A magnet for riders all over the world, the pull of the Baja Divide is strong. The promise of oceanside single-track, larger-than-life cacti and endless fish tacos calls people like a siren’s song to this small desert peninsula. At times, the route is backcountry heaven: a playground to wander and roam. At others, it’s a living hell: full of rutted roads and deep sandy tracks that push the physical and mental limits of even the most seasoned two-wheeled tourists.
With an official Facebook page, umpteen WhatsApp groups and countless trip reports ranging from FKT’s to first dates, there’s a tone of information already online. But amongst the endless tubeless chatter and hydration hysteria, there’s a distinct lack of information about the FOOD—until now. Sam Rice and Bec Norman share some tasty camp cooking tips from their trip down the peninsula…
A Lesson in Expectation Management
Back in 2021, we joined forces with Tristan and Belen to ride the TranSardina Trail. That route was as much a foodie paradise as it was a bikepackers’ dream. So when the opportunity to ride the infamous Baja Divide presented itself this January, we could hardly contain our excitement. The very thought of Mexico set our minds on fire with backcountry food ideas. Freshly caught prawns grilled over fire, vibrant green rice and a smörgåsbord of salsas. Chilaquiles for breakfast next to dreamy ocean-side campsites and sippin’ fresh hot chocolate long into the evenings.
In reality, though, we found food on the Baja Divide to be more a lesson in expectation management than in haute backcountry cuisine. Within the first week, our naive ideas of grilling seafood on the beach were quickly shattered. and that void was filled by the nagging fears of weight, light, water capacity and kilometers left to cycle. At first, we were full of dread. How were these food-obsessed bikepackers going to survive six weeks on non-stop corn tortillas? On bashed-up biscuits turned to dust in our frame bags and slimy vegetables sun roasted from our sweltering panniers?
Determined to still have a rich backcountry cooking experience, we put our skills to the test and got creative. We swapped fresh grilled seafood for fire-roasted pineapple. Ocean-side green rice for cactus-side curries. We re-lived our Sardinian suppers with our pasta puttanesca and found some magical Mexican treats along the way.
We’ll pull no punches though, we found the food diversity, quality and subsequent prices a real challenge on the Baja. So, our aim with this post is to share with you the tips and tricks that helped us, the food knowledge we gained from six weeks in the desert, and to provide you with a bunch of delicious recipes so you can enjoy more than bimbo sweet buns and cold bean burritos.
To Stove or Not to Stove?
Among the myriad of gear decisions you’ll need to make before setting out on the Baja Divide, the decision to pack a stove or not is a uniquely personal one. For us, food is as much a part of the trail experience as the dirt itself, so the thought of not having a stove is just lunacy. That said, if you are keen (read: crazy) enough to go stoveless you’ll be happy to hear it is possible. You’ll just be living on tortillas filled with cold refried beans, tuna and basic veggies every day for a month or more.
If you’ve not lost your mind and you are planning on packing a stove, you’ve basically got four main options.
Everyone favors different stove systems, and we’re not going down the rabbit hole of comparing them all in this post. However, after years of testing various models, we’ve settled on the Trangia Spirit Burner for 90% of our tours. It’s low-weight, ease of use and clean burning flame make it a joy to cook on. Sure it’s not the fastest way to boil water, but it is the best at simmering, reducing and not scorching food, which is important in the way we cook.
When choosing a stove specifically for the Baja Divide though, we recommend that you base your decision primarily on fuel availability.
A Question of Fuel
A stove without fuel isn’t much use to anyone. So, understanding what fuel sources are available on the Baja Divide ahead of time is integral to your cooking success.
While researching the route we were led to believe that alcohol would be extremely difficult to find. However, in our experience, this was not the case at all. We managed to find alcohol in every small town we visited and in a range of sizes. We opted for 1L bottles which usually lasted 10-14 days and generally cost 80 pesos ($4) a liter. The quality is never above 70% (due to government regulations) but it burns well with zero soot. If you get stuck, ask for “Alcohol Desnaturalizado” and the pharmacist will point you in the right direction.
By far and away the most abundant fuel source on the Baja Divide is biomass/twigs. The dry desert environment means there’s plenty of dead wood and dried-out cacti to burn on a daily basis. However, the carbon released by the twigs will coat everything in your camp kitchen with thick, black soot. This alone is enough to steer us toward favoring an alcohol stove, but we met a couple of riders who liked their twig burners – so it’s up to you.
If you’ve got a universal fuel stove that accepts petrol, you’ll have plenty of options on Baja, too. The main highway that bisects the route is littered with gas stops and fuel is generally cheap. However, in our experience, universal stoves tend to be big, dirty and only really good at boiling things, due to the intensity of the flame.
