I am embarrassed to admit this: I could drive to Mexico in 20 minutes from my house…and yet I have only been a handful of times in the nine years I’ve lived in San Diego. My excuses have been many, as you will soon see, but a trip taken with San Diego’s branch of the organization Travel Massive to Valle de Guadalupe in Baja changed my tune completely.

Here’s why I put off my trip to Mexico for far too long (and am now kicking myself for waiting):

1. I Thought It Was Unsafe

musician at casa frida

Here’s a tip: don’t read the headlines about violence in Mexico. The cities along the border, particularly Tijuana, rise and fall in their death tolls. But the fact is: that’s a tiny part of an entire country that may be unsafe. Even when I went to Tijuana years ago, I didn’t feel unsafe, despite (or because of) the fact the armed police that lingered outside of places that tourists visited.

We passed through Tijuana to get to wine country where I felt completely safe.

2. I Thought the Wines Wouldn’t Be Good

l a cetto

Not only do I live 45 minutes away from Temecula, which has some pretty fantastic wines, but I’ve also enjoyed great wines in my travels to France and Italy. So when I heard that Valle de Guadalupe had good wines? Well, I was a little skeptical.

Turns out I shouldn’t have been. On our tour, we stopped at L.A. Cetto, the largest wine producer in Mexico, founded by an Italian man who made his home in Baja. We sampled a variety of whites and reds…none of which cost more than $8 for a bottle! Not only is Mexican wine great, but it’s also super affordable. Sadly, Americans can only take one bottle home.

For lunch, we ate at Casa Frida. Their wine was wonderful too, particularly the rosé. The food was marvelous too: tiny street tacos made on a stove in the open air raised restaurant overlooking the vineyards.

casa frida

Next was El Cielo (all of these were a ten-minute drive from one another or less). After a tour into their cellar, a darkly romantic spot that included tables and couches that you could hang out on, we sampled another flight. Normally I don’t drink white wine, but the whites here (and everywhere else) were crisp and refreshing.

el cielo winery

Our final stop was Sol de Media Noche, a sort of artisanal market that sold jams, sauces, cheese, and of course, their own wine. It was there that I made my choice: a surprising chocolate red wine that wasn’t too sweet or cloying. I also bought marvelous homemade jalapeno cheese and some multigrain bread…all for $14!

sol de media noche

3. I Thought the Border Was a Hassle

When I hear about people waiting at the border for three hours in their car, it’s such a turnoff. I have better things to do with my life! On the tour, which was led by Five Star Tours, I talked to a new friend who frequently made trips to Mexico and got a few tips from her.

san ysidro border crossing

First of all the San Ysidro border crossing is the busiest (but hey, that link will show you current wait times!).  The Otay Mesa crossing is a bit faster. Noted.

Second, I have Global Entry, which means I can walk through the expedited pedestrian lane quickly. If I wanted to take my car, I could apply for SENTRI, which would let me take the expedited lane for cars at all crossings. It’s worth considering now that I’m in love with Mexico!

I would just suggest if you’re going to cross the border and it’s going to be a while, go to the bathroom and eat before. Once you’re in a long line of cars, there’s no getting out.

4. I Thought Driving Would Be Scary

valle de guadalupe coast

I’m not a fan of driving in other countries. For good reason. But the roads in Baja were well-paved and easy to navigate. It didn’t help that our tour guide told us about the landslides and sinkholes that had plagued the coastline for years though!

Now that I’m single and don’t have someone else who will take the wheel (literally) on a trip to Mexico, I’m feeling a bit braver about doing it myself.

On the trip, it suddenly dawned on me: I am a travel blogger…who lives 20 minutes from another country! What is wrong with me?? I need to come here more often!

The people we met were super friendly, and there was always someone who spoke English. Pricewise, you can’t beat Valle de Guadalupe for amazing and affordable wine and food.

I will definitely be back!