In Part 2 of Baja California Sur, I’ll be highlighting our time traveling Baja Sur, or what can be referred to as the southern loop of the Baja. After our visit to Punta Conejo, we had our sights set on Los Barriles. Our last few stops had all been centered around beach camping, now it was time to experience the more populated side of the Baja. We were excited to change it up a bit and spend some time in some larger towns and cities. Through some friends of ours, we were put in touch with a lovely couple who happen to have a home in Los Barriles.
We got into town just as the sun went down and met up with our new friends, a couple of loose chickens, Cheryl and Kirk. Los Barriles is a great little spot on the southern tip of Baja, and it was wonderful having some local friends to show us around. They took us to all their favorite spots and showed us a great time. It’s a very popular spot with the gringos, many own homes down there and spend the winter months, or even all year. That being the case, there is a lot of business to keep you busy, and many friendly people.
The town has many good restaurants, but my favorite (and what seems like most people’s fav) was what the locals call three dog corner. Only open at night, it’s just a hotdog stand in a dirt lot with a big open-air fire where they grill up burgers and dogs with a Mexican spin. They also make papas rellenas, which is a potato in a tin foil pouch filled with cheese, peppers, onions, meat, and other Mexican fillings. It was out of this world! I may have to bring this back to the states, you can do a whole food truck of these things. On top of that, three dog corner is bring your own beverages, so a cheap yet fantastic spot for dinner.
Known for being windy, Barriles is also a popular destination for kite surfing and kite boarding. On a windy day, down at the beach you will see countless kites out on the water all ripping around and having a blast. Unfortunately, it’s not a sport you can just rent and pick up with no experience, so with lessons and all, it gets expensive. Fun just to watch though, some of the pro’s kick out of the water 15-25 feet, it’s crazy.
Kind of unique to Los Barriles, and one of my favorite parts about it, everyone has 4-wheel drive vehicles and the beach is basically a big road everyone cruises. It’s awesome just riding up and down and stopping at the beach bars. Cheryl and Kirk happened to have an old school Wrangler, so we had a great time riding around town.
There are a few nearby destinations that make good day trips from Barriles too. We headed out one day and drove to a small town in the mountains called Santiago. There we found a cool campground on the edge of the park called Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo. It was small, secluded, and tucked away from everything. They had these weird looking dogs that kind of looked like Splinter from the OG Ninja Turtles movie. They also had a trail where you could hike down to a hidden waterfall & swimming hole. I love waterfalls, and this one hidden away in the mountains of Mexico was amazing. I also love a good cliff jump, and am always keeping my eyes out. After investigating the swimming hole, I decided it was deep enough for a jump. There was no easy way up to the top, but I scaled my way up the rock face and made it up to find out it was way higher than it looked from down below (as usual). There was no climbing down, so over the edge I went, down about 40’. Love it, can’t wait to find the next one!
The last day before we started our trip around the southern loop, we all walked down to the beach at sunrise and got to help with the release of newly hatched sea turtles. It was a small turtle sanctuary where they relocate eggs from turtle nests and then assist the turtles to the sea once they hatch. Between coyotes eating the eggs, birds getting them off the beach, or bigger sea creatures eating them, they say only 1 out of 100 turtles survive to be adults. By protecting the eggs and helping them hatched turtles to the ocean, the sanctuary hopes to increase that survival rate. It’s a cool experience helping these little guys with their journey and seeing them swim off. Hopefully we helped some of those little guys survive that wouldn’t have otherwise. Maybe I’ll even meet one again in 20 years or so when scuba diving in Australia or something…
After a few fun days hanging in Los Barriles, we took off towards to the pacific coast again, this time to Todos Santos.
Todos Santos & Los Cerritos
It was a short drive from Los Barriles to Todos Santos which was nice. We got into town early in the afternoon and decided to just walk the city and see what it had to offer. Known as an artist town, there are lots of art galleries and nice restaurants with lots of character. As much as we wanted to stick around and enjoy the nicer side of Baja, the town was more expensive than our budget allowed. There’s also no camping beyond an unappealing trailer park, so we decided to be on our way. Seems like a nice place to visit when your budget is a bit looser than ours is.
Just south of the town is where we found something more our speed. You first hit the small village of El Pescadero, where you can find much more affordable restaurants and things. Past that towards the coast sits Los Cerritos, which is a developing surf village. From what I was told, ten years ago there was a fraction of the buildings that are there now, and it was covered with surfers camping on and around the beach. As of late, it has become more focused on the tourists with the construction of a few resort type hotels. The beach is still a major surf destination, covered in surf board rentals. There is no organized campground and the RV park is under construction, so we ended up just parking and sleeping on the street for free with a couple other friends.
