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Top Tips for Northern Mexico

Northern Mexico is a whole different world than the Mexican heartland around Mexico City: more like the USA, with wide-open spaces and unspoiled nature. The states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Nayarit, Sinaloa, and Baja California Sur even have their own time zone, one hour behind most of the rest of Mexico. There are 5 WHS here, all very much worth visiting but rarely covered on this website. Please find below my Top Tips for Travelling to Northern Mexico as a WH Traveller.

1.       It isn’t easy to find the optimal route

Beforehand, I broke my head at the optimal itinerary for the North. I ended up cutting it into 3 segments and flying between them (Chihuahua, Hermosillo, and La Paz (Baja California)). However, it is possible to do them in one go by public transport: Chihuahua – Casas Grandes (for Paquimé WHS) – Nogales – Puerto Penasco (for El Pinacate WHS, needs a tour, and the Gulf of California too) -  Mexicali – San Ignacio (for El Vizcaino and Sierra de San Francisco, both need a tour) – Loreto (for the Gulf of California, needs a tour) – La Paz. A longer alternative is to start in Ciudad Juarez, go to Casas Grandes, then Chihuahua, take the train through the Copper Canyon up to Los Mochis, continue to Puerto Penasco from there.

2.       Use domestic flights

Domestic flights are plentiful in Mexico, and costs are often low. In my experience, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose Aeromexico or one of the low-cost carriers such as Volaris or Vivaerobus. They all try to make you pay more for a reserved seat or any kind of luggage – just say no to it all. For exploring the north, Guadalajara (Mexico’s 2nd biggest city) with its large, modern international airport has good connections.

3.       Learn about its history.

The North has a specific place in Mexican history. It was cut in half by the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) but still is more similar to those lost states to the north than to the Valley of Mexico. Furthermore, the city of Chihuahua has a strong link to the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1917), as the base of Pancho Villa and the mining elite he fought against (the first photo shows the Quinta Gameros in Chihuahua, confiscated property during the Revolution).

4.       Understand that you come primarily for its nature

A week after visiting the Grand Desierto de Altar I still found sand in my socks and shoes. Cactus needles in my feet were the souvenirs of my hike through the Sierra de San Francisco. Visiting the northern WHS can be intense. But if you make the effort – go camp, hike, explore - you will be rewarded. It is worth putting some extra days and money aside for it.

5.       Get used to the Americans

For the US Americans, Mexico is what Spain is to Northern Europeans: a convenient holiday destination where the sun will shine. It attracts US American tourists from all walks of life, in Baja California they are mostly ‘snowbirds’ in their campers or sailboats. They bring money, so the 100 dollar rule for tours is applicable: all tours will gravitate to a cost of 100 dollars per person, independent of the actual local cost. English is more widely spoken in this region as well, not only because of the American tourists but also because locals often have lived and worked in the US for some time.

Have you been to North Mexico? What should not be missed when visiting?

Els - 27 February 2022

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Jarek Pokrzywnicki 1 March 2024

Just returned (February 2024) from Baja California / Northern Mexico. I would add some remarks.

Accommodation - no problem for Mexico mainland but I faced some in Baja California. For main resorts (la Paz, Loreto) I found no obstacles in reserving a place in any kind of hotels / hostels but for many days I could't find good place in San Ignacio (except of expensive resorts). A day before incidentally I got the place at Rancho Espinoza (google coordinates 27°18'05.1"N 112°53'03.4"W), Guamúchil (very close to San Ignacio). Nice place with moderate prices (55 USD for a double room). If that is occupied there are several other options in San Ignacio (like Motel Fong not available via Booking, near Pemex gas station). If you have your own transport a good option may be also to stay at Antonio's Ecotours - they can offer stay in San Ignacio Lagoon (huts / cabanas in former whale hunting base)

And general warning: avoid driving in the evening / night in Mexico. In Baja California even if the roads are pretty ok you can find occasional cows, vehicles that are not using lights or which is a nightmare in central Mexico unmarked speed bumps. There are plenty of them near and within populated areas (and even outside).