Having finally decided on Ensenada for our Thanksgiving getaway this year has me all excited, even though I have a few trips scheduled before that. What can I say, I loved our first visit there and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since. And it wasn’t just because of the tacos… although I must admit, it did play a big role.
Sadly, while we’ve got our hotel room booked already, Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away. So for now, I’m settling on looking at (and sharing with you) my photos from our last visit.
Driving down Baja California, past the towering border wall and the ever-busy Tijuana, a surprisingly arresting view of the coast greets us. Miles of hazel, fog-blanketed hills gently roll down unto the foamy shores of the blue Pacific. It’s a scene reminiscent of dreamy Big Sur, perhaps just ever so slightly browner, drier and less of a reverie.
Even more surprising are the houses, Mediterranean- and adobe-style, that adorn this coast. Their reddish brown rooftops peek charmingly over Federal Highway 1D, the main road that takes travelers on a scenic drive from Tijuana, its starting terminus, to just a few miles north of Ensenada. Collectively, they add a captivating and busy detail to an otherwise serene panorama.
It’s not at all how we imagined this part of Mexico would look.
Most surprising of all is the food… the glorious food, the delicious and hearty dishes centered on the freshest catch of the day – tuna, abalone, shrimp, oysters and even lobsters. Living in Southern California, we have heard all about BC’s legendary tacos de pescado (fish tacos), a dish often replicated in many restaurants in Los Angeles, but we needed further proof.
So began our weekend-long culinary journey along Mexico’s beautiful Pacific coast.
On a balcony overlooking the baby blue coast in a little town called Puerto Nuevo, we sample the fried rock lobsters (langosta), served Baja-style with refried beans, rice, tortillas and salsa on the side. Further south in downtown Ensenada, we squeeze past the crowd to try La Guerrerense’s famous (and incredible, we know this now) ceviche, served on hard taco with avocado on top, ignoring rumors of it being overrated. And we walk less than a mile away from the tourist zone to Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix, whose battered fish and battered shrimp Baja-style tacos are a revelation, utterly addictive and some say the best in town.
We partake in a languid Sunday breakfast affair at Hotel Coral and Marina’s BC Bistro and Cava, whose Sunday breakfast buffet include not just heaps of delicious, hearty chicken mole, cochinita pibil, Mexican Barbecue beef, beans, pozole and tamales, but also carnitas, ceviche and a large slab of lamb meat slowly roasting in an open flame, all for only about $15 per person. We sample local wine in Valle de Guadalupe, whose historic wine route is responsible for much of the tourist traffic in these parts. And, of course, we drink the local coffee, La Negrita, cheap yet surprisingly good and chocolatey.
By the end of it, we are happy, satiated and too full to consume anything else. Or so we think…
As we drive back up to LA, resisting to urge to go back to Fenix to get fish tacos for the road and already planning our next trip down, we get stuck in border traffic despite our fast pass. There in line, we purchase a bag of churros from a young girl selling them at a mobile stand right in the middle of that slow and busy highway – a striking contrast to the idyllic scene that welcomed us at the start of our trip; and we devour these Mexican treats within minutes. After all, full or not from our food adventure, there’s always, always room for dessert.
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Hotel Coral & Marina. Carretera Tijuana-Ensenada Km.103 #3421, Zona Playitas, 22860 Ensenada | 52-646/175-0000
Villa Ortegas. Barracuda 77, Puerto Nuevo | 52-661/614-0706 La Guerrerense. Corner of Avda. Alvarado and First St., Ensenada | 52-646/174-2114 Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix. Corner of Espinosa and Avda. Juárez, Ensenada BC Bistro and Cava. Carretera Tijuana-Ensenada Km.103 #3421, Zona Playitas, 22860 Ensenada | 52-646/175-0000
Hacienda la Lomita. Fraccionamiento 13 22785 Ensenada | 52-646/156-8466 Café La Negrita. Centro Comercial Bahía Loc. 35 | 52-646/178-6512
The enchanting land south of the border is one of the best destinations you’ll ever explore in your life. But like any other destination, there are things you must keep in mind during your visit to Mexico to guarantee your health and safety as well as to avoid unfortunate incidents that might ruin your vacation.
