Camp Guide: The Long Weekender


Words by Stephanie Wright. Photos by Stephanie Wright and Johnie Gall.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Baja. It seemed desolate, hot and rocky. I told my friends I was mostly going for the fish tacos but, let’s be honest, there’s only so much fried seafood you can eat. I needed more.

I didn’t exactly understand the allure it had for my friends, but I was craving quality time with weird people, disconnection from my daily routine, and an adventure, so I jumped on the opportunity and bought a plane ticket.


One hundred and fifteen miles south of Tijuana, Mexico, lies Punta San Jose. These cliffs are home to a tiny fishing village, epic surf breaks and lots of land to set up camp on high above the Pacific Ocean. My friends heard rumors of it on the Internet, and headed down a few days early to scope it out for us. All we had to do was grab some watermelon, get down there and set up camp alongside them for the long weekend.


Baja by Numbers

Campers: 6 (plus one dog)

Cars Driven: 2

Egg Purchased: 90

Eggs Eaten: 30

Hours spent at the border: 4

Snakes Spotted: 1

Number of sunburns: Unknown





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Pesos vs. U.S. Dollars

Before traveling to a different country, I always have a mild freak out trying to find a bank that provides the local currency. This time around, I’m glad I didn’t bother. From my experience, there’s actually no need to have pesos on hand when you’re headed down to Baja. Everywhere we stopped happily took U.S.D. and had signs indicating the conversion rates they went by. I had about $40 in my wallet, which was more than enough for my $4 taco lunch, $8 straw hat and $2 churros. Heck, even the “camp hosts” took our northern currency. The only time we used cards was for bigger purchases, such as gas and groceries. Don’t forget to tell your bank you’re headed to Mexico.


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You’ll need the same essentials that you would car camping anywhere else so be sure to bring a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp stove, cooler and kitchen utensils. Don’t forget a spork (I always do). Bring a swimsuit, tank and shorts, as well as a pair of Teva sandals you don’t mind getting wet. The beach and ocean are pretty rocky in this area so you’ll be wearing them a lot.




At night, the weather along the coast can be unpredictable but chances are the wind will pick up so you’ll need a puffy or fleece and cozy pants once the sun goes down. We also found the following useful on our trip to Baja:

Xylophone: to jam on during downtime or to switch it up when you get sick of that U2 album that’s mysteriously downloaded on your phone.

Colorful poncho: to wear over your swimsuit when the wind picks up or to cover up the fact that you can’t dance.

Knife: your friends will forget one and mangoes won’t peel themselves, people.

Camp chair: there were a few too many bugs crawling around for me to sit on the ground all day.

Twinkle Lights: for ambience and to help your fellow campers stay up past dark.

Binoculars: to get a closer look at the pelicans, dolphins and whales playing offshore.



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Getting There

Unless you fly right into Tijuana, you’ll probably want to take a flight to Southern California. We took an early flight from Seattle to LAX so that we would have the whole day to drive south. We hit the road after we landed.

The roads out to Punta San Jose are rough and rocky once you cut off from the main highway, so we needed a vehicle that took no prisoners. You can either rent a big four-wheel drive vehicle, or ask one of your friends who has access to an epic adventure mobile to come along. We were lucky enough to snag an old Land Rover Discovery — this baby isn’t practical unless you’re getting into something messy which, as luck would have it, we were.

Depending on your final destination, make sure you have everything you need before you make it to camp. Punta San Jose is located more than an hour off the main highway, making the closest amenities more than hour and a half away.  If we had to go back for anything, it would be hours before we would make it back to camp.


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Stops to Make On The Way

It’s true what they say — the journey is just as important as the destination. What started out as a five-hour drive eventually turned into a 12-hour journey as we made the essential stops along the way. I suggest you follow suit:

- Have brunch and coffee at The Camp in Costa Mesa.

- Top off the tank at a nearby gas station.

- Stop at the U.S.-Mexico border. Actually, guards most likely won’t make you stop here. Just drive on through past the man with the scary gun.

- Drive to the Walmart just south of Tijuana for groceries and water.

- Send someone back into the Walmart one or two more times to pick up what you forget the first time.

- Pit stop at that taco stand just south of Rosarito, both for the food and the people watching (I recommend the shrimp tacos, as long as the elderly woman is there cooking them).

- Ensenada. This is the last big city before you head into the desert. Gather any last supplies you’re missing and make sure to purchase a big straw hat and a multicolored poncho for camp. Necessities.



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There is virtually no shade where we camped in Baja, so it’s important to stay hydrated. We rationed for a gallon of water per person, per day. This gives you enough for hydration, cooking and washing dishes. Anything extra can be used for face washing and squirt guns.

Our diet at camp consisted mostly of eggs, tortillas, avocados, chorizo and beer. Although eggs and tortillas are both very versatile, worthy foods to bring, take it from me: 10 per person per day isn’t exactly a realistic estimate. We had enough leftover to feed a village and, in fact, did pass off all of our extras to the five men who lived in the nearby fishing village.



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What to Do

It was foolish of me to think that the beach we were going to would be littered with taco stands, surf rentals and hostels. Of course, that can be your trip if you want — there is plenty of coastline north of Ensenada that is more developed. In Punta San Jose, however, we were left to make our own fun.


Play in and around the ocean: The water was chilly. If you’re tough enough (or numb enough) to bear it, the ocean is a great place to cool off and swim, surf or body surf. We also spent hours sitting on the beach, napping, investigating tide pools and diving into the darkest corners of our brains for the best “would you rather” questions.


Eat: We brought a lot of food, so we stuffed a lot of things in tortillas that don’t belong together and did something that would make any suburban mother cringe: we played with our food. How fast can you eat a banana without using your hands?


Explore the area: The cliffs along this part of Baja are dramatic, like a stale loaf of bread was pulled apart and filled in with the Pacific. Walk up the coast on foot, or venture out on some rough roads in your 4×4 to scope out an epic sunset spot. We moseyed along a dirt road and ended up in the tiny village nearby, occupied only by collapsing shacks, some friendly fishermen and a few stray dogs.


Try a New Sport or Game: We brought a couple surfboards down with us to play around on. As a novice surfer, I’m happy to report that I was out in the waves for a whole seven minutes before my kelp fear turned me back towards shore. If surfing isn’t your thing, having downtime at camp is the perfect opportunity to start a new hobby. I suggest juggling — it will keep you entertained for longer than you think.


Dance: If all else fails, bust a (bad) move.



Leaving Camp

After you’re thoroughly dusty and salt water has made its way into every crevice, it’s probably time to head back north. Chances are you will have extra food and bags of garbage. On our way out, we saw way too many ditches filled with the leftovers of other campers’ good times. The local fishermen were nice enough to take our extra eggs and fruit, as well as dispose of our trash. They, too, were sad to see litter in their ditches. Otherwise, bring your trash with you until you can find the proper receptacle.

Give yourself plenty of time to get back. The U.S.-Mexico border is an untamed beast and there’s no telling how long it will take you to cross. This time around it took us three hours to get back into the States, but you should be prepared for four hours or longer. Not to say the border is a boring place — there will be hundreds of street vendors knocking at your window to sell you ponchos, figurines and even live puppies.


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