The challenge of working at a travel magazine is resisting the constant temptation to travel. National Geographic Traveler staffer Mary Beth LaRue likes to divvy up her vacation days—jetting off for long weekends in New York, Jamaica and good ol’ Iowa—rather than taking a single two-week trip in the middle of the year. Her most recent jaunt landed her in Ensenada, MexicoEnsenada, Mexico:
Tickets to San Diego were about $100 cheaper than those to Tijuana, and since it’s only 90 minutes from there to Ensenada, saving the money was a no-brainer. I flew overnight, meeting with my friend Francis after arriving in the morning. We took a $1.50 trolley ride to the border and walked across. It was my first visit to Mexico, and I couldn’t believe how simple it was to cross over.
Once in Tijuana, we thought about exploring (a friend had suggested Avenida Revolución, the city’s busy shopping district) but the $10 bus to Ensenada was five feet away and ready to leave, so we hopped on. Andrea, our hostess, met us at the other end and whisked us away to Mariscos Navolato, a little seafood joint near the harbor (where more than 90 species of seafood—including tuna, shrimp, sea urchin, mackerel, and abalone—are commercially fished). We let Andrea do the ordering, and feasted on tostada de ceviche and gobernador de marlin washed down with Negra Modelo beers.
Andrea, her boyfriend Pablo and a friend Joel rent a gorgeous, three-bedroom house right on the ocean about 15 miles outside of town. Considering her rent is cheaper than my 300-square-foot studio in D.C., I spent much of the week considering a move. At high tide the waves literally lap at their house, and at low tide you can swim or surf—a wetsuit helps with the frigid temperatures.
As the third largest city in Baja California, Ensenada bustles with street vendors, sirens, and tourists. Beyond the cruise ship passengers and spring break vibe, the “Cinderella of the Pacific” charms with gems like the Panaderia Ornelas No. 1 pastry shop (164 México Av.; +646 176 0694), open-air restaurants smelling of sea salt and sizzling fish, and the sand dollars (‘sand cookies’ in Mexico) buried on the beach.
On Saturday we joined the downtown crowds at the finish line of the Rosarito Ensenada bicycle ride, a twice-a-year 50-mile ride started in 1979. The sidewalks were filled with vendors peddling food, beer, and jewelry, so we bought fish tacos and churros and watched the bikers (including Pablo, on a bike for only the second time in his life) roll in. The participants—from all over Mexico and the States—cheered each other on, drank Tecate beers, and wore bizarre costumes as they rode. No one topped Pablo’s friends, though, who wore fuzzy (presumably sweltering) costumes and rode tiny clown bikes.
Before catching my red-eye back to D.C., we spent our last day on a beach between Ensenada and Tijuana. Just outside Rosarito we followed a terraced stairway down from the Poco Cielo hotel to a white-sand beach perfect for Frisbee-throwing, beachcombing, and planning my next four-day getaway.
- Nat Geo Expeditions