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 a myriad of tourists annually from around the world with its beautiful location in Baja and a plethora of things to do.
Its position on a beautiful stretch of Baja coastline boasting an excellent harbor, Ensenada is an extraordinary sea town known for its superb fishing, water sport, and historical attractions. The climate is Mediterranean-like and, interestingly, also supports many outstanding vineyards. Its vineyards compare to those of Napa Valley in California. While the city is on the coast, it backs up to various small mountains. Because its rainy season is often short, the city experiences drought from time to time. The outlying areas of Ensenada and their hilly terrain are popular for hiking, camping, and off-roading.
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 that 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 bloom 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.
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-hotels and luxury spas and resorts. Many visitors flock to Ensenada for shopping, surf adventures, wildlife sightings, snorkeling excursions, off-roading races, and so much more.
Things to See and Do in and around Ensenada
- Sport Fishing: Ensenada 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!
- 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.