Ensenada (Spanish: Ensenada De Todos Santos) is the city seat of the largest municipality in Baja California, Mexico on the Pacific Coast south of Tijuana. It is locally referred as La Bella Cenicienta del Pacífico (Spanish:The Beautiful Cinderella of the Pacific)
In the Bahía de Todos Santos — an inlet of the Pacific Ocean — Ensenada is an important commercial and fishing port as well as a cruise ship port of call. There is also a navy base, an army base and a military airfield.
The city is backed by small mountain ranges. Due to its location on the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean latitude, the weather tends to be mild year-round. Although the winter rainy season is short and the area is prone to prolonged droughts, Ensenada sits in the heart of a wine country that is widely regarded as the best in Mexico and the Americas with the Napa Valley in California. It is said that the first vitis vinifera made it to the peninsula (specifically to the San Ignacio Mission) in 1703, when Jesuit Padre Juan de Ugarte planted the first vineyards there.
Ensenada is the only deep-water port in the state of Baja California and is part of standard shipping routes that directly link it with the Mexican cities of La Paz, Manzanillo, Mazatlán, Acapulco and Lázaro Cárdenas, and with the U.S. cities of San Diego, Long Beach and Los Angeles, the Guatemalan city of Puerto Quetzal, the Chilean city of Valparaíso, the Japanese city of Yokohama and Hong Kong.
Ensenada boasts overall very pleasant weather with the sea bringing cold air in hot days and not much cold on the winters. It is also very fickle and you are advised to bring a sweater and pants along with your shorts and shirts.
Ensenada has a dry Mediterranean climate. Precipitation is scarce and is concentrated in the coldest months, from November to February, in which the average temperature is 13 °C and rarely reaches frost. On the other hand, the warmest months, from June to September, are also the driest, and have an average temperature of 22 °C. The end of summer and the beginning of autumn is commonly the warmest time in the city. The Santa Ana winds are responsible for raising temperatures at any time of the year, when the wind direction changes and brings warm air from the interior to the coast. It is in these months that the highest temperatures occur most frequently (between 25 and 30 °C usually).
- Take the bus from Tijuana for roughly US$18 or M$350.
- Drive across the border from San Ysidro. Go in the morning and you will be going the opposite direction of the nigtmare traffic trying to get into the U.S.. Once in Tijuana, follow the signs to Rosarito and Ensenada on route 1. There will be three toll stops en route to Ensenada. These tolls cost M$31, less than US$2, each. You can pay with US dollars or pesos, but no mixed currency. The scenic highway ("carretera escenica") is well maintained and is an enjoyable ride along the beautiful Baja coastline. If you go in spring and early summer, the wildflowers on the hillsides are gorgeous. The ride from Tijuana to Ensenada takes 1-1½ hours. Stop in Puerto Nuevo for a Mexican lobster dinner. There are many rest areas and vista points along the way. AAA and other travel magazines recommend that you only drive in Mexico during the day for safety reasons. The toll road (scenic highway) is somewhat winding compared to divided highways in the United States or Europe, but a great improvement over two-lane roads south of Ensenada.
- Bike. Coming from the US, if you want to avoid Tijuana's heavy traffic, you can try biking in from Tecate. As one blogger somewhere suggested, go on a Sunday, there's the fewest cars on the road. The blogger also noted that highway 1 has no shoulder and high motor vehicle traffic. The toll road, 1d, has a shoulder and little traffic, but bikes aren't allowed, so a police officer might tell you to get off at the next exit. Somewhere on the internet, it is also noted that there are hundreds of crosses on Highway 1 representing people who died on that road.
- Cruise ships: Ensenada has become a regular stop for several lines of cruise ships since the 1980s. Although this is certainly the most expensive means to travel to Ensenada, it is also most enjoyable.
- Carnival shuttles. Carnival Cruises has the Misioneros Tour company run shuttle buses between the port and Ensenada every 10min. It's US$2 to Ensenada and US$2 to get back to the ship. US$4 round-trip.
- By foot Most of Ensenada's downtown tourist attractions can be accessed by foot. Others, like La Bufadora and Wineries are too far away to walk to, but tours will take you there for a fee. If your espanol is "malo" you could take local buses inexpensively out and back to La Bufadora.
