Where can you find a good motel? Report from Baja

Another great travelog from my brother, Barry–Libby

It took your intrepid travelers four nights in three countries to find a decent motel room. It was hard, we covered a lot of ground, but we persevered and in the end did it.

Torrey Pine bluff in San Diego looking over the Pacific

We had booked our first and last night in Costa Rica via the internet. It was a mistake. The room was small, with the bed almost filling the entire space, and with a bathroom hardly big enough for one to turn around in. Places to put suitcases, toiletries or hang clothes were next to non existent. The only saving grace was the nice guy behind the desk and the WiFi. We thought about going to another place for our last night even though we had prepaid, but with having to be at the airport at 4:30 in the morning we decided against it. Why pay again for a half night’s sleep?


After an uneventful trip to LA we picked up our car and checked into a Travelodge near the airport. You can’t tell a book by its cover. This motel had seen better days, and that was decades ago.

We left LA early the next morning for Encinitas (North coast San Diego County), where we were to have lunch with my friends Rod and Jill. Being Saturday, traffic was light and we arrived early giving us plenty of time to change the car’s oil, shop, bank and drive around Solana Beach, where I used to live. Ah, the memories.

Lunch on Rod and Jill’s deck, overlooking the Pacific, was followed by a hike in Torrey Pines state park and dinner out. Torrey Pines is a scenic bluff overlooking the pacific and one of the two homes to the rare (5,000 trees in all) Torrey Pine. I had hiked it many times; it was nice visiting an old haunt, with its trails down to the beach and its scenic views.


That night we stayed in a Best Western eight miles north of the border. Checking in just before us were a couple, she all decked out and in heels (no one dresses like that in informal San Diego), he with his hands fondling her ass. They were clearly planning a brief but intensive stay. It turned out we had picked another motel that had seen better days. So much for the Best Western TV adds.

Early the next morning (Sunday) we headed across the boarder at Tijuana. We figured that this would be a good time to get through TJ as we did not want to get caught in the hail of bullets between rival drug gangs or get rear ended by someone out to pick up the insurance money.

After zipping across the boarder in the nothing to declare lane, I don’t think we even came to a complete stop, we followed the signs to Ensenada. Unfortunately, there was construction and I knew we were headed in the wrong direction as we passed a detour sign. The streets of TJ are quiet early Sunday morning. There was hardly a car in motion or person to be seen. The drug gangs must have had a hard night of it and were sleeping in. We passed Staples and Home Depot a couple of times and eventually found a couple of people to ask for directions.


The trip south was scenic. A limited access four lane toll road runs along the coast to Ensenada offering views of the Pacific interspersed with vacation and retirement property for those who come from North of the boarder.

The road South of Ensenada, narrow and two lane, runs inland, parallel to the coast. It snakes through mountains and across the dessert floor. Well trained by my Costa Rican experience, I have no trouble navigating the rather tight Mexican curves.

Views were spectacular. Cactus abounded. There were occasional farms, large and neatly laid out. In some the plants were covered by plastic, which we learned later was there to conserve the water which is taken from underground aquifers and desalinated. Crops included grapes, and nopal (prickly pear cactus). Somehow seeing cactus in well laid out rows on a farm does not compute.

The road runs through a series of small dusty towns. The last of these towns before the road heads inland is El Rosario, population 3500. It is here that the true Baja is said to begin. It is also here that one fills up on gas; the next station is 362 km (255 mi.) down the road. Close to the Pacific coast, one can stay here to surf or fish.

We pulled into the Baja Cactus Motel early afternoon and for $39 US, about half what we paid the previous three nights, found ourselves in a terrific room (the guide book describes the rooms as luxurious) with strong Mexican themes and full amenities (that means a big comfortable bed, a good bathroom and WiFi). It took us four days and three countries, but finally we had found not only a decent, but even terrific motel room. And, the price was, to say the least, impossible to beat as well as the lowest we had paid or were to pay in weeks.

A final note: Next to the Baja Cactus Motel is one of Baja’s most famous restaurants, Mama Espinosa’s. It was a watering hole during the early days of the Baja road races. Signed autographs (Steve McQueen, Earl Garner, Parnelli Jones (you need to be an Indy 500 race fan circa 1970 to catch this one)) fill the walls and ceiling. It is the only decent eating place in town. Here we had a late lunch, dinner and the next day breakfast before continuing our journey south.