For our purposes, the East Cape comprises the entire eastern (Sea of Cortez) side of the Baja peninsula from Punta Pescadero (just north of Los Barriles), south to the eastern edge of the new marina in San Jose del Cabo. Because of the proximity of Los Barriles and (Rancho) Buena Vista, we refer to them as one community.
The East Cape of Baja is an area of white sandy beaches with warm, crystal clear waters that make for excellent diving, some of the world’s best sportfishing, world-class windsurfing, and kiteboarding. The area is home to some beautiful resorts, a living coral reef, and mile after mile of exceptionally beautiful, and sometimes, well-hidden beaches.
The East Cape Baja resorts are mostly in or near the Los Barriles/Buena Vista area, on the shores of Bahía Las Palmas. There are a few farther south along the coast and one to the north. The resorts of the East Cape tend to be somewhat small in size, as resorts go, but large in hospitality, which is a pleasant change that many vacationers are seeking out in Baja.
Also, included in the East Cape package, just to make sure you know that much of this area is part of “The Real Baja”, a terribly bumpy dirt road that runs for about 50 miles along the Sea of Cortez coastline. The road is bad, but not so bad that a regular car will get stuck or have clearance problems. Just be really careful and be ready for a rough drive. If a hurricane or tropical storm has visited the area recently, check with someone locally before you get halfway and have to turn back. Make sure you have a usable spare tire and a good jack. A can of instant tire repair is highly recommended.
This terrible road offers great rewards to those Baja explorers that choose to make the drive. Beautiful isolated beaches, fantastic shore fishing, great diving, snorkeling, and many fine places to camp are always there, waiting for your enjoyment. This is a large area where you can kick back and really enjoy Baja. There are also some great surf breaks along the way if that is your interest, but most are more easily accessed from San Jose del Cabo.
East Cape tourism got started in 1952 when the Rancho Buena Vista Hotel opened as a fly-in fishing resort. They put a runway in the arroyo next to the hotel, which was fine as long as the storms stayed away. This became a regular vacation stop for the Hollywood elite and as the word about this remote paradise spread, the East Cape area started gaining popularity.
The sportfishing was spectacular (it still is), the weather was incredible and the beaches were deserted. They would drag a portable pier off of the beach each morning to load the clients onto the boats. The hotel served ranch-style meals that could have easily become as famous as the fishing. What more could a person ask for?
The remoteness was the appeal in the early days, as it remains (somewhat) to this day. The area is growing, but at a relatively slow pace and is perceived as being much more laid back than the glitzy nearby resorts of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Much of the East Cape is like a different world than that of the Los Cabos resorts which are so near, yet seem so far away. “This is how Los Cabos was twenty years ago” is often heard when discussing the tranquility of the East Cape.
The abundant sportfishing is what started it all and remains the main tourism draw today. Marlin, sailfish, dorado, sierra, grouper, tuna, wahoo, snapper, yellowtail, cabrilla, and the ever-powerful roosterfish, are all lurking in the waters of the East Cape. Most of the hotels have their own fleets of either cruisers or pangas.
Fishing from shore can be just as rewarding as deep-sea fishing around the East Cape. Most species (including marlin and sailfish) have been caught from shore in the waters around the East Cape. Much of this area is known around the world as “Rooster Fish Alley” because of the amazing amounts of this species caught within a relatively small area. You can rent poles and gear for shore fishing from East Cape Tackle Shop in Los Barriles.
Kayak fishing has also become highly popular and is now very common. Some sizeable fish have been captured on kayaks. Many of the area hotels have kayaks available for guest use. Rancho Leonero has a fleet of kayaks and is located in an excellent location for inshore fishing excursions.
Colorful tropical fish inhabit the East Cape shoreline, rocks, and reefs making the area a “must do” for scuba divers and snorkelers alike. This is especially true at the Cabo Pulmo Marine Reserve. In most cases, the hotels offer packages that include fishing or diving days, along with your room. Many of the hotels along the East Cape include all meals in their pricing.
