Cycling, Travel | 8 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Cycling in Baja California, Mexico
I was reading some travel reports about people who cycled from California all the way down south to Cabo San Lucas, most of them on mountain bikes. Still, I haven’t heard about someone’s experience riding a road bike in Los Cabos area. That’s exactly what I did in December and I wanted to share my experience with you!
Zdenko in front of the Mission San Jose del Cabo Añuití church in San Jose del Cabo.
Arriving at Los Cabos
I arrived aboard WestJet flight from Edmonton to San Jose del Cabo. I brought my ‘Marinoni’ road racing bike with me. WestJet was very good to me because they only charged me additional $20 for my bike. They classified it as a second bag but not an over-sized bag. I was staying in San Jose del Cabo for 10 days during December of 2012 and was ready to explore all surrounding roads, from the moment we landed in Cabo. Most of the time when I travel I have my bike with me, but this was first time I decided to take it with me to Mexico. I thought this might be good winter training. It was snowing in Edmonton for haven’s sake!!
Even before my trip I was aware how dangerous can be riding a bike in Mexico and some even called me ‘crazy’ to even think about doing it. Thus, they didn’t know that I liked challenges…
Through the city it is a four lane highway
It is somewhat dangerous to ride bicycles around Cabo San Lucas, the Tourist Corridor, and San Jose del Cabo because the local drivers rarely slow down behind the cyclist or for stop signs, until they have reached the middle of an intersection, and assume it is your responsibility to stay out of their way. It can be a harrowing experience at best…
Streets of San Jose del Cabo
That’s what people told me. But my experience was nothing like that. The opposite was true in my case with exception of what they were saying about stop signs. ‘Rolling stop’ is a rule here in Mexico. During my short stay in Cabo I was riding on my bike almost every day all around San Jose del Cabo and even on the main Transpeninsula highway (1), between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.
Zdenko on Paseo San José, the principal avenue of the zona hoteliera.
Riding the bike on streets of San Jose del Cabo
First day I rode around town, to familiarize with the town streets and surrounding areas. From the hotel, which was located at waterfront in the ‘zona hoteliera’ I rode my bike on Paseo San José, the principal avenue of the zona hoteliera, all the way to the central Plaza Mijares. The city has old el centro, or downtown, with restaurants, the Art District, historic inns and budget hotels. At the central plaza I even took picture with the local policeman as in my cycling gear I was a bit of attraction. Most people would recognize my Croatian jersey and mention Croatia as a soccer country! Zaragoza is the main street leading into old town, all the way to the central Plaza Mijares, surrounded on two sides by most of the centro’s attractions. Bulevar Mijares is peppered with restaurants and shops and connects the two areas north to south.
Zdenko with local police by gazebo on zocalo
Watch out for topes! Topes are speed bumps which may or may not have been placed by the proper authorities. Some individuals, will place them on the road illegally, to control the speed of vehicles in front of their house. If you hit them at speed, even on the bicycle, it can be bad for you as you can loose your handlebars and crush. Most (legal topes) are marked with signs, or are painted yellow or white but some are not marked at all!
This ‘tope’ was clearly marked
I went through most of the city streets more than once and was impressed how clean this town was. There was some construction around the main church and ongoing preparations for Christmas celebrations, but everything else was looking good. I loved the area around Fonatour golf course and Paseo Ministerra. Some very expensive houses and condominiums are there.
Interesting building behind me in old town San Jose del Cabo
I rode through the town for more than an hour. Riding on the main highway through the town was not a problem and the traffic didn’t bother me. Although there is no existing shoulder on this section of the highway, there was enough space between me, passing cars and the edge of the road.
I also explored the El Zacatal area just west of the highway, where only local Mexicans live. I was probable the only gringo to venture these streets in a long time. I especially liked area around Paseo de Malvarosa, with smaller but still nice houses. In general, all city streets are in good condition and easy to manage with your bicycle. I did not have to worry about the traffic while on the narrow city streets.
East Cape road bridge
Road to Puerto Los Cabos
From the town, I went east and across the bridge on East Cape road, into the Marina Puerto Los Cabos, La Playita and even further east to La Laguna and Punta Gorda areas. Puerto Los Cabos and La Playita are now connected to San Jose del Cabo by a massive bridge that spans the arroyo, hopefully relieving the area residents of being cut off from the city center during the brief summer rainy season.
