Mexico / Baja California  / Breakpoints / Ensenada
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Friday, August 18, 2017

Ensenada

City of Wine and start of the unknown Baja California.

Only one hour‘s drive south of the border town of Tijuana lies Ensenada – the first station on the way to the far south. The town, situated in a large bay of the Pacific coast, numbers an estimated 250,000 people, of which several tens of thousands of North Americans who have settled there in the course of time. This makes Ensenada the third largest city of Baja California (after Tijuana and Mexicali); it is a naval base and a junction that has by now become an important economic factor, too. The MEX-3 highway provides a road connection with Mexicali, and the port is its connection with the whole world.

As early as in the 17th century, the picturesque bay of Ensenada de Todos Santos (All Saints‘ bay) has been famous as a port for the Manila galleons – the Spanish sailing traders that transported merchandise from the Philippines to Acapulco and vice-versa. Later, pirates used it as a hiding place, and whalers dropped anchor here. That the water was deep enough even for fairly large ships, became common knowledge before long; and when gold was found in the surroundings in 1870, Ensenada sprang up virtually from one day to the other, developing rapidly to become an emporium, port and wealthy town.

Today, Ensenada has the largest deep water port of Lower California; it is used to ship important export produces such as grapes and olives from the Valley of Guadalupe in the northeast or other agricultural produce from the irrigated plantations in the still farther Colorado delta south of Mexicali. Fishing and processing of yellow-fin tuna, spiny lobsters and anchovies are another trade.

The main economic factor, however, is tourism from the north. It developed quasi unintended and unforeseen as a result of the prohibition of alcohol that was enacted in the USA in 1920. This law brought about an economic boom for the whole Pacific coast of Baja California south of the border, because wealthy Americans came in crowds to procure alcohol. So, seaside resorts and hotels came into being, in Ensenada, for instance, the famous Playa Ensenada Hotel and Casino, later renamed Riviera del Pacífico. Heavy-weight boxer Jack Dempsey was the manager, Al Capone is said to have been one of the financers, and Bing Crosby and Rita Hayworth were the stars of the 1930 opening ceremony. The beautiful building, which was renovated in 1977, today accommodates the cultural center (Centro Social, Civico y Cultural) and the historic museum (Museo de Historia de Ensenada) of this city.

Cruise ships call at Ensenada on a regular basis, and there are even discussions on the enlargement of the port with a new cruiser terminal. Most suitable for strolling and shopping are the Boulevard Costero (coastal promenade) and the Avenida Lopez Mateos. Here you can find cozy cafés and a historic relic, Hussong‘s Bar. Founded by Johann Hussong, a German immigrant and gold-digger, it has hardly changed in the course of time; it is still loud, smoky and always good for a margarita or a beer.

You want a more refined atmosphere when going out? Just see one of the 6 wineries that have their registered office in Ensenada. Among them the Bodegas de Santo Tomas, the largest winery of Mexico and the oldest one of Baja California. Wine from the valley near Santo Tomás can be sampled here.

Another attraction is about 25 miles (40 km) south of the town on the Punta Banda cape. Wonderful bluffs covered with coastal agaves allow you a view of the Pacific. At the bottom of the bluff is La Bufadora (the Blowhole), a tapering recess in the rock where high waves may produce jets of sea-water about 80 ft (25 m) high.