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I had two days off, three friends, and the urge to find a Carnaval celebration close by. I could have looked in my city of San Diego, but Mexico continually draws me in. Enter Ensenada. Done.

We packed up the car (four small backpacks), got our Mexican car insurance (something to never risk not doing), crossed the border and were on the way. The 1½ hour drive to Ensenada steadily screamed, “It’s not about the destination, but rather the journey.”

Along the toll road you’ll pay $2.35 three times and reap priceless ocean views atop a road hugging the coastline’s cliffs. About 30 minutes outside of Ensenada, make sure to stop at “El Mirador” for some of the best vistas.

For the first time, Ensenada had set up Carnaval celebrations a few blocks out of the town’s center. Parades, beauty contests, dancing shows and more entertainment were scheduled all week. The scene was jumping with action and festivity, packed full of people, amusement park rides, vendors selling anything from beer to touristy trinkets and various musical groups playing in the street and on multiple stages.

During this time of the year, it’s not tourist season. But for what the streets lack in flow of people, the prices in hotels easily balance. Right on the main drag of Avenida Lopez Mateos, we stayed at Villa Fontana Inn for a total of $56 a night.

Sitting on our balcony overlooking the harbor, we realized our good fortune to experience a Carnaval so close by, but in another world.

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