Starting Out in La Paz

Kayaking the Sea of Cortez
By Andromeda Romano-Lax
  |  Gorp.com
Isla Espmritu Santo Details

Trip Length:
35-mile circumnavigation, plus four miles to and from the island; four to six days.

Charts Needed:
MEX Topo G12 D62, G12 D63, G12 D72, G12 D73 at 1:50,000; U.S. Nautical 21120. (Reportedly, few charts/maps of this island are highly accurate.)

Getting There:
La Paz is 922 miles south of Tijuana via Highway 1; the city is also served by several airlines. Follow La Paz's main thoroughfare, Paseo Alvaro Obregsn, as it turns into MEX Highway 11 and heads for 10 miles to the beaches Pichilingue, Balandra, and Tecolote (all signed).

Parking/Shuttle Logistics:
Since this route doesn't actually begin in La Paz, a little extra prelaunch planning is required. Friendly beach concessionaires at Tecolote will usually keep an eye on kayaks and gear while you park and find your way back to the beach.

Especially on weekends, traffic to and from the beach is frequent and hitchhiking is easy. Buses from downtown La Paz go at least as far as Pichilingue; taxis also ply the route all the way to Tecolote.

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La Paz is a bustling, proud, modern city of 150,000 with a wide range of accommodations, excellent restaurants, tourist services, and more ice cream shops and seafood taco stands than perhaps any other city in Baja. Of special interest to the kayaker: Deportiva La Paz, at 1680 Obregsn, sells snorkel and scuba gear. A few hotels, including the Hotel Perla, currently offer panga-escorted kayak and/or snorkel trips to Los Islotes, the small islets just off Espmritu Santo.

Playa Tecolote,"Owl Beach," was once reachable only by sturdy, four-wheel-drive vehicles. Now, a good road leads directly from La Paz to Tecolote, approximately 15 miles north. Several marisco stands serving clam, oyster, and various other seafood cocktails are set up on the beach, and jet-skis and boats can be rented (including small, squarish, wooden boats called cayucos — hmmm . . . )

If you thought beach culture was limited to upper California, think again. Though sedate during the week, Tecolote explodes on weekends. Mexican families turn out in droves to play volleyball, eat ceviche, rumble around on motorbikes, and generally have a colorful, chaotic, good time. The best timing is to leave Tecolote early in the week, guaranteeing a low-profile launch, and return on the weekend when you're ready to celebrate your completed trip.

The owner and staff of the Playa Azul, a mariscos stand to the right as you enter Tecolote, have been very helpful in the past. I've had luck chartering a very inexpensive panga over to Espmritu Santo (carrying kayaks, camping gear, and all). This service is up to the individual kayaker to arrange on an informal basis, but worth considering if you'd rather have more time on the island and less en route.

Crossing from Tecolote
The crossing is just under four miles. Between Tecolote and the island, the waters in this area are shallow, bisected by a slightly deeper one-mile-wide channel, the Canal de San Lorenzo, through which most large boat traffic passes. The limits of this channel are marked by two structures: a tall metal structure on Scout Shoal to the south, and a smaller buoy on San Lorenzo Reef to the north. Crossing from Tecolote to Punta Lupona, you should keep both structures on your right.

Given the shallowness of the entire area, the water does not seem to get as whipped up as one might expect. Nonetheless, be cautious of strong winds from the northwest as well as quick-moving currents through the channel in winter months. Generally, I have found the crossing quite easy in calm weather, but chose a panga lift one particularly windy day.


Best Hotels in La Paz

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