Los Barriles is a kicked-back community of fishing resorts, some great restaurants, a few new upscale housing developments, and also (at times – in the winter) some of México’s best windsurfing. This is a small town that does a good job of keeping the locals, and tourists, happy with good eats, great cocktails, and a pretty good selection of supplies. The beaches are incredible with an average water temperature near 80 degrees all year. The whole area gives you the feeling of really being away from it all. The area likes to boast of being the more relaxing, alternative vacation destination, to Cabo San Lucas.
There are literally thousands of miles of beaches, dirt roads, mountain trails, and rivers (both wet and dry) to explore in the area around Los Barriles. Off-road buggies, ATVs, and homemade sandrails are a common sight around here. It is not at all hard to find someplace to explore. You can rent ATVs at the entrance to Los Barriles on the highway.
Rancho Leonero is a beautiful resort on the beach just south of Buena Vista that is a few steps off the beach. Built in the early 1980s, it has really gained popularity in recent years. They cater to the fishing set as well as divers, snorkelers, and sea kayakers. The reef right in front of the hotel is home to countless tropical fish and is a sort of pelican paradise, as the schools of sardines boil with regularity as bigger fish (usually roosterfish) chase them to the surface. It is a unique spot and the hotel specializes in clean rooms, incredible food, and high-quality service and hospitality which keeps their repeat business at a very high level.
The Hotel Punta Pescadero sits on a beautiful point about nine miles north of Los Barriles. This incredible location makes for an interesting drive along a not-so-great road. The road can be especially tricky if it has rained recently. The hotel is nice and is flanked by some beautiful homes. The diving and snorkeling can be incredible and the views are breathtaking. The hotel has a paved runway for fly-in visitors. This is most definitely a “get away from it all” destination.
South of Los Barriles/Buena Vista you will find an area that is home to a few secluded resorts, postcard-perfect beaches, one small town (La Ribera), and some very unique settlements that cater mostly to fishermen, divers, and nature lovers. Then, there is the infamous road that connects all of this to civilization at the western end of the road.
La Ribera is a small town with a population of close to 2,000 that is home to fishermen, workers from the nearby resorts, and a small number of ranchers and farmers. A few supplies are available, but if you are going camping on the beaches to the south and need serious supplies you are better off taking the extra time to visit Los Barriles.
A new mega-size marina and golf course development has recently started construction right in front of La Ribera. This is a huge project that, when completed will eventually change the face of this small town, if not the whole area.
La Ribera is also the starting point for the 50 miles of dirt (that they call a road) which takes you down the coast to the fabulous beaches that line the coast all the way to San Jose del Cabo. Access from Highway 1 is via paved road and is well marked. Turn off the main highway at Las Cuevas, a large bridge is a good marker point. Then turn right (south) just before entering La Ribera, look for the signs directing you to Cabo Pulmo. The road is actually in pretty good shape (usually) from the end of the pavement to Cabo Pulmo. From Cabo Pulmo to La Laguna, the conditions vary from “maybe we can make it” to passable. In the summer, after heavy rains or hurricanes, the road can be impassable in several places.
Cabo Pulmo is a Mexican National Marine Park located 16 miles south of La Ribera. The first 11 miles of road are paved, and the next 5 are usually in better shape than the rest of this road. Cabo Pulmo is home to a living coral reef and millions of tropical fish, which makes for some fantastic diving and snorkeling. Everything you could wish for, as a diver, is nearby – tropical fish, game fish, manta rays, sea lions, and even the rare Golden Grouper. You may also get really lucky and see a visiting Whale Shark. This protected area has flourished and is an example of what the entire Sea of Cortez was like in the not-so-distant past.
