Near the Valle de Guadalupe

Northern Baja’s Indian Country

Heather Steinberger

A renaissance is taking place in Baja California’s border region. Driving from the oceanfront Hotel Coral in Ensenada into the nearby Valle de Guadalupe, you see acres upon acres of vineyards, gracious wine-tasting rooms, elegant restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts with strikingly contemporary architecture, and even a new wine museum.

This is Mexico’s increasingly famous Ruta del Vino. And with tourism flourishing, it’s easy to forget that this is part of Indian country.

When you near the far end of the valley, keep going past the Doña Lupe winery, and when you see the “Ecoturismo Kumiai” sign, turn down the dirt road to your right. (If you pass the L.A. Cetto winery, you’ve gone too far.) In just two kilometers, you’ll find yourself in San Antonio Necua, one of Baja California’s four Kumeyaay communities. Approximately 200 people live here, and they welcome the public to visit their museum, gift shop, restaurant, outdoor amphitheater and recreation space, which also includes a replica of a traditional Kumeyaay shelter.


Indigenous arts and dances were presented at the Traditional Arts Festival in Baja, California (WilderUtopia.com)San Antonio Necua is a must-stop on a visit to northern Baja. Not only is it easily accessible, it’s in one of the last natural, undeveloped areas of the valley. It’s also a vivid reminder that the peninsula’s original indigenous inhabitants are not relics of the past; they’re still here, and they’re looking toward their future.

Challenges in Northern Baja’s Indian Communities

While the indigenous peoples of Baja California Sur — the Guaycura and Pericú — were completely wiped out in the centuries following Spanish contact, those in northern Baja were able to hold on. Barely. According to the Seminario de Historia de Baja California and the Instituto de Culturas Nativas de Baja California (also known as CUNA), there are roughly 2,000 members of the Pai-Pai, Kumeyaay, Cucapá and Kiliwa tribes remaining in northern Baja.

The four tribes belong to the Yuman linguistic family, whose ancestors likely migrated to the Baja peninsula thousands of years ago. The 2000 Census determined that the native languages were in significant danger of disappearing — at that time, there were 193 native Pai-Pai speakers, 159 Kumeyaay, 82 Cucapá, and 46 Kiliwa.

But there is hope, said María Martha Lozano Jíminez, CUNA administrator.


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Sandra Koenig
Sandra Koenig
Submitted by Sandra Koenig on
I was in Ensenada last week, having taken a short cruise with my developmentally disabled brother, who walks with a cane since having a stroke. Based on this article, we decided to take a cab, since there were no buses, and go to visit San Antonio Necua, which sounded like a great place to spend an afternoon. It was a 40 minute drive. When we got there, we found nothing but desert brush, heaps of trash, and one little old man in a tiny store. We were told that the "village" only exists when they contract with a travel agent or other group that sets up a visit. Kind of like the old Gene Kelly movie Brigadoon, only in Baja, not Scotland. The driver returned us to Ensenada, where we paid him the agreed upon fare, and returned to our ship very disappointed with the whole experience, and with ICTMN. I fear we were not the only ones who were taken for a ride.

Sandra Koenig
Sandra Koenig
Submitted by Sandra Koenig on
Folks should know that San Antonio Necua is not actually a village. Everything is empty. The people who live here only populate the "village" when a group of tourists, like a bus tour, is contracted to visit. We were extremely disappointed after driving an hour out from Ensenada only to find a ghost town filled with trash.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
@Sandra Koenig: First, we are terribly sorry you had a bad experience. We have adjusted the language in the article to highlight the potential for drivers not being able to find the village. Our reporter says, "This is very much a real community, with a lovely two-room museum, craft market, fairly new restaurant, reconstructed pre-European contact dwelling, small amphitheater, sports fields / community green space, and many houses with plenty of real families out and about. There's a little school, too. Not only did we spend a few hours there and very much enjoyed speaking with local people, I'd spent time the day prior with representatives from the local historical society and the Instituto de Culturas Nativas de Baja California, and they talked at length about the importance of San Antonio Necua as one of four main Kumeyaay communities, especially since it's within easy reach of the Guadelupe Valley wine country. When we went, it was two individuals with a local driver... not a tour group. This was hardly "put on" for us. I'm wondering if they might have missed the village entirely. Our van driver missed the turn-off, and we drove waaaaay far into the desert bush and ended up at a dead end, with a remote house and a gated road that went further into the bush. Perhaps they went there too? It's possible the family did sell some items from there, but it most definitely wasn't the community of San Antonio Necua. I find this deeply puzzling, because a simple Google search turns up a wealth of information and photos about the community. They do a lot of special events during the year, and their website is informative."