Baja California is a place of complementary contrasts: hot desert and cool ocean, manicured golf greens and craggy mountains, glistening resorts and frontier land. Baja is part of Mexico -- and yet it is not. Attached to the mainland United States and separated from the rest of Mexico by the Sea of Cortez (also called the Gulf of California), the Baja peninsula is longer than Italy, stretching approximately 1,220km (758 miles) from Mexico's northernmost city of Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas at its southern tip. Volcanic uplifting created the craggy desertscape you see today. Whole forests of cardoon cactus, spiky elephant trees, and spindly ocotillo bushes populate the raw, untamed landscape.

Culturally and geographically, Baja is set apart from mainland Mexico, and it remained isolated for many years. As such, it lays claim to a striking and peculiar blend of Mexican and American cultures that can't be found anywhere else in Mexico. However, tourism has left its mark over the length of Baja, especially its southern third, where golf, fishing, diving, and whale-watching abound. For early travelers in the '50s and '60s, great sportfishing was the first draw to Los Cabos, and it remains a lure today, although golf may have overtaken it as the principal attraction. Once accessible only by water, Baja attracted a hearty community of cruisers, fishermen, divers, and adventurers, starting in the late 1940s. By the early 1980s, the Mexican government realized the potential of Los Cabos and invested in new highways, airport facilities, golf courses, and modern marine facilities. Expanded air traffic and the opening of the Carretera Transpeninsular, or Transpeninsular Highway, in 1973 paved the way for the area's spectacular growth.

Most travelers to the area will be drawn to Baja's cobalt-blue waters and desert landscapes, but the place has a deeper attraction too: the vast and mysterious interior of the peninsula and the strength of character it requires to survive and thrive there.

The Dividing Line -- So what makes Baja California different from Baja California Sur? Other than a slight difference in the size of the shrimp, the two states were originally divided by religious affiliation. During the mission period, the austere Dominicans ran the missions in the North, while the education-focused Jesuits dominated in the south.

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