By Remy Sternbach
In one of my day trips to Baja this August, I brought my friend Mitch down to one of my favorite areas. An hour’s drive from the San Diego border, almost exactly half way between Rosarito and Ensenada, lies a small town near La Fonda. La Fonda has been featured in Baja Bound’s Bulletins before. With amazing meals, quirky hotels, and a beautiful beach, the area looks as if it’s an eighties rom-com frozen in time. It’s a great place to visit and I encourage you to learn more about the area and some of its interesting history by clicking here.
One of the many unique experiences this area offers are ultralight tours. Ultralights are very small and light aircraft. They usually have an open cockpit with no more than 2 seats. Further, the engine and propeller are typically positioned in the rear of the aircraft. Because of the safety protocols ultralights must undergo to be operated legally in the States, they are rarely flown here. That said, Mexico is a different ball game.
Before we get to that, I should tell you that Mitch and I both love outdoor recreation. Before we arrived at La Fonda, we had just finished riding ATV’s on sand dunes near Rosarito. We needed a quick break and a drink to decompress from the previous excitement. Sitting atop a bluff above the beach is the restaurant at Gary’s La Fonda. There, we sipped some margaritas on the panoramic balcony and enjoyed some chips and salsa. Overhead, we could hear the sound of an ultralight’s churning engine. We watched as it gracefully would take off, glide around the coast, and gently land right on the beach below. The ultralight must carefully navigate around at least dozens of beachgoers. At some points even, the pilot comes just yards away from where you are sitting atop the bluff. With such skills, you can tell he’s been at it for years.
Upon our arrival, we did have some concerns about the safety risks associated with flying in such a small aircraft. Neither of us had flown in ultralights before. That said, after a few drinks, any reservations about those concerns quickly slipped away. We soon found ourselves walking down the steps to the beach to speak to the pilot. As of writing this, you have a couple options. For $20 USD per person, you can fly around the beach at La Fonda. For $40 USD, you can visit two beaches. Mitch and I both choose the more economical option. We paid the pilot and were then quickly briefed on how the ultralight works. Basically, the pilot sits in the front seat and you sit directly behind him as he operates the ultralight.
At this point, we were both pretty thrilled to take flight. Mitch went first. I quickly setup my drone to take video of his flight. Mitch started to film with his GoPro. The pilot checked to make sure the beach was clear, then he and Mitch quickly took off. The ride lasted a few minutes. As they landed on the beach, I got a thumb’s up. Mitch was clearly thrilled from the experience. “Dude, you can see everything up there!” he told me.
Soon enough, it was my turn. I tied my bandana over my face to prevent moisture from leaving my mouth in the wind. I then put on the helmet the pilot handed me and buckled the single-strap airline-style seat belt. After the pilot checked to see if I was ready, he lined up the aircraft for liftoff and hit the throttle. We start moving rapidly and before I knew it we were off the ground and flying! Although it’s noisy, the ultralight is incredibly smooth as it lifts off and flies. We swiftly ascended, then turned and flew south.
Within a minute, we were cruising hundreds of feet above where the waves break on the beach. The view was incredible. Unlike conventional aircraft, there is no glass or hull impeding your vision, only the small aircraft frame, and wings. Looking out, you can see miles of the beautiful coast from Rosarito all the way down to Ensenada. Looking down, you can see the waves roll on to the beach and the tiny dark specks of surfers. The wind felt great. Despite wearing shorts and t-shirt, I didn’t feel cold at all. When we reached the end of the beach, we looped back and started to slowly descend. We were almost flying parallel to the buildings upon the bluff. As we approached the beach for landing, I expected a thud reminiscent of a passenger jet, except there wasn’t any. I could barely tell I when I was back on the ground since the transition was incredibly seamless.
Elated from our experience, Mitch and I thanked the pilot and made our way back up the bluff. Although we certainly could have called it a day at that point, we had one more mission to complete a triad of land, sea, and sky. We rented surfboards and headed back to the beach to do some surfing. The great waves also make La Fonda one of the most popular surfing destinations in Northern Baja. The surfing certainly met out expectations. Afterwards, having completed the trifecta, with quads, ultralights, and surfing, we celebrated our day with an amazing meal over the beach at Gary’s La Fonda. Their food never disappoints.
La Fonda is a truly unique place. I highly recommend you visit the area and take an ultralight tour. Even if you are afraid of heights, sitting atop the balcony at Gary’s La Fonda and watching the ultralights and surfers is itself a one of a kind experience. There is something for everyone at La Fonda, you just need to make it there.