Baja has come a long way toward eliminating the water and food contamination that causes traveler's diarrhea and more serious ailments like typhoid and salmonella. The digestive troubles plaguing travelers in mainland Mexico are virtually unheard of here. You can ensure your good health by washing your hands frequently, drinking only purified water, and steering clear of mobile food vendors, whose offerings may not have been prepared in sanitary conditions and in any case can suffer in the heat. Avoid salads and raw vegetables you haven't washed yourself; if you buy produce in a grocery store, soak it for a half-hour in a solution 1 liter water to ten drops microdyne (available at most grocers) before eating it. And when it comes to ceviche, follow your gut.
Should you be unlucky, you can stop the diarrhea with Imodium and rehydrate with Gatorade, Pedialyte, or a solution of salt, sugar, and purified water. If you have a fever or if illness persists more than a day, see a doctor.
Prescription medicine is broadly available at Mexican pharmacies. In Tijuana you may need a doctor's prescription for things sold over-the-counter farther south.
Over-the-Counter Drugs in Mexico -- Mexican pharmacies carry a limited selection of common over-the-counter cold, sinus, and allergy remedies, similar to what you'll find at home but often with different names. A pharmacist at a major pharmacy can usually look up the U.S. or Canadian drug name and find a Mexican equivalent. Be aware that while many drugs for which you'd need a prescription in the U.S. are sold over-the-counter in Mexico, as of 2011 you'll need a prescription for antibiotics. But they're still much less expensive than at home.
Baja can be a challenge for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone who observes any kind of strict dietary regimen. Although it's possible to find vegetarian options on restaurant menus, it's not always guaranteed; the beans on your plate of scrambled eggs probably contain pork.
Mexico has no official certification body for organic foods sold inside the country, but many fruit and vegetable growers in Northern and Southern Baja use organic methods and sell their produce as such. (Mid-Baja has little in the way of agriculture at all.) Ask around at farmers' markets for more sources. You can pretty much forget about finding organically raised free-range meat or eggs, but some restaurants source from local farmers who purport to use more natural methods to raise animals.
Also, of note, salsas generally pack more heat in Mexico than in the U.S., so if you're sensitive to chiles, take it slow on your first taste.
Bites & Stings
Mosquitoes and gnats are thankfully less common in Baja than in more humid parts of Mexico, but it can still get buggy on some parts of the coast. If you're prone to bites, bring along a repellent that contains the active ingredient DEET, or ask at a pharmacy for repelente contra insectos. In the U.S. and Mexico you'll also find non-chemical, citronella-based formulas that work just as well, but need more frequent application. If all else fails, antihistamine cream will control itching.
Baja's desert areas are full of scorpions (alacránes), and although very few are deadly you'll want to watch out for them. Shake out clothes, towels, sheets, and shoes before using them, and if you are stung, go immediately to a doctor. If you're planning to camp in remote areas, it's not a bad idea to bring along a scorpion toxin antidote, available at drugstores for about $25.
Watch out for rattlesnakes while hiking; they'll only bite as a last resort and will warn you beforehand! Should the unthinkable happen, do not cut open the wound or try to suck out venom. Keep the victim still and calm, elevate the affected area, and get to a doctor right away.
The most common name for the tiny jellyfish stings you may feel while swimming is agua mala (bad water). While irritating, these stings are far less painful than those from Portuguese man-of-war, common enough in summer that some people swim with a Lycra skin for protection. If you do get stung, don't rub the wound. Most boat captains have vinegar on hand to pour over the affected area and ease the pain.
You're unlikely to encounter stingrays in the shallows of Baja's beaches. But you're even less likely if you shuffle your feet in the sand as you go into the water, warning away any who may be dozing in the sand. If you are stung, get medical help as soon as possible; very hot water or, in a pinch, heating the wound on hot rocks or sand is said to ease the pain.
The injury you're most likely to suffer in Baja is sunburn. It's easy to prevent: wear sunscreen, a hat, and long sleeves, and stay out of the sun at midday. Remember that you get more sun on boats than you do on the beach.
If ever a country had an image problem, it's Mexico. From the drug war along the northern border to the 2009 flu scare to the nicknaming of its capital city "The Monster," a potential visitor could be forgiven for thinking twice. It's not all sensationalism; the war against and, more pertinently, between Mexico's powerful drug cartels has killed more than 30,000 people since 2006, and the violence continues.
The good news is, you won't encounter anything remotely resembling a drug war in Los Cabos and Baja. Southern Baja has one of Mexico's lowest crime rates; U.S. and Canadian expatriates living in places like Loreto and La Paz even leave their doors unlocked. The only exception to this happy rule is Tijuana, which as the world's busiest border crossing, the principal point of transit between Mexico and the U.S., and Mexico's fifth-largest city remains a juicy prize for the bad guys. While the murder rate in TJ remains high (as high as Detroit, although lower than New Orleans), the numbers don't reflect the victims -- nearly all of whom are Mexicans, and most of whom appear to be connected to the drug war. But even in Tijuana, tourists are very rarely victims of violent crime; no tourists have ever been killed in the drug war in Baja. The U.S. State Department (travel.state.gov) issued a Travel Warning in April 2011 that begins with the following paragraph:
"Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes. Nevertheless, crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere. While most victims of violence are Mexican citizens associated with criminal activity, the security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well." Nearly all of the document's specific warnings have to do with non-Baja border areas and Mexico City; the U.S. Embassy in Mexico's Security Updates for 2010 to 2011 mention only a few incidents in Baja involving U.S. citizens -- one mugging in Cabo San Lucas in October 2010, and an increase in robberies at gunpoint in Tijuana, Rosarito, and on the Mexican side of both Tijuana border crossings. The State Department's "Spring Break-Know Before You Go" publication (under the "International Travel" heading at http://travel.state.gov) warns Baja travelers not of crime, but of riptides on Pacific beaches and buying illegal prescription drugs in Tijuana.
What all this means is that there's no reason to be scared of Los Cabos and Baja. But there's reason to be smart about your travel, especially around Tijuana south to Ensenada. It's not a good idea to wear lots of flashy jewelry or expensive watches, to walk alone on empty streets late at night, to appear visibly intoxicated or, on the coast between Tijuana and Ensenada, to camp outside of guarded campgrounds. Watch yourself at night around the Tijuana/San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings. And although incidents of road crime are rare, it's just that little bit safer to take the cuota toll highway to Ensenada than the libre freeway. Take the same precautions you would in any U.S. city, and you'll be fine. Should you fall victim to crime, the Ministry of Tourism has set up toll-free numbers to call from the U.S. and Canada (tel. 866/201-5060) and Mexico (tel. 078), staffed 24 hours daily with English-speaking operators who can coordinate help from the police.
Women traveling alone don't have to take any precautions that men traveling alone wouldn't, but they should expect a certain amount of unsolicited attention that may at times feel threatening. To minimize it, take the lead of the many Mexican women you'll see on their own in Los Cabos and Baja: Dress conservatively, behave responsibly, and greet unwanted advances with a polite "no."
Where you really should watch out, though, is driving. Baja's roads are lined with crosses remembering people who didn't.
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.