to think how lucky I am to live in Baja California and have new adventure travel experiences almost every weekend. I wish everyone were as lucky as I…

Best time of year to go:  Spring- Summer

Approximate costs: Day Tour, $35.00 U.S for transportation and guide

What to pack: Hat, sunscreen, hiking boots, light lunch, jacket.


Valeria Rivas Hamilton loves to photograph and write about her Baja…and share the beauty with other Baja lovers. is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.


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Driving Safely in Baja – Important Rules of Driving your RV in Baja

Baja Amigos: Dan & Lisa Goy

*Please note: Although the following rules are written in regards to driving RV’s, they can also certainly be applied to anyone driving in Baja, regardless of they type of vehicle they are driving!

(1)   Never, never drive at night! You are not familiar with the road and there are no street lights. More importantly there is very little livestock fencing outside of towns and villages. Many animals gravitate to the highway at night and you will never see them in time. Having a cow in your grill will ruin your Snowbird experience for sure. In the event of a breakdown you do not want to be on the highway (there is usually no where to pull off) when a bus or semi comes along which drive all night. Another good reason to drive only during the day are the Green Angels who patrol the entire highway in the morning and afternoon. They are the equivalent of AAA paid for the government looking to assist tourists and travelers. We have never experienced a Bandito in 26 years since our first camping trip in Mexico, perhaps they are out at night, we really can’t say!

(2)    Travel with a friend or fellow RVer in the event you do have a flat or mechanical problem on the road. That leaves someone with the RV while you look for help and direct traffic safely around your broken down vehicle. Our tours  provide everyone with a mechanical checklist prior to joining one of our tours.  Yes, Mexicans can fix anything but if you can avoid this experience with a change of some belts and hoses, why not? Having a few spare parts never hurts either.

(3)    Slow Down! Whats the hurry? The roads are often narrow, without shoulders frequented by large but scrawny farm animals or broken down Mexican mobiles. If you have folks behind you let them pass when it is safe to do so. Put on your left turn signal and slow down as they go by, particularly the buses and tractor trailers. Only pass when it is very safe to do so yourself, not much of a margin for error. On most of Hwy 1 we drive 80 km or 50 miles and hour, we recommend you do the same in your RV.


Dan y Lisa Goy




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