All travelers who make the journey to the tip of the Baja California peninsula remember their first taste of the “real” Baja: The first night spent sleeping in a hammock under a palm shelter by the sea. That chance encounter of a baby sea turtle release. A plunge into a sparkling freshwater pool high in the mountains. The farmer who helped fix a flat tire. Hooking a red snapper from a line cast into the surf.
The typical pattern of discovery goes something like this: Fly to Los Cabos  for a short trip to see if Baja is for you. Return for a longer vacation a year later with family or friends in tow. Then plan a sabbatical, take a leave of absence, retire early, or volunteer to shuttle supplies to a local charity — any excuse to spend the first of many seasons exploring every beach and town from Ensenada  to Cabo San Lucas .
The Baja California that appeals to these travelers is a land of extremes: a few cities and large towns mixed in with dozens of tiny settlements; desert, tropical, coastal, and mountain environments; communities made up of native Baja California families, mainland Mexican immigrants, and foreign expatriates; historic missions and contemporary art galleries; luxury resorts and rustic fishing camps; panga boats and fishing cruisers and 100-foot yachts.
The earliest Spanish explorers believed Baja to be an island. They were wrong about the geography, but their maps captured the spirit of the place. Though we know better now, much of the 800-mile-long peninsula that was once known as Antigua California continues to exist happily outside the mainstream — even as paved highways, international airports, and information technology keep trying to link it to the outside world.
From the multicultural border zone to the heavily visited Los Cabos Corridor , the peninsula’s two states, Baja California (Norte) and Baja California Sur, offer contrasting visitor experiences. Wherever you go, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation and environmental education.
Indeed, Baja California was an eco-destination long before travel industry marketers invented the term. Kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, kiteboarding, sailing, and sportfishing rank among the most popular coastal activities. The interior offers terrain suitable for mountain biking, horseback riding, and wilderness hiking.
And when you’ve worn yourself out in the water or on land, you can shift your focus to cultural experiences and culinary adventure. For those who want to make a difference, there are sea turtle conservation programs, whale-shark research, gray-whale encounters, and numerous other ways to support a worthy cause.
Traveling around Baja is about collecting moments — and forming friendships — that will stay with you forever.