I never wanted to go to Cancún (those party/beach towns just aren’t my kind of place) but Cancún has a big airport and connections to almost anywhere. Also, internal flights in Mexico are quite cheap so that’s how we ended up spending a few days there (in the city center, just to be clear) before flying to La Paz, Baja California.
La Paz, Baja California Sur
The change was huge. No more rainforest, no more green, no more almost unbearable humidity, but cacti, desert climate, and an arid, predominantly ocher, red, and orange colored landscape. It felt as though we had traveled a very long distance and it felt good to be in such a different place – especially because we absolutely love deserts.
In order to get around easily we rented a car. Also, there’s not really a chance to get lost: Highway 1 runs all the way from north to south or south to north, depending on your perspective and there aren’t many other (paved) roads beside it. Heading north from La Paz, the landscape is flat and quite boring for some 200 km. After that, you turn towards the Sea of Cortez and the mountains and it get unbelievably beautiful.
The Sea of Cortez
We took a turnoff to Playa San Cosme. On Google maps it didn’t look too far away from the main road, and it wasn’t, but most of the road is unpaved so it took us quite some time to reach the sea. You don’t need a 4WD to get there, and anyway – “a rental car? No problemo!”, as an elderly US-American guy told us. The drive there, the beach, and the surrounding landscape was worth the bumpy ride.
Sometime before the town of Loreto, there’s a nice viewpoint where they sell overpriced coconuts. Not really a reason to stop but we did so anyway and looking out at the sea we saw a dark shadow in the water and something jumping at the edges of it. At first we thought it was dolphins, and took some pictures. Zooming in on the photos later, we realized that those were Mobula rays (also called devil rays). Those rays jumping is a phenomenon that can only be observed in very few places and not all the time. We were really lucky! It would have been great though to see them from up close..!
Date Palms and Petroglyphs
The scenery changes from mountains to desert to canyons and volcanic landscapes. With their lush date palms and rivers, small towns like San Ignacio and Mulegé are little oases in the otherwise arid landscape. North of San Ignacio and in the Reserva de la Biosfera El Vizcaíno, is the Sierra de San Francisco. It has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site because of the many petroglyphs in the area.
The paintings are around 2000 years old and are, because of the dry climate, well preserved. They depict animals such as puma, deer, and sheep, among others, and human figures. Not much is known about the people who made the paintings though. Most of the sites can only be accessed on foot on two- or three-day hikes. The Cueva del Ratón however, can be visited in just one day by car. But not any car, as we found out. No matter what people tell you, a “normal” car will not reach the site without major damage.
Cueva del Ratón
From the flat desert between San Ignacio and Guerrero Negro, the road to San Francisco goes up into the mountains. The views into the canyons and onto the desert below are spectacular. Funny Boojum trees grow here, all kinds of cacti, and goats graze on… whatever they find. Suddenly though, the paved road ends and what follows is a nightmare for any non-4WD. We tried but after a few hundred meters (which felt like several kilometers) we gave up, parked the car, and walked the remaining 5 kilometers to the village.
In the village, you have to write your name in a book, pay the entrance fee and an extra fee for the camera, and pick up your guide. The guide is actually just a guy who has the key to the gate that protects the paintings. And the guide counts on you coming by car. Sorry. So the poor man had to walk with us to the cave, and he made clear that he didn’t like that at all, swearing and mumbling all the way.
The paintings are impressive, like none I’ve ever seen before, and I’d have loved to see more. Next time we’ll definitely do the three-day hike!
Back in La Paz, we found out that close to the city there are some beautiful bays. The most gorgeous of them (and maybe in all the world) is Bahía Balandra. The water is very shallow, you can walk from one end of the bay to the other. It’s so beautiful there that we decided to spend the last whole day in La Paz instead of driving further south. La Paz is a very pleasant city with some real good restaurants and an amazing sea front malecón from where you can watch the most stunning sunsets.
In a souvenir shop we found a postcard of Bahía Balandra and in order to get to the exact same spot from where the photo was taken, we climbed the hills on both sides of the bay. From up there you have fantastic views over the turquoise water in the bay and the blue holes, where the water is much deeper. Of course we had to go swimming – or rather, walking – in the crystal clear water but the water is still pretty chilly at this time of the year. Never mind – it’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen!
Apart from the not so warm water, April is a great time to be in Baja California; there are almost no tourists, rates for lodging are down, and the weather is perfect. And the food… I’m sure it’s delicious any time of the year.