Outback Los Cabos: Adventure Touring
in Baja Sur
by Ann Hazard
Photo Credit: Terry Hauswirth
Ann Hazard, a frequent contributor
to Mexico File, is the author of Cooking with Baja Magic, Cartwheels
in the Sand, and the more recently released Agave Sunsets. She has
also written over 100 articles on Baja, Mexico, and Mexican cuisine.
Visit her at www.bajamagic.com
Ah – Los Cabos. What visions those
words bring to mind. Perfect, sunny days, warm water, endless miles
of white sandy beaches and dramatic scenery ¼ towering mountains
that drop down to a rocky, arid desert terrain that marches right
into the turquoise sea. These beaches are rimmed with world-class
resorts, golf courses and upscale restaurants. The nightlife rivals
Cancún. When we were there recently, we watched a never-ending
parade of cruise ships drop anchor in the bay, disgorging crowds in
search of that ideal gift, a quick tour of the area, or an afternoon
on the glorious beach at the Hotel Hacienda,
www.cabotravel.com/hotelhacienda.htm , where we were staying.
The pace in Los Cabos is lively, to say the least. There’s never a
shortage of things to do. Our hotel was centrally located – within
walking distance to everything. It combined the best of old world
Mexican charm and modern amenities, and it had the best beach (a
half mile long) in the area.
We started our trip in Buena Vista,
about 45 minutes north of the Los Cabos Airport. Here the splendor
of nature dominates. The hotels are small, spread out and intimate.
Many are accessible only by dirt road. People make friends here.
They feel like they’re part of the family and they know the
waitresses and bartenders by name. Many return year after year.
Fishing tends to be the primary draw, as this is one of the premier
sport fishing destinations in the world. With more than 850 species
of identified fish, it ranks as one of Earth's most productive
fishing areas. There isn’t much nightlife, as anglers tend to go to
bed early and rise before the sun. We don’t mind. If we want that
kind of action, we go to Cabo.
Want to visit the East Cape, but
don’t fish, and want to do more than work on your tan? Interested in
Los Cabos, but eager to see something outside the city limits? For
those of us who want something a little more edgy than a resort
vacation – be it old or new school – there is something new
happening in Southern Baja. Call it eco-tourism or call it adventure
tourism – it’s the hottest thing going on in these parts, and it
will transform your idea of Baja Sur forever.
When most people think of the Baja
landscape, they think of desert, mountains and sea. That doesn’t
even scratch the surface. There is a world of splendor under the sea
to be explored. There are hidden tropical oases, waterfalls and hot
springs in the mountains. The only living coral reef in western
North America can be found here, in the Cabo Pulmo National Marine
Park. There are lush plantations terraced down steep mountainsides.
In coastal lagoons you can find amazing birds and other wildlife.
There are ancient Indian rock paintings and crumbling old Spanish
missions. There is even have a zoo in the East Cape. We used Hotel
Buena Vista Beach Resort (http://hotelbuenavsita.com) as our home
base for our adventure tour vacation. All tours described are
offered through the hotel.
San Miguel Indian Rock Painting Tour
Hundreds of ancient Indian rock and
cave paintings have been discovered in Baja and all are at least
15,000 years old. On this six-hour guided tour, our guide, Angel
Ortiz, took us way up into the rugged mountains close to the Los
Cabos Airport. The paintings here are on a monstrous boulder,
located in what was obviously the middle of the Indians’ sacred
meeting grounds. Small hands and an array of wildlife are depicted,
along with an accurate compass. A river runs through this arroyo
year-round. During the rainy season (late summer to early fall) the
waters roar down the canyon. Over centuries the waters have scoured,
shaped and buffed the granite boulders so that now they’re smooth
and easy to walk on. There are sandy beaches alongside the massive
rock formations – providing ideal places to picnic and spread your
towel for a siesta after you take a dip in the river – which is what
we did, of course!
Santiago Zoo and Waterfall Tour
The next day Angel took us on a
six-hour excursion to the agricultural village of Santiago. We were
amazed at the lush orchards of mangos, avocados and citrus fruits
growing here in this oasis community. It seemed so non-Baja! After a
tour of the town, we visited the Santiago Zoo – the only one in all
of Baja California. Here we snapped photos of ostriches, deer, an
array of exotic birds – including eagles, a falcon, parrots and
peacocks, a tiger, bear and lion, foxes, coyotes and mountain lions.
This zoo is a wonderfully peaceful sanctuary set within gardens of
mango and avocado trees, aloe and numerous species of native cacti.
After this, we headed up into the Laguna de la Sierra Mountains to
visit La Cola de la Zorra (the Tail of the Fox), which is the
largest waterfall in Baja. The water tumbles down more than 40 feet
into a pool that is over 20 feet deep. After a short, easy hike on a
good trail, we reached the falls, where the braver among us dove off
the rocks (from about 35 feet) into the cool, crystal clear water.
Angel had offered us the option of picnicking at the waterfall or
stopping back in town for lunch in the gardens of the Hotel Palomar.
We opted for the picnic, but stopped on our way home at the hotel
for a couple cervezas and some guacamole. What a day!
