Most of the SUVs you’ll see at the mall have just one off-road experience: the garage. If you want to experience the real thrill of off-roading, you have to go to a place where there are no malls, no luxury SUVs—and no roads. For you, Baja California beckons. With its sun-baked deserts, rugged mountains, and sapphire blue waters, this 1,000 mile-long (1,609km) peninsula has been a playground for adventure-hungry gringos, and a few companies have developed tours to let folks who want to take a vehicle to places that their air-conditioned mall-mobile could never touch.
Tours usually begin in a city near the border such as San Diego, California, or Ensenada, in Mexico; another option is to fly to Cabo San Lucas and begin your tour there. Most tour operators offer a variety of trips, from an afternoon tearing around on a 3-mile (nearly 5km) course outside Cabo to a full week trekking from one end of the Baja Peninsula to the other. Once your adventure begins, you’ll stay in local hotels, dine on fresh-caught seafood, and sip tangy margaritas.
Travelers are matched with a professionally maintained vehicle that has all the features a road rat could want: massive all-terrain tires, powerful engines, and racing shocks that make small boulders feel like dust bunnies. The vehicles are also outfitted with a five-point racing harness and a two-way radio system that lets vehicles stay in contact with one another. Don’t expect posh appointments: These babies are built with dirt in mind, and most are open-air monsters replete with steel roll bars and dozens of garish racing decals.
Once you’ve tapped into your inner Mad Max, and you think you’ve got the chops, why not enter a rented off-road vehicle in a race like the Wide Open Baja Challenge? With ready-made race cars, a big support staff, pre-race training, and great accommodations, it’s the best in good, not-so-clean fun. —ML
Baja California Tourism ( 664/682-3367; www.discoverbajacalifornia.com).
When to Go: Oct–May.