Baja California – The Best Family Holiday Adventure, Ever!
I wanted our next Baja California family holiday to be special, a trip that would inspire us and be the talking point at the dinner table for years to come.
I’d travelled to Baja 2 years before with my wife Sarah and children, Theo (14 years) and Lara (12 years) and although we had an amazing time, we all felt there was a bigger adventure to be had. Also, in recent years I’ve come to love the writings of John Steinbeck , who had a great passion for Baja California which is reflected in some of his books; notably the Pearl and Sea of Cortez. More recently the BBC have featured the uniqueness of the wildlife experiences to be had on this lonely peninsular and so our planning began, on the 29th March we set off for 3 amazing weeks of exploration and wildlife adventures to Baja California.
We flew from Heathrow to Dallas and onto Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. A short 1hr drive north took us to the rustic artisan town of Todos Santos and the charming Posada la Poza, with its informal gardens, cool saltwater swimming pool and Pacific Ocean views. Hour hosts Juerg and Libusche; one a cook and the other a well-known artist both gave us a truly warm welcome on our first night back in Baja. I’d wanted to stay here for some time, and we weren’t disappointed, dinner was excellent and our rooms spacious and airy. The following morning, after a hearty breakfast we shook off our jet lag with a few hours in the pool, where pelicans and frigate birds circled by as they fished in the freshwater lagoon opposite.
We spent a little time in Todos Santos, visiting galleries and the infamous Hotel California before heading west to La Paz for an amazing sunset dinner with our friends, Orloff and Janet.
Exploring La Paz and Espiritos Santos Island.
La Paz is vibrant and much bigger than we expected. However, a short walk took us to the Malecon (sea front), with its many cafes, bars and restaurants. On our first day we ventured out to Espiritos Santos Islands to swim with sea lions in aqua marine waters in the Sea of Cortez, we a picnicked on a remote beach and snorkelled with tropical fish in the afternoon. We even managed a visit to the Serpentario, home to 14 different rattlesnakes of the Americas. Mexico is fun, so don’t believe what they teach you in geography about it being full of drug cartels and danger, Baja definitely feels safe and a great place to visit.
Our last day in La Paz was spent searching for and ultimately swimming with whale sharks! What an amazing experience; they’re so big, yet graceful as they glide past you. Each trip is expertly run with all equipment, guide and safety briefing. Boat numbers are strictly limited as are the number of people swimming at any one time. We swam alongside several whale sharks, but at no time did we feel this was intrusive. Our journey back to port was full of excited chatter of swimming with sharks and the beauty of their graceful swimming. In the afternoon we drove out of La Paz to explore the semi desert landscapes along the coast to learn how the unique fauna and flora of Baja California has adapted to this harsh, arid environment. We ended the day with a beer in a small local bar, where the kids were serviced with a ‘special, alcohol free cocktail’… to this day we’ve no idea what was in it, but at least there was no slurring of words!
Our travels took us north to the historic capital of Baja, Loreto. A magical old colonial town on the Gulf of California (sea of Cortez). The desert landscape changed from rolling hills covered in cactus; like a scene from an old wild west movie, to rugged mountains weathered by wind and rain. We almost missed Loreto as we drove north, but soon found ourselves in its sleepy tree lined centre.
There is much to see and do in and around Loreto and not being ones to miss anything we tried to pack in as much in as possible. On our first day Lara and I went western style horse riding through the hills of Loreto, whilst my wife, Sarah, took Theo for some amazing diving off Coromando Island. Travel should always be full of surprises and today was one of those days…. We’d heard of a great restaurant 8kms down a dirt road, so thought we’d go exploring. After a few missed turns, plenty of bumps and lots of dust we came to a gem of a restaurant called La Picazon. Where we had the best margaritas, wonderful salads and possibly the best crème brulé ever!
On our first visit to Baja California, sea kayaking with the children would have been too much. This time I was determined to spend a day kayaking in the Sea of Cortez. We had an early start from Loreto harbour and set off in a small skiff, loaded with kayaks and supplies for the day. 10 minutes from Loreto we spotted a mother and calf humpback’s off the bow, they were on the move so no chance of a closer encounter today! We moored at a lonely beach on Coronado Island and proceeded to unload our kayaks from the support boat before setting off to circumnavigate the island and discover its unique wildlife. The sea was teeming with fish, the skies full of pelicans, blue footed boobies, herons and even a few ospreys. We stopped to snorkel with sealions and had dolphins pass just a few feet form our kayaks. Lunch was taken on a secluded beach, where we snorkelled in aquamarine waters before heading back to Loreto – We’d watched the BBC’s Blue Planet before leaving the UK but were now actually living it!
