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Baja's midsection is something of a test, a destination that separates the tourists from the travelers. Halfway between the busy border at Tijuana and the glitz and glamour of Los Cabos, however you got here, it's been a long trip. The vast majority of Baja visitors don't make it this far, and many who do just keep on driving through. They're missing out.

That's because this remotest of Baja regions is also its least developed, the closest to a state of nature you'll find in 1,120km (758 miles) of road. Jagged, lonely mountain ranges meet the Sea of Cortez at deserted beaches and impassable cliffs. Hours of wild desert suddenly erupt into bloom at a rare oasis. Birds on land and whales in the water make this special place their migratory home. If you're looking for peace, quiet, and a deep connection to the natural world, your journey ends here.

While the region's greatest charms are exactly where there's been no development, there are a few population centers that make a good base for exploration. Overlooked by many travelers (except avid sportfishermen and the off-road racers who pass through several times a year), the historic mission town of Loreto, the original capital of the Californias, is a headquarters for fishing, diving, and kayaking in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, and its offshore islands Coronado and Carmen, as well as for multiday hiking trips into the Sierra Giganta. Mulegé is, literally, an oasis in the Baja desert. The only freshwater river (Río Mulegé) in the peninsula flows through town, creating a wildlife-filled estuary. It's a starting point for the beaches, diving, and windsurfing of Bahía Concepción, as well as for hiking excursions to the ancient cave paintings of the Sierra de Guadalupe. And the port town of Santa Rosalía, while a century or so past its prime, makes a worthy detour, with its pastel clapboard houses and unusual steel-and-stained-glass church, designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame).

The region's best-known attraction, and unquestionably its most thrilling, is the annual wintertime breeding and calving migration of gray whales to mid-Baja's bays and lagoons. From San Ignacio, Guerrero Negro, and Bahía Magdalena, you can commune with these giant creatures in their natural environment. If you're lucky, they'll come right up to the boat and look you in the eye: man and nature, face to face.