Baja California See And Do
Los Cabos is blessed with fine beaches on both sides of its narrow tip, though few places are safe enough for swimming. Playa Médano on the Sea of Cortez in Cabo San Lucas is the resort area's most popular beach, packed with bars, vendors selling straw hats, and stands renting kayaks and WaveRunners. The waters here are normally calm enough for swimming. Glass-bottom boats and water taxis depart for Playa del Amor from beneath the natural rock arch at land's end, El Arco. There are no facilities on this small patch of sand, but swimming and snorkeling with sea lions are both superb when tides are low.
A few resorts along the Corridor on the Sea of Cortez provide man-made coves for swimming. The waters are clear and calm, and colorful fish abound at Bahía Santa Maria and Bahía Chileno on the Corridor, popular destinations for booze cruises from Cabo San Lucas. You can reach the bays by taxi or rental car as well, but be sure to bring plenty of fresh water, snacks, and snorkel gear. Vendors sometimes sell necessities on the beach, but they aren't reliable.
Playa Palmilla just north of the One&Only Palmilla resort is the best playtime beach near San José del Cabo. Surfing is usually excellent here at Zippers, a wildly popular surf break and beach bar of the same name. Paddleboarding is becoming popular here as well; Cabo Surf Shop above the beach rents gear and offers lessons from real pros. Only those with foolhardy death wishes tackle the waters off San José's hotel zone—the constant sound of crashing waves should be a sign to stay away.
Mighty waves pound the sand and cliffs on the Pacific side of Los Cabos, where the waters close to hotels are far too rough for any form of water sports. North of Cabo San Lucas, however, the surf becomes more manageable around the small town of Pescadero on the road to Todos Santos. Locals and tourists gather at Playa Cerritos for informal parties on weekend afternoons at Cerritos Beach Club. Mario's Surf School in Todos Santos offers rentals and lessons at the best breaks in the area. Once again, swimming isn't great in these areas, but you can be a part of the beach-and-surf scene without full immersion. The Sea of Cortez beaches in La Paz, especially Playa Pichilingue and Playa Coyote, are quintessentially Mexican in style and amenities (umbrella and chair rentals, cafés in the sand serving oysters Diablo and whole fried fish). Both here and in Loreto, the beaches on nearby islands are the big attraction for snorkeling with sea lions and watching seabirds.
In Northern Baja, the Transpeninsular Highway travels along a coastline reminiscent of Big Sur, with vistas of waves crashing on craggy cliffs. The shorelines along Rosarito Beach and Ensenada are popular with surfers, who wear wetsuits much of the year, as the water here rarely rises above 65 degrees. Farther south, isolated towns and agricultural communities dot the wild coastline, and there are few hotels or pleasant swimming beaches. Instead, the sea is rough and brisk, leaving behind driftwood, shells, and all matter of flotsam from the open sea.—Maribeth Mellin
Die-hard anglers from around the globe dock in Los Cabos every fall for some of the world's most famous fishing tournaments. They race to find record-breaking marlin and sailfish, vying for million-dollar payouts for measuring and releasing 50-pound thrashing, glistening billfish. Less ambitious anglers get almost as big a thrill from catching marlin, sailfish, dorado, wahoo, tuna, and other seasonal species on fishing trips that can be booked with dozens of operators. Local fishermen from Fiesta Sportfishing, along with tournament winners Pisces Sportfishing and Picante Bluewater Sportfishing, are among those offering daily sportfishing charters from the San Lucas Marina, a prime departure port with a picturesque view of the Arch at Land's End. The fishing is equally exciting in La Paz, Loreto, and Ensenada.
Burros would still be wandering the sandy streets of Cabo San Lucas if the government hadn't swooped in to create a master-planned resort region here in the 1970s. San Lucas, Baja's southernmost city, has gone from a small town with a major fishing cannery to a huge city sprawling from the Cabo San Lucas harbor east to the surfing beaches on the Pacific. It's an anything goes kind of place, with bountiful bars for everyone from fishermen to college freshmen. The area's most popular beach, Playa Médano, is lined with laid-back bars with tables in the sand. A few famous restaurants and sushi bars add a touch of class and pull in guests from the posh resorts in the Corridor, the 18-mile-long highway north to San José.