Santa Rita Hot Springs Tour
I knew there were hot springs at the
Hotel Buena Vista, but I couldn’t believe there were more up in the
mountains. Our third adventure tour took us through Santiago again,
through the ranching oasis of San Jorge and up in the mountains to
Santa Rita. There we came upon a rancho with private hot and cool
springs and a stream that flows year-round. Terry and our driver,
Max, hiked with the rancher a half hour upstream to large pools
where you can swim and even dive in the crystal clear water. Angel
and I ate lunch and soaked in the pools of hot water. When we’d had
enough, we hopped over a few rocks and cooled off in other pools. It
ATV Bird-Watching Tour
Terry and I took this four-hour
guided ATV tour with Buena Vista’s wildlife expert, Steve Chism. We
departed from the beach shack at the southeast edge of the hotel
property and traveled south along the beach and coastal road. The
terrain here varied between desert thorn forest, agriculture and
peaceful coastal lagoons. He pointed out all kinds of birds in the
brackish and fresh water lagoons, including: osprey, frigate birds,
Gilla woodpeckers, catus wrens, pyrrahuloxia. Uncommon birds
include: wood stork, black-bellied whistling bucks, sora, lasuuli
bunting. It was hot the day we went, so we brought along our
snorkeling gear and stopped near Rancho Leonero to cool off and
check out the undersea life. We saw all kinds of fish, and even a
pair of lobsters!
ATV Mountain Tour
The idea of hopping aboard an ATV and
heading for the hills makes me feel like a modern day cowgirl. On
this four-hour guided tour, Steve took us off-roading into the
mountains, educating us about the local flora, fauna, and wildlife
as we passed through riverbeds, traversed mountain trails and
visited the rarely seen side of Baja. We headed down the beach and
through several arroyos before we began climbing into the hills
toward Big Spring. The views of the Sea of Cortez from way up there
were mind-boggling. It was truly a “top of the world” experience. We
left our bikes and walked about 300 yards to a waterfall and large
pool. We’d worn our swimsuits under our shorts, so we stripped down
and dove right in. Steve pulled out a cooler with chilled beers and
some snacks, and we had ourselves a mini-picnic before heading back
to the hotel.
Cabo Pulmo Marine Park
In June of 1995 Cabo Pulmo was
officially declared a Marine preserve by the Mexican Government –
which means it’s off limits for fishing and a perfect eco- and
adventure tour destination. Located about midway between San Jose del
Cabo and Buena Vista, Cabo Pulmo is off the beaten track and it’s not
crowded. The underwater park is 11 miles long with eight different
fingers of coral reefs. A Mexican fishing vessel, the Colima – sunk
during a storm in 1939 – lies in 18 feet of water offshore, and offers
the added bonus of a wreck dive for scuba enthusiasts. Visibility
ranges from 60 to 100 feet in the water, and the ocean temperatures
range from 65 to 80 degrees.
Pepe Murietta, longtime park director,
is a certified dive, sailing and kayak instructor. He’s also a
naturalist with expertise in marine and plant biology and archaeology.
That day he met us at his Outdoor Activity Center and gave us a
presentation on the dive and snorkel sites within the park. He told us
that the previous day a whale shark (harmless, but the hugest fish in
the sea) had surprised snorkelers. They’d also seen mantas flipping in
and out of the water and some sperm whales spouting offshore.
We followed Pepe’s van down a dirt road
to our launching point. The beach was as pretty as any I’d seen in the
Caribbean, with the same pale aquamarine water and sugar-soft white
sand. The temperature was a perfect 78 degrees. Underwater, we swam
among needlefish, triggerfish, rainbow colored parrotfish, big-nosed
jewfish, yellow and gray-striped tigerfish, spiny brown-spotted
blowfish, eels and even a sea turtle. Later on, my kids took Pepe’s
kayak out to look at the sea lion colony nearby. Then we headed into
the tiny town of Cabo Pulmo and had a magnificent lunch at Nancy’s
Restaurant. As unlikely as it seems, she was trained at the Cordon
Bleu in France. I believe it, because the food was fabulous. So were
There are plenty of other tours to take
and places to visit in Baja Sur. We barely scratched the surface here.
In addition to what I’ve described, there are crumbling, ancient
missions to visit, an artist colony at nearby Todos Santos, whale
nurseries in Bahía Magdalena and secret surf spots on the Pacific
side. If you’re ready to try a vacation that’s not centered totally
around being pampered, eating, drinking and sunning or fishing then
getting a taste of Outback Los Cabos might just be your next cool
In the East Cape, Hotel Buena Vista
www.hotelbuenavista.com, and Palmas de Cortez,
www.bajaresorts.com, offer a
whole range of adventure tours. Contact Pepe Murietta at,
arrange a personalized tour of the Cabo Pulmo Marine park. Vista Sea
in Buena Vista offers a great array of scuba and snorkel tours.
Operators out of Los Cabos include Cabo Safari,
www.bajaadventures.com, and Cabo World,
www.caboworld.com, For the most
comprehensive listing of all Adventure Tour operators in Baja, visit
firstname.lastname@example.org, Here you’ll find information on
everything from whale and kayak tours, to windsurfing, surfing and
scuba. For information on Cabo,
www.visitcabo.com, is the place to check out. To fly in, check out
or Alaska Airlines,