Planning to visit Ensenada, Mexico? Make sure to read this!
After living in Southern California 15+ years, you bet I have jumped to Baja more times that I can remember.
Blame my Latin blood, my love for food or my devotion to Mexico but I need to stop by Tijuana, Rosarito or Ensenada at least twice a year. I still have to discover, eat and drink a lot!
Today, I want to give you some tips that are going to be useful when planning a visit to Ensenada.
I am providing details on how to stay safe, how to handle money, what to do, what to eat, what to bring and how to move around.
There is a lot to be said about Ensenada. So, if you have questions, feel free to reach out.
Ensenada is located 70 miles from the International Border (1.5 hours), 90 miles from San Diego (2 hours) and 200 miles from Los Angeles (4 hours). Because of its location, it is an ideal weekend gateway from Southern California.
Ensenada is a quite large port city counting with a wide range of modern amenities. Its closeness to the sea, fertile valleys and Mexico’s premier wine country, makes it a paradise for those who are looking to expand their culinary horizons.
On a personal level, I keep returning to the city because of its gastronomic scene. There are always new things to try.
Ensenada has been declared a UNESCO creative city. Give yourself some time to discover its many faces.
Safety in Ensenada, Mexico
I tend not to comment about issues related to safety in Mexico since I do not want to perpetuate the bad reputation some individuals and mediums give to the country.
However, I am going to make an exception since a lot of people do not seem to understand why I visit places like Ensenada. I keep getting asked if I am not afraid of going or if I have run into dangerous situations.
Let me start by saying that I would never recommend on this site a visit to a place I consider unsafe. I write about places I have visited and know well. In the case of Ensenada and Baja California, I have been countless time with my husband, friends, and groups. I have been there with people of different ages (babies to 70-years old).
I have enjoyed every single visit and have never felt threatened. Things would be ok if you follow the proper precautions and are aware of your surroundings.
Follow all Mexican laws. Don’t do in Mexico what you wouldn’t do at home. Be particularly careful about laws related to underage drinking, drugs, driving under the influence, weapon possession and littering.
The same applies to driving-related laws. Do not drive over the speed limit, fails to wear a seatbelt or use a cell phone while driving.
If you are stopped by the police, insist on a written citation and ask for details on how to pay the fine.
You may have heard about parts of Mexico where cars are stopped to ask for a kickback. This is not a common practice in Baja California.
You may encounter military checkpoint along the road or highways. Follow instructions and cooperate if you are randomly selected for a routinary search.
Police officers and soldier may be carrying rifles or other long weapons. This seems to disturb some people. Do not worry. This is completely normal.
It is advisable to have cell phone coverage in Mexico. Many telecommunication companies are including Canada and Mexico in their regular voice and data plans.
If your company does not cover this, check how much it would cost to have coverage for the length of your stay.
An application like Google Maps would be invaluable when navigating the streets.
Make sure you are carrying your passport or passport card before crossing into Mexico.
Make photocopies of all your important documents and have them separate from the actual documents. It is a good idea to scan your documents and have them on your e-mail inbox (as an extra precaution).
Residents of Baja California are known to have a good dominion of the English language. However, do not count on people knowing English and do not complain if people do not understand you.
Brush up on your Spanish or use a translating app if in need.
Transportation in Ensenada, Mexico
The best way to reach and move around Ensenada is by car. This will give you the ability to see the attractions at leisure.
If you are coming from the United States, your auto insurance would not be valid in Mexico. I recommend getting Mexican car insurance before crossing the border.
You have the option to get insurance at one of the businesses located close to the border. If you are in the San Diego area, these businesses are located in the town of San Ysidro. I have check rates on the Internet and what you paid near the border is competitive. You will need your driver’s license and auto registration.
Or, get your paperwork ready online. You will receive instructions on what to do in the case of an accident. Most companies require a call to the insurance office from a Mexican line.
The easiest way to reach Ensenada from the International Border is by using the toll highway (Mexico 1-D). Get prepared to pay $4 – $6 to between Tijuana and Ensenada (dollars and pesos are accepted).
The toll road counts with emergency boxes and a patrol offering free emergency assistance (Green Angels).
From the International Border, it is very straightforward to get on the toll road. Follow the “Ensenada (Cuota)” signs. You will see signs pointing to the “Ensenada (Libre)” road. These signs would take you to the free transpeninsular road (but you want to use the toll road).
Avoid driving at night or on unknown/remote areas. If you find yourself lost, turn back and retrace your steps.
Parking in Ensenada is readily available (there are public and private lots). If parking on the street, do not block entrances or leave the car on unsafe areas.
People arrive in Ensenada by cruise ship too. If you have a 6 – 8 hours in the city, I recommend venturing into Downtown or taking a tour offered by the ship. This will give you the opportunity to get a glimpse of what the city has to offer.
The closest international airport is located in Tijuana (2 hours away).
Money in Ensenada, Mexico
If you are traveling with dollars, euros or pounds, you will enjoy a very favorable exchange rate. Even if things are on your favor, get a good idea of how much you are paying on your currency.
Sometimes, people do not care about learning the exchange rate and making the conversion before buying something. They end up ripped off because they believe things in Mexico should be “cheap.”
On the same note, do not consume a good or participate in an activity without asking how much it costs. Again, you are asking to be ripped off.
The main tourist drag in Ensenada is Calle Primera (1st Street) or Calle Lopez Mateos (you will hear both names). This is the street where bars, clubs, and discos are located.
By default, everything on this street is going to be more expensive. The further you go from this street, the cheaper things will be. This applies to quality too (with a few exceptions).
Some businesses may try to overcharge you for certain things. Keep an eye especially on the main tourist drag. Walk around comparing prices. Some good places to shop include Bazaar Casa Ramirez, BajaNorte and Casanegra.