The village of Cabo Pulmo (pop. 150 + or -) seems like it has not changed for years. Yes, there are now different classes of lodging available and there is a choice of pretty good restaurants, a cantina, some small stores, and a few more activity providers, but it is still like taking a giant step back in time. The people who live in this area are rugged, helpful, and extremely friendly. All of this is a really good thing; Cabo Pulmo is a part of “The Real Baja” just waiting to be enjoyed.
There are a few first-class accommodations if you plan on staying in the area for a few days. Most visitors come to Cabo Pulmo for one reason, to experience the incredible diving and snorkeling. I know of divers who have spent over three weeks in Cabo Pulmo and have gone diving almost every day. The diving is, simply put, incredible! A friend who just spent 10 days on the East Cape (his first visit) told me recently…”If you don’t fall in love with the East Cape, there is something REALLY wrong with you.”
Bahia Los Frailes is a large white sand bay 5 miles south of Cabo Pulmo. Here you will find a beautiful crescent-shaped bay with a rocky point on the north end. This is a great place to camp and enjoy the warm, usually, calm waters of the bay. The bay is a great place to snorkel as the waters are teeming with tropical fish. A semi-permanent fish camp is based here and fresh fish can usually be bought from the fishermen when they return with the day’s catch.
Fishing, sea kayaking, diving and snorkeling, and just plain relaxing are the activities most often practiced at Bahia Los Frailes. This is a favorite protected anchorage for yachts and they will sometimes use their launches to water ski in the bay. There is a huge drop-off that goes quickly down to a depth of 1,000 feet. This drop-off will produce some incredible fish stories to take back with you. You can catch dorado, tuna, grouper, wahoo, sierra, and others within the bay. A mile or so further out will produce sailfish, marlin, and some really big tuna. There is a small hotel (very nice, but often closed) that can help with boat rentals.
There is a Sea Lion colony located within the rocks at the north end of the bay. You can climb over the rocks and find it, but the best way to see the Sea Lions is from the water. They are normally friendly (unless it’s the mating season) and will be curious when they see you coming. Swimming with these wonderful creatures is an experience you will not soon forget.
The East Cape road continues south past many fine beaches, camping spots, and beautiful desert scenery. As you get closer to civilization, you will see many more upscale developments and a few very popular surfing spots. Nine Palms, Vinorama, Zacatitos, Laguna Hills, and finally the new marina development of Puerto Los Cabos. ***The East Cape road will soon be affected by some new mega-resorts that are planning to be built soon. Enjoy this incredible area while there is still time!
Driving south from La Paz: Just past San Pedro, stay on Highway 1 (the Hwy 19 turnoff goes to Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas) for a pleasant drive through the mountains, eventually you will find yourself arriving in the more inhabited area of the East Cape, Los Barriles/Buena Vista. Cabo Pulmo, Bahia Frailes, and the southern portion are accessed ten miles south, from the road into La Ribera, turn east at the big bridge at Los Cuevas.
Driving north from San Jose del Cabo: Highway 1 past the airport for approximately fifty miles. Cabo Pulmo, Bahia Frailes, and the southern portion are accessed from the road into La Ribera, turn east at the big bridge at Los Cuevas. To get to Los Barriles/Buena Vista, continue straight on Highway 1 for twelve more miles.
Driving east from San Jose del Cabo: Drive over the new bridge to La Playa and Puerto Los Cabos, and follow the directions to La Laguna, this route takes you around the marina project (on a paved road). You will then turn right when you see the sign that directs you to Buzzard’s Bar & Grill. Then, turn left onto the East Cape road. It’s forty miles of bad road and a few more of semi-good road, after that.
Or, you can take the Palo Escopeta road: Watch for a sign (east side of Highway 1) about 3 miles south of the Los Cabos airport. This is a fairly well-maintained dirt road that takes you 22 miles to the beach at Boca de La Vinorama. Now, you are about in the middle of the East Cape dirt road and you have to decide which way you need to go.
Interested in some East Cape businesses?