Los Cabos is just the beginning of Baja’s beauty. Gnomads Mike & Anne Howard of HoneyTrek take us on road trip around the rugged coast, charming cities, whale shark feeding grounds, and other must-see stops.
Standing at the tip of Baja California, watching the cliffs break into the open seas, most would say this is the end of the peninsula… we saw it as just the beginning. We still had 2,038 miles of coastline, granite mountain ranges, cactus-dotted deserts, and the vibrant Sea of Cortez to explore! A road trip was in order. We scored a rental car at the airport ($10 per day for an SUV!) to discover the lesser-known side of the Los Cabos and La Paz regions and found plenty of reasons to extend our stay.
Cruising Cabo del Este
Just a few miles from the colonial city of San José del Cabo, the cobblestone streets fade to sandy roads, the resorts give way to beach bungalows, and the ocean glitters in every shade of blue. Most people venture to Cabo del Este for its incredible marine life and opportunities for world-renowned sport fishing or scuba diving. Those who hope to land a marlin, sailfish, or dorado will be over-the-moon in Los Barriles or Punta Pescadero, while divers head to Cabo Pulmo to swim alongside the Sea of Cortez’s 800+ species of marine animals.
Cabo Pulmo National Park
Cabo Pulmo is an inspiring tale of conservation. In the 1980s, a boom in tourism and overfishing put the marine life and one of the last living reefs in North America at risk. The village of a few hundred people had a choice to keep earning money with reckless abandon or to preserve their reef for generations to come. Alongside biologists and conservationists, they petitioned the government and in 1995 it became a 7,111-hectare national marine park and has since increased its fish populations by 400%! July through December is the ideal time to dive, though this charming beach town is worth a pit-stop anytime of year.
Mexican Charm in La Paz
Continuing on Camino Cabo Este until the expat haven of Los Barriles, we hopped onto the smooth roads and scenic mountain pass to La Paz. As the capital of Baja California Sur, this city offers the best chance to experience real Mexican culture on the southern half of the peninsula. We arrived on a Saturday evening and the streets were lined with holiday vendors, food stalls, and musicians. After eating chile rellenos at the fabulous Rancho Viejo restaurant and hot street churros for dessert, we went for drinks at La Miserable mezcaleria. We bellied-up to the ultra-chic bar and sampled a flight of artisanal mezcals, learning all about tequila’s wild cousin.
Exploring the Bay of the La Paz
From early winter through spring, the Bay of La Paz is also home to one of North America’s densest whale shark populations. The world’s largest fish flock to this plankton-rich bay and savvy snorkelers follow suit. La Paz is also one of the most environmentally-friendly places to swim with whale sharks, with only the most upstanding outfitters earning permits. We did a full-day excursion around the bay with the fabulous Baja Adventure Co (aka BACo) and spotted six whale sharks within the first half hour! When the time was right, we donned our mask and fins and swam within inches of these 12-foot long sea creatures!
Soaking up Balandra Beach
We could have died and gone to heaven after our whale shark encounter… but that was just the beginning of this unforgettable day on the water. BACo knows all the best spots, so we continued our sail to the San Rafaelito sea lion colony (don’t miss our underwater video!) and the gorgeous Balandra. The main beach at Balandra can be accessed by car, but having our own boat allowed us to dock in a deserted cove and enjoy the white sand, calm waters, and a ceviche picnic. BACo was amazing; we can’t wait to come back to take their trip the biosphere reserve of Espíritu Santo Island!
Todos Santos: A Pueblo Magico
Heading southwest on Highway 19 and through the Sierra de Laguna range, we ventured to Todos Santos, one of Mexico’s esteemed “Pueblos Magicos.” In the 1720s, the Spanish saw this bluff with views to the sea as the perfect place for their next mission. Misión Nuestra Señora del Pilar is just the beginning of this charming colonial town with art galleries and posh restaurants filling its historic structures.The ultimate place to stay in Todos Santos is of course, the legendary Hotel Caliornia. Just remember, as Don Henely sings, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”
Sailing + Tacos + Tequila
Passing the surfer havens of Los Cerritos and San Pedrito, we continued south to Cabo San Lucas for a grand farewell to the peninsula. Gray Line tours offers a taco, tequila, and sunset cruise so you can take a bite out of Cabo San Lucas, even if you’re short on time. After a couple tequila tastings around the downtown, we set sail to Land’s End. No matter how many postcard-shots you’ve seen, the beauty of the cliffs, El Arco, and views back to the bay will take your breath away. We cruised until the final moments of sunset, watching whales breach in unison, and sealed in an amazing week with a margarita toast to Los Cabos.
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