Fundadores Beach Club villas
Puerto Los Cabos is the sparkling new world class marina that is located just to the east of the city center, right next to the ever tranquil village of La Playita. The general plan for Puerto Los Cabos includes over four hundred slips in the marina and two eighteen hole golf courses laid out on over two thousand acres. The development includes private homes, condominiums, a private beach club and a boat yard. There will be commercial centers, boutique hotels and full service, resort style, hotels built around the marina. All of this in a carefully thought out, master planned community, that fronts on the Sea of Cortez. The developers graciously saw fit to make a special area, within the marina, for the very popular panga fleet that was located on the beach in La Playita, seemingly forever.
The road is paved, but has many traffic circles. Still, this is an interesting road for cycling with several short but steep hills to climb. I went past the Marina and La Playita, all the way to the end of pavement at Fundadores Beach Club.
On private beach at Fundadores Beach Club
This secluded subdivision of Puerto Los Cabos offers spectacular amenities and lots of privacy. This is beautiful residential area around private Greg Norman Signature golf course with multimillion dollar houses. This is gated community but for a cyclist like me, all gates were open and I was free to browse the whole area.
I stayed on the paved road, which means I didn’t explore the ‘real’ East Cape road, because that road is not paved yet. As it is now, this road is not recommended for cars other than SUVs, never mind bicycles with thin tubulars…
Riding the bike in ‘The Corridor’
The Corridor is stretch of lovely beaches sprinkled with luxurious beachside resorts between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.
The Corridor map
The two towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo which are approximately 28 kilometers apart are connected via Transpeninsula highway that goes through area also known as ‘The Corridor’. The four-lane Corridor highway connecting San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas has been improved in last several years with more safety features.
The very next day I went bike riding on this highway towards Cabo San Lucas for my first longer training ride. This is a road with two lane in each direction, a wide shoulder on each side of the road, for safe bike riding, all the way to Cabo San Lucas. The road is very scenic and has no major climbs, but lots of small rolling hills. This challenging, fun and spectacularly beautiful rolling terrain was contrast to the azure waters of the Sea of Cortes on one side and the desert mountains on the other. I was passing along the most exclusive resorts and famous golf courses of Los Cabos.
Riding bike on the highway on my way to Cabo San Lucas
Self-portrait during the ride
Traffic was extensive, but not crazy, nothing like in Los Angeles area in United States. Riding my bike on the shoulder provided enough distance between passing cars and me. The only thing I had to watch on this road was the usual rocks, fallen car parts and other sharp objects on the side of the road. Somewhere in the middle of my course, close to Baya Santa Maria, I hit the rock on the road and blew my front tire, but that was it. It was clearly my mistake. I had no other troubles. Actually there is one more thing I had to watch for… those little reflective road markers on the side of the road, for the night driving. They are sticking out of the surface and while on the bike you have to carefully maneuver between them and try to avoid hitting them. Distance between these two towns is about 28 kilometers, which makes it for a good two hours bike ride, before I returned to San Jose del Cabo and my hotel.
There is no shade on this course so make sure you have enough water in your bidon to last for the duration of your ride. One other down side for me was that whenever I tried to turn off of the highway, there was a gate with guard security check right there, almost on the highway. So, all these amazing places from the pictures are not open for public access. Most of the resorts and residential areas are gated communities with no public access. There is access to some public beaches, but it is also gravel road as soon as you leave the highway.
Highway has wide shoulders
Cabo del Sol overpass, 10 km before Cabo San Lucas
About 10 kilometers before Cabo San Lucas I took Cabo del Sol exit from the highway and entered this exclusive gate community, where they have a beautiful golf course and several five star villas and hotels, including hotel Sheraton under the name ‘Hacienda del Mar’. This is also gated community, but I just went past the guards at the gate on my bike and they didn’t stop me. The grounds are spectacular and impeccably maintained. The resort rests above the ocean and is modeled after Spanish Colonial architecture with winding paths, fountains, colorful tiles, bell towers, multiple pools and several dining options to choose from. One word: paradise! On the bike, I was able to explore the whole resort and exit thinking how much these tourists are paying for the luxury they enjoy here…
View of the highway on my way back to San Jose del Cabo
I made the trip to Cabo San Lucas three more times during my stay in San Jose del Cabo and never had a flat tire again or any other dangerous situation on the road.
Entering San Jose del Cabo
Highway 1 between San Jose del Cabo and La Paz
This is the highway that heads straight North from San Jose del Cabo to Los Barriles and capital city of Baja California Sur, La Paz. Highway 1 has less traffic than Highway 19 through Todos Santos, but its narrow curves and steep grades make it a slower route. It winds through the Sierra de la Laguna, southern Baja’s highest mountain range, with peaks rising over 7,000 feet from the Sea of Cortez.
Highway between San Jose del Cabo and Los Barriles (79 km)
Distances to be covered if you decide to ride your bike on this route:
San Jose del Cabo – Los Barriles – 79 km
Los Barriles – La Paz – 113 km
Through the city highway doesn’t have a shoulder for cyclists.