Here we spent two days just hanging on the beach. I rented a board and both Lindsey and I got out and hit the waves. We are both beginners so spent our time in the white water of the crashed waves working on getting up and balancing. It’s a great beach for beginners since the white water can drive you a couple hundred feet. As much as I wanted to just go out and try and ride the big waves like I knew what I was doing, those waves were no joke, 6-8 feet tall. I can only imagine the mangled mess I would have been if I went for it. My old bones seem to not be forgiving me as easily over the past few years…
Except for the local Mexicanos approaching to try and sell you something every 20 minutes, it’s a great beach. We hung out with our new friend Charlie, read books, got a nice beach massage, and enjoyed a few cold ones. Even got down on some beach volleyball, which is my absolute favorite. Turned out to be one of those spots you could spend a lot of time at, but with Christmas quickly approaching, we decided to continue our way to Cabo after a couple days relaxing on the beach.
Cabo San Lucas
Every time we mentioned that we were going to Cabo to a new friend, the response was the same; why? It is commonly referred to as the Vegas of Baja. Crazy busy, expensive, and a drunken mess. None the less, we planned on checking it out. I mean, if you know us, you know that Lindsey and I both love Las Vegas, so that wasn’t a great way to deter us. Mainly we wanted to see it since Linds had never been there, and I wanted to go sport fishing.
I was hoping to find a charter that was going out the next day that I could jump on, so we walked around the marina area and I asked around until I found something. I ended up getting lucky since it was late in the afternoon and a guy I met didn’t have anyone lined up to go out the next day. He wanted to fill his schedule, so for the cost of a small 20’ panga charter, he set us up with a bigger 28’ boat, one with two fighting chairs on the back deck, for just Lindsey and me.
After we got those arrangements set, we began cruising around looking for camping or an RV park to stay for the night. Turns out, there were 3 RV parks in the city, 2 of which that got destroyed in the last hurricane, and one that closed because it went out of business. We asked around and found out that there is no where we could set up shop for the night, unless we wanted to park on the street somewhere and sleep, which wasn’t ideal. Instead, we found a cheap room deal on hoteltonight.com and we were all set. It worked out better this way. Not only could we take a nice hot shower, but it also had a kitchen so we could cook our own food and relax for the evening before waking up at 5am to fish.
The next day we woke up before dawn, got our stuff together and made our way to the boat. The boat ride out of the harbor was fantastic in it of itself. We cruised out as the sun approached the horizon and caught an amazing sunrise with the arc of Cabo San Lucas in our view. As soon as we rounded the point, lines were in the water and the fishing commenced. About 30 minutes in we got our first and only bite. It was a beautiful Dorado, about 20 lbs. or so, which yielded us almost 6 lbs. of filleted meat. I was in heaven. We fished until noon with no more luck, but even without fish, the boat ride was great. Beyond just enjoying cervezas in the sun, there were dolphin everywhere, and humpback whales swimming all around us. A little expense, but somethings are just going to cost a bit more money. This was totally worth it.
Beyond fishing, Cabo is really focused around bars and resorts. If you are looking for that kind of thing it’s great, but we got off the boat around noon and decided to move on to the next spot.
Cabo Pulmo & Los Frailes
From Cabo San Lucas, we made the journey around the southern loop to the small village of Cabo Pulmo. We had been looking forward to taking the coastal beach road north from San Jose del Cabo up to Cabo Pulmo. Unfortunately, we heard reports that the road had been beat up from the last hurricane season, and without 4-wheel drive it wasn’t a good idea. From what I have read, there are lots of good remote beach camping locations all along the coast there, but I guess I will have to explore that some other time.
The Cabo Pulmo coastline is one of the Baja National parks. It is home to one of the only three natural coral reefs on the pacific coast of North America. After doing some research I learned there are five fingers to the reef ranging in depth from 15’ to 70’. On top of that, a tuna fishing boat had sunk off the coast some 100+ years ago and is a great dive spot as well. As luck would have it, the winds from the north had been blowing for the few days before our arrival and caused underwater visibility to drop significantly. After speaking with the dive master in one of the shops, I learned visibility has been 8’-10’, so I decided to save my money for diving until my next opportunity.
Instead we made our way just south of Cabo Pulmo to an even smaller village called Los Frailes. Not sure if you could even call it a village, but there was a large arroyo leading to the ocean where many RV’s call home for the winter months. Its free camping, and the location is nestled into a cove protected by a mountain to the north. Being that the strong winds had been blowing from the north, this was one of few locations along the coast that remained pleasant. A great little cove for kayaking, fishing, and hanging out on the beach. There was a sliver of the cove that was still part of the national park so great little offshore snorkeling location as well.
It was a few days before Christmas and we were only a short distance from Los Barriles, so we made the decision to move on after a couple days of relaxing on the beach. Even though it was a great spot for free camping, we were too excited to get settled back into Barriles for the Christmas weekend.
Los Barriles Cont.
Our friends Cheryl and Kirk had gone back to the states to be with family for the holidays, but they were nice enough to let us use their lovely casita while they were gone. Being that we had been living out of Poppins for almost 6 months at this point, we were delighted to have a home base with a bathroom, shower, and kitchen for the holidays. We went to the grocery store and stocked up for the weekend and proceeded to indulge in all the things we have missed.
