Day Trip To Ensenada From San Diego – I have lived in Southern California for almost 10 years, and had never been to Baja until last year. I’m always curious about driving to Tijuana and the beach towns, since they’re only a few hours away. However, I could never get anyone to come with me! It’s so dangerous, they don’t want to take their car to Mexico, trash all the college bars, etc. Here’s what I learned on our drive to and from Ensenada.
People have a rental car while they drive around California quite a bit. We need to get Mexican insurance for the car, which you can buy as an add-on for $35/day with their National car rental, but not from any location – you have to go to the location of San Diego airport. FYI, if you’re driving your own car, you can buy insurance cheaper elsewhere – check out Baja Bound for competitive rates. So, after a side trip to buy that, we were on our way. I had previously read a lot about getting a Tourist Card when we crossed the border, as you are required to have one when driving through Baja. There is conflicting advice if you need it anywhere in Baja, or if you are driving to the southern part of the peninsula, or staying longer than the 3 days we were there. We fully plan on getting one at Immigration when crossing the border just to be safe. However, our border crossing experience lasted about 2 minutes. We were ushered through toll booth style lines. We were stopped while the machine scanned our license plate. And then we continued, waiting for another booth where they would check our passports and sell us a tourist card… and that was nowhere to be seen. We were taken on a highway that traveled west from Tijuana, and then left. So… the Tourist Card was never bought. All I can say is technically you need one, but there is no signage about it, or easy way to get one, driving through Mexico, and it was never asked about on our way back. However, this trip was almost a year ago, and they may have tightened the restrictions during that time.
Day Trip To Ensenada From San Diego
From the border, you will be taken to a highway, and you can go to downtown Tijuana, or follow the signs to Playas, Scenic Route, and Ensenada. The first few miles are not very attractive as you follow the south side of the border to your right (in this section there is a wall), and the edges of Tijuana to your left. Eventually you will continue to follow the signs for the “Ensenada Scenic Route” which will take you to the beach, and then to a toll road. There are three toll stops on the 60 mile route to Ensenada, which cost 107 pesos or a little less than $6 (they accept pesos or US dollars).
Ensenada To San Felipe
Any stories of police pulling people over for bribes are rumors or about 20 years old. It is considered an incredibly safe road. It is well maintained, it has lounges, and gives you great views of the ocean. Next to this runs the older ‘free road’ which winds through all the coastal towns in the south. We jumped off the highway onto the freeway at one point to find lunch at the decent but rather expensive beachside Hotel La Fonda. Going again, I will bring a list of some of the restaurants with high marks in that part – we are in prime fish and shrimp tacos land, and it is worth it to take advantage of it!!
It is also worth stopping at km marker 84. This interesting place has many eye-catching buildings on the side of the cliff overlooking the bay. The shops that were once in the buildings have moved, so it has a bit of a ghost town feel. There are basic toilets that you can use for a few pesos. There are also snack and candy vendors in the parking lot. The big draw is the view – the spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean.
Once you clear the third toll, the highway becomes more of a local road, and soon you’ll be running into city traffic. We stayed on the south side of town, so it was another hour or so to drive around town and back south to the house we rented on the beach in Punta Banda. Ensenada itself I found to be a rather unattractive town. It’s a port city, so you have to pass a lot of shipping containers and industrial signs before entering the city itself. The downtown harbor area hosts cruise ships and is also full of souvenir stands and tacky overpriced restaurants, although there are a few standouts to be found – check out Hussong’s Cantina for one of the oldest bars in Baja. The rest of the city is quite dirty as ever developing towns are. If you stay, the areas north and south of the city have a lot to offer visitors.
I had heard talk of wait times of up to 3 hours at various border crossings, especially on holidays (when we were there) and nervously checked this CBP site as we drove north. The site estimates wait times at the borders – sometimes it’s worth driving out of your way to the more inland Otay Mesa checkpoint if the wait gets out of hand in San Ysidro. It showed up for about 45 minutes for us, so we risked it. All three of us had Global Entry, so we were able to use the Ready Lanes, which were faster than the regular crossing. The fastest is the SENTRI lanes, which can be used in Global Entry once they have registered their car (FWIW, our CBP agent said we can use it even if we use a rental car, ah well). If you don’t have Global Entry (and why wouldn’t you??), look into getting a Fast Pass from a local restaurant or hotel, which will also allow you to re-enter the US from the faster lane.
Best Things To Do In Ensenada
So, going to the Ready Lanes, or any other entry lane, is not an easy task. This was the hardest part of the whole trip, and I can’t recommend enough following these directions from Baja Bound – I printed them out and had them ready (they have photo directions for all the different types of lanes) . We turned around once, but would have spent hours wandering around Tijuana if I hadn’t had those directions. What I didn’t expect was that there was very little signage directing you to the US border. There are many on the highway, which you follow and will take you out of downtown Tijuana. From there, you’re on your own – Your best guess is the path to the right path. Even Google maps didn’t help. So be sure to print the directions in advance. A few turns (and an accidental loop) later, we finally made it to Ready Lane. And then the slow crawl began. From that moment until we got to the border agent it was a short wait of an hour. However – there’s plenty to see while you wait! Vendors sell souvenirs, churros, drinks, etc. (I saw some selling large paintings). Enterprising people with businesses nearby offer their toilets for $1 USD for passengers to exit. A liquor store has their phone number printed on the lot, and says they will run out of any orders in your car if you call them. So it’s a very interesting time.
Eventually we made it, handed our passports and Global Entry cards to the border agent, and all but 2 minutes later, were back in the US. Your private Safety and FUN tour of Ensenada awaits you. And no more waiting for large groups, buses, or lines.
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