Huerta Los Tamarindos
San José del Cabo
Tel: 52 624 105 6031
Los Tamarindos, a vegetable and herb farm in San José del Cabo, welcomes vacationing foodies who want to learn the ins and outs of organic farming and cooking from the fields. After a glass of homemade juice or lemongrass tea beneath a canopy of mango trees, visitors are outfitted with comically oversize broad-brimmed hats and then set about learning the basics of planting, picking, and preserving produce. Participants join charismatic owner Enrique Silva in preparing a meal with freshly picked ingredients. Queso en hoja santa, a carb-free thin-crust pizza topped with asadero cheese is a typical dish, and if the timing is right, you can try the chivito regional, pepper-seasoned baked goat sourced from a nearby farm. The idyllic atmosphere of the old farmhouse and a meal served family-style on a patio overlooking the fields is well worth the labor and the wait.Isabel Sterne
By reservation only
Four mountain ranges bisect the Baja California Peninsula north to south, ending with the Sierra de la Giganta towering over Los Cabos. The only way to experience it all is by driving the length of the peninsula, taking at least three days each way. Todd Clement, a winner of the legendary Baja 1000 race, leads off-road tours from Ensenada and Los Cabos and a week-long dusty, thrilling ride from San Diego to Los Cabos with Wide Open Baja. Hiking, mountain biking, and Jeep tours to canyons, waterfalls, and natural springs near Los Cabos are available with Baja Wild.
Numerous prehistoric petroglyphs and murals can be found in caves in the Sierra de San Francisco near the early mission settlement of San Ignacio in central Baja. Access is limited to this UNESCO World Heritage Site with more than 400 murals; the easiest way to tour the site is with local guides from San Ignacio's Ecoturismo Kuyima. Cave painting tours are also available in Loreto and Mulege.
The Sonoran Desert claims more than 60 percent of Baja's landmass on both sides of the mountains. Mexico's largest protected area covers much of central Baja in the Vizcaíno Biosphere Preserve, including 280 miles of coastline, three gray whale sanctuaries, and a collection of petroglyphs in the mountains. Guerrero Negro, on the line between the two states, is the base for hiking, cave painting, and whale watching tours with local guides from Malarrimo Eco-Tours.
At 10,154 feet, Picacho del Diablo in the northern Sierra de San Pedro Mártir is Baja's highest peak. Part of a 170,000-acre national park, the mountains are home to a National Astronomy Observatory and several endangered condors released by scientists from the San Diego Zoo. Visited by only a few hundred hardy explorers each year, the park is reached via a 50-mile-long unpaved road off the Transpeninsular Highway south of Ensenada. Come here if you're ready to rough it. The only lodge in the region has closed, so your only option is camping out. If you'd prefer to do a day trip, Ecobaja Tours in Tijuana runs trips to the park.
Ever since Jack Nicklaus designed his first Palmilla course in Los Cabos in 1992, golf has grown to surpass fishing as the number-one sporting challenge in southern Baja. Sprinklers spray reclaimed water on unnatural greens at more than a dozen courses around Los Cabos, many charging Pebble Beach-level green fees. La Paz and Loreto have also become golf destinations, and several courses lure duffers across the border in northern Baja. The 27-hole Palmilla Golf Club (www.oneandonlypalmilla.com) was Jack Nicklaus' first Latin America design and set the standard for Los Cabos courses when it opened in 1993. Cabo del Sol's (www.cabodelsol.com/content/golf.html) two courses designed by Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf rank at the top of Mexico's golf courses.
For info on Baja's many courses checkout www.bajagolf.com.
Missionaries began growing grapes in the Guadalupe Valley east of Ensenada in the late 1880s; modern wineries began drawing attention in the 1980s, and the valley is now rapidly evolving into a south-of-the-border Napa. More than two-dozen boutique and brand-name wineries are producing vintages worthy of international attention (Casa de Piedra and Monte Xanic show up on menus around the world), and a wine route is gradually evolving. Both a winery and a six-room inn, Adobe Guadalupe has been at the forefront of the valley's emergence since 1998 and a few other small inns have opened. But the valley is still an out-of-the-way place, about an hour's drive from Ensenada or three hours south of San Diego. Baja California Tours runs winery trips from San Diego. But most travelers typically make their way here from Ensenada and explore on their own. There's a good map of the wineries at www.wineriesinbaja.com.
For more info see www.discoverbajacalifornia.com/wine_country.
Kayakers set off on day and weeklong trips into the Sea of Cortez from Loreto and La Paz and are rewarded with year-round abundant whale, sea lion, and frigate sightings around cactus-spiked islands. On the Pacific Coast in Bahías Magdalena and San Ignacio, newborn whales float beside their mothers as kayakers paddle about during the winter. Baja Expeditions and Nichols Expeditions run seasonal trips.
