Ensenada Travel Guide
Ensenada at night
Just 'south of the border, down Mexico way' on the Baja Peninsula lies the flourishing, friendly port and holiday destination of Ensenada, a 90-minute drive south of San Diego, joined to Tijuana by the spectacular tolled Trans-Peninsula Highway, with its breathtaking ocean views. The first visitor to this beautiful bay was Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who set ashore in 1602 and named the spot Ensenada de Todos los Santos, which means 'inlet of all the saints'. The saints have indeed been kind to Ensenada, which today has progressed from a Spanish mission station through fishing village status to become Mexico's second-most visited port of call for cruise liners and yachts, an extremely popular holiday destination for land-based tourists, and a leading convention centre. The secret of Ensenada's success as a tourist magnet is simple: the resort town basically has it all, especially bright, sunny weather throughout the year and magnificent Pacific beaches. These basic ingredients have been enhanced by some wonderful natural and man-made attractions, great restaurants serving up fresh seafood and local wines, and amiable local operators providing a huge array of outdoor recreational activities and excursions. Even the town's industry, which consists mainly of fishing, winemaking and canning, has become a lure for visitors who can visit factories and wineries and liberally sample the delicious wares.
The eyes of avid bargain hunting holiday visitors fairly glitter when let loose in Ensenada's broad shopping avenues, lined by shops literally bursting with a massive array of Mexican arts and crafts, from elegant Taxco silver jewellery in the boutiques of the Avenida Lopez Mateos to a selection of 'below $5' curios in the stores along First Street. Best buys to look out for in Ensenada are leather goods (bags, purses, jackets, belts etc.), hand-blown glassware, woodcarvings, and ceramics. Those who enjoy local colour can browse through trash and the occasional treasures at the bustling Los Globos flea market.
No matter what your taste in food, from hamburgers to haute cuisine, you will find it while on holiday in Ensenada, but because of its seaside location and local fishing industry, nearly all restaurants offer some sort of fresh seafood on the menu, and most include traditional Mexican fare. Highly recommended is a visit to the fish market (known as the 'Black Market') where delicious and cheap fish tacos are sold at several stands. Lunches are best enjoyed at one of the myriad sidewalk cafes: relax and watch the passing parade along a leafy boulevard while sipping a glass of wine. When it comes to dining, the choice is vast. LG Restaurante or out-of-the-way Manzanilla in the port area is a great place to try local cuisine, or those who want to go a little formal can enjoy award-winning French cuisine at El Rey Sol on Avenue Lopez Mateos. For a taste of the traditional, fun comes along with the food at Bronco's Steakhouse, which serves a great Mexican buffet at weekends.
Holidaymakers will enjoy the nightlife in Ensenada, where it sizzles after dark, especially during weekends, with discos, karaoke bars and cantinas rollicking into the early hours. An unmissable night-spot is Baja's oldest cantina, Hussongs, established in 1892 as a stage coach stop and still partying today in traditional Mexican style; swig margaritas as mariachis stroll the sawdust-strewn rough wood floors.
What to do while on holiday in Ensenada can be divided into three categories: sightseeing in town, fun on the beach, and excursions. When it comes to sightseeing the most popular spots are the town's showpiece 'Riviera' centre, originally a casino owned by renowned boxer Jack Dempsey in the 1930s and now restored as the cultural and social centre of Ensenada; the Bodegas de Santo Tomas winery, where tastings and tours are offered at its downtown premises; the Malecon (waterfront promenade) where sea lions congregate; and the Ventana al Mar park with its massive, monumental Mexican flag. There are also several museums. Close to downtown there are some small, pleasant beaches, and along the adjacent coast some of the best beaches on the Baja Peninsula are to be enjoyed, offering a huge variety of recreational facilities from surfing and sailing to jet-skiing and scuba-diving. Horse riding on the beach is very popular. Trips out of town include visits to La Bufadora, an amazing ocean blowhole, which spews water dozens of feet into the air. Whale-watching trips are also very popular. In addition Ensenada has a packed events calendar, including the famous Baja 1,000 off-road races, regattas, cycling events, seafood fair and the annual Mexican Mardis Gras.
Being something of a tourist Mecca, Ensenada tends to be more expensive than other towns in Mexico.