When most Americans or Canadians think of Baja California, they picture a seedy border town or perhaps a tourist playground such as Cabo San Lucas. However, there is another group of Americans and Canadians who know better, and as a result, are taking advantage of the disconnect between common belief versus the reality they get to experience daily.
As part of our road trip through Mexico for Best Places in the World to Retire to see firsthand what expat life is like, we drove the length of Baja California, from the U.S.-Mexico border in California to Cabo San Lucas, more than 750 miles to the south. Along the way, we saw what Baja California is like and met hundreds of expats who were having a great time in safe, sometimes shockingly beautiful locations, all at extremely low prices.
Most of Baja California is a peninsula, which at it's widest, is only about 85 miles across, bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) on the east. Although the water in the Pacific Ocean gets warmer as you go south, it is pretty similar all the way from San Diego to Cabo. The water in the Sea of Cortez, however, is generally flat, clear, warm and tropical.
While the Mexican locals in Baja California are friendly and helpful, the terrain in Baja California doesn't coddle you. In places, it is stunningly beautiful. Most of it is desert, albeit with some of the most magnificent beaches you can imagine neighboring.
If you drive the peninsula, you will be richly rewarded with vistas that few others have seen and un-crowded beaches that few others know about. For example, we found one such beach called Playa Santispac, just south of Mulegé, a small town roughly halfway between the U.S. border and Cabo San Lucas, on the Sea of Cortez side.
As we pulled up, we could see several cabanas set atop perfectly white, powdery sand, with shimmering dark and light blue water just a few yards away. In the near distance, we could see another peninsula. To the sides, several small islands dotted the horizon. When we arrived, there were no more than six visitors on the beach.
As is not unusual in Mexico, we received quick and laughably low-priced service. Within minutes, a man appeared with ceviche. A few moments later, another vendor with cold drinks and ice cream appeared. If you've never experienced anything like this before (and I hadn't, at least not at these prices), it is surreal; like being at a world famous $500+ a night five star resort, but paying about a third of what you would to visit an average, local beach, which Santispac is definitely not.