- By bicycle Most of the Boulevard Costero and the scenic highway can be traveled by bike. Take precautions for the scenic highway north of Costero is a freeway and trucks and cars travel at high speeds. Ensenada's South is not very bike friendly. Bloggers typically note that drivers give each other less room in the US, but are more courteous (e.g., sharing right of way, no road rage, etc). There is safety gear you shouldn't need, but pretty much everywhere in North America, you do anyway. The driver will be wrong, but you could be dead. So add visibility: - Get a high-visibility shirt, - a "safety wing" that puts a reflector 1 foot to the left of your bicycle (and folds in if it is hit), and - a slow-moving vehicle triangle.
- By car The city is easy to navigate by car and parking is free and available everywhere. On highways, the left lane is just for passing and local drivers will tailgate you if you coast on the left lane. You can rent a car at the Rosarito Hotel.
- Taxis and buses Radio taxis are available and will take you anywhere. Route taxis and buses serve mostly suburban routes and are not very useful for tourists, although are very cheap (US$0.75, M$8).
- 1 La Bufadora (blow-hole) (in a small village about 30 km southwest of town). The road from Ensenada, especially in the area close to the Bufadora, offers beautiful views over the sea and cliffs. The narrow main street leading to the viewing area is crowded with tourist-trap shops selling curios, take-away food, and prescription medicines, but the Bufadora is a rather remarkable natural sea vent. However, you cannot see the blow hole from most parts of the viewing area due to the angle of the cliff face; the impressive columns of water that shoot up are visible. On busy days, local Mexican tourists in the hundreds cram the viewing area. The local cove offers camping, swimming, kayaking and scuba, including a small dive shop with rentals; the cove is especially cold water. Locals report that sea lions are sometimes seen swimming about. Locals eat at Celia's, also available are the Bufadora, Pancho's, and Habana Banana restaurants.
- Carnival Tours. Bufadora tours from Carnival Cruise lines cost more than anywhere else, but will pick you up and drop you off from the cruise ship port. US$36.
- Misioneros Tours. This tour company runs the shuttle buses between the Carnival cruise ships and Ensenada. The stop in Ensenada is right by their tour booth where you can buy a discounted Bufadora tour. They prefer US dollars. US$15.
- Ensenada Wineries Many wineries exist on the outskirts of Ensenada in the Valle de Guadalupe and an hour south at Santo Thomas. The wineries are located along Highway 3 to Tecate (exit just south of last toll gate, north of town). Most offer tours and tastings, however some wineries require that you make an appointment before.
The greatest experiences in Ensenada involve going out early to Bufadora, having ceviche at 1st street, drink at Hussong's, then go to a beach and end back in a club or bar. All of these require independent transportation so it would be wise to rent a car, and have a designated driver.
Beaches and surfing
- Beaches. The city of Ensenada is on the Ensenada Harbor, so you'll have to drive south or north to get to a local beach. Private beaches like Estero Beach and Mona Lisa have resort accommodations and facilities, but public ones like San Miguel and El Punto are free for anyone who wishes to walk by the sea.
Ensenada area has several celebrated surfing spots, such as San Miguel Beach, California Trailer Park, Stacks and 3 M's (Spanish:Tres Emes), which are located in the north coast of the city. Todos Santos Island a small island west of Ensenada (about 2 hours by boat), and a world-famous surfing spot. The Billabong XXL surfing contest has been held at Todos Santos Island several times. Wave faces can reach above 18 m (60) feet on the island. Brad Gerlach, 2006 winner of Big XXL, surfed a wave of 20 m (68 feet) in December 2006.
- San Miguel Beach, San Miguel Beach (Near Ensenad's highway toll, ask a taxi). A small rocky beach that offers a great night view of the city. Great for camping and drinking, locals favor it for it's relaxed nature and private nature which means you won't be disturbed unless you make a lot of noise. Free entrance, US$12 camping.
Hiking, nature and off-road
Hiking can be done on the nearby Canon de Dona Petra, and on the nearby Laguna Hanson. Arrangements with local eco tour companies are needed.
- El Salto. Its a beautiful canyon, excellent for rock climbing, rappel and hiking; and in rain season you can view a spectacular waterfall that is over 30 m (100 ft). You can find it at KM 76 in the Tijuana - Ensenada Libre Highway. Camping Facilities. US$2.
