Friday, April 19, 2024

Barrancas del Cobre/Copper Canyon ride (IYKYK): April 2024

Copper Canyon and Baja: Si tu sabes, tu sabes. 

“This is going to be epic,” my buddy said, as we were discussing our upcoming ride through mainland, Mexico and Baja. 

And I agreed wholeheartedly. We’d been planning this for a while. We put a lot of research into it and we were ready to go. The two weeks between our final planning session and our meet-up date down on the Mexican border in Texas just seemed to drag on and on.

Neither of us had any firm ideas on what we wanted to see or do…we were in it for the ride. Our main interests were riding through Las Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon), visiting some of the towns designated as “Pueblos Magicos” and riding up the Baja peninsula. We built in enough time to stop and smell the roses and to stay at a particular place longer if we liked it. 

Although both of us owned KLRs—and we agreed that it would be a great bike for Mexico— we would be taking our 2018 BMW R1200 GSAs. Though he and I had ridden and camped in Baja quite a bit—together and separately—we agreed to stay in hotels to minimize the amount of gear we had to carry; we wanted to travel as light as possible.

He would be riding out from the Phoenix area and I would be coming out from Tampa. We picked Marfa as the meet-up site as we would be crossing the border at Ojinaga the next day.

My buddy and I were excited, though friends and family were concerned about cartel violence. We assured them we’d be fine. We reserved just a couple hotels along the route and planned to play it by ear the rest of the time. 

A huge part of the planning process was the logistics. There was the temporary vehicle import permit, the tourist visa, Mexican motorcycle insurance and booking passage on the ferry between the mainland and Baja. Surprisingly, all of that went fairly easily. 

We packed up the bikes and waited for the day to arrive.

Then the Lone Burro and I were on our way. We hadn’t planned as well as we should’ve but we had plenty of time so we just figured we’d see what we’d see. 

We rode almost the same bike, 2018 BMW R1200GSAs. He left Phoenix a couple of days ahead of time; I left Tampa four days ahead of the meet-up date. We met up in Marfa,Texas ready to go. 

If you know this beautiful country, you’ll know how much I was loving this ride. 

Ran into a few other motorcyclists from The Netherlands and Canada. Luz, Terry, Mike and Les. 

We did 20+ miles of decent dirt road to Batopilas the second day. Saw some cool towns, met some really nice people, ate some good chow.  

The next day we headed back up the hill to Creel.  Then the following day we headed back down into the canyons to Urique.  

Stayed at a fine hotel in Urique, soaking in the pool with drinks before heading over to grab dinner nearby.

The next day we left, heading back up the hill, passing by the Mirador Gallego overlook and over to the turn off to Choix.

The road was worse than we had expected but we enjoyed it. The signage was nonexistent, as those of you who’ve been through there know. Very little traffic either way, until the mines area.

The road was dirt and sand and sharp rocks that tear up tires. And we picked up each other‘s bikes…more than once. We had one flat tire in the middle of nowhere when my buddy picked up a screw and had to plug it.

We went through the mining zone and eventually came out near Choix and hit pavement.

We decided to ride all the way to Topolobampo to catch the ferry that day so we did about 8 hours from Urique to Choix and then another 2 1/2 hours to the ferry at Topolobampo. We stopped in for a nice steak in Los Mochis at a place called El Lenador. Good stuff.

Yeah, the Ferry area can seem extremely hectic. We met up with fellow riders who were waiting to board the ferry; mostly Mexican, but there was an American there as well on a Gen 3 KLR. We quickly got through the weighing and the ticketing processes and waited with the group until boarding time. 

Like others have said, it’s controlled chaos, but they will get you on the ferry. We had opted for a cabin and I’m glad we did. We were hot, sweaty, dusty and dirty and a hot shower and a quiet, clean cool cabin was just what the doctor ordered for an 8-hour ferry ride across the Sea of Cortez. 

We hung out with our fellow riders for a little while. My buddy went ahead and ate the free meal and he said it was just OK. I had a flask of tequila so I polished that off and then hit the sack and slept all the way until I heard the announcement that we had landed the next morning. Say what you will about the ferry madness, but they got us off in a quick, easy manner.

We rode around La Paz then found a breakfast place and had some chorizo and huevo before heading north to Loreto.

We were blessed with just excellent weather. It’s brisk near the coast and coming across the desert was maybe in the mid to high 70s…it felt just fantastic.

From La Paz we headed to the fishing town of Loreto and stayed there for a night.  

The next morning we packed up and left Loreto—a town we really, really enjoyed, by the way— and headed toward Guerrero Negro, right at the border of north and south Baja… a place we’d both been before.

It wasn’t too interesting of a ride, just right up Highway 1, but we did stop in Santa Rosalia and looked at the church that Gustav Eiffel built. Both of us had been by that town several times and had never stopped to see the church. And it was extremely interesting to see.

We stopped to grab some taquitos at a little stand there. Just like a couple of turistas, we took a photo of the town’s sign and made our way to Guerrero Negro.

Previously, I’d stayed at a hotel I liked called Caracoles but my buddy had stayed at another one called Terra Sal so we ended up staying there and it was OK. We ate at the restaurant and it was really OK. Tired, we grabbed a couple drinks and called it a day.

