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

Meagan Drillinger

Meagan Drillinger

The bodies of three missing surfers were discovered on Sunday, May 5, in a remote part of Baja California. The surfers, an American and two Australian brothers, went missing during a surfing trip at the end of last month. They were found with gunshot wounds to the head, while their truck was found burned some 40 miles away. The horrific tragedy, which has shocked Baja California’s tight-knit surfing community, may have travelers wondering how safe it is to travel through the region.

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

Kidnappings and murders by tourists are extremely rare in Mexico, especially in destinations that stay off the beaten tourist path. But like any destination in the world, there are do’s and don’ts. Baja California has a Level 3 advisory on the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisory list due to kidnappings and crime, and going off the beaten path should be done with extreme caution.

While Baja has long been hailed as a haven for surfers and adventurers alike, the tragedy underlines the importance of caution and vigilance when exploring uncharted territory.

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

“I am pleased to share our perspective on the real-time situation on the ground and the real risks as we assess them,” Zach Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico, wrote to a concerned customer. “While this does not diminish the tragedy of their murders… this was an isolated incident and not relevant to assessing the risk your family faces when traveling to Los Cabos and southern Baja in general.”

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

“Unfortunately, we had a serious incident here south of Ensenada this week,” one of the group’s administrators wrote. “It’s rare in Baja. But this is happening like it’s happening all over the world, so we don’t need people complaining and humiliating Baja. It’s so sad and completely unnecessary that this happened.”

The suspect in the murders who is in custody will face charges, according to CBS News. As the investigation into the murders continues, the surfing community and travelers at large are left with a sense of unease. Yet, amid the sadness and uncertainty, a glimmer of hope remains – a reminder that tragedy should not stop us from exploring the world, but rather force us to do so responsibly.