A coastal city on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Ensenada is the third-largest city in the state of Baja. Founded in 1542 Ensenada earned the nickname: “the Cinderella of the Pacific” due to its popularity as a port for cruise ships. The city has a population today of 279,769 people and is roughly sixty-two miles south of the U.S. border. A vibrant port city, Ensenada is also home to naval and military bases and draws tourists annually from around the world with its beautiful location in Baja and a bunch of cool things to do.
Geography of Ensenada
Located in the Mexican state of Baja California on the Pacific Ocean, Ensenada is known for its glorious beaches and excellent harbor. Ensenada enjoys a Mediterranean climate that is especially attractive to holiday travel seekers. The mountains form a backdrop to the city while the terrain around the outskirts is particularly hilly. Despite the hilly terrain and the occasional droughts that hit the city, the lands are fertile and nearby vineyards boast some of the best wines in the Western Hemisphere. The waters off Ensenada teem with Baja’s famous sport fish as well as migrating whales and other marine life that attracts the interest of eco-tourists.
History of Ensenada
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the indigenous people of the region lived semi-nomadic lives. They grew corn and herded cattle. Founded in 1542, Ensenada still had the Yuman Indian tribes living throughout the region. It would take centuries before Europeans would remain permanently in the area. The first people to settle permanently were Jesuits, followed by the Dominicans. The settlement of the Baja Peninsula was slow due to the mountains, deserts, and sea. The terrain allowed it a more extended period of isolation than most other regions of Mexico. For many years Ensenada was the capital of Baja until Mexicali took over.
When Prohibition passed in the U.S., Ensenada saw a boom as a tourist destination. While Tijuana, much closer to the border, experienced a higher population boom during Prohibition, Ensenada finally began to explode in the 1950s. Today, much of the city’s economy is tourism, fishing, and agriculture.
Tourism in Ensenada
Ensenada is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. Its wide range of activities and venues attracts many outdoor enthusiasts seeking a holiday by the sea. From outlying islands to mountain terrain, Ensenada boasts many recreational activities and events; its cosmopolitan center is also home to world-class hotels and luxury spas and resorts. Many visitors flock to Ensenada for shopping, surf adventures, wildlife sightings, snorkeling excursions, off-roading races, the bicycle ride, the vineyards, and so much more.
Beautiful ocean water and rocks near La Bufadora Ensenada, Baja California Mexico
Things to See and Do in and around Ensenada
Active Things to Do in Ensenada
- Sport FishingEnsenada is a popular destination for any fisherman hoping to catch Mahi or Yellowtail.
- El Mirador: Majestic views of the city and port, be sure to make the climb up into the hills west of the downtown area for unique sightseeing.
- Museo Historico Regional: Filled with Mesoamerican relics of the region’s ancient past, this museum is the ideal place to break from the sunny beaches for an afternoon.
- Guadalupe Island: According to experts, this island is one of the best places in the world to catch a glimpse of the Great White Sharks. Two hundred fifty miles from Ensenada, this is a famous wildlife sanctuary that is one of Mexico’s top eco-destinations.
- Todos Santos Island: This surfing paradise has the biggest waves in North America. Surfing contests like the Billabong XXL are held here to worldwide acclaim.
- Baja 500: This primary off-roading race is the most famous. It begins and ends in Ensenada, making the city the best place to witness this monster race!
- Ensenada-San Felipe 250: This major off-road race is a highlight of the year. Participants start off the race on the Pacific Ocean in the vicinity of Ensenada and traverse the Baja terrain to finish at the Sea of Cortez in San Felipe. This event is usually held in late spring to early summer.
- Maritime Museum: Ensenada’s Maritime Museum is a fascinating place to visit and is situated in the city’s oldest public building. Its exhibits recount various segments of the history of seafaring as well as life in Mexico near the sea.
- Watch for Whales: Whales visible from the beaches of Ensenada. For this reason, the city is a favorite destination for people hoping to see whales migrating. Various boats offer tours of the waters and to allow eco-tourists to see these ocean-going mammals.
