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A Trip to La Sierra de San Francisco in Central Baja

A Trip to La Sierra de San Francisco in Central Baja

By Shari Bondy

There are so many interesting and exciting things to do and see in Central Baja that even after living here for 20 years, there are some I haven’t had the opportunity of seeing yet.

La Sierra de San Francisco is a spectacular mountain range and has been on my bucket list of things to do for over 20 years. So last week we took advantage of a windy day and a trip to Vizcaino to head up into the mountains to find out about this magical place.

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Central Baja and its La Sierra de San Francisco

The turnoff is about 15 minutes south of Vizcaino with a superb new paved highway winding up through the mountain range almost all the way to the ranches. The views of the valley, mountain cacti and deep canyons are spectacular…you can see all the way to San Ignacio lagoon!

The paved road however does end a few miles short of the village and becomes one of those baja “challenges” that are not for the faint of heart. You need a high clearance vehicle with good tires to make it the last half hour to the top, as the goat path is very rocky, narrow and rough.

There are a few small  ranches you pass before you come to San Francisco, where there are “cuartos” or rustic rooms for rent and a beautiful dining room for visitors with photographic displays of the cave paintings and handicrafts for sale made by the ranchers.

A mile up the “road,” which I called a burro path, is the main village where you register to see the cave paintings and arrange trips down into the canyon or the shorter tour to see the nearby cave called El Raton.

Cave paintings can be visited throughout Central Baja.

Cave paintings can be visited throughout Central Baja.

Most of the families are Arce’s and relatives of my husband, so it was enjoyable to meet them and see how they live–which is like something out of a wild west novel. Many of them are guides to take mule pack trips to see the famous cave paintings, and others survive by raising goats and making cheese.

One family are leather workers and make to-order shoes, boots, polinas (leather leg protectors) for riding, key chains, lariats etc. They live perched at the edge of the canyon where their families have lived for generations, with the main transportation being burros and mules, which I understood much better after hobbling over the bad road…certainly more suited to beasts than trucks.

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They are very gracious, humble folk with big smiles, although  some of the old timers still avoid the camera lens as if it would steal their soul if they looked into it.

We visited the families and found out how to book a trip to see the cave art. Of course the easiest way is to arrange a trip is through an outfitter who organizes everything for you like food and gear, but you can do it yourself by calling in advance to let them know you are coming so they have the beasts ready for you when you arrive. You must bring food and water for yourself and your guide for the trip.

The most popular trip is to arrive at the ranch in the morning, get the gear packed onto the burros, mount the mule they choose just for you and ride off on a two-night adventure. That first day, you ride a couple of hours then stop for lunch at a ranch and rest up a bit before you ride on to the place you will camp for the night.

The next day you will visit several caves and see some of the most magnificent cave paintings in the world and return to camp for a dinner and campfire like in the days of old. Then, after a hearty breakfast, you begin your ride back, have lunch and a rest before heading up the canyon and back to the ranch. The guides can take 3 people each and cost 200 pesos a day and pack burros and mules are 150 pesos each a day.

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If you aren’t up for riding a mule for 2 days, you can visit the cave close to the ranch to see what cave paintings look like. It is an incredible place to visit even if you don’t descend into the canyon.

Want to visit Bahia Asuncion?  Check out La Bufadora Inn!  Or, if you are going to San Ignacio, read up on the Ignacio Springs B&B!

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About Shari Bondy

Shari Bondy has lived in Central Baja for over 20 years, and in Bahía Asuncion for 10 years. She and her husband, Juan both love Baja and play a very active role in their local community. Shari is involved in the gray whale research in Bahia, in addition to being a tour guide, English teacher, sailor and a tourism operator.

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