Baja California has four international airports, three in the southern half of the peninsula and one, Tijuana, in the less-populated north. Los Cabos International (SJD), by far the busiest Baja airport, is well-connected to most U.S. and Canadian airline hubs. You can connect to Los Cabos, La Paz (LAP), and Tijuana (TIJ) from major destinations in Mexico as well. Traveling to the south, you'll find the best fares to Los Cabos. Those traveling to Tijuana and the north may find their best flight connections and prices are an hour north of the border in San Diego (SAN), served by most major U.S. airlines.
Arriving at the Airport -- Before landing, you'll be asked to fill out a tourist card. You disembark the plane -- often directly onto the tarmac -- and enter the line for immigration. Present your passport and tourist card, and immigration officials will stamp your passport with a tourist visa and give you back half of your tourist card. Keep this slip of paper with you; you'll turn it in to your airline when you depart the country. You will then pass to baggage claim, pick up your luggage, and pass through customs. You'll be asked to put all your luggage through a scanner, and then to push a button. If it lights up green, you are free to pass through; if red, you may have your luggage searched. All in all, expect about 20 minutes from landing to leaving.
Getting into Town from the Airport -- Los Cabos and La Paz airports offer inexpensive shuttle services; buy your tickets from booths inside the terminal as you exit. Otherwise, taxis at all airports meet arriving flights; most drivers speak English. In Los Cabos and Loreto, watch out for sneaky timeshare sales reps who may pretend to be taxi drivers! Taxis are clearly marked cars outside at the curb, not guys with clipboards waiting for you in the terminal; mix them up and you may find yourself on a timeshare tour.
Depending on where you're coming from, driving can be an economical way to get to Baja, and once you're there, it's a convenient way to travel the region. But driving the peninsula from north to south is a haul -- 27 hours for the 1,220km (758 miles) from Tijuana to Los Cabos -- and, while travelers to Baja don't need to jump through the import hoops they would driving to other parts of Mexico, it's important to have your papers in order before you go. Rental cars in Mexico generally are clean and well maintained, although they are often smaller than rentals in the U.S., may have manual rather than automatic transmission, and can be comparatively expensive due to pricey mandatory insurance. Discounts are often available for rentals of a week or longer, especially when you make arrangements in advance online or from the United States. Be careful about estimated online rates, which usually fail to include the price of the mandatory insurance.
To check on road conditions or to get help with any travel emergency while in Mexico, call tel. 800/482-9832 in the United States or 55/5089-7500 in Mexico City. English-speaking operators staff both numbers. The Discover Baja Travel Club is a long-standing favorite among Baja road warriors for insurance, travel tips, permits, and more (www.discoverbaja.com). If you're ready for a Baja road trip in your own car, read on.
Point-to-Point Driving Directions Online -- You can get point-to-point driving directions in English for anywhere in Mexico from the website of the Secretary of Communication and Transport. The site will also calculate tolls, distance, and travel time. Go to http://aplicaciones4.sct.gob.mx/sibuac_internet and click on "Rutas punto a punto" in the left-hand column. Then select the English version.
Border Crossings -- Baja borders the United States along its entire northern border, with main crossings at Tijuana, Tecate, and Mexicali. Entering Mexico by car, you'll need to fill out the same FMM tourist card travelers by plane do, with the difference that if you're staying in Mexico longer than 8 days, you'll have to pay 262 pesos for yours at a bank at some point before you leave the country. (If you're staying in Mexico for fewer than 8 days, it's free).
Southbound, Tijuana is more convenient for further Baja travel, but northbound lines to reenter the U.S. by car are much longer -- allow at least 2 hours from Tijuana, 1 hour from Mexicali, and expect to wait longer on weekends. A more laid-back option is the crossing at Tecate, 48km (30 miles) east of Tijuana, which locals say is a breeze. For wait times at the border, call the U.S. numbers tel. 619/690-8999 for Tijuana/San Ysidro, tel. 760/768-2383 for Mexicali/Calexico, tel. 619/938-8300 for Tecate, or check the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's website at apps.cbp.gov/bwt for real-time updates.