- Canon de Dona Petra Hike (ask a taxi to get you to the starting point). Every first Sunday of the month, locals hike through this 10-km hike. It's free and you can find many people. It takes about 3½ hours at good pace and it's of moderate difficulty. At the end of the hike, you can take the bus back to Ensenada for about US$1. free.
- San Carlos Hot Springs (Aguas Termales) (head five miles south of town ( just past Chapultepec) on the road to San Quintin, turn East at the golf course and follow the signs, or ask the locals). Features pipe-fed hot pools, cold pool, and mud pool as well as cabins, showers and camping, is popular with the locals, despite a 16-km rocky dirt road with 13 (or so) shallow water crossings; medium-clearance vehicles are recommended.
- California Motorsport Adventures. Off-road adventure tours for people of all riding abilities. Everyone welcome: families, couples, friends, single riders, bachelor and corporate groups. Full day excursions or longer tours available also. Ride in the dunes and then enjoy a guided adventure into the surrounding mountain trails. Contact the office for reservations.
- Whale Pursuing (Whale Watching). The gray whales' annual migration from Alaska to the lagoons of Baja California Sur between the months of December and March, and back in the months of April and May, can be seen from the coast of Ensenada. Sightseeing tours are available every day during migration season. Whale watching not guaranteed.
- La Bufadora (The Blowhole), Punta Banda. La Bufadora is a marine geyser and the largest blowhole in the world, often shooting upwards more than 30 m (100 feet) above sea level. The exhibit hall roof top is approximately 25 m (80 feet) above sea level and the blowhole frequently sprays above it. Free.
- Sports Fishing. Ensenada Baja California has been known for sport fishing over fifty years. Each year hundreds of anglers head for Ensenada to go fishing and take advantage of the shorter distances needed to travel by sea to get to the big catch. The short range day trips are good for cranking in Bass, Bonita, Barracuda, Cod and Yellowtail, while the long range trips pull in Tuna, Albacore, Dorado. Prices Vary.
- Baja 1000 (The Longest International Off Road Race in the World). This important race held in November as well as the Baja 500 Off-Road race held in June start in Ensenada. While the Baja 500 almost always ends in Ensenada, the Baja 1000 ends in Ensenada in even-numbered years while in odd-numbered years ends at the tip of Baja, usually in Cabo San Lucas. Amenities are extended during the days prior to the start. Race info including course map updated regularly at the website.
- Wine Harvest Festival (Fiestas De La Vendimia). Every year, before the end of spring and until the end of August, the wine harvest season is celebrated around the Guadalupe Valley and in the city of Ensenada with a series of events. These events range from private wine tastings and galas, to concerts of classical music and famous pop artists at the wine yards. The end of the harvest season is commemorated by a two-day free event at the Santo Tomas winery in Ensenada with a festival that is preferred by the locals. Be sure to check out the site for there is an event almost daily. Varies.
- . The Ensenada Carnaval is one of the country's largest, as thousands of people gather in the streets for six days and nights.
- Curios, On 1st street. Many regional art pieces for cheap can be found on 1st Street.
- MacroPlaza, Transpeninsular (Ask a taxi or take any Maneadero Bus). Mall with clothing and supermarket options. If you want to see a movie and don't mind Spanish subtitles, go to a Mexican movie theater. US$5 tickets is a steal compared to USA prices.
- Open Air Fish Market (Mercado Negro), Boulevard Costero. Baja's largest seafood market. Located near the oceanfront. Most of the market's open air stalls sell catches fresh off the fishing boats that dock nearby. This is also a great place to try a famous fish taco.
- Fish Tacos. The fish taco is said to have been born in Ensenada (or possibly San Felipe). The local style includes deep-fried seafood, with a white sauce and a shredded-cabbage topping, along with several salsas. Dining at the row of fish and shrimp taco eateries by the pier is an Ensenada must.
- Taqueria El Fenix. This local favorite serves delicious tacos, shrimp and fish.
- Caprichos. Incredible fine dining. Located in the heart of Ensenada on the cobblestone street, across the road from Hussongs (whether it is the original or not is unknown). It also serves delicious burgers on a back grill.
