Since we're currently based in Los Angeles, we decided, why not take a road trip to Mexican Wine Country?! Valle de Guadalupe is located roughly 200 miles from LA proper. For most Americans the idea of driving into Mexico is often beset by hesitation. There is the notion that Mexico is "not safe". We decided to challenge this theory and drive into Mexico ourselves. Long story short - there was no point on this trip that we felt unsafe. Let this itinerary show you how to take advantage of a weekend road-trip to one of Mexico's wine regions and enjoy the rustic beauty of this country.
Note that when driving to Mexico, your US car insurance will not hold valid in the country. To reduce any potential risks, we used Sanborn's Mexico Insurance to insure our car for about $65 for the weekend. We were initially concerned about driving a BMW across the boarder but wound up experiencing no threats. Once you get across the boarder you realize you'd do better to stop stereotyping: there are plenty of nice cars being driven--not to mention insanely nice places--across Mexico.
Now if everyone in your party is planning to drink on this trip to Mexico, I would not recommend driving around. There are alternative transport services into and out of the wine country from the two larger and more touristic cities in the Baja California Norte region, Tijuana and Ensenada. Amazingly, Uber may or may not be offering a seasonal service called UberVALLE, which affords riders a driver for the whole day for a full day's trip from Ensenada or Tijuana to Valle de Guadalupe. In the event the UberVALLE service were not available when you arrive, there are of course plenty of shuttles or vans that one could hire from hotels in either of two larger cities in the region to accomplish the same.
Deciding to embrace the unpredictable by driving ourselves, we had our fair share of interesting discoveries during the journey southward. For one, we had plenty of local residents and kids approach our car either asking for something or selling something--churros, Mexican flags, puppies, you name it--at many junctures throughout the trip, whether at the border crossing or otherwise. And honestly, we didn't find it bothersome at all, but loved interacting with the mexicanos as usual! We also found Mexicans to be lax compared to Americans when it came to drinking and driving. Along the dirt roads of Baja California wine country, we saw plenty of drivers with open containers, blaring cumbia from their trucks, and generally not giving AF. This may serve a culture shock to some, but you'll soon realize that these drivers are not drinking an irresponsible amount, and that the Mexican wine touring experience is, as so many things are in Mexico, a highly commemorative family affair. Also as with so many things in Mexico, life is cheap, but the seemingly risky has a way of working itself out--which is what keeps us coming back to our lovely, vast neighbor over and over again in the first place! Either way, the point is, as with driving in any Latin country, it's important to take a measured--but good humored--dose of precaution with you.
As the drive can be around five hours from Los Angeles to Valle de Guadalupe - we decided to break it up and spend one night in Carlsbad. We also made this choice as we weren't sure what to expect as far as driving into Mexico at night. We assumed there would be less risk if we arrived in the morning. We hit the road around 6:30pm and stopped by in Laguna Beach for dinner.
Found the rooms here to be spacious and comfortable
The average nightly rate is around $200/night
Breakfast is not included in the rate unless you have status with Hilton/pay the extra.
10:00am:Leave Carlsbad to drive out toward Tijuana
There was hardly any traffic this Saturday morning and we arrived at the border around 11:15. Give yourself up to 30 minutes at the border. Don't forget your passport! You will need it on the way back. The Mexican officials generally don't care if you have it or not on the way in. After passing the border, everything changes to Spanish. So be ready for a tad of culture shock if you are driving in. The American mind digests driving into another country differently than flying in--vamos!
There are some incredibly beautiful places to stay in Valle de Guadalupe. We decided to try something unique and stayed at these bubble tents pictured below. We LOVED staying in this bubble suite for a night. Located right in front of some vineyards, this place is tranquilo and perfect for stargazing. The average cost can be about $200 for the night. The only con we found was the water temperature in the shower would not get hot. But we loved staying here and would do it again!
This is where you want to go for an exquisite lunch. If you are looking to celebrate something special, then this is your spot. The setting is spectacular and the service is outstanding. You can make a reservation online in advance for the type of fixed menu that meats your fancy. We enjoyed the lunch course consisting of 5 items. Note - Corazon de Tierra makes it on the list of top 50 places to eat in LATAM
You will find lots going on here. The land that Cuatros Cuatros sits on is massive. We found a shipyard-themed bar serving up fire mezcal and tequila cocktails. From there, we took a bus up to Cuatros Cuatros to enjoy wine on a mountainside ridge, with a view toward the coast. The energy is lively here, with plenty of locals enjoying their evenings with their friends and families, laughing, and commemorating their Saturday nights. Needless to say, enjoying ceviche while gazing out onto the Pacific, enjoying the rolling desert hills, was something special.
Valle de Guadalupe is full of natural beauty from every direction, and this place is no exception. El Cielo is set on a hacienda (ranch) with stunning Spanish-style, tiled architecture and extensive, well-manicured hedges and lawns. We enjoyed a Mexico-Germany fútbol game on the patio with festive locals draped in their flags and sombreros. And it certainly didn't hurt that the chilaquiles here are on another level, probably among the top 3 we've ever enjoyed!
A visit to Adobe Guadalupe on a sunny day feels like walking inside a painting. Do not miss the chance to go horseback riding here. It was a charming, therapeutic and authentically Mexican ranchero experience. After horseback riding, we walked over to a cute garden area where a food truck was out front and a stand served tapas. The perfect lunch in a perfect setting on a perfect Sunday to end the perfect weekend trip.
2:30pm: It was time to drive back to LA. We sat at the border traffic for about 2 hours. Although that was quite a while to sit in traffic, we found all of the vendors and commotion around us, bombarding us with offers of flags and tacos and spicy Mexican candy, entertaining nonetheless. Whatever you want to buy on the way out of Mexico--and we mean whatever--can probably be found here...
After a couple of coffee pit stops, we arrived in LA around 10:00pm. It was a long journey back, but this trip was absolutely worth it! Mexico continues to leave a special place in our hearts. For more trips to Mexico - check out this itinerary on visiting Mexico City and Oaxaca.
...PS if we had more time - we would have definitely taken a hot air balloon ride in Valle de Gudalupe. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, none of the local tour companies seemed to be offering this service, as evidently it can be pretty seasonal. For what it's worth, below are the contact for one of the tours we reached out to:
AX Transporter - +52 55 5764 7961, or call 01 800 890 7286 to book.