Baja California Sur
Of the peninsula's three regions, Baja Sur is the most developed for tourism, starting with the fun-loving party town Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip. Great swimming beaches, snorkeling and diving, fishing, and golf are the active draws here, as are hot nightclubs and an American-style good-time vibe. Its nearby fraternal twin, San José del Cabo, trades the nightlife and the tequila shots for an arts district, booming restaurant scene, and mission-era historic architecture. Together, the two Cabos make up the lion's share of Baja's tourism receipts.
The Corridor, the coastal road that runs between the two, is the gateway to a string of spectacular beaches and coves -- some of the peninsula's best. It's no surprise that this is where most of the Cabos's luxury resorts have chosen to build, amid moneyed real-estate developments looking out to the sea. In between, you'll find the world-class golf courses that have made Baja a golfer's favorite vacation spot.
Los Cabos can feel like a southern extension of the United States West Coast, but other areas of Baja Sur are some of the wildest corners of Mexico. The peninsula's East Cape, just northeast of San José del Cabo, is a rocky, romantic landscape of beaches, coral reefs, dive sites, hiking paths, and waterfalls, along the coast of the Sea of Cortez. Keep driving north and you'll hit La Paz, the capital of Baja Sur, an easygoing maritime port that's a great jumping-off point for adventures on land and sea as well as a pleasant cultural center in its own right.
Along the Pacific coast north of Cabo San Lucas, the Pacific Side is one long, wild beach, with world-class surfing and a funky vibe. Just north, the palm oasis of Todos Santos draws artistic and epicurean travelers to its galleries and some of the best restaurants in Baja.
The breathtaking badlands of mid-Baja are about as impassible as it gets, which makes it all the more exciting to get there. Loreto is the original capital of the Californias, with Baja's first Spanish mission and a tiny but lovely historic district at the edge of a protected marine reserve bay. The town and its offshore islands are a famed center for dorado and billfish sportfishing, kayaking, snorkeling and diving, as well as the region's best hiking, through desert canyons to ranching regions untouched by development. To the north, Mulegé is a palm-filled desert oasis, a favorite of U.S. and Canadian snowbirds and a staging ground for visits to the region's cave paintings. Santa Rosalía is an anomaly along the coast: French-style colonial wooden homes and a church designed by Gustav Eiffel are this busy port town's draw.
But between January and March, all this is eclipsed by the most thrilling reason to visit any part of Baja -- the annual migration of gray whales to calve in mid-Baja's Pacific lagoons. In Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Laguna San Ignacio, and Bahía de Magdalena, mother whales coax their newborns right up beside whale-watching pangas, in one of the most magical wildlife experiences to be had anywhere.
Baja California (Norte)
The state encompassing Northern Baja is officially known as Baja California. Its commercial capital, Tijuana, has many dubious distinctions: It's the most-visited, most-maligned, and most-misunderstood city in all of Baja. Booze and drugs, human smuggling and immense factories, the cruelties of the border and the violence of Mexico's drug war are strong influences here, although it's easy for visitors to look the other way. Crime is still a problem for residents, although much less for tourists. But the other side of adversity's coin is the creative energy it can generate, and Tijuana is indisputably Baja's cultural capital, with flourishing food, art, and film scenes, burgeoning hipster nightlife that goes way beyond tequila shots, extensive shopping, and a truly international identity. Rosarito Beach is Tijuana's resort town, which got a boost after the movie Titanic was filmed here (the set is now a movie-themed amusement park). Farther down the Pacific coast is the lovely port town of Ensenada, a favorite cruise ship stop known for its prime surfing and sportfishing. The nearby vineyards of Mexico's wine country, in the Valle de Guadalupe, are a new and growing attraction, and just north, the border town of Tecate is Tijuana's opposite: sleepy, peaceful, home to a famed brewery, some ancient cave paintings, and not much else. Down the road south, San Felipe wins the prize as Baja's northernmost resort boomtown.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.