What to know about the Baja California surfer deaths: Travel Weekly

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Meagan Drillinger

Meagan Drillinger

The bodies of three missing surfers were discovered in a remote section of Baja California on Sunday, May 5. The surfers, an American and two Australian brothers, went missing late last month while on a surf trip. They were found with gunshot wounds to the head, while their truck was found burned about 40 miles away. The gruesome tragedy, which has shaken the close-knit surfing community of Baja California, may have travelers wondering about the safety traveling through the region.

Baja California is the northernmost state on the Baja peninsula and the one that directly borders California. It is best known for its tourist towns of Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe. The three men had stopped to surf and camp between Punta San Jose, which is about 50 miles south of Ensenada, and La Bocana, which is further north up the coast. 

Tourist kidnappings and killings are extremely rare in Mexico, particularly in destinations that remain on the beaten tourist trail. But like any destination in the world, there are do’s and don’ts. Baja California has a Level 3 advisory in the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory list due to kidnappings and crime, and venturing off the beaten path should be done with extreme caution.

While Baja has long been hailed as a haven for surfers and adventure seekers alike, the tragedy underscores the importance of exercising caution and vigilance when exploring unfamiliar territory.

It also bears mentioning that Baja California and Baja California Sur are two different states. Baja California Sur is home to the resort beach destinations of Los Cabos and Todos Santos, which are more than 1,000 miles away from where this horrific incident occurred.

“I am glad to share our stance on the real-time situation on the ground and the real risks as we assess them,” wrote Zach Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico, to a concerned client. “While this doesn’t take away from the tragedy of their murders … this was an isolated incident and not relevant in assessing your family’s risk in traveling to Los Cabos and south Baja in general.”

I personally spent a month driving the Baja peninsula from Los Cabos to Ensenada and back again in 2022 and did so without incident. However, I stayed on the paved roads, drove only during the day and slept at reputable hotels along the way. I belong to a Facebook group of experienced Baja overlanders who share real-time, on-the-road updates for travelers moving in all directions, and while this terrible tragedy has deeply touched the community, its members are quick to point out that these incidents are extremely rare.

“We sadly had a bad incident down here south of Ensenada this week,” wrote one of the group’s administrators. “It is a rare thing in Baja. But this happens as it has all over the world, so we don’t need people complaining and degrading Baja. It is so sad and totally unnecessary that this has happened.” 

The suspect in the killings is in custody will be prosecuted, according to CBS News. As investigations into the murders continue, the surfing community and travelers at large are left grappling with a sense of unease. Yet, amidst the sorrow and uncertainty, there remains a glimmer of hope — a reminder that tragedy should not deter us from exploring the world, but rather compel us to do so responsibly.

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