Car Documents -- As long as you stay in Baja, you don't need any special papers for your car other than Mexican auto insurance . If your tour takes you into other states, even for the day, you'll need a temporary car-importation permit, available through some Mexican consulates in the U.S.; in CIITEV offices operated by Banco del Ejército (Banjercito) in the Mexican customs offices at land borders; or online at www.banjercito.com.mx, no more than 180 and no fewer than 7 days before you intend to cross the border to allow time to mail you the permit. The permit costs between $40 and $52, depending on where it's issued, and if you pay cash, you'll need to post a cash bond you get back when you check your car out. Another good reason to stay in Baja!
Important reminder: Someone else may drive, but the person (or relative of the person) whose name appears on the car-importation permit must always be in the car. (If stopped by police, a nonregistered family member driving without the registered driver must be prepared to prove familial relationship to the registered driver -- no joke.) Violation of this rule subjects the car to impoundment and the driver to imprisonment, a fine, or both. You can drive a car with foreign license plates only if you have a foreign (non-Mexican) driver's license.
Mexican Auto Insurance (Seguros de Auto) -- Personal liability auto insurance is legally required in Mexico. U.S. insurance is invalid; to be insured in Mexico, you must purchase Mexican insurance, and you must have proof of U.S. insurance to acquire it. Any party involved in an accident who has no insurance may be sent to jail and have his or her car impounded until all claims are settled. This is true even if you just drive across the border to spend the day. U.S. companies that broker Mexican insurance are commonly found at border crossings, and several quote daily rates.
Discover Baja Travel Club, 3264 Governor Dr., San Diego, CA 92122, is a friendly place to start (tel. 800/727-2252; www.discoverbaja.com). You can also buy car insurance through Sanborn's Mexico Insurance (tel. 800/222-0158; www.sanbornsinsurance.com). The company has offices at all U.S. border crossings. Its policies cost the same as the competition's do, but you get legal coverage (attorney and bail bonds if needed) and a detailed mile-by-mile guide for your proposed route. Most of Sanborn's border offices are open Monday through Friday, and a few are staffed on Saturday and Sunday. AAA auto club also sells insurance.
Returning to the United States with Your Car -- If you have a temporary car import permit because you were traveling outside of Baja, you must return the car papers you obtained when you entered Mexico when you cross back with your car, or at some point within 180 days. (You can cross as many times as you wish within the 180 days.) If the documents aren't returned, heavy fines are imposed ($250 for each 15 days late), and your car may be impounded and confiscated or you may be jailed if you return to Mexico. You can only return the car documents to a Banjercito official on duty at the Mexican Customs building before you cross back into the United States. Again, if you were only traveling within Baja, this doesn't apply to you.
Greyhound Bus Lines (tel. 800/231-2222 in the U.S.; www.greyhound.com) offers service nearly 24 hours daily for $13 one-way between San Diego and Tijuana via the San Ysidro border crossing, stopping at Tijuana's Rodriguez airport (TIJ) and ending up at Tijuana's Central de Autobuses, where you can connect to Mexican bus lines for destinations farther down Baja. Mexicoach (tel. 619/428-9517 in the U.S., or 664/685-1470) runs a similar service (hourly, 5am-10pm) between San Ysidro and Tijuana for $4 one-way/$6 round-trip, and for $13 one-way/$20 round-trip it will take you as far as Rosarito. Mexican discount airliner Volaris also runs a shuttle between San Diego's Santa Fe train station and Tijuana airport for passengers; cost is $15.
By Train & Trolley
Baja has no trains, but the blue line of San Diego's Tijuana Trolley (tel. 619/595-4949; www.sdmts.com) connects downtown San Diego with the San Ysidro/Tijuana border crossing daily from before 5am to after midnight. The fare is $2.50; the trip takes about an hour from San Diego's Old Town. From points in the U.S., ride Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL [872-7245]; www.amtrak.com) to San Diego and transfer to the Trolley at Old Town or Santa Fe stations, both downtown and a few minutes' taxi ride from San Diego's international airport. From Tijuana, walk through the border crossing; the Trolley stop is right outside as you exit.
Cabo San Lucas is a popular port of call for West Coast cruise ships on their way to Puerto Vallarta and points south. Ships dock at the purpose-built cruise ship port on Bulevar Marina downtown, the staging ground for snorkel and boat tours and a stone's throw from Cabo's touristy downtown. Three-day cruises go from Long Beach, California, to Ensenada and dock a 20-minute walk or a $3 taxi ride from downtown's bars and shopping.
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.