Consider spending your money on local businesses. I know you have come to Ensenada to have a good time but you can have a good time and help the local economy.
Dollars are accepted everywhere. Now, if you pay with dollars, you will receive the change in pesos. Once again, you need to be aware of the current exchange rate to make sure you are being given the correct amount of money. The exchange rate on the street is a bit lower than the official exchange rate.
It is a good idea to have some pesos at hand. I have found that I get a better exchange rate in the United States (in the change houses near the border).
Change houses on Mexico may want to charge large commissions for exchanging money. I have found big supermarkets (Walmart, Comercial Mexicana, Soriana) offer good exchange rates.
Another option to get pesos is to use an ATM. Be aware that banks in Mexico charge a fee to withdraw money. I have seen fees ranging from 20-90 pesos.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Ensenada. I try to use my no-fee credit card as much as possible (since it gives me the best exchange rate).
Using the Restroom in Ensenada
The cleanliness of restrooms in Ensenada varies a lot. You can run into a perfectly clean toilet or into a real nightmare when you need to go the most.
If you remember one thing from this article, remember this: bring toilet paper. I mean, I am not talking about carrying a roll around on your purse but you need to have a bit of paper (or napkins) for an emergency.
If you worry about germs, bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer too.
There are not a lot of public restrooms around. If you find one, you would probably have to pay a small amount to go in (like in Europe). However, you are guaranteed a clean place under these circumstances.
If you do not find a public restroom, you can try the old trick of going at a McDonalds or Starbucks. This is a good deal even if you have to buy something.
Be aware since sometimes individual stalls at malls or supermarkets do not have toilet paper. There is a big roll outside the stalls and you have to take the paper before going in.
Attractions in Ensenada, Mexico
A lot of people head to Calle Primera or Calle Lopez Mateos when in Ensenada. I am not the biggest fan of this place. It is fine to walk around, take a look and move on.
I encourage visitors to check the malecon (sea walk), the Mercado Negro (fish market), Los Globos (traditional market), Riviera Cultural Center, the Caracol Museum of Science and Ventana al Mar (big plaza with an interactive fountain).
Going to La Bufadora, a sea geyser located in Punta Banda, is a classic in Ensenada. Some people consider this overrated but the views along the drive are beautiful. You can also see La Bufadora or the peninsula cliffs from a small boat or kayak.
Punta Banda is also home of the Oceanic Aquarium.
And, talking about boats, you can go on a whale watching excursion from December to April from Ensenada’s port (excursions start behind the Mercado Negro).
Harbor cruises and sportfishing excursions are available year-round. In addition, you can arrange trips to Todos Santos Islands and Guadalupe Island (for cage shark diving).
Wine lovers rejoice since Ensenada is located less than 30 miles from the Guadalupe Valley vineyards and tasting rooms. You can take a tour or make your own arrangements. Once again, itis very straightforward to reach the road connecting the coast to the valley (from Mexico-1, you have to take Mexico-3).
The main road crossing the valley is paved but most of the streets connecting to the wineries are not. It is recommended to drive around with a high clearance vehicle.
South of Ensenada, you will find the Santo Tomas Valley and the San Vicente Valley. These areas provide a less-crowded, more intimate wine tasting environment.
Golf lovers can head to Bajamar Ocean Front Resort or Baja Country Club to play a round or two.
Those in search of adventure need to visit Las Canadas, a park offering campsites, cabins, ATV rentals, horseback rides, pools, pedal boats on their own lake, canopy tours and suspension bridges.
You can buy a day pass, a camping spot or a combination ticket.
Another ziplining opportunity can be found at Cuatro Cuatros, a complex located north of Downtown Ensenada. This activity is targeted towards couples or groups (composed of adults).
Food in Ensenada, Mexico
Your first stop in Ensenada should be La Guerrerense, a food cart serving seafood tostadas and cocktails. They have gained international fame since they have represented Mexico in places such as Hong Kong and have been featured in numerous TV shows (Anthony Boudain was blown away by the food).
I recommend getting their specialties such as codfish, sea urchin, sea cucumber and tuna. You will not find several combinations anywhere else. Plus, they have about a dozen salsas that you can try (try as many as possible). Do not miss this place because it is delicious!
For seafood cocktails and simple fish ceviche tostadas, I prefer carts like El Guero and Nuestra Senora de Novalato.
For shrimp and fish tacos, go to Tacos Fenix. The tacos are beyond good!
Other taco options include Mariscos El Gordito, Tacos Marco Antonio and Taqueria El Trailero.
To eat seafood in a restaurant setting, you can go to Muelle 3, La Concheria and La Cevicheria Oyster Bar.
The craft beer scene is thriving in Ensenada. Experience it by yourself at places like Agua Mala, Wendlandt and Doble C.
The best places to get dessert and pastries include Hogaza Hogaza and Cafe con Leche.
Weather in Ensenada, Mexico
Baja California is known for its good year-round weather. In theory, you can jump onto the road anytime. In my opinion, spring and fall are the best times to visit.
During daylight saving time (winter), it starts to get dark at around 5:00 p.m. You will have about 10 hours of daylight for sightseeing.
On the contrary, during summer, you will have more than 14 hours of daylight. It is important to factor this when deciding on a time to visit.
I recommend bringing a sweater or jacket even if you are visiting the state during summer. Temperatures can drop, especially close to the beach when the sun goes down.
Accommodations in Ensenada, Mexico
The city counts with many excellent accommodation options. You will find a city or beach hotel that meet your needs.
Do your own research when looking for hotels. I have stayed at places recommended by friends and they have ended up being a flub.
If you prefer, you can rent a small apartment using websites such as Airbnb. I have done this and have ended in places with a kitchen, washing machine, and dryer.
More of Baja California
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