Of all the tremendous attractions the Baja California peninsula offers the most unique has to be whale watching. The opportunity to get up close and personal with these friendly giants is an unforgettable experience, and it is this proximity which sets Baja whale watching apart from the cetaceous encounters available in other parts of the world.  The Grey Whales complete an annual migration from the Bering Sea near Alaska down the Pacific coast past Canada and the US to reach their breeding grounds on the peninsula. At 5,000 - 6,000 miles (16,000 - 19,000km) it is the longest known migratory pattern.

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Part One: Xolos and Tacos

Things are changing in Tijuana, and people on both sides of the border are noticing. Shorn of its traditional clientele after the  triple blows of worldwide recession, narcoviolence and swine flu in 2008/09 scared people away, San Diego's southern neighbour is reinventing itself as a culinary and cultural destination, and may finally shed its unenviable reputation as the city with the worst reputation in the world (CNN June 2012).

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A national marine park since 1996, Loreto Bay's 2000 square kilometres offer protection to many of the 800 marine species living in the Sea of Cortez. Isla Carmen is by far the largest of the islands in the bay, though the most visited is Isla Coronados*, just a 30 minute boat ride from the nearby port of Loreto.

The northernmost settlement of any size on Baja California's Cortés coast, San Felipe just might be the peninsula's most under-rated resort. Easily accessible via the border crossings at Tijuana, Tecate and Mexicali, this fishing village sitting at the end of the Mex 5 highway has up to now been relatively isolated, with access south restricted to those with a lot of patience and a high clearance vehicle. This situation is due to change, however, with the highway being extended south to eventually connect with the Mex 1 transpeninsular route, meaning San Felipe can more easily be integrated into a tour of the whole peninsula. What then does San Felipe have to offer its visitors?

A peaceful oasis town of barely 700 inhabitants in an area of otherwise parched desert, San Ignacio makes for an excellent stopover on any peninsular tour. Best known as a jumping off point for whale watching and visits to the nearby cave paintings, what of the town itself?
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The first sight of the Sea of Cortés on a southbound trip along the transpeninsular highway (Mex 1), Santa Rosalia certainly is a unique place. Founded by a French copper mining company in the 1880s, who then left in the 1950s, its architecture is like no other on the Baja California peninsula, and reminders of its French origins dominate the town. Whereas most settlements on the Cortés coast are associated with beautiful beaches and related aquatic activities (San Felipe, Bahia de Los Angeles to the north and Mulege, Loreto, La Paz, etc. to the south) Santa Rosalia has always been an industrial port with little concession to the diver, kayaker or fishing enthusiast. This difference from the norm does, however, make it a fascinating stopover on any transpeninsular tour.

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Tijuana's Revival: Part Three

Much has been written about Tijuana's sleazy reputation (not least on this blog), and it is on Avenida Revolución ("La Revo") and surrounding streets that this reputation was largely built. What then of the reality of the situation, in light of the revival going on elsewhere in the city? We decided to take a look for ourselves...
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Tijuana's Revival: Part Two

The appeal of the Tijuana area extends well beyond its city limits, and by heading south just a short distance along the Mex 1 highway many other places of interest can be found, not least Popotla, a no nonsense fishing village off the beaten track which is attracting attention for its excellent fresh fish and seafood.

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Just fifteen kilometres south of San Felipe you can find one of the Baja California peninsula's most interesting yet under visited locations: El Valle de los Gigantes. 

Despite an arid climate the desert islands in the Sea of Cortés play host to a remarkable biological diversity. Also known as the Gulf of California, this natural barrier between the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican mainland is the home of almost 900 species of fish, 10% of which are endemic. Nearly 700 plant species have been identified on the islands, including 150 types of cacti. 50 endemic reptile species can be found, as well as many birds and mammals unique to the area. For this reason 244 islands, islets and coastal areas in the Cortés were inscribed in 2005 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fortunately most of the major islands lie near the commercial flightpath from Tijuana in the north to La Paz in the south, so on a recent flight I was able to capture some spectacular views of "Mexico's Galapagos".

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