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Baja California Dreaming
The northern part of Baja California has a unique combination of appeals: stunning desert landscapes, an emerging wine region producing award-winning cabernet sauvignons and shirazes, and pristine beaches both on the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. Add in opportunities to explore the area’s exciting restaurant scene and learn about the indigenous peoples of the region, and the result is a fascinating destination for a Mexican vacation that’s just over the border from San Diego and yet feels worlds apart. 

John Clifford of International Travel Management, a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, has created an itinerary that covers all the highlights of Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe. It’s perfect for the travelling gourmet who also wants to explore the natural beauty of this part of Mexico.
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    Day 1
    Travel to Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe
    Fly to Tijuana where you will pick up a rental car and drive to the nearby Valle de Guadalupe. (Alternatively, the drive from San Diego takes about two hours.) If you take the coastal route, you'll pass through the seaside town of Ensenada. Long a popular port for visitors to Mexico, the waterfront is lined with hotels and cantinas that have been operating for more than a century. Fuel up at the most acclaimed of the city’s ceviche stands, La Guerrense, with fish pulled straight from the sea.

    Afterwards continue on to the Valle de Guadalupe, roughly 45 minutes to the north of Ensenada. A celebrated destination for wine and olive oil, it entrances visitors with a desert landscape, rolling hills, and blue skies. Your base for the next two nights will be the six-room Villa de Valle Hotel, which has its own vineyard. Next door, at one of the area’s best restaurants, Corazon de Tierra, Chef Diego Hernandez Baquedano creates dishes that take advantage of ingredients at their peak of ripeness. From perfectly balanced vegetable broths with local seafood to fennel ice cream, the restaurant’s menu is full of inspired surprises.
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    Day 2
    Surfing and Microbrews
    You’ll spend the morning surfing on some of the best beaches in what has been called "the birthplace of surfing in Mexico," namely, San Miguel or Punta San Jose, 29 miles south of Ensenada. After facing off against the waves, return to Ensenada for lunch at Cocedora de Langosta, Here, the owner/chef David González Nishikawa serves fish dishes using the freshest fish and shellfish sold at the city’s and region’s markets.

    In the afternoon, John will arrange a tour of craft breweries, like the Old Mission Brewery and Wendlandt Cervecería. Pale ales, heavier stouts, and fruitier Belgian-style brews are created at the state’s 80-some microbreweries but only a few of them export to the United States—you have to come to Baja to try them.

    At the end of the day, you’ll return to the Valle de Guadalupe for a dinner with a vineyard view at Finca Altozano or Deckman’s.
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    Day 3
    A Private Wine Tour
    Today you’ll delve into the valley’s wine scene starting with a private tour of the Museo de la Vid y el Vino (the Museum of the Vine and Wine). The exhibits at the museum cover the history of winemaking in the region, beginning with the first vines planted by Spanish missionaries here. The distinct features of this area’s terroir are explained, as well as the varieties of wines and blends that are characteristic of the Valle de Guadalupe.

    After you have a background on the area’s wines, you’ll continue on to Mogor Badán and tour their farm market, gardens, and cellars. The winery has the distinction of being one of the few in Mexico to produce chasselas, wine made using a rare sparkling variety from Switzerland. Your next stop on your wine tour will be the Viñas de Garza, where the owner Armando Garza will lead you on a private tour followed by a wine tasting. You’ll end your excursion with a long multi-course lunch at Laja in a rustic barn and owned by Chef Jair Téllez, one of Mexico’s most acclaimed chefs.

    After your meal, a short drive will bring you to Adobe Guadalupe, a six-room bed and breakfast located in a hacienda surrounded by 60 acres of vines. If you’re interested in sampling some more wines, the owners will be happy to pour you samples from their bottles—or pour a glass, and head to the Jacuzzi to savor the sunset.
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    Day 4
    A Hike in the Hills
    On your fourth day, a guide will meet at your hotel in the morning for a hiking excursion in the mountains around the Valley of Guadalupe. You’ll soon learn that the desert here is surprisingly fertile—if you stop to take a closer look at native species like the chaparral broom bush and the yucca plants that are abundant here.

    Your guide will also provide an introduction to the culture of the Kumeyaay Indians, who have lived in northern Baja California and the area around San Diego in the United States for thousands of years. You will return to the Adobe Guadalupe late in the day, and then John Clifford can provide recommendations for dinner at one of Guadalupe’s restaurants based on your tastes.
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    Day 5
    Saddle Up
    After a hearty breakfast of huevos rancheros, you’ll head out today on a horseback ride through the desert. Arrangements will be made based on your skill level. Even if you have never ridden a horse before, John Clifford’s outfitter will provide a horse happy to trot along at a leisurely pace. Your ride will end at a food truck in the middle of the desert, where you meal will be paired with local wine.

    In the afternoon you will continue on to your hotel for the night, Encuentro Guadalupe. You may recognize this hotel from its many appearances in design, fashion, and travel magazines. It consists of a number of freestanding “eco-lofts” and “eco-villas” overlooking the valley below. Enjoy dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Origen, before returning to your room under a sky blazing with stars.
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    Day 6
    Depart for Home, or Your Next Adventure
    It’s time, unfortunately, to depart from Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe, and this morning you will head back to Tijuana to return your car and fly home. Unless John Clifford has convinced you to continue exploring Mexico and you are headed on to Cabos, La Paz, or any of the other cities near the Baja Peninsula.