This article is from the December 2003 - January 2004 The Mexico File newsletter.
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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   

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, , 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 ( 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 was heavenly.  

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 the Margaritas!

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 thing.  


In the East Cape, Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort,, and Palmas de Cortez,, offer a whole range of adventure tours. Contact Pepe Murietta at,, to arrange a personalized tour of the Cabo Pulmo Marine park. Vista Sea Sports, in Buena Vista offers a great array of scuba and snorkel tours. Operators out of Los Cabos include Cabo Safari,, Baja Adventures,, and Cabo World,, For the most comprehensive listing of all Adventure Tour operators in Baja, visit Baja Links,, Here you’ll find information on everything from whale and kayak tours, to windsurfing, surfing and scuba. For information on Cabo,, is the place to check out. To fly in, check out Aeromexico,, or Alaska Airlines,,