Ever had one of those dream trips that seems so out of reach you think it will never happen? My name is Sydney, and a few months ago my little family, and our pup Ollie (@ollie.explores), packed up our truck in Canada and drove all the way to Mexico...10,000 kilometers in three weeks!
We started the trip from our home in British Columbia and crossed the US/Mexico border three very long days later in Tecate.
We've crossed the Canada/US border many times with Ollie, but we weren't sure what to expect when we crossed into Mexico. I was a bit nervous, but we did our research beforehand and learned that pets were required to have their rabies vaccine and a health certificate from the vet. We brought our documents with us, and made sure to pack enough kibble to keep Ollie happy!
In the weeks before we set off, we tried to learn as much of the language as we could. Google Translate was definitely our friend when it came to road signs and restaurant menus - there is even a really neat feature that uses your camera to translate text from Spanish to English (we had lots of laughs at the translations it came up with, but it did the job)!
Why go to Mexico in December? Sunshine of course! Well...the weather had other plans for us. As soon as we crossed the border to Mexico it started to rain. And it rained hard. The streets were completely flooded. We didn't waste much time in Tecate though; we had places to be!
Our first destination in Mexico was the Guadalupe Canyon Oasis Desert Hot Springs, the only campsite we booked in advance. It was 99 miles from Tecate, and the scenic highway en route was simply incredible. All that drenching rain made for a beautiful surprise rainbow over the mountains.
We had a general idea of what to expect once we actually got to the canyons - but we had no idea the drive there would be so spectacular. A 30 km dirt highway, with side roads into the dunes every direction you looked. At first, it was desert as far as the eye could see. As we got closer to our destination, we could see the first glimpse of the canyons across the desert. Once we approached the campground, the bumpy dirt road turned into a high clearance 4x4 trail.
The hot springs campsite was owned by a local family who welcomed us with open arms. They showed us to our camp spot and we were in absolute awe. The place was unreal! They told us about a short hike through the jungle to a beautiful "cascada", and after some choppy English-Spanish back and forth, we figured out that cascada = waterfall, and we got lucky with our timing because of the recent rain. After a day spent driving in the truck, we were all ready to stretch our legs. We walked through the palm trees, over rocks, through streams to get to a pretty magical little waterfall. We couldn't see it at first though, we could only hear it. We scrambled up a rock face and were greeted by an epic view: we found the cascada!
We ventured back to our private hot tub to warm up before dinner. Ollie wasn't too happy about being left out while we enjoyed a soak, and he let us know by giving us the best puppy dog eyes he could muster. Because we were at an actual campground, Ollie had to be leashed so he couldn't explore too far away from our area. After an evening of luxurious soaking, we got to planning our next stop on the route.
One night didn't quite seem like enough, but we were excited to start making our way down the coast and closer to some warm weather and relaxing beach days.
On our drive from the hot springs to our next desert camp spot, we spotted a tarantula on the side of the road! We almost drove right over him - luckily Ollie didn't seem to care.
Leaving the canyons, our route took us over a dry lake bed. Because of the heavy rains we saw the day before, we weren't sure what the conditions would be like on the lake bed. On more than one occasion, things got a little soupy and we had to stop and find alternative routes to avoid sinking too far into the mud and getting stuck. We stopped for a little driving break to let Ollie out for a run. He's a great traveller on long trips and is more than happy to snooze in the backseat on big driving days, but we always try to stop when we have the chance to let him get the zoomies out!
The next town stop was San Felipe, where we had our first official Mexican meal. (Ollie's kibble tasted the same.) After some enchiladas and margaritas, we headed out of town to find a spot to camp. After the first night in the hot springs campground, the rest of our trip was 'wild camping', meaning ! We didn't stay in designated camping spots, but we found our own spots off the beaten path. We primarily found our spots using an app that lists everything from Walmart parking lots, designated campgrounds, and playas (beaches) where camping is permitted. Camping in the middle of nowhere does carry risks, but we were careful that we weren’t on private property and always remained very aware of our surroundings. Our searching led us to a spot outside of San Felipe behind some sand dunes in the dark. We weren't really sure what we would be waking up to!
The next morning we unzipped the tent and were greeted by our first Baja sunrise. That's one way to get me out of bed! One of my favourite aspects of the trip was all the sunrises and sunsets we were blessed with. Each morning we woke up with the beautifully coloured sunrises, and each night we admired the sun setting in the sky while listening to the waves crashing. Living in a city, day to day life doesn't often give me the opportunity to watch the sun rise or set.
The other thing that gets us out of our tent in the morning...COFFEE! We have perfected our camping coffee setup and it is always something to look forward to. On our travel days (which were most days), we don't waste too much time in the mornings before packing up and getting back on the road. After countless nights in our rooftop tent, we are pretty much pros at taking it down in a hurry. We've got an efficient system!