Finally, there’s the gas canister stove. Inside the US and across Europe gas canisters are widely available and a great option. However, in the six weeks we spent riding the Baja Divide we only saw canisters once, and that was in La Paz at the end of the route. I guess you could haul a couple canisters from the start and use them sporadically across the route. But in our opinion, they’re probably not the best option for this route.
Tiendas, Stores, and Staple Ingredients
Geography plays a big role in the availability of fresh food on the Baja Divide. The peninsula itself is the second-longest in the world and as a result, operates more like an island. The main transport options to carry food in from mainland Mexico are either ferries out of La Paz and Cabo San Lucas or a long-ass drive around the entire Gulf of Mexico and down the Baja. This means there’s not much food diversity on the peninsula. But, what fresh food you can find is almost always grown locally, in season and abundant.
The route is littered with tiendas (small shops), and in almost every one, you’ll find a selection of true Mexican staples like tortillas, various beans (dried and packaged), salsas galore, tuna, olives, canned vegetables, oats, pasta, rice, lentils and ramen noodles. You’ll nearly always find fresh produce— bananas, apples, tomatoes, onions, limes—and, if you’re particularly lucky, avocados. All the tiendas will also have a good selection of sugary delights. Cookies, chips, pulparindos (tamarind candy wrapped in sugar and chilli) and a variety of sodas.
Bigger towns and cities mean larger supermarkets and more choices. We recommend loading up on the hard-to-find delicacies in the larger towns, then supplementing your speciality products with basic roadside supplies. Bougie backcountry options: include instant mash potato (Puré de Papa), capers, chia seeds, raisins and other dried fruit, some whole spices and dried herbs, chickpeas, peanut butter, Nutella, alternate milk powders and soy protein to name a few.
Hot Tip: To really amp up your mealtime pleasure, we recommend bringing some curry powder and some whole spices like green cardamom and cumin. This way, you’ll always be able to cook a vegetable curry (as rice and vegetables are abundant) when you’re craving something different.
A note for vegetarians + vegans: Always read the back of the ingredients on the Baja. Some brands include things like manteca de cerdo (lard) in their bean packets, which many assume are vegetarian. We’d advise learning some Spanish food terminology before you arrive, so you don’t get caught out.
When you think of Mexican food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? That’s right, TACOS! And we won’t lie… the tacos were delicious on the Baja Divide, especially the pescado (fish) and the camarón (shrimp) ones found in the small towns along the coastline. Beautiful fresh fish, fried in crispy batter and served in a corn tortilla with lashings of pico de gallo (onion, tomato and cilantro) and guacamole. Dreamy!
For vegetarians and vegans, choices can be pretty limited. However, most taquerias will happily sell you some plain tortillas and let you load up on toppings until your heart’s content. Tristan did this a few times on the route and was smiling from ear-to-ear.
Beyond the taquerias and restaurants in towns, your best chance of a hot meal is at the various ranchos scattered along the route. These ranchos differ greatly from one another in quality and price, yet all serve basically the same meals. A standard meal for us at most ranchos consisted of frijoles (beans), huevos (eggs), papas fritas (fried potatoes) and endless tortillas. We also found a few places offering hot cakes, a welcome surprise when topped with maple syrup. Vegetarian and vegan options at the ranchos are pretty limited, but almost all will prepare fried potatoes and beans for you.
Tips, Hacks and Water-Saving Tricks:
1. Harina vs Maize, a battle for the ages
Across Mexico, you have two choices of tortillas, either harina (flour) or maize (corn). We personally loved the harina, not only because they lasted longer (3-5 days) but because they were more versatile and also tended to be larger.
2. One seasoning to rule them all
Halfway through the Baja Divide, we met Thomas who quickly introduced us to the magic of Tajín. Made from natural chili peppers, lime and sea salt, Tom topped EVERYTHING with the stuff: oranges, watermelon, burritos and rice. We quickly followed suit, and suggest you do the same. Find a bottle in your local tienda and add it to whatever needs a tangy, salty and spicy kick.
3. Overnight oats & cold soaked bircher
A staple in our bike touring kitchen and something we wouldn’t do without on Baja. Grab yourself a reusable silicon pouch (like this one or this one) or the brilliant Vargo BOT and fill it with oats, chia seeds, milk powder, dried fruit and water. Mix well and leave overnight while you slumber. In the morning, simply eat it fresh from the bag or bot, adding crunchy nuts, peanut butter or anything else your heart desires. The real trick here is that you get a delicious creamy breakfast, without having to fire up your stove. Mind BLOWN right?
