I drove to Rosarito Beach with friends this past weekend and was surprised to discover that the Baja California town's namesake hotel was bustling with tourists.
Most were Mexicans participating in a church retreat, but at least two dozen guests had made the short drive from Southern California. Perhaps this is an indication that the once-popular tourist destination is mounting a slow comeback two years after the peak of hysteria regarding drug-related violence in Baja's border region.
I was just as surprised, after our stay, to have been able to obtain a free pass from the Rosarito Beach Hotel, which enables guests to enter a special lane at the San Ysidro border crossing. That transformed what would have been a 90-minute wait into a mere 10-minute delay. These passes are part of an effort by some of the larger hotel owners to lure tourists back to northern Baja.
There were 17 people, including three teenage girls (pictured below), in our group. The trip was organized by Philip Friedman, a friend from Torrance who has started a "Baja Now" Facebook page and might soon host a weekly radio show about Baja California.
Many of us had planned to go fishing with some of the commercial pangeros at the village of Popotla, but strong winds ended those plans. Instead, we broke into small groups and explored, shopped, rode ATVs, dined at local restaurants -- Vince's (seafood) and La Flor de Michoacan (carnitas).
Some of us drove through the green countryside to La Bufadora, the natural blowhole south of Ensenada. It was jammed with tourists, thanks to the presence of two massive cruise ships in Ensenada harbor. Vendors on the street leading to the blowhole were hustling as if there was no tomorrow to hawk their wares -- that in itself was a major spectacle.
The trip was short and pleasant, though it was sad to see some of the businesses struggling to stay open. The centerpiece Rosarito Beach Hotel is fortunate to have a somewhat faithful following but it's also struggling to fill its main building and its newer and more luxurious Pacifico Tower, which boasts an infinity pool that boasts a spectacular view of the Pacific from its roof above the 19th floor.
But tourists seem to be trickling back and, in fact, most in our group agreed to return later this spring or in early summer, when when the weather is more accommodating. Look for us at the pool or, perhaps better yet, on the beach.
-- Pete Thomas
Photos of Rosarito Beach (top) and three incredibly cute girls on ATVs are by Pete Thomas and Gayle Butschke Johnson, respectively