For Christmas eve, we got to eat our fresh catch of the day, some beautiful Dorado fillets. I sautéed it over a bed of rosemary with just lemon, salt, and pepper and it was fantastic. For Christmas, we decided to roast a chicken stuffed with my famous sausage stuffing (really Big Kev’s famous). Add some roasted potatoes, glazed carrots and gravy and we were ready to feast. Of course, no holiday is complete without something wrapped in bacon, so we opted for shrimp and green onion wrapped in bacon with a mayo mustard dip, oh man. We even made a little Mexican charcuterie board complete with homemade eggplant tapenade and smoke yellowtail. I normally wouldn’t be writing about what we eat, but we hadn’t had a full kitchen to cook up a storm in so long, it was really a great Christmas gift for ourselves.
Besides stuffing our faces, our second trip to Barriles offered some great fun. We took the Jeep out on Christmas day and went off roading up the arroyo. As you make your way into the mountains, the dried river bed gradually turns into a wet river bed and eventually back into a river. The manual transmission, door-less Jeep tore it up. The canyon walls grew and grew as we got further away from the beach, exceeding 100’+. Blasting through the soft sand and splashing through the streams as we tried our best to avoid getting wet, we made our way to a nice little waterfall. So much fun cruising around in that thing, I can’t wait to get myself one of these one day.
One of the other days we opted to take a ride north of Barriles up the beach road. It’s an amazing drive up the coastline on another skinny dirt road carved into the hill side. The aquamarine water down below is crystal clear showing you a bit of what is going on beneath the surface. The road continues all the way up the coast to Bahia de Los Muertos (Bay of the dead) and beyond, but we only went about halfway and stopped in a little resort community called Punta Pescadero. There are a handful of homes scatter along the rocks at the shore, and then a gorgeous resort situated above a beautiful white sand beach. All we could think is how great this place would be to have a wedding. ATV’s for rent, great beach for swimming and snorkeling, nice restaurant and a sweet bar next to the pool. Just us and all our friends and family? Sounds pretty sweet, I guess we will see…
After spending so much time at this wonderful home that Cheryl and Kirk were so generous to open to us, we had a tough time saying goodbye and getting back to truck life. Not to say truck life hasn’t been great, but sometimes it’s nice to stretch our legs for a little while.
La Paz, Triunfo & The Ferry to Mexico
Once we parted ways with our temporary home in Los Barriles, we made way for La Paz where we would get the ferry to the mainland. On the way, we made a little pitstop at a small mountain village called Triunfo. Not only were we told about this place by multiple people we met, there had also been signs all throughout the southern loop telling you how far you were from the village. We were told to go check out the Café El Triunfo, and it certainly did not disappoint. When you enter, it appears as though it’s nothing but a small bakery, but once you walk past the front counter, you find yourself walking through an old castle like villa. As you continue walking back there are small tables placed in any location they could fit, far from a standard organized restaurant. On top of the 18th century character, the food was outstanding. Homemade pastas, incredible salads, fresh baked bread, and the best lemonade I may have ever tasted. It may not be nearby any of the Baja destinations, but if you find yourself in this part of the world, do yourself a favor and stop in.
We continued to La Paz after one of the best meals we have had in Baja. La Paz is a massive Baja city located on the east coast of the southern peninsula. It sits tucked away in a large bay on the Sea of Cortez surrounded by a few smaller islands swimming in turquoise blue, crystal clear water. Very popular spot for scuba diving, sport fishing, even swimming with gigantic whale sharks that make the warmer water home for the winter months. The waterfront street is a very nice area, filled with all sorts of bars and nice restaurants as well as cool statues that line the waterfront. Unfortunately, our extended stay in Los Barriles took away from the time we were going to spend in La Paz. It will have to be yet another spot we explore later down the line.
Just north of the La Paz up the coast sits Pichilingue, which is the port where the ferry to the mainland leaves from. There are only two ferry companies that run ships to and from the mainland, one is more passenger focused, and the other is a commercial vehicle ferry. There are also two ports on the mainland the ferry goes to, Topolobampo and Mazatlán. Our destination was Mazatlán.
It took some effort to get things figured out, especially since my spanish is not quite there yet. After doing my research, we decided to go with the commercial ferry over to Mazatlán and were on our way. Turned out in our situation with our rig, we saved a bunch of money going the commercial route. Beyond that, we had access to our vehicle, which you do not have on the passenger ferry. In case you are going to be taking the ferry, I added some detailed information about our experience to our discussion board. Hopefully this is a useful resource and the information is helpful in your own travels.
Baja California Sur Part 2
When we had discussed traveling Baja, we had originally said we would do it in about 4 weeks. Not only did I think that was plenty of time to explore all that we wanted to explore, I thought we might even do it in less. Turns out we spent just under 7 weeks and could have easily done more. While we didn’t rush through, there were spots that we could have spent more time, and there were also spots we didn’t get to explore.
It’s a wonderful place, and there wasn’t a single instance when we felt unsafe. We met amazing, friendly people, and discovered places we will be sure to return to many times throughout our life. If you are thinking about traveling the Baja yourself, do it. If you aren’t thinking about it, think about. Whether you go for a vacation or extended travel, you will be glad you did.
Now it’s off to the mainland and beyond. Stay tuned for more!