On this stretch of the highway I went as far as the airport (only 13 km one way) on my bike. But I drove the car all the way to La Paz and have seen the whole stretch of this road between two cities.
Two lane highway winds through the Sierra de la Laguna mountains
As soon as you leave behind the city of San Jose del Cabo, the highway narrows to only two lanes. Still the road is in very good driving condition all the way across the mountains. I would recommend this road only for the very experienced and brave cyclists, because there is no shoulder. The traffic was sporadic, but the biggest dangers were big tracks… and their crazy drivers. These truck drivers are not used to running into the cyclists on the road, and when they see one, they don’t slow down behind you and they don’t go around you. You have to have your eyes on your back to ensure they don’t run you off the road or something worse. I’ve seen couple of dangerous situations from the car. If I was in a big group of cyclists, I wouldn’t worry, but a single cyclist on this rode is in danger.
Narrow curves and steep grades make it a slower route.
In the mountains – road is in good condition. Pictured here is one well marked bridge
Because it’s wider, straighter and faster, the Todos Santos cutoff (highway 19) is the choice for most drivers going from La Paz back to San Lucas. The highway 1 route is slower, but more scenic than highway 19, crossing the desert and going over the mountains to the Pacific coast and San Jose del Cabo. Therefore this route is more interesting for bike riding.
The highway 1 passes through or near several historic towns. Coming from south, Santiago is first town you will see from the highway. It is not on the highway, rather about 2 kilometers on the side, but there is a small grocery store right on the highway as well as the gas station. This small town was the site of some of Baja’s bloodiest Indian uprisings, resulting in virtual abandonment of the mission there by the end of the 1800′s. Today the town is a thriving farming community and home to the only zoo in Baja south of Mexicali.
Passing through historic towns watch for ‘topes’ like this one
The highway drops out of the mountains to the Cortez coast at Los Barriles on the East Cape, then cuts inland again, north of the mountains toward La Paz. El Triunfo is next town on this route. It was a center for gold and silver mining in the mid 1800′s, and San Antonio, where silver was discovered in 1748, served briefly as capital of the Californias, before the capital was moved to La Paz in 1830.
During hurricane season, washouts can also be a hazard. Road repairs are often not completed for months, and detours across river beds, usually but not always dry are common. Thus I haven’t seen any detours as new bridges were recently built to resolve this problem.
There is very little shade crossing the mountains, so make sure you have enough water in your bidon to before you reach Pacific coast and Los Barriles. Between San Jose del Cabo and Los Barriles there are three gas stations and couple of small grocery stores, to get some food or drinks.
Traffic won’t be a problem in San Jose del Cabo
New bicycle store opens in San Jose
The Sportia Specialized Concept Store, a bicycle and bike accessory shop opened recently in San Jose, directly across the street from Royal Solaris resort in hotel zone. I stopped by and went in to check what kind of bikes they have. The store offers a wide range of bikes for beginners, intermediate and experienced cyclists. Bikes range from $550 to almost $4000 USD for deluxe Olympic competition level mountain bike. The store also offers all the accessories and cycling equipment tourists might need when they bring their bicycles to Cabo. They sell all type of clincher tires and inner tubes. The bad news is their prices are higher than in most stores here in Canada.
The store is offering free (!) daily excursions and events. Mondays, is ladies’ day where women are invited to go for a bike ride and then have a coffee and an energy bar at the store. Participants should meet at the store at 8:30 am with their own bikes and bike to Puerto Los Cabos. Tuesdays at 6:30 am is mountain training and at 4 pm, there is children’s classes. Wednesday at 6:30 pm is route training, Thursdays, is mountain training again at 6:30 am. Fridays is route training again at 6:30 am and so on. This is very good idea to promote the sport in Los Cabos area.
Zdenko in cactus country
Would I do it again? In a flush! If they only pave the East Cape road, this area could potentially become a cycling paradise. The dramatic terrain of Los Cabos and the whole Baja peninsula is ideal for mountain bike riding. There are several bicycle clubs and many hotels that rent bikes by the day or by the hour. But my blog was all about riding bicycle on the road as I didn’t see anyone writing about their experiences on the internet. So now you have it! I hope this will help people like me to visit Los Cabos on the bike and not be afraid!
Hasta la vista amigos!
Don’t let any of the negative things you hear about Mexico traffic discourage you from riding your bike in Baja California. The scenery can be absolutely incredible and the locals are some of the friendliest people on the face of this earth. There are endless stories of the locals appearing out of nowhere to provide help. In my case, there were lots of people who approached me with questions about riding the bike and many just waved to me.
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