The next day was to be a very short one; just up to Bahia de los Angeles, a place both of us had also visited previously. It was a very quick ride, maybe three hours, and we ended up staying at Guillermo’s. I’d stayed at other places there, and so did he, but we chose Guillermo’s because we wanted to sit on the sand and just look at the water… plus they had a bar and a restaurant so we didn’t have to go anywhere.

We did ride around the town, taking a look at the museum and then found a cool little place called Hamaca’s, where we ran into a fellow motorcycle rider. We talked Baja riding and had some fish tacos and some beers for lunch. Good times.

The Stay in Bay of LA was just so-so. There was not a lot of people there, and not a lot to do. But all we wanted to do was sit in the sand and drink some beers on the beach… and that’s what we did. 

We decided to skip Coyote Cal’s in Erendira on the Pacific Coast and head to Mexicali instead. One of the main reasons was my buddy’s tire kept losing air from the flat he got a few days back and also the TVIP close-out process in Tijuana was pretty hectic 

The next morning nothing was open for breakfast before we left so we just rolled out of town and grabbed some coffee at the cafĂ© at the turn-off for Highway 5. 

We stopped for fuel right outside of Alfonsina’s at Gonzaga Bay, then passed Puertecitos on our way to San Felipe. I’d spent some time in those places. 

We stopped only briefly in San Felipe to grab something to eat and then got back on the road toward Mexicali. Again, if you’ve ridden that road, there’s really not much to see except desert and so we just plowed right along.

We arrived to Mexicali, but couldn’t immediately locate the office where we were to return our TIP. I was checking my GPS as we were riding along and a motorcycle cop got behind me and hit his lights. He asked me to drive up about a mile to a secluded spot before he actually got off his bike so I knew what was coming. Spoiler alert: it cost us 40 bucks and was well worth the story!

I hadn’t paid a bribe in Mexico in many, many years so it was kind of a unique experience and I wanted to show my buddy how the process went… so it kind of worked out OK. My buddy just broke out $40 (bargained down from $50) and held it up in his hand. Both me and the motorcycle cop yelled, “No!” at the same time. What an amateur. I asked my buddy to palm the cash and shake the nice officer’s hand. We then rode away and found the correct office. Just another story to tell. 

And I’m going to take a moment here to say that I do not think mordida is right. I know Mexico is trying to do away with corruption and I’ve managed to stay away from having to pay any kind of bribe for many, many years. However, we were hot, we were tired and we wanted to cross the border and I just didn’t want the hassle. Plus, I wanted to show my buddy what the mordida process was all about… and he received a firsthand lesson. So there ya go. 

We quickly found the Banjercito and immigration offices right next to the SENTRI lane at the Calexico East Port of Entry and we were in and out in under 10 minutes. We rode up the SENTRI lane until almost the end and then jumped in the Ready Lane, and were across the border in about 7 minutes.

And so ended an extremely pleasurable ride through Copper Canyon and Baja. 


A friend asked me how this ferry compared to the Alaska ferry.  Excellent question and very different; not worse, not better… just different. 

It’s madness, truly it’s controlled chaos. Luckily, we ran into people that had been through the process before and they said not to worry: they would run late, but they would still get everybody on board. And they did.

I didn’t count the number of semi trucks that they got on board but easily there were many full sized 18-wheeler trucks, along with a bunch of cars, about seven motorcycles and a bunch of passengers. 

It was just incredible how much weight they got on that ferry. And for the most part—just up until about an hour before we landed —the ferry never moved. You couldn’t tell we were at sea at all. 

We sprung for the cabin, which was $140 extra, and it was well worth it. You get your own shower, your own bathroom and four bunkbeds. It was comfortable and cool …and for an eight hour ride, it was great to sleep because as soon as we got off the ferry the next morning, we were on our bikes and riding north. 

And lastly, it’s unlike the Alaska ferry in that there’s nothing to see. It runs at night so there are no sights to see until daylight when we are pulling into the port.

Our basic route:

We met in Marfa and crossed into Mexico at Ojinaga. 

We rode through Chihuahua and stayed in Ciudad Cuautemoc the first night. 

We then rode to Batopilas and stayed there for a night. 

We rode up to Creel and stayed there, leaving for Urique the next morning. 

We stopped to see Pueblo Cerocahui and the Mirador del Gallego on our way to Urique. 

After leaving Urique, we passed through Tubares then stopped at Choix and El Fuerte on our way to Los Mochis and Topolobampo. 

We took the ferry and landed near La Paz the next day. After a quick breakfast there we headed north to Loreto. 

We left Loreto for Guerrero Negro the next morning and stopped at Mulege and Santa Rosalia along the way. 

We left GN for Bahia de Los Angeles the next day and that was a fairly quick ride. 

We left Bay of LA intending to stay at Coyote Cal’s in Erendira, south of Ensenada. A pesky leaking rear tire had us change that to Mexicali instead. 

We stopped briefly in Gonzaga Bay and ate in San Felipe. We also saw the new Coco’s Corner location…though, sadly, it’s just not the same. 

After closing out the TVIP, we were back in the USA at Calexico. Easy process. 

We’d intended on splitting up in Ensenada where I was going to remain a few days. But we ended the ride a bit early and that was no biggie. We had enjoyed two weeks of really nice riding and were ready to head home. 

Questions or comments?