The further down the coast we drove, the better the scenery got. The classic cactus scenes hold a special place in my heart and always will. There are so many different desert plants that are all so beautiful in their own way. One thing to look out for though: the pokey ones! At this particular pit stop (a pee break, a snack break, and an Ollie sprint break), Ollie picked up a very pokey desert cactus in one of his legs. And let me tell you...it wasn't easy to get out. We also picked a few up on the tires!
The driving days were long, nevertheless, we always pulled over to watch the sunset from the truck. This usually led to us scrambling to find a campsite in the dark while the sun was setting. As we drove south, the weather became warmer and the beach campsites became ours. These were the days we dreamed about.
The first night spent camping on the beach was absolutely perfect, and the sunrise over the water the next morning was even better. We spent our first full day on the beach. Lounging in the sun, drinking margaritas, living our best life. We had the beach to ourselves and we were so grateful for a break from the long driving days we had to conquer to get this far. Ollie has never been a swimmer, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love the water - he loves taking a dip in the waves, then sprinting full speed back and forth on the sand! Always entertaining but thank goodness for waterproof collars, right?
After a day in the sun the boys took a trip to the nearest town, Mulegé, to stock up on some food and booze for the next couple of days. On our long driving days we usually ate one meal on the road (lots and lots of fish tacos and margaritas!) and then snacks throughout the day while driving. This night, quesadillas were on the menu for dinner. I don't know if it was the drinking in the sun all day, or the authentic Mexican tortillas and avocados...but I do know that they were the best darn quesadillas I've ever tasted! They became a staple meal for us on the trip, so quick and easy.
Each morning, and every night, Ollie took us on a beach walk for some nearby exploring (and zoomies of course). If I'm being honest, at first I was a bit nervous to bring him with us on this extended trip to a foreign country. But this adventure would not have been the same without the little dude. He had the best time ever running on the beach and jumping in the waves. That night we got the most amazing cotton candy sunset. After the sun disappeared from the sky, we started a small beach fire and settled down for the night.
We don't tend to stay in one place for long, so after a relaxing day and night on the beach it was time to pack up and hit the road again. Before getting too far, we made a quick stop to refuel, fill up those water jugs, and eat some tasty lunch. We found a little square outside of Mulegé where there was a line up of locals gathered. There was no other option, we had to stop - our first taste of authentic street tacos, and WOW were they good.
Any time we stopped for food we had to find a place that was dog-friendly. Of course, it was too hot to leave a pup in the truck, but luckily most restaurants had patios and were more than happy to welcome our group.
Our next stop was another area that we had researched before the trip - Agua Verde. Paved roads soon turned to dirt roads as we meandered down the hill towards the next adventure. Our stop for the night included a beautiful sunset, a rocky beach, and the WORST mosquitoes we've ever encountered. While the views were incredible, it was hard to ignore the little blood suckers buzzing in your ears. Even Ollie was bothered, so we all got in the tent early and said our goodnights. We made it through the night alive, but covered in mosquito bites and very, very itchy. The views made up for it though, and we had to continue on to town.
Well, it turned out that the town of Agua Verde was pretty small and quiet, with a couple of restaurants that weren't open yet. So, between itching and scratching our mosquito bites, we decided it was time to get back on the road.
Next stop: La Paz! We found a spot just outside town to camp in the spectacular white sand dunes. Unfortunately there weren't many wild camping options and we had lots of neighbours this night. It was also one of the windiest nights of the trip; the waves were big and the wind was howling. We tried our best to get some sleep in preparation for another big driving day the next day.
When we woke in the morning we packed everything up quickly and searched for a spot out of the windstorm to make our morning coffee in a perfect sandy little cove. We had a fun morning of coffee and fetch on the sand, while we watched the turquoise waves crash against the shore. When our bellies were full, we loaded ourselves back into the truck to carry on down the coast. Ollie had quite the backseat setup and we were pretty jealous of how comfy he looked!
We stopped back in town for more water and food. We asked some locals for a restaurant recommendation and it ended up being one of the best meals of the trip! Always a good idea to ask for local suggestions. Enchiladas and seafood cocktails on a sunny patio, what’s not to love?
Driving at night we had a few close encounters with cows and horses on the road because many stretches don't have a shoulder, and the roaming animals were very hard to see in the dark. We tried to avoid driving in the dark as much as possible, but some nights it was necessary. Luckily, we avoided any incidents, but a note of caution! Ollie wasn't the best at watching for the animal crossings.
The next day we made it all the way to San Jose del Cabo. After driving down countless dead end roads looking for the perfect spot, we finally found it! We decided that this would be our camp for a couple days to soak up the sunshine and relax.
