We live in the San Francisco Bay Area and although the winters here are relatively mild, Milton and I try to go south for a week or so mid-winter each year for a warmer climate. In recent years we have gone to Key West, San Diego, and Palm Springs. On Epinions, you can read about our vacations to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. This year, in our quest for sunshine, we visited the Estero Beach Resort in Ensenada.
We are at a point in our lives when we occasionally fantasize about places we might like to retire in ten or twenty years from now. We love the Bay Area but it is expensive and someday we would really like to be somewhere with a warmer climate. We had this in mind when visiting Cancun and Puerto Vallarta and were also considering this when planning our trip to Ensenada.
Ensenada is a small fishing village about seventy miles below the San Diego/Tijuana border and we thought it would be fun to visit for our winter break and was also a place we might want to consider some day for retirement since we imagined it would be relatively inexpensive to live there but still close enough to the border for shopping or healthcare needs.
Driving into Mexico is an adventure. We drove across the Tijuana border with no problem and after a few minutes were able to get to the toll road that is recommended for the trip to Ensenada. We had to stop and pay tolls three times and paid $2.20 each time to drive on this fairly well maintained road. Speed limits were posted in kilometers but my speedometer had both miles per hour and kilometers per hour so it was no problem. It was actually a pretty easy drive for the most part.
When you fly into resort cities like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, you do see some of the poverty in this third world country on your way from the airport but nothing like what you see when driving seventy miles through the countryside. The terrain is somewhat like the San Diego area but much less developed and landscaped. It is relatively barren desert compared to San Diego. There does not seem to be any regulations or building codes. It is amazing to me the number of half finished, abandoned buildings you see in Mexico (including places like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta). I am not sure what happens- someone starts building a building and then runs out of money? You also see a lot of shacks that don’t look inhabitable at all which are often located close to hotels or luxury homes.
Each time I have visited Mexico, I have been struck with the smell of diesal fuel. The amount of litter along the highway was also notable and it made me think about “freeway beautification” programs we have in the U.S. such as the “adopt a freeway” program where businesses or organizations take responsibility for cleaning up a section of freeway. The air quality, the litter and the chaos of half finished buildings, abandoned buildings and shacks along the way caused me to reflect on, in a positive way, U.S. government regulation that many of us often complain about, and housing codes, and even homeowner associations!
Once we got to Ensenada, we got a little lost but it is a fairly small town and it didn’t take long to find our way to the resort we had booked. We chose the Estero Beach Resort because it was one of the only hotels we could find in the area that was on a beach. Ensenada is a port town and the waterfront is taken up by fishing boats and cruise ship docks. There are no sandy beaches in Ensenada itself. The Estero Beach Resort is several miles south of Ensenada and it turned out that it really doesn’t have much of a beach either. For an “ocean front” room, we were supposed to be paying $80.00/night for Thursday and Sunday night and $90.00/night for Friday and Saturday nights but we wound up only staying Thursday and Friday and were ready to go by Saturday.
As I said before, the resort is a few miles outside Ensenada. When you drive up to the compound, there is a security guard that raises a gate to let you in. There is a wall around the entire compound and it includes the hotel itself, an R.V. park, permanent residences, a restaurant, a small art store, and a small museum. The hotel area is beautifully landscaped and the “deluxe” room we had was large and nice enough although I thought a little overpriced really when we compared what we had been getting recently in the U.S. through priceline.com or even the all inclusive packages we had got in Cancun and P.V. If you are going to Mexico, you would be better off spending a couple hundred dollars more and flying elsewhere.
Milton didn’t notice it (he had a cold) but I immediately noticed a faint odor in our room. I have a very keen since of smell. Our rooms in both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta had this slight odor also. I think it must have something to do with the building materials or the humidity or the water or the sewers or something. It is a very faint odor and it is tolerable but slightly annoying at first and it is more of a question for me than anything else. What is it? You quickly get used to it whatever it is.
The resort is actually on a bay. You can see waves breaking off to the side and at some distance but you can still hear the relaxing sound of them breaking. There were very few people in the hotel when we arrived. Apparently this was not high season. One of the empoyees told me that it fills up more when school is out in the summer months. It was almost too quiet for us. If you are looking for quiet, February here is the place for you. Or if you are afraid to fly or just want to get away for just a couple days of reading and reflection, you might enjoy this. For us, we need more activity and would have preferred downtown Ensenada. We did drive into downtown and there was a Mardi Gras/Carnival celebration going on but it appeared much of that was at night and we did not feel comfortable driving at night since many people and books we had read warned against this. We had hoped there would be shuttle but there was none. A taxi would cost $10-$15.00 each way.
I know a lot of you love to read on vacation and could care less about television but we like to watch tv in the evening after playing tourist all day or when we are tired of reading. None of the hotels we have stayed at in Mexico have had an adequate amount of English speaking channels as far as we are concerned. Estero Beach Resort had HBO and CNN but no CBS, NBC or ABC. There was something called the “American” channel which showed a few American talk shows but t.v. leaves much to be desired at Estero. If you are used to having more than three choices of television channels, any of the hotels we have stayed at will dissapoint. If I were planning another trip to Mexico, I would probably make more effort at finding out what channels were available.
The weather wasn’t great. It really wasn’t much better than what we would have had in the Bay Area. This time of year we would have done better to go to Florida or Hawaii or deeper into Mexico for sunshine.
There was very little to choose from on the restaurant menu. We didn’t feel like driving back into town that first night so we ate at the restaurant. I though it was overpriced. I have gotten much better food for less money in the U.S. but I guess they think they can charge more at Estero Beach Resort because there is no competition there. They were charging $7.00 for a cheeseburger! I am not sure if it was the food there or something else but I was taking pepto bismol for several days after our dinner there. One of the things that I thought about was how people in the U.S. will talk about a particular Mexican restaurant in their town being good because it serves “authentic” Mexican food. I have discovered that I like inauthentic Mexican food in the U.S. better for the most part. It often tastes better in the U.S. and can be trusted not to make you sick.
We were very careful about drinking only bottled water and although I didn’t get as sick as when we went to Puerto Vallarta, this was the second time I had gastrointestinal problems in Mexico. We even brushed our teeth with bottled water! We were very careful.
Since Milton and I had discussed the possibility of retiring in Mexico, I was very interested in the “permanent” residences at Estero Beach Resort. These are mostly mobile and manufactured homes. The area in which they were located was pretty well maintained. One could buy one of these residences from about $17,000 plus some kind of title transfer fee of a few hundred dollars. You would not own the land though. You would pay Estero anywhere from $250.00 to $500.00 a month to rent the land on which your building stood. I can see where this might be attractive to some retirees. I don’t think you could live that near the ocean for that cheap anywhere in the U.S.
For me though, this trip pretty much closed the door on retiring in Mexico for several reasons. I finally came to the realization that I could not live somewhre that I could not drink the water or where I had to worry each time I ate at a restaurant. I had thought that I could just be careful and drink bottled water but as careful as I was, I still wound up getting sick two out of my three visits.
As far as vacationing in Mexico, we might still visit Cabo or Mazatlan one day but vacationing in Mexico for sunshine is really not much of a bargain when you factor in the intestinal cramping and other concerns. At this point I could really only recommend Cancun and maybe P.V. -- I encourage you to read my reviews of Cancun and PV for the reaons why. I could not really recommend Ensenada or the Estero Beach Resort.