A Hiker's Guide to Mexico's Natural History

Chapter 3 — The 3,000-Mile Coast of Baja
By Jim Conrad
  |  Gorp.com
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The first hike in this book is an exception. Instead of describing a specific hike, I describe a"general hiking region." This is because nearly all of Baja's 3,000-mile coast can be hiked. Baja's day-hike potential is simply unique, so I choose to treat it in a unique way. Nearly anyplace in Baja where one can gain access to the sea, there awaits a potential day hike.

The Pacific and Gulf coasts are very different. Beaches on the Pacific side are cooler, are visited by much larger waves, and gather more diverse flotsam and jetsam than those on the Gulf of California. Tides in the northern Gulf of California can be tremendous—up to thirty feet! Keep this in mind when pegging beachside tents.

Also keep in mind that many places which, on a map, look as if they should at least have a gas station and a general store may consist of nothing but an abandoned shed or two. Never set off for a beach-hiking destination without plenty of water and gasoline. Be prepared for mechanical breakdowns. Often this means that vehicles leaving for isolated beaches should caravan, not go it alone. Baja's heat, aridity, and isolation are not Disneyland concoctions. They can kill the unprepared.

Get a good map of Baja and note some of the beach-hiking options:

Beginning at Baja's northwestern extreme, across Todos Santos Bay from Ensenada, numerous hiking trails lie in the area around La Bufadora blowhole at the end of Highway 23.

Between Camalu and El Rosario, several tracks from Highway 1 provide easy access to the beach. The beach south of El Rosario is magnificently empty for hundreds of miles; trails lead to this area.

Hikers not willing to stray far off Highway 1 might be intrigued by the"unimproved dirt road" about 1 mile (2 km) long leading to the coast just west of Camalu, to Camalu Via la Mar. A "dash-line" track runs along the coast a couple of miles (several km) north from Camalu Via la Mar.

Two tracks provide access to the Vizcaino Peninsula's Playa Malarrimo, possibly the best beachcombing beach in the world. This is also the location of the"designated whale-watching area" on Scammon's Lagoon (Figure 11), which lies about 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Guerrero Negro, down a sandy road; a viewing tower can be used for a small fee.

On the Pacific side at the peninsula's very tip, south of Todos Santos, many access roads can be spotted leading off Highway 19 to the beach; about a half mile south of Todos Santos, a sign on Highway 19 points down a bumpy road reading ACCESO A LA PLAYA. Keep in mind that the endless beaches north of Cabo San Lucas have dangerously strong currents.

On the Gulf side, Highway 1 hugs the western shore of Bahia Concepcion south of Mulege. This is a touristy area and the noseeums can be bad.

Across from Isla Angel de la Guarda, a spur of Highway 1 cuts to the coast, to Bahia de los Angeles, equipped with an outstanding view of the bay, a rugged upland mantled with some of the earth's tallest cactus forest, and beaches north and south good for day hikes. South of town, a road occasionally touches the coast.

Paved Highway 5 runs along the coast from north of San Felipe to Puertecitos. However, there are so many beachside homes in this area that beach hiking is awkward. South of Puertecitos, the rugged dirt road provides many accesses to the sea. Pockets stuffed with field guides for identifying seashells and birds, and binoculars around the neck, guarantee that any beach hike will be interesting. However, on Baja's beaches, usually it is the forbidding isolation, the rhythmic breaking of the powerful surf, and the edge-of-the-continent feeling that make the most profound impressions. This is the right place to remind ourselves that in certain places and at certain times it is more gratifying to abandon usual schedules of birding, note jotting, and picture snapping, and just let the mind float, soaking up ineffable understandings.

Getting There

With a good map and a vehicle appropriate for Baja's subsidiary roads— often that means a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance and tires capable of floating atop deep sand—there is no reason why literally hundreds of top-notch beach-hiking spots cannot be located and enjoyed.

You can reach Baja by driving south on Highway I from Tijuana, by driving west from the mainland on Highway 2 via Mexicali, or by taking ferries from mainland Mexico. Maps usually show more ferry connections than really exist. At this writing, ferries connect the mainland ports of Mazatlan and Topolobampo (Los Mochis) with La Paz, Baja, and also Guaymas, on the mainland, with Santa Rosalia, Baja.

Maps similarly tend to populate central and southern Baja with more civilization than there really is. Two-thirds of Baja's population lives in or near the border towns of Tijuana and Mexicali. South of Ensenada, towns with five-star establishments include La Paz, San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, Buena Vista, and Loreto. More iffy and often more colorful lodging exists in Buena Vista, Santa Rosalia, Guerrero Negro, and San Ignacio.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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