The water was so warm here we could actually get in, and stay in! We inflated the paddle board and went for a cruise. Ollie isn't the biggest paddleboard fan, (we tried!) so he spent his time running the beach barking at us while we paddled around.
We really hit the jackpot with this spot! Call us boring, but every night before sunset we went on our same ritual beach walk, and I loved every minute of it. The soft sand between our toes and the warm waves washing over our feet as we walked felt like pure magic.
To this day, I dream of those mornings waking up in a tent on the beach. Watching the sunrise over the ocean from the comfort of the tent was mesmerizing, and if it wasn't for Ollie's relentless whining to start the day, we probably would have slept through too many sunrises.
We ended up spending a total of four nights on this beach in San Jose del Cabo, but I could have spent 100 more. It was finally hot enough to just lay on the beach and soak up the rays - I had been waiting for this since we left Canada! At times it was a little too hot for Ollie, but we made sure to always keep his water dish full and he quickly figured out that digging holes in the sand under the truck was the place to be! We spent most of the day reading and chatting, talking about our favourite parts of the trip so far and looking forward to what was still to come.
One of the most amazing things about these days was all of the marine life we got to see - more whales in a few days than I had ever seen. We made sure to keep the binoculars close. After two nights on the most perfect beach, we decided we should move farther down the coast to Cabo San Lucas, our final destination before beginning the long journey home.
We explored the town, stopped for some fish tacos at a local joint, and then headed out to another beach to camp for the night on the west coast of Baja, watching the sun set over the ocean. And what a magical sunset it was! We made a campfire on the beach and drank a few beers. Clear nights, starry skies, crackling fires, vibrant sunsets...doesn't get much better! That night, we went to sleep with the tent skylights open.
In the morning, we woke up to the sound of the waves, but because we were on the west coast now, we didn't get the usual sunrise wake-up that we had gotten used to. Instead, we slept past 6am, much to Ollie's dismay. When we did get up, we looked down the beach to see a group of local fishermen casting their lines into the rolling waves.
During our morning coffee, the tide unexpectedly came up to our campsite, washing over our feet, and flooding our exit! We packed up as quick as we could, and spent a few hours of the day waiting for the tide to roll back out, far enough that we could drive the beach back to the entrance. Not a bad place to wait out the tide, under the awning with a cold margarita from the fridge! We made it out sometime around 3pm, and headed back to our favorite beach spot for another two nights before we started the long drive home to Canada.
We tried not to think too hard about the cold, rainy weather awaiting us back home. Instead, we soaked in all of the goodness of the last beach, sipping the cold margarita cans we found at the grocery store. I don't know if you can classify our trips as camping anymore, with our fridge, shower, and pop-up tent - is it 'glamping'?
We made a detour in Todos Santos - a super cute little surfer town filled with shops and restaurants. The streets are bright and colourful, and local vendors are setup everywhere. Ollie even made a few street dog friends!
After another long driving day, we made it back to the sand dunes outside of La Paz. We tucked ourselves into the bushes to try and protect ourselves from the wind a little. Once we had the tent popped, we built a fire and made a giant batch of guacamole to use up the rest of our fresh avocados and tortilla chips before crossing back into the USA in a couple more days.
Another long day of driving later, and another campsite found in the dark. I was pleasantly surprised when I woke the next morning with the sunshine to the array of cacti all around us! We ended up camping in a gravel pit... Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you sleep in a gravel pit. Ollie seemed to have learned his lesson about the 'pokey boys' earlier in the trip.
The closer we got to the US border, the colder the temps got. When I crawled out of the tent and put my down jacket and toque on, I was definitely missing my usual bathing suit and flip flops! Our trip was quickly coming to a close, and the usual end of adventure sadness was creeping in. After spending three weeks on the road, living out of the truck and camping every night, I still wasn't ready for our trip to be over. But all good things must come to an end, and this epic adventure was no exception.
I was a bit nervous to bring Ollie to Mexico with us. Would border crossings be an issue? Is Mexico dog-friendly enough? In the end, it was truly a breeze! The street dogs in towns could be a little unpredictable towards new dogs on their turf, but we all made it out unscathed. Seeing Ollie enjoy his new surroundings was incredible, and definitely made the trip even better. Ollie did spend our entire trip covered in sand... I don’t think we will ever get all of the sand out of the truck.
When we finally made it back to Canada, I think Ollie was missing the beaches just as much as we were. He was not impressed to go back to the confines of leash walking and being stuck indoors, especially after being a free-roaming beach dog for three weeks. There’s a lot of things in life that make Ollie happy, but running on the beach and splashing in the water is definitely top three on his list. If he could talk, he would probably tell us to turn the truck around and head back to Mexico!
This was a trip we will never forget... until next time Baja!