Baja California Sur's capital city has a mainland Mexico feel, though new golf courses and marina developments are gradually gringo-izing its character. The city's seaside promenade on the Sea of Cortez's largest bay faces spectacular sunsets that bring out young couples, watchful grandmothers, and toddlers playing in the sand. Wandering around the Museo de Antropología, main plaza, and narrow streets lined with taco stands and shoe shops give you a real taste of Mexico. Cactus gardens, dusty pickups, and glimpses of the stark brown mountains are constant reminders of Baja's desert nature. The nearby Todos Santos islands lure kayakers and divers with their diverse wildlife; it's east to see why Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez "a marine aquarium." Cruise ships stop in on their way north to Loreto or south to Los Cabos; small luxury and adventure ships sail to isolated beaches and whale-watching grounds off Baja's shores.
Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, Ensenada, and San Felipe are the big draws in northern Baja near the U.S. border. Heavily influenced by California, they're classic border areas with curious tourists, carousing kids, endlessly tacky souvenirs, and restaurants good enough to draw diners across la frontera. The first three towns are easily reached on day trips from San Diego, while San Felipe is on the Sea of Cortez coast south of Mexicali, the capital of Baja California.
The Sea of Cortez offers divers the chance to swim with whale sharks, manta rays, sea lions, sea turtles, and hammerhead sharks around the seamounts and islands off La Paz. Baja Expeditions runs live-aboard dive trips around the sea from June to November and day dive trips from La Paz. The region's only coral reef system grows close to shore around Cabo Pulmo. Snorkelers and divers spot sea horses and sea bass in 80-degree water during the summer and find small hotels, restaurants, dive shops, and campgrounds in a relatively unpopulated beachfront community. Plans for a large resort development in this area have met with stringent objections from international environmental groups, and the ballyhooed Cabo Riviera is still in the marketing dream stage. In Los Cabos, divers make quick boat trips with Amigos del Mar to El Arco in Los Cabos to watch sand-falls spilling hundreds of feet down an undersea canyon.—Maribeth Mellin
California surfers camp and surf non-stop at puntas (points) around Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. Stars on the international surf circuit race to the Islas de Todos Santos near Ensenada for 10-foot swells during tropical storms and hang out with newbees at Costa Azul in San José del Cabo. Both coasts in the south have remote surf beaches like Punta Pescadero on the Sea of Cortez that are worth the rough four-wheel-drive approaches. Zippers restaurant at Costa Azul (Carretera Transpeninsular, Km. 28.5; 52-624-172-6162) is the unofficial headquarters for the Los Cabos surfing scene. The Mike Doyle Surf School at the Cabo Surf Hotel (52-624-142-2666; cabosurfshop.com/surfschool.htm) runs private and group surf classes and has board rentals.
Artists from Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Switzerland revel in the diffused light, churning surf, and subdued ambience in this 19th-century town an hour north of Los Cabos. At midday its historic center is often packed with sightseers browsing through nearly two dozen art galleries and a scattering of jewelry, folk art, and decor shops. Locals emerge at dawn and dusk, gossiping over coffee, dropping by the post office, and dining on fresh seafood and homemade pasta. Nights are peaceful in this Pueblo Mágico, a designation the government gives well-preserved communities. Hotels are popping up all over this area as visitors wander from Los Cabos to Baja's more natural side. And it's worth the trip for excellent bird-watching at Posada La Poza, gallery browsing at Guayacura, and complete relaxation at Rancho Pescadero.—Maribeth Mellin
More than 20 species of whales frequent Baja's sea through the year. But the big whale show runs from January to March, when thousands of pregnant gray whales migrate to protected lagoons off Baja's southern Pacific shores to give birth. Hundreds of humans eager to come eyeball to eyeball with a baby leviathan quickly follow, setting up camp or staying in small basic hotels near San Ignacio Lagoon and Magdalena Bay on Baja's Pacific coast. Baja Expeditions and Baja Discovery run buses from San Diego and charter flights from Mexico to San Ignacio, and have camps close to whale-watching sites. Aero Calafia offers day trips to Magdalena Bay with flights from Los Cabos. Loreto is a prime whale-watching spot year round, with humpbacks, blue whales, finbacks, and orcas appearing in February and March. Antares GEA, a nonprofit environmental group, runs day-long whale-watching trips in Loreto.—Maribeth Mellin