We’ve been to and explored different parts of this beautiful country now, and we’ve learned quite a few things during those visits that we’d like to share with you. Here are some important things you should keep in mind when traveling to Mexico.
Plan out (and book, if possible) your transportation before you go. Unlike in first world countries, finding transportation in most parts of Mexico does not come easy. Public transportation, even in big cities like Cancun, while extensive, is not as modern and easy to figure out. And in some places, driving is not recommended for tourists. Do a lot of research before you go. Determine if it’s safe to drive a rental car around the area you’re visiting (the Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta are great examples) or figure out which public buses you can take to get you places and whether cabs are available for convenience. Better yet, have your hotel arrange drop offs and pick-ups for you.
Roaming plan goes a long way. Mobile service providers usually offer fairly inexpensive roaming plans that should cover you during your visit. Don’t make the same mistake we made and purchase one before your trip. It comes very handy if you’ll find yourself stuck somewhere because you missed the last bus or if there’s an emergency.
Don’t drink the water. Unless you’re staying at a resort that treats their water (Velas Vallarta, for example), don’t drink tap water in Mexico. Don’t drink it, don’t brush your teeth with it. Just don’t. It’s probably safe for the locals, but not for you. Buy bottled water from the grocery store and use that as if your life depended on it… because it probably does.
Eat at local, non-touristy restaurants. Mexico has some of the best dishes we’ve ever had in our life – carnitas with chicharron as well as roasted chicken in PlayaCar, battered fish and shrimp tacos AND ceviche in Ensenada, carne asada tacos in the Riviera Maya, simply because we braved eating at local restaurants and food stands that most tourists don’t usually go to. Just make sure to do research beforehand and eat at those spots that get more traffic, so you don’t risk food poisoning. Travel and eat smart!
Our short list of Mexico restaurant recommendations to come soon!
Go off the beaten path. Don’t miss out on wonderful finds simply because you’re too afraid to stray just a little. Yes, some parts of Mexico are dangerous, but what most people do not realize is that the country is massive and most of it is safe, with locals who are warm, friendly and welcoming. Again, stay smart and do your research; but don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful beaches, adorable small towns, and probably some of the best memories.
Learn some Spanish. It doesn’t matter whether you’re visiting a town under the radar or staying in a resort destination – it’s very likely that you’ll come across non-English speaking locals who you’re going to have to communicate with, even if it’s for something as simple as asking for plastic utensils at a restaurant. And learning a few basic words and phrases will help a great deal.
Carry cash. Small restaurants, some shops, taxis, buses and food stands especially do not accept credit or debit cards, so do make sure to carry enough cash around. Having cash around also makes it easier to tip your servers as well as the hotel staff. (And yes, they do tip in Mexico!)
Get a fast pass when crossing the border. Driving into Mexico from the US is so easy it’s kinda eerie, but driving back is a completely different story entirely. In fact, you might spend a few hours waiting in line in your car at the border crossing station with hundreds of other cars, and that’s not at all fun. See if your hotel offers fast passes for their guests; you’ll still have to wait in line but these fast passes can get you on the “fast lane” and cut a couple of hours off your wait time.
Skip the souvenir shops and buy the more authentic products instead. Trust us, most products you’ll find at a souvenir shop in Cancun, you’ll most likely find at a different souvenir shop in Cabo. When shopping for mementos to take home, look for stores that sell the more authentic products – Catrina sculptures, locally produced coffee and indigenous artworks are a few examples.
Don’t pay to take photos with the animals. During your explorations, you’ll meet a couple of locals who will invite you to hold and take photos with an adorable lion or panther cub they happen to be carrying for a few dollars. It’s hard to resist, we know, especially if you’re an animal lover like us. However, the sad truth is these cubs are drugged to keep them tame and safe for tourists to handle, probably mistreated, and then dumped when they’re too old. We actually called a couple of animal rescue centers in the Riviera Maya the first time we encountered such activity, and they told us that some of these people are employed by drug cartels. Please, please do not support and encourage this type of activity.
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