(All photos for this post can be found here: 2006.07.14-17 Baja and Bahia de los Angeles)
To follow along: My Bahia de los Angeles google map
July 14-17, 2006
Anna and I had wanted to visit the Sea of Cortez side of Baja for a long time. The stars aligned, we finally got some motivation, set a date, and did it. We dedicated four days to the trip, not a whole lot of time. But the trip was just a taste, a test of sorts. Was it worth a ten hour drive? How were the roads? Should we spend more time heading south in Baja? Why Bahia de los Angeles? The answers, for the impatient are 1) yes 2) decent 3) yes, 4) everyone we talked to had great things to say about the bay, and it seemed to be a great representation of the peninsula.
Carretera Transpeninsular or Transpeninsular Highway 1 runs all the way down Baja – from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We traveled down to Punta Prieta (roughly 600KM from San Diego) on Highway 1, then a side road the last hour to the bay. The drive was pretty easy for the most part. There were the standard sketchy moments from local’s passing big rigs on the hills, but tame compared to Costa Rica or Vietnam. The road conditions were good, but they all have minimal shoulders. Gas was easy and available the whole trip, except the last stretch from the Pacific side to the Cortez side. However, there is a Pemex station in Bahia de los Angeles, so its not a concern. The drive is scenic, the tall cardon cactus and Dr Seussian boojom trees produce a very unique landscape. You see plenty of mountains, valleys, deserts, and beaches. All of them are worth the drive.
The bay holds a small town (also called Bahia de los Angeles) that is cut off from the rest of Baja. All water and food (other than fish) has to be trucked in, and the power grid is a smoky diesel generator in the center of town. I’ve never seen so many water tanks, solar panels, and wind generators. The isolation and apparent unreliability of utilities has definitely lead to a lot of self reliance. The main industry is definitely fishing (mostly of the tourist variety), with a dash of support for the small military base a bit north of town (tacos, beer, and an audience for their futbol games in town).
The bay and town are protected by a large island in the Sea of Cortez; Isla del Angel de la Guarda. This makes the bay and smaller islands behind the guardian angel perfect for fishing, diving/snorkeling, and kayaking. The vast majority of the tourist infrastructure is set up to support sport fishing. Almost anyone knows someone that can arrange a boat trip for you, and prices seem to be $130-160 per 4-6 hours. The boats are called pangas, I assume after the original panga – 30 year old world bank plans for an economical, seaworthy craft for the commercial fishermen of the Third World. I doubt any of them are using the original design, but most do seem to be derivatives of the project.
There seems to be a lot of competition for providing tourist boats, but no one seems to bother convincing you to be a customer, and there certainly isn’t a haggling vibe. In general this town seems to have a take it or leave it attitude for business. Many people seem to honestly not care if you become a customer or not. I’m not sure if it is a result of not many owners running things, or a prevailing relaxed attitude that comes off strange to us gringos.
We had originally planned to do a good bit of kayaking in the bay. You can rent kayaks at Costa Del Sol and Daggetts, but they don’t let you take them out to the islands. We ended up visiting the museum, the beaches, and wandering around town instead. Kayaking would be wonderful out here, but to do any sort of day trip or more serious kayaking you are better off bringing your own gear.
Apart from one or two guides, snorkelers and scuba divers seem to be a minority here. If you want to go out, you will probably end up renting a fishing boat. Most of them seem to know the spots for snorkeling/diving, so it all works out. We rented a boat for 4 hours and snorkeled around the Coronado point and Isla Coronadito. Unfortunately for us, it rained both nights we were there. This lead to the water being a lot cloudier than it normally is.
The bay has a lot of marine life, and we managed to see a good bit of it on our boat & snorkel trip. On the way out there was a lot of sea lions playing in the water and birds fighting over rock space. We managed to spot two finback whales in the bay. Their size is deceiving. Unlike the gray whales, they do not fluke, or raise their tail out of the water to dive. Instead they just gently roll their backs and disappear. The part of the whale that you can see on the surface is only ever a small portion of the whales back. So if you can see 20 feet of finback, the full whale size is probably twice that. We followed them at a distance for a few dives, then they disappeared.
After the whales we headed to the south tip of Isla Coronado, La Punta. There seemed to be a lot of large fish, but most were lower than 15′. The sides of the point were very nice, a lot of sea fans and corals. We also spotted a number of small rays and even a moray eel in the rocks. After a bit we packed up (getting back in one of the fishing boats can be a trial) and headed up to Isla Coronadito – a small island on the north end of Coronado.
Isla Coronadito has a nice mix of shallow and deep water around the edge. This is the perfect spot of a lot of schools of small to medium sized fish and 1-2′ rays. We spotted some fans, corals, and sponges, but the main draw was definitely the fish. We swam around the island until we started to get cold (water temp was roughly 77F) and it was time to head back anyway. As I said before, the water wasn’t great for us (10′ visibility) because of the rain, but I’m sure it would be an amazing dive on a regular day.
Most of the shoreline of the bay is a mix of rock sizes, but there are some decent beach spots in town, and up and down the coast. You can pull up to Guillermo’s on the south end of town, head for a palapa and order a beer. Doesn’t get much better than that.
The museum in town is worth a 30-60 minute visit. It has a little bit of everything. Lots of marine life, desert life, and information on the history of the area – natives, spanish, miners, and early days of tourism. One of my favorite bits is actually outside the museum. A full whale skeleton, including the baleens faces the town park/square.
Dining in town is a bit of mixed bag. During the day you have a choice of a whole lot of restaurants, all of which seem to have OK food (Isla seemed the best of the bunch), but high (for Baja) prices. I could understand a jump, given the location, but in many cases the prices for restaurant food or items in markets was more expensive than in the US. The exceptions to this rule were taco stands. Only open in the late afternoon, their prices were normal (at or less than a buck a taco) and the food was outstanding. The expected choices, and I even managed to get some great sopa birria (goat soup) at the stand next to Moctezuma Market.
We originally planned to stay at Costa Del Sol, but they were full up. After checking out a few places, we settled on one of the rooms from Daggett’s. It was about three in the afternoon, and the manager had to clear a path through Modelo Especial cans from the guy next door that was passed out on the porch. She didn’t blink, and we were wondering how the hell he was alive after drinking that much in the heat. The rooms were nice, and there was power for AC from 8pm to 5am. The only complaint about the room was the shower. There was so little water coming out of the shower head, I think it would have been faster wash in the sink.
For the next night we wanted to check out some other spots. We eventually settled on Los Vientos on the north end of the bay. They were more expensive than everyone else, but had power all day, and took credit cards. The last point was important, as we didn’t expect to be spending as much money as we were in the bay. (There are no cash machines here) The hotel was very nice, and the staff good. There is just one gripe, the water went out on the second day. They were good enough to give us a complementary day the next time we go down, so it all worked out. Though double the price of the others in town, they really are worth the money if you can part with it.
I was hoping to visit some cave paintings and one of the missions, but was told we needed a vehicle with a higher clearance, as the road goes through some creek beds. For all the folks with trucks or motorbikes, I’ve heard both locations are worth at visit.
We would really like to return when the water is clear, and ideally, when the whale sharks are around. They are supposed to be near the bay in late August and September, but it can be hit or miss. Two years ago there were approximately eighty sightings. Last year, only eight. In any case, it would be amazing to see these amazing creatures, let alone swim near them.
We really enjoyed our trip to Bahia de los Angeles. It definitely made us want to travel Baja more, as we passed by some other amazing places getting to the bay. Just make sure you prepare for the trip. While modern Baja travel does not require the self reliance it once did, parts of it are still very wild and isolated. Thatâ€™s a good thing.