Mexicans know how to party. There are festivals all year round, but after Christmas and New Year, the Mexican festival calendar still has a ‘carry on partying’ vibe to it. Travel the 970 mile journey down through the Baja California Peninsula and you’ll find local villages celebrating in their own way. Starting with the iconic dusty roads of Mexican border towns and ending with a ‘magical experience’ at the Hotel California, there’s a lot to enjoy. A note on safety, stay on the beaten path – and don’t worry. You’ll still experience some unique local flavour that’s a world away from California on the other side of the border.
After you’ve recovered from New Year, restart the party on 6 January in the border town of Tijuana for Día de Reyes (Kings Day).
Celebrated across Mexico, it honours the Wise Men’s journey to see the baby Jesus. Hot chocolate and presents are offered to those who take part, while performances and music happen all around. Taste some Rosca de Reyes – Kings Cake. A circular sweet bread decorated with sugared fruit, with a figurine of baby Jesus hidden inside. Find it and tradition states you have to host a party come Candlemas (2nd February). Maybe on the way back…
After all that partying and cake eating, a scenic 3 hour drive on Highway 1 to San Quintin is just the ticket.
Passing over mountains, through vineyards and miles of tomato fields, what awaits you is worth it. Long and wide beautiful beaches, plentiful fishing, great diving and surfing and delicious shellfish – even the street side taco stands will have fresh fish tacos to offer (go for the one with the most customers). At the Museo de San Quintin learn about Don Luis Rodrigues Avina, the man who reinvigorated San Quintin’s farming industry, creating Pinos Produce, still owned and operated by his family today.
Back on the good vibes trail of Highway 1, head 36 miles south to El Rosario, most famous for its restaurant Mama Espinosa.
If you love motorsport, you’ve come to the right place. It’s wall-to-wall car and bike memorabilia here. Adding to the car-love is the fact that Parnelli Jones and Steve McQueen were regulars when the Baja 1000 off-road race would stop off here. Apparently McQueen often dropped in for their famous lobster burritos in the ‘60s. Turn right at Mama’s and you can enjoy some good local beaches, before getting back on Highway 1 for a 10 hour drive to a very fun, friendly place.
Known for its friendly vibe, Mulege is a destination for those looking for fiesta and local atmosphere.
Around 17 January, the Feast of San Antonio de Abad honours the animal kingdom by decorating local livestock and bringing them to church. Celebrating animals in another way is the weekly Saturday night pig roast in Mulege, a local tradition of many years. Margaritas and mariachis make for a great time all round. To refresh yourself the next morning, drive 20 minutes to Bahia Conception where you’ll find clear, waveless waters – perfect for snorkelling and clamming – and quiet sandy beaches.
Make the 5.5 hour drive further south in late January, and you’ll join hundreds of locals and eco-tourists in the year-round sunshine of La Paz enjoying the Festival de la Ballena Gris – the Grey Whale festival.
The whales migrate annually from the Bering Sea to the Baja California coast in a 12 mile roundtrip – believed to be the longest migration of any mammal on earth. This is indeed a reason to celebrate. Boats depart to get close to the 300 whales sighted daily in Magdalena Bay, while on-shore, the festival atmosphere kicks off with fireworks and dancing. The whales stick around until March, but out of whale-watching season the vibrant street life and small town atmosphere makes La Paz somewhere to celebrate all year round.
Todos Los Santos
An hour’s drive southwest from La Paz on Highway 19, you’ll find Todos Santos, a small coastal town in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains.
Name as a ‘Pueblos Magicos’ in 2006 (a government title for towns offering a ‘magical experience’), you’ll find art galleries, upmarket restaurants and restored colonial buildings among beautiful scenic surroundings. But we are here for fiesta, so come in January for the Todos Santos Music Festival, a huge success since it was started in 2012 by R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and the legendary local establishment Hotel California (yes, The Eagles one). Raising money for local charities, the festival’s line-up includes many local and international names and guaranteed good time. That’s one magical experience to end your trip with.