- Visit the Vineyards: Various wineries offer tours of the vineyards and wine-tasting events. Check the Valle de Guadalupe Map and page for more details.
Active Things to Do in Ensenada
Chapultepec Hill: With its incredible views, this is where to come to take your own postcard photographs of the city to show family and friends where you visited.
Avenida López Mateos: While the beaches of Ensenada usually get top billing among tourist, this major thoroughfare is filled with shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes. It’s the perfect place to spend a morning strolling through the city.
La Bufadora: This marine geyser is famous throughout the western hemisphere. Its proximity to Ensenada makes it a celebrated tourist attraction for vacationers of any age.
Centro Cívico, Social Culture
Located right off the beach, this event center always has something going on. Be sure to see if there is an outdoor concert or event to attend here during your visit.
Like other coastal towns on the Baja Peninsula, the beaches afford lots of enticing activities. Go for a swim or enjoy some great surfing. Getting into the water is one of the most popular things to do!
Ensenada is home to some truly elegant spas like the Casa Natalie Hotel Spa and the spa at the Las Rosas Hotel.
Riding horses is popular throughout the Baja Peninsula. There’s nothing like riding along the Pacific on a beautiful horse with the sea breezes spurring you on from one beach to the next.
If you are vacationing or even honeymooning in Ensenada, consider renting a beachside villa. These luxury rentals offer resort-style features but with the privacy one expects to have in a home away from home.
While Papas & Beer is one of the most popular clubs in the city, there are many other clubs where dancing and cocktails are accompanied by live music and a party atmosphere.
Vacationers have a myriad of cuisine options in this city. Fresh seafood is a staple as well as many regional favorites like fish tacos. Check out some of the city’s best restaurants like Resturante Embarcadero or Cinco Sabores.
Watch the Whales
Many vacationers come to Ensenada in winter specifically to catch a glimpse of the migrating whales.
Kayaking is a great way to explore the coastal area of Ensenada as well as to get out on the glittering water!
After you’ve spent time on the beaches, give hiking a try. The Canon de Dona Petra is a celebrated place for hiking and filled with flora and fauna of the region.
Touring in Ensenada
- The Valle de Guadalupe is in Ensenada and known for its boutique wines and vineyard tours. In short, tourists flock to the local wineries and boutique hotels where wine tastings and delicious foods are hallmarks of vineyard tours.
- Mexicali Chinatown is where the city is famous for its quaint shops and tasty restaurants.
- Rancho La Puerta: is in the mountains of Tecate and is one of the best spas in the world.
- The San Lorenzo Marine Archipelago National Park is on the Sea of Cortez. Above all, it helps to protect the delicate marine life and ecosystems of the region. Additionally, visitors like to see killer whales, sperm whales, swordfish, dolphins, and more!
Visit El Salto
This beautiful canyon features a 100-ft waterfall! Take plenty of pictures and enjoy hiking around this area.
From golf to beach volleyball, the warm Ensenada climate beckons outdoor enthusiasts to participate in friendly games. It’s a great way to enjoy life in this city!
Things to See in Baja California
- The Coronado Islands are desolate and mostly deserted. As a result, snorkelers, scuba divers, and eco-tourists flock here each year.
- The Rock Painting of Sierra de San Francisco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rock shelters and paintings date to prehistoric times.
- Near the City of Tecate, El Vallecito archeological site dates to 8000 B.C.
- Parque Nacional Constitucion: is in the Sierra de Juarez range near the city of Ensenada. This beautiful woodland area is famous for its pine trees and wildlife.
Before you drive down to Ensenada, check out our border crossing checklist.
Remember, if you are driving to Mexico as a tourist you must have insurance. At the least, liability insurance but has to come from a Mexican Insurance company. MexInsurance® is an online company providing Quality Mexican Car insurance, Mexican Motorcycle insurance, Mexican RV Insurance, and more since 2003.