The Pacific Side of Baja
The Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula is probably most famous for one of its repeat visitors, rather than its numerous geographic traits or any cultural attributes. The magnificent gray whale has known about the peaceful lagoons along the Pacific coast of southern Baja for centuries and is, to this day, a frequent visitor to the waters of Baja. The journey to Baja is a long one for the gray whales. It is a 10,000 mile round trip from their summer home in the Arctic Sea. The whales do not seem to mind, as they make this journey to Baja year after year.
The Pacific side of Baja, especially in the north, has a much milder climate than the rest of the peninsula. The Pacific currents and the winds that come off of the ocean tend to keep the Pacific side much cooler than the Sea of Cortez side. Much of the northern Pacific side of the peninsula has a climate like that of Southern California, and that can be a welcome relief to travelers in the hot summer months, especially if they are traveling from the southern part of the peninsula.
Fishing along the Pacific coast is one of the main tourist attractions and is good-to-great along the entire coast of Baja, from Ensenada in the north, all the way to Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of the peninsula. Many of the best fishing areas of the central Pacific coast are somewhat difficult to get to for the average tourist, unless they are driving.
Waves produced by swells that were born deep in the southern hemisphere provide excellent surf along the entire Baja coast. Surfers from all over Baja and Southern California head for their favorite break at the first word of a swell. Surfers today have a great advantage over previous generations as they can look on the Internet for the current conditions and reports. This advantage lets them drive to almost anywhere in Baja and get there just as the swell is hitting their favorite beach.
The Guerrero Negro area, known for its cool-to-cold climate, is the northernmost stop for the migrating gray whales. Guerrero Negro is also home to the world’s largest producer of salt. Acre upon acre is devoted to salt production, and a short drive west of town will reveal hundreds of evaporating ponds and mountains of salt ready to be loaded onto ships.
The two separate lagoons of Laguna Guerrero Negro and Laguna Ojo de Liebre (aka Scammon’s Lagoon) are where the whales come to give birth, teach their babies to swim and let the young get strong enough for their 5,000 mile return trip to the Arctic sea. While all of this is taking place, these incredible mammals find time to interact with humans. Older whales, with their babies in tow, will swim right up to the pangas, rub the boat and let you pet them, young or old, it makes no difference. On one trip, we had one in our group who was able to kiss a whale from the panga. This could only happen in Baja!
A bit further south, is another lagoon that is more remote than the others. Laguna San Ignacio opens to the Pacific but there is no development of any kind nearby. There are a few eco-tourism camps on the shore, set up for the purpose of whale watching. These camps are built to have a very small impact on the local environment. This shallow bay is thought to have the friendliest whales in Baja.
Laguna San Ignacio is forty miles (of pretty bad road) from the small town of San Ignacio, where you can arrange one-day tours or overnight stays at one of the eco-camps on the shore of Laguna San Ignacio. Be sure to book a tour which includes whale watching from a panga. You can watch the whales from shore, but if you came this far to see these magnificent creatures, you will surely want to get really close. Be sure to remember your camera and take plenty of pictures, as this may be the only time you will ever be this close to these magnificent creatures.
Further south again is Puerto López Mateos, which sits on the northern end of Bahía Magdalena. Puerto López Mateos is a small town devoted almost entirely to whale watching. There is also some fishing activity, but the whales are the big attraction. There is a tourist dock for the renting of pangas to take you whale watching. This is the best place to see the whales from shore as the lagoon is rather narrow here.
Bahía Magdalena is the southernmost location that the gray whales visit to give birth. A series of canals and estuaries stretch along the coast for over one hundred miles. This bay is unique, because it is so long with so many entrances and it supports one of the richest marine environments in southern Baja. Protected from the mighty Pacific by a string of barrier islands, the bay at times will seem to be overflowing with gray whales. Whale watching tours are readily available in San Carlos.
This beautiful bay is a great place for windsurfers and kayakers, with near perfect conditions much of the year. The estuaries, shallow bays and mangroves support an overly abundant marine ecosystem. Bird watching is becoming very popular in Mag Bay as well.
San Carlos, a working port where agricultural products and fish are shipped out of the area, is located within the lagoon. San Carlos has a few tourist facilities. A boat ramp, a couple of hotels, restaurants, a gas station, taco stands, limited supplies and there are a couple of rather basic camping facilities.
The entire Pacific coast of Baja, from Ensenada south to Cabo San Lucas, is dotted with deserted beaches and small fish (or lobster/abalone) camps. These locations make for safe places to camp, with great eats close by that can usually be bought for next to nothing. There are long stretches of beach where the surf fishing is spectacular. You will find more than a few beaches in Baja where there is an over-abundance of clams at low tide. Plus, giant sand dunes that seem to have no end, tide pools to explore, small towns and villages with great fish tacos and numerous surf spots with no crowds.
The Pacific side of Baja is home to countless places to encounter world class adventure! You just have to find the time and have a vehicle that is capable of Baja torture. If you have the first two items needed, then all you need is the right frame of mind for a great adventure.