Cabo Bob Presents


El Combi


The Trans-Peninsula Highway is the lifeline of the Baja California Peninsula. Baja is a jagged finger of mountains and desert ripped from the Mexican mainland along the San Andreas fault by millions of years of geologic violence. The highway is 1,059 miles of hard road, mostly two-lane blacktop. Roll with us from the U.S. border at Tijuana, all the way to Cabo San Lucas and Land's End, at the southern tip of one of the world's longest, wildest and most spectacular peninsulas!

This is the original California, named for Calafia, queen of the Amazons. A popular Spanish novel, published in 1500, romanticized this mythical race of giant warrior women. Their sun-baked island home was called California. Here, on what he thought was a desert island, conquistador Hernán Cortés first tried to land soldiers in 1530. The fierce Californians he encountered were Indian warriors, whose paintings of giants had already decorated the mountains for thousands of years.

Here, Cortés met his match. He could not conquer the harsh land these Californians had mastered, and Spanish soldiers would not return until 167 years later, when Jesuit padres founded California's first mission, to "save" the natives at the point of a sword.

This is the California not only of Amazons, Indians and Spaniards, but also of pirates from England and Holland, invaders, settlers, explorers and exploiters from France, Germany, the United States, Japan and elsewhere, and tourists from all over the globe.

Baja California is isolated on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and on the east by the Sea of Cortez, whose blue waters fill the deep chasm between Baja and the rest of Mexico. Officially named Golfo de California by the Mexican government, those who live on its shores still call the "sea" by the name of the conquistador who "discovered" it.

The Sea of Cortez holds the most biologically productive (and some of the deepest) ocean on the planet, containing more endemic species than any other body of water. Its warm currents sweep down the east side of the peninsula, and collide with the open Pacific's cooler flow where Baja's bony fingertip pokes into the northern tropics.

Carretera Peninsular Benito Juárez is the highway's official name. It serves as Main Street for most of the settlements strung along its route. It is also known simply as Highway 1, an appropriate number for the road that brought the modern world to Baja.

When the highway was finished in 1973, North American tourists could, for the first time, drive cars and RV's the whole length of the peninsula. Just ten months later, Baja California Sur, the peninsula's remote southern half, became the newest Mexican state. Today, it booms with tourist dollars.

The highway is unnervingly narrow, in many places barely wide enough for two trucks to pass, if they both pull way over, slow almost to a halt, and suck in their side mirrors. But, trucks and buses must and do travel the road day and night, to haul provisions and people to the human habitations scattered along its shoulders, where it has shoulders.

Often lacking not only shoulders, but also guardrails and bridges, striping and roadsigns, and frequently littered with hazards, blocked by livestock or pockmarked by treacherous potholes, the highway can be as dangerous as it is beautiful.

Baja's isolation and geology protect ecosystems that harbor hundreds of plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth. There are more kinds of cactus here than anywhere else in the world, and most of them are found no place else.

The challenges offered by the highway's unpredictable asphalt, the surprising communities carved from the harsh land by its hardy inhabitants, the spectacular scenery and the unique roadside vegetation make this a drive like no other.

El Combi:
The Bus, at home in San José del Cabo.

(Click on photo for hi-res view.)

This illustrated travelogue resulted from my trips between October, 1996, and April, 2000, driving the length of the highway both alone and with my wife, Tortilla. The lucky vehicles were an '88 Honda CRX and a '74 Volkswagen pop-top camper bus, or kombi, known to our Mexican friends as El Combi. The bus was often packed too full for use as a camper, but it performed heroically under the load. Both vehicles have miraculously survived to this day.

There are several ways to drive this tour of the Baja Highway. For the complete ride, click On the Road and follow the arrows to tour the entire peninsula.

Click on any photo along the way for a higher-resolution blowup. From any of the hi-res photo pages, you can navigate directly through the other photos, or back to the tour.

For a map of the entire peninsula, go to the Interactive Map. Click a location on the map to see a picture or join the tour at that location.

If you just want to look at pictures, click on Photo Tour to bypass the main text and go directly to the captioned hi-res photo pages.

To go directly to any section of the tour, you can choose a Local Tour from the list at the bottom of this page, or use the menu at the bottom of any page.

So, get comfy and grab your mouse, and take a leisurely armchair drive on the Baja Highway! You won't need tourist papers or a passport. You don't have to watch for bandits or burros on the road. You're not likely to wash out to sea while crossing a flooded vado. House-sized potholes are not a threat. Flat tires from cactus spines won't be a problem.

You don't need to worry about the next army roadblock or finding the next motel or whether the Pemex station you're counting on is out of gas. Provisions are as handy as your refrigerator, and you can even drive safely at night!

It's not a short trip, but you can take a break and come back whenever you like, and it's a whole lot easier than driving your car. We've done all the work for you, so all you have to do is sit back, click and enjoy the view!

Local Tours

The North Pacific Coast

South from San Quintin

The Catavina Desert

The Vizcaino Desert

The Central Cortez Coast

The La Paz Region

Los Cabos and Land's End

to Interactive Map

to Photo Tours
to Cabo Bob's


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