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Ensenada: Baja's Overlooked Destination

July 23, 2007 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent

Wineries, great shopping and an aquarium next year

Travelers who aren't intimidated by driving in Mexico should consider a visit to Ensenada, a first-rate tourist destination 70 miles south of San Diego, on the Pacific coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula.  Las Rosas Resort & Spa Casa

"We've been overlooked—Ensenada is Mexico's best-kept secret," says Jean-Loup Bitterlin, president of the Ensenada Tourism Board. "Since so many people get here by driving, Ensenada has been thought of as a blue-collar destination."

Ensenada at a Glance

Although Ensenada lacks an
international airport, it gets a significant number of visitors from cruise
ships; 600,000 a year according to Bitterlin, making it the second most visited
port-of-call in Mexico.
In addition, the destination hosts 600,000 visitors a year staying overnight in
hotels in and around Ensenada.

Casa De Los Siete Patios by El Rey Sol

charms are its pedestrian-friendly Paseo Calle Primera, lined with shops and
restaurants; and its malecón or ocean boardwalk, with numerous small open-air
restaurants. Many visitors to Ensenada
come for sportfishing, surfing, golf and special events, such as the Spring
Rosarito-Ensenada Fun Bicycle Ride & Finish Line, an event that attracts
thousands of cyclists.

Bitterlin, also the owner of the 60-year-old El Rey Sol
Restaurant, has some ideas on how Ensenada
can shake its blue-collar image. "My vision is to follow the Carmel or
Laguna Beach model—focusing on lifestyle by raising the level of our shopping,
and promoting our great restaurants and wine routes," says Bitterlin.
"We're Mexico's Napa Valley—we
now have over 20 wineries."

These wineries are easily reached by car, and many offer
wine tasting and tours. Some wineries require reservations, so inquire in

"The three things that put us on the map are our
wineries, our main shopping street, Paseo Calle Primera, and our
blowhole," says Bitterlin.

La Bufadora, which lies 22 miles south of Ensenada, is a
natural blowhole that spouts seawater 70 feet into the air.

In Bitterlin's opinion, Ensenada doesn't need a mega
attraction on the scale of a Disneyland or SeaWorld.

"Although we will be getting a new $6 million aquarium,
adjacent to the cruise terminal, which will open within two years," he
says. Bitterlin also notes that discussions are underway to build a cable-car
ride, or waterfront gondola that will go from the cruise ship terminal up the
mountain overlooking the town.

Hotel Snapshot

According to Bitterlin, there are 3,000 hotel rooms in the Ensenada area; 1,200 of
these being three-star or fewer.

"We presently have enough hotel rooms to meet demand,
but there is $1.5 billion in condo and retirement option projects
underway," he says. "Mexico's
next oil boom is the residential tourist boom—[property costs are] one-fifth to
one-tenth of what it costs in the U.S."

Because many visitors will have arrived with their own cars,
this makes it convenient to stay at one of the resort-style hotels just outside
of town.

The 48-room Las
Rosas Hotel & Spa
(866-447-6727) features ocean views from all of its
rooms. Through August, prices start at $181 for a standard room; this will go
up to $212 in September.

The $40 million Hotel
Coral & Marina
(52 646 175 0000) has 147 ocean view suites, 353 marina
slips and a spa. Prices start at $160 for a standard room.

Casa de
los Siete Patios
(cell: 00 1 858 414 4825, [email protected])
occupies a seaside setting on two acres, 10 minutes north of Ensenada. The family-friendly property
consists of five suites, and it is a popular choice for destination weddings.
Prices, which begin at $1,200 a night for two, include maid, pool boy, staff,
breakfast and dinner or lunch. There is also a spa service on property.

The 52-room Posada El Rey Sol (888-311-6871) is a good choice for those who
want to be in the center of Ensenada,
close to shopping and restaurants. The El Rey Sol is an America Best Value Inn.
Rates begin at $85 during the week and jump to $95 on Friday and Saturday.

Tourism Board 800-310-9687,

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