- Tortas Michoacan. Really good sandwiches with either pork, ham, carne asada, or all three, very delicious, kind of a little walk away from the tourist area, look for the counter with a big line of people on the main street just 1 block south of a Chinese buffet, it's about 2 blocks east from the main tourist area and about 10 blocks south on the widest big road with all the shops all the way along it.
- Ceviche La Guerrerense. Great street ceviche car that serves a huge variety of ceviches for US$1 each. It also has a huge variety of salsas ranging from light to super hot. Be careful with those and ask for assistance. Also serves cocktails. Located on 1st street and Alvarado
- 1 Tacos El Paisa, 10th street and 20 de Noviembre (ask a taxi to take you here). If you want to have the true Mexican taco experience, go to this place. Favored by locals, it offers US$1 tacos. Carne Asada, Adobada, Tripas and Cabeza are available as quesatacos, tortas, and huaraches. A must-taste that will scratch that Tex-Mex flavor you are used to. With everything
- Cantina Hussong's, Ave Ruiz #113, ☏ , [email protected]. Legendary and historic bar. Established in 1892 Hussongs is the oldest bar in the Californias, Hussong’s began as a stagecoach stop built by its German founder Johan Hussong. Some say that the city of Ensenada was built around this bar. Rumor has it that the Margarita was invented here.
- Papa's and Beer Ensenada (El Papas), Ruiz y Primera. Another legendary and historic bar right across the street from Hussongs.
- Mango Mango, Primera & Ruiz. 20:00 - 03:00. A place to dance Caribbean and norteno rythms US$5.
- Abel's Bar, Boulevard Costero 1000-6 between Diamante and Medusas (Easy to find on Costero). A rock-oriented bar that serves cheap drinks and good music with a metal mood.
- La Taberna (Cervecrería Tijuana). Located on 1st Street (half a block away from McDonald's), the Tijuana Brewery Tavern offers award-winning draft beer in many varietals, ranging from light lagers to dark ales. This is a local favorite hangout for all sorts of people, and happy hour is available at least two nights a week.
- 1 Hotel Coral & Marina, Carretera Tijuana-Ensenada Km.103 #3421, ☏ . A beautiful hotel with amazing bathrooms and views. Located on the main road between the end of the toll road and downtown. There's a marina for your yacht and many amenities. Shuttle service into town (4.8 km or 3 miles away), US$4 for a taxi.
- Playa Saldamando Trailer and campground located 13 km (8 miles) north of Ensenada. Over one mile of coastal property, all fenced and gated to enhance security. Employees are on the property 24 hours/7 days a week providing friendly service. Campsites available on the beach and on the cliffs above. All sites have beautiful ocean views. Large sites available to accommodate large groups. Clean, maintained camping areas and our clean restrooms with flushing toilets and showers.
- 2 Ensenada Backpacker (Hostel), Calle Segunda 1429 (Between Floresta and Guadaluper St), ☏ . Check-out: 12:00. The Ensenada Backpacker is a few blocks from Ensenada's most popular attractions. They offer dormitory and private rooms. US$20.
- Ocean View Rental Home. Su Casa is set on a hillside with a spectacular panoramic ocean view of Todos Santos Bay and its islands in the gated secure community of Cibolas del Mar. It is 15 minutes north of Ensenada, where the toll road ends. This Spanish style home with tile roof has a large flagstone deck and covered outside area. It is in an area of private family homes in a quiet neighborhood. US$200/night.
- Hostel Sauzal feels like more of a bed and breakfast than a hostel with a gracious host, and a sweeping ocean view from the huge flower garden. Just north of Ensenada in El Sauzal, US$15/night. Don't come here expecting a party. Do come here to relax and recharge.
- Hotel Las Rosas, ☏ . By the sea hotel that is a good spot for a wedding. US$80-446.
- 3 Hotel Eiffel, Macheros #274, ☏ . Coffee shop and wifi are part of this francophile-themed hotel. M$940.
More than a hundred miles into the Pacific Ocean is Guadalupe Island, a desert island. It is a next-to-impossible destination: the closest most people get to the island is a great white shark diving expedition which is based in Ensenada.
|Routes through Ensenada|
|Tijuana ← Puerto Nuevo ←||N S||→ Camalu → Guerrero Negro|
|END ← Tecate ←||N E||→ Jct N S → END|