Our second day in Loreto took us back to the Sea of Cotez in search of humpback and blue whales. Within 30mins of leaving port we came across a feeding frenzy; literally 1000’s of birds and as many dolphins feeding on millions of sardines. Prowling through this heady mix of wildlife was a humpback whale, who was taking advantage of all the hard work being done by the dolphins as they created a huge sardine bait ball…. enough for all! Every few minutes this hungry humpback would plough his way through the sardines taking large mouthfuls of this tasty snack. We continued on, in to search of the, not so elusive, blue whale. Who, when spotted, kept us entertained with his blows and graceful swimming. However, the highlight of the day was definitely our close encounter with the humpback whale.
Loreto was a delightful and we loved its relaxed and sleepy feel, charming tree lined square and the adventures it had to offer, however we had places to go and new things to explore. Continuing north via the great expanse of Concepcion Bay, a large enclosed stretch of water with a narrow opening into the Sea of Cortez, to the oasis of San Ignacio. As we headed north the landscape changed from desert to the volcanic mountain and we ended the day at the sleepy, lush oasis town of San Ignacio with its palms and brightly painted houses.
We should have guessed by the style of hotel (more a motel), that the breakfast portions would be huge! The pancakes were 1cm thick and almost plate size…. They were huge! After abandoning our breakfast we headed north for 40mins, then east to find ourselves in the spectacular mountains of Serre San Francisco. A protected area of canyons, mountains and ancient rock art. The mountain air was surprisingly cool, like a summer’s day at home. However, the mountain sides were green and full of bloom with many cacti in flower – like a carefully crafted scene from the Chelsea Flower show. We reached the end of the road and walked the short distance to observe ancient rock paintings which depicted the hunter, gatherer life of the nomadic peoples who once lived in this part Baja,.
Grey Whales of Baja California
It used to be that travelling meant infrequent communication with those not with you, but not now as we’re constantly connected. Fortunately, every now and again we find ourselves in ‘radio silence’ – where the tech’ just doesn’t work. For the next two days we immersed ourselves in the secret world of the grey whale. Situated along the Pacific coast of Baja California are a series of lagoons where grey whales give birth and raise their young. For some unknown reason these whales seek out human contact; where they come alongside the fisherman’s skiffs, pop their heads up and expect you to scratch and tickle them. On our second trip into the lagoon this beautiful whale did just this and we each took it in turns to scratch and tickle its head – what’s more it kept coming back for the next hour for more. This was one of those once in a lifetime experiences “an absolutely, bloody amazing!!” This is not a Disneyland experience, it’s a wild whale in the wild Pacific experience, but a memory to be treasured for ever. On our third trip, the whales kept their distance and we respected this.
Driving south from San Ignacio Lagoon, we found ourselves in an Alice in Wonderland secret garden of giraffes, zebras, good coffee and cakes. Before continuing back to Loreto where we had pizza and Mexican red wine, which was surprisingly good. Our last few days were spent with friends on the beach at Los Barriles at their charming beach house, Casa Blanca. Where we awoke to the sounds of mantas jumping out of the sea and observed migrating whales heading to the plentiful feeding grounds of the Pacific.
I’ve seen much of the world over the past 40+ years and have continued this love of travel ever since being a father. But with hand on heart, I have to say that travelling to Baja is one of the best travel experiences you could ever wish to have. We travelled in April which is at the end of the whale season, but anytime in January, February or March would work and does fit with half term and Easter holidays. Ideally, you need 11 to 14 nights to get the most out of the region and time it takes to get there. Baja is not the cheapest of places to visit, after taking into consideration flights, hotels and transport. However, eating out is reasonable and you tend not to spend too much when there.
At Archipelago Choice we offer a wide range of bespoke and some guided trips to Baja, all of which are based on our own personal travel experiences. If you have a sense that Baja might be some where you’re interested in then, do call or email me on:
Tel: 01786 721040 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
MD Archipelago Choice Ltd.