FCO travel update: the FCO advises against all but essential travel to Ciudad Juarez. If you are visiting Mexico as a tourist you do not need a visa, but you do need a tourist card which can be obtained by completing an immigration form available at border crossings or onboard flights to Mexico. Alternatively they can be obtained from Mexican Consulates prior to travel.
Lying out of the mainland, Baja California is a long and thin strip of land which stretches over 1,000 miles between the Pacific Ocean and the sea of Cortez. Fully Mexican territory, it is, however, difficult to compare it to the rest of the country. An unexpected combination of mountains, desert and sea, the peninsula is an invitation to peace, tranquility and rest. The further south you go, the more noise you will encounter. Out at sea, you may even have the opportunity to see some whales!
Surface area : 1967183.0 km2
Population : 107449525 inhabitants
If you like jewellery, you need to know that Mexican silver is of excellent value and that local silversmiths are very good. Make sure though, that there are three hallmarks: the one of the workshop, the one of the country (a Mexican eagle) and a number corresponding to the alloy (925 = 92.5% pure). Mexico is paradise for handicraft: pottery, glassware, wickerwork, hammocks, (ask for a 'matrimonial' hamock for more comfort), leatherware, wooden toys and masks, colonial style ornaments and Indian cloths. Shops are open every day from 9:00 am (10:00 am for some) to 8:00 pm, with a break from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Handicraft and souvenir markets are open all day from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm.
Tortillas (corn flour pancakes) are the basis of the food in Mexico. They are prepared to your taste with meats, vegetables, cheese, mild and hot sauces, and they take on different names depending on their presentation and the way that they are cooked: burritos are fresh tortillas, flat on the plate with garnish on top; tacos are rolled with their stuffing and some chips; quesadillas are folded in two, with ham and melted cheese; gorditas are doubled and enchiladas are dipped in sauce, baked or fried and then covered in sauce and fresh cream before being served. There are also chilaquiles, tlacoyos, tostadas or flautas. Each region has its own gastronomy where mild flavours are often peppered with spicy notes.
In terms of fish and seafood, the Pacific Ocean is generous and you will find a lot of Cevice fish here (white fish marinated in lime) which is prepared differently on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. As for chicken, it is eaten everywhere, but becomes a delicacy when served with mole poblano (sauce made with cocoa and many spices). If you are thirsty, beer is the most popular drink and more than a dozen different brands are available, from lagers to brown and amber ales, which always have a light taste. Tequila, the national alcoholic drink, is drank neat or as a 'marguarita' with lemon and crushed ice, but if you don't drink alcohol, there are always the exotic fruit juices.
The Mexicans are very respectful and always polite, so whether you are addressing a waitress, a souvenir shop assistant or a member of the government, being respectful will help your relations with all Mexicans. You will notice that once on friendly terms, affectionate remarks or gestures will become quite frequent, whether it be a tap on the back or a hand shake.
If the person you are due to meet is late, do not take offence, it is a case of the 'Mexican quarter of an hour'.
The best time to visit Baja California is between November and the end of May. Between mid-December and the beginning of January, the prices are very high because it is the American winter holiday.
The Pacific coast may seem more authentic, but be careful because it is more dangerous (strong currents). Our favourite beach is Playa del Amor, where the Pacific ocean meets the sea of Cortez (the locals say that two people go there and three come back!) Swimmers will prefer Las Palmas on the Pacific side and surf boarders will love San Pedrito.