If you’re low on water (which you probably will be on the Baja) you can just re-seal the bag and wait until you reach a water source or town to clean it properly.
4. Fuck single-use plastic
One thing that really grinds our gears is having to buy water in a single-use, plastic bottle. Luckily, we avoided this most of the time, as there are plenty of Reverse Osmosis (RO) filters in tiendas and supermarkets along the divide. 1L of water in a single-use bottle usually costs between 10-20 pesos, whereas water from the RO filters is 1 pesos per liter. Cheaper and better for the environment – go figure!
5. No water goes unused – a match made in hydration heaven
A trick we learnt from Tristan in Sardinia came to be vital on the Baja Divide. Every time we cooked pasta, rice or anything in the water, we added a stock cube, drained the contents we cooked up and drank the water like soup. This trick worked especially well for high-water dishes like pasta, as it meant we didn’t waste a drop of water. Plus we got a comforting bowl of soup to keep us warm before every meal (Baja gets bloody cold in the north).
6. Gettin’ cheesy
If your diet allows, hard quesos (cheeses) are a good backcountry option. Keep them in the coolest spot on your bike and they’ll last up to four days, providing a naughty little umami kick to your trailside burritos and instant mash dinners.
Despite the restrictions on water and produce, we still managed to cook up a good range of recipes on the Baja Divide. By combining fresh whole foods and staples you’ll find across the route, we’ve
showcased the best local ingredients whilst including some global recipes we love no matter where we ride.
Important Note: All of the recipes below were cooked on an alcohol stove. So please adjust to suit your choice of stove and the intensity of the flame.
Bec’s Bangin’ Bircher
Serves: 2 Difficulty: Easy Ready in 5 minutes
Jam-packed with nutrients, mega versatile and super filling, oats are a cyclist’s best friend. Our method champions the humble cold soak and features a silicone bag or BOT (see tip 3 above) to create creamy, delicious overnight oats every time. Added chia seeds give you a protein kick and really works. Go wild with the flavor combos, experiment with what you can find and start your day right!
- 150g whole rolled oats
- 2 sporks of chia seeds
- 4 sporks of milk powder
- A handful of dried fruit (raisins, dates, etc.)
- 400ml water
- A blob of peanut butter and/or jam
- Fresh green apple
- Crunchy nuts if you find them
- Make the milk: Add the milk powder and half the water. Stir until completely dissolved.
Build the flavors: Add the oats, chia seeds, dried fruit and the remaining water. Mix well to avoid the chia sinking to the bottom.
- Soak: Seal your bag or BOT and leave to soak overnight.
- To serve: The next morning, simply eat straight from the bag/BOT, adding any toppings of extras you can find along the way. An instant classic!
Black Bean, Corn, and Tortilla Soup
Serves: 2 Difficulty: Easy Ready in 15 minutes
There’s no denying it, when you ride the Baja Divide you’re gonna eat a lot of beans. They’re cheap, filling and readily available. However, after eating roughly 1,236 packs of the refried variety, we found frijoles enteros negros (whole black beans) and made this hearty, simple and delicious soup!
- 1x pack whole black beans (Isadora brand is good)
- 1x small can of corn kernels
- 1x vegetable stock cube
- 1x small pack of tomato sauce
- ½ an onion
- 2x cloves of garlic
- Pinch of cumin seeds
- Pinch of chili flakes / Tajin
- 1x lime
- Handful of crushed tortilla chips
- ½ avocado
- A base of flavor: Roughly slice the onion and garlic. Add a splash of oil to your largest pot and chuck in the cumin seeds, corn, onion and garlic. Fry over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring continually to not burn the garlic.
- Build the soup: When the veggies are golden, add the tomato sauce, stock cube, beans and all their liquid. Bring to a gentle boil, season and taste.
- Tasty toppings: You’re likely carrying some delicious toppings with you anyway, so add what you can spare. We loved using tortilla chips for texture and a big old sprinkle of Tajin.
- To serve: Simply eat straight from the pot, adding extra chips, Tajin and lime as you please!
Pronto Pasta Puttanesca
Serves: 2 Difficulty: Easy Ready in 15 minutes
A Mediterranean flavor bomb that’s one of our all-time favorite camp cooks! Simple enough to carry on every bike trip, you can find the ingredients easily on Baja and it’s outrageously delicious. This version doesn’t use anchovies as we couldn’t find them in Mexico.
- 200g pasta – fusilli and penne work well
- 1/2 a jar of capers (in brine)
- A handful of olives (black or green)
- 1x (210g) box of tomato sauce (Del Fuerte is a good brand)
- Pinch of chili flakes
- 1x vegetable stock cube
- Prep for pasta: Fill your largest pot with water, add the stock cube and bring to a boil. Add your pasta & cook for ¾ of the recommended time on the packet.
