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Outdoor Gear Reviews, Tips & Adventure Stories to Inspire an Outdoor Life
October 19, 2021

Sailing to Ensenada

Written by Zack Newsome
Updated on April 25, 2023
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Sailing to Ensenada, Mexico from San Diego is a short trip by sailing standards, but it’s a fun and exciting day on the water….if you’re lucky enough to find some wind. The last time I sailed this route about a decade ago, we bobbed around in flat seas having to resort to using the boat’s engine the entire trip.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sail from San Diego to Ensenada on a gorgeous, 46ft sailboat.  The journey, approximately 60 nautical miles, lasted about 8hrs and was filled with dolphins, beautiful landscapes, and just the right amount of “relax”.

This time, we had plenty of wind, but it was blowing the same direction as we were headed.  Without a spinnaker, we utilize a combination of engine and wind to propel us the majority of the way.  Downwind sailing, (sailing with the wind to your back) is typically a blast and a comfortable sail, but without the right gear for the job, this sail wasn’t as exciting as it could have been

I LOVE sailing. Utilizing the wind to propel yourself across the sea wild with potential is a special experience. It’s romantic. It’s ripe with adventure. It’s life-giving. We all gravitate towards the activities that help us disconnect from the stresses of life.  I gravitate towards sailing.

Sailing around the safe confines of a harbor is fun, but sailing to a destination is exhilarating. The weather must be adequately accounted for.  The course needs plotted ahead of time.  Calculations are required to ensure an on-time arrival based on local conditions.  Destination sailing take preparation. But it’s the unknown that creates the adventure.  What sea life will we encounter?  Will we catch some fish for dinner during our travels? What business are the commercial vessels we pass enroute engaged in?  Will weather conditions change and surprise us?  Will rough seas leave us clinging to edge of the boat heaving the contents of our stomach?  Or will a strong breeze carry us swiftly leaving only the sound of the hull piercing through the waves? Once you embark, your fate is the hands of mother nature and with the sturdiness of your vessel.

Sea Life

While most people think of the “wild” as lush forests or desolate deserts, the sea is equally wild.  On a sailboat in the open ocean, you are adventuring where only a small percentage of humans have. The ocean (certainly all that is below the surface) is relatively unfamiliar and untraveled. Lose sight of land and the isolation can be unsettling.

At least until you encounter a pod of dolphins, a whale, or even a school of fish churning the surface in search of food.  In these moments, the aloneness gives way to a certain comfort.

On our sail to Ensenada we were met by a small pod of common dolphins.  As they often do, the dolphins quickly headed toward our boat when they noticed us and playfully cruised in our boat wake for a few moments. No matter how many times you stand on the bow of a boat and watch dolphins play alongside, it’s always magical. It’s something everyone should have the opportunity to experience at least once. They are beautiful and inquisitive creatures and can make even the worst day of sailing a little brighter.

The Quiet of the Sea

My favorite part about sailing is feeling the boat move through the water toward your destination in silence.  Once the boat is in open water and its sails are hoisted, there is nothing quite like the moment the engine is killed and the sounds of the sea take over.

Sailing provides the time and space for reflection that we often struggle to find in our lives. While at sea under the power of only the wind, we are captive to the experience. The myriad of tasks we are compelled to complete in our everyday lives are silenced with only the task of utilizing the available wind to most efficiently make headway toward our destination.  As the world around us quiets, our mind can’t help but follow.

Experiencing the wild is therapy. It disrupts our routines and adapts our perceptions. Sailing connects us with our sea-faring ancestors, nature, and ourselves.

This trip sailing to Ensenada was no exception.  With the journey feeling not long enough, we arrived into the harbor in Ensenada at nightfall, greeted by the twinkling lights of this Mexican city.

Ensenada: A Charming City

Ensenada is a city of more than 500,000 people located in Baja California, Mexico’s west coast. It’s a charming Mexican city with great food and plenty of nightlife, but it’s also a cruise ship destination and a focal point for the Valle de Guadalupe, its nearby wine region.

Having not been to Ensenada for a number of years, I was surprised to see how much the city had changed. The coastline just north of the city has significantly more development than I remember and we stumbled upon some amazing restaurants.

As anyone who’s been to Ensenada will tell you, one of the more memorable sights of the city is the enormous Mexican flag that flies near the harbor.  This giant flag greets cruise ships entering port and tourists alike – welcoming them to a welcoming city. The people of Ensenada are overwhelmingly generous and hospitable.  With a large cruise terminal, a decent amount of the Ensenada economy counts on tourism dollars. Like many Mexican towns, you can find just about anything by asking around for it.  But in Ensenada’s case, you feel less like a tourist target walking around town. You are always invited in to just about every place you pass, but never feel dragged in or pestered.

For those arriving by boat, Ensenada has two main marinas, Marina Coral and Cruiseport Village Marina. While we’ve enjoyed Marina Coral in the past, this time to Ensenada, we chose to stay at Cruiseport Village.  Marina Coral is just north of Ensenada attached to a wonderful hotel with all the amenities of a resort. Cruiseport Village is inside Ensenada’s harbor right in the middle of town.  This central location provides the ability to walk into town and explore the city just a few minutes away from your boat.

Getting Back to the States

The owner of the boat we sailed to Ensenada was leaving his boat in Ensenada leaving us to find an alternative way back home.  Luckily, many of the larger hotels in Ensenada can arrange a shuttle to take you back to the US.  Having ridden one of these shuttles on a previous trip that took us only to the border then dropped us in a 2-hour long line to walk across, I was excited to learn that this time we would be driven all the way to the airport in San Diego. Getting transportation across the border is the way to go.  We arrived at the airport in San Diego in 2 hours – the same amount of time we stood in last at the border last time.

Another option for back to the US border is by bus. ABC buses run from Ensenada to Tijuana every hour and cost about $10 per person. ABC offers nice busses and typically show movies during your travel – a nice mindless distraction to pass the time. There are a couple of places to pick up these busses in Ensenada, so be sure to plan your route to the bus station and give yourself enough time before departure.

The trip back to San Diego is breathtaking.  The drive is along the coast most of the way with endless ocean views from the cliffs above.  Much of this coastline had been heavily developed in recent years. This makes perfect sense once you lose all track of time watching the waves roll endlessly from the deep of the Pacific Ocean.  I could spend some more time in this region.


Sailing to Ensenada is a fun, all-day sail from San Diego.  Conditions are usually good and there’s a good chance you’ll spot some wildlife on your journey.  Ensenada is a beautiful and modern town with plenty to keep you occupied while there. Ground transportation between Ensenada and San Diego is an adventure in itself with beautiful views along the ocean and many options to choose from. I’m looking forward for my next excuse to visit Ensenada.

About the Author

Zack Newsome

Zack is a lifelong adventurer passionate about sharing the joy of the outdoors with others. He loves camping, fly-fishing, sailing, and exploring wild spaces. He launched Outward in early 2022 to inspire others to spend more time outdoors – improving mental health and more deeply connecting with the environment.

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