- Savour the soup: Drain the pasta, being sure to catch the stock water into a cup/bow and set aside for slurping later.
- Build the flavor: To the drained pasta, add the tomato sauce, a pinch of chili, the capers, olives and a few splashes of the brine they’re in.
- Bring it all together: Heat over a medium flame, stir well to incorporate the flavors and check the pasta is cooked. Add salt, extra chili and if you want more sauce, a splash of the reserved pasta water.To serve: simply eat straight from the pot, while sipping on your vegetable soup and gazing at the stars.
Veggie, Eggy Moreish Mash
Serves: 2 Difficulty: Easy Ready in: 15 minutes
After a long day, sometimes you want food that’s quick, simple and easy. So on days off, we’d hard boil eggs and pack them specifically to cook this light and fast recipe. On its own, instant mash is pretty gross, but fry up some simple veggies and layer in the eggs, and you’ll be on a one-way train to flavor town.
- 1 pack of instant mash
- 1x vegetable stock cube
- 1x zucchini
- 1x onion
- 2x cloves of garlic
- 2x boiled eggs
- A base of flavor: Roughly chop your zucchini, onion and garlic. Add to your largest pot with a splash of oil, and fry until golden.
- Mash it up: Add roughly 300ml of water, the stock cube, all the instant mash potato mix, stir well and bring to the boil.
- Consistency is king: Keep stirring the mash mix, adding water until you reach your desired consistency. We preferred it slightly thick, but the choice is yours.
- Finishing flourishes: Remove the pan from the heat and slice your boiled eggs into the mash mix. Season with salt and any naughty extras you’ve got to hand. Tajin, lime and chilli flakes work well
To serve: Simply eat straight from the pot, while reflecting on the day and marveling at how good instant mash can be.
Fire Roasted Pineapple Salsa
Serves: 2 Difficulty: Medium Ready in 30 minutes
With Bec in desperate need of some ocean time, we planned an easy ride out of Mulege, hauling a ripe pineapple, fresh cilantro and some food-focused dreams. For sure some days on the Baja are tough. But they don’t all need to be! You deserve a bit of fun too. So, when you have a bit of extra time and you’re feeling bougie or if you’re staying in a town for a couple of days – cook up this mouth-watering salsa. Add it to some rice, tortilla chips, or chuck it in a burrito with beans and TREAT YO SELF!
Note: I used a backcountry grill, but you can achieve the same results with a frying pan or large pot
- 1x ripe pineapple
- 1x bunch of cilantro
- 1x onion
- 2x tomatoes
- 1x clove of garlic
- 1x chili
- 2x limes
- Pineapple Prep: Remove the head and tail from the pineapple to create a stable base. Slice off the skin, removing any dark eyes you find along the way. Halve the pineapple lengthways, then cut the halves lengthways again to create quarters. Remove the white core by cutting it out at an angle and discard.
- Grill it, fry it, BBQ it: Fire up your stove or grill and add the pineapple quarters. Don’t use oil or butter as you’re looking to caramelize the sugars already in the pineapple. Fry until fragrant and nicely brown. You can afford to take the pineapple quite far on the charr scale.
- Prep the salsa: While the pineapple is grilling, chop the onion, tomatoes and garlic as finely as you can. Add them to a bowl along with a big handful of ripped cilantro leaves, the juice of both limes and a sprinkle of chili.
- Bring it all together: Once the pineapple is nicely roasted, slice it into 2-3cm chunks and add it to the salsa mix. Mix well with your hands, season to taste and add to anything and everything you can get your grubby hands on!
Dirtsloth’s Des(s)ert Burrito
Serves: 1 Difficulty: Easy Ready in 2 minutes
Our friend Tom taught us this recipe which proved particularly handy when the bonk goblins came knocking. Simple, zero-effort and perfect as a trailside pick-me-up or a late-night treat. Wrap it all up and get it in your gob!
- 1x Banana
- 3x Canelitas cinnamon cookies
- Pinch of cinnamon or sugar
- 1x Tortilla
- Simple AF: Grab the tortilla, peel the banana, crush the cookies, sprinkle on some cinnamon, wrap it all up and devour!
So there you have it, our complete guide to cooking and eating on the Baja Divide. With long days in the saddle inevitable on the route, fueling well and eating real food is essential. We really hope that the information and the recipes in this post serve you well. We’ve really enjoyed creating them.
If you have any follow-up questions, thoughts or feedback on the recipes, drop them in the comments below – we’d be really keen to hear them. Safe riding and happy cooking out there.