In the second installment of our year-end feature, we put a bow on the year in Baja with a review of our favorite stories, headlines and videos from 2016.
We hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane, and wish you and yours the very best during this special time of year.
Headlines to Remember
Sometimes the headlines tell you pretty much all you need to know. Here are five that made us smile in 2015.
Alien City: UFO Hunter FInds 80-Mile-Long Underwater Structure Off Baja California Coast
Did aliens build the strange structures seen by satellites along the ocean floor of the Gulf of California, AKA the Sea of Cortez? Probably not, although the tube shaped structures that stretch for over 70 miles bear some resemblance to the famed Nazca Lines, the ancient geoglyghs in southern Peru with enormous, evocative designs that can only be apprehended via aerial views. But as Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”
Rare Baja Plant Named After Rock Guitarist Jimi Hendrix
It seems rather strange that a rare Baja succulent with an enormous lifespan would be named after a virtuoso guitarist whose life was cut tragically short, but that’s exactly what happened earlier this year when a small plant with pinkish-white was named for rock star Jimi Hendrix. The story goes that former San Diego State University graduate student Mark Dodero discovered the plant while listening to the Hendrix classic Voodoo Child. The severely circumscribed habitat of the newly dubbed Dudleya hendrixii is threatened, but hopefully the plant, like its namesake’s reputation, will live forever.
Mexico Protects Vast Marine Reserve Off Baja California
In a move that drew rave reviews from regional conservationists, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently established the Pacific Islands Biosphere Reserve. The new wildlife preserve comprises over 2.7 million acres, includes 21 islands and 97 islets – including the Coronado Islands and the famed surf island of Todos Santos – and offers permanent legal protection for many important seabird and marine life habitats off the coast of Baja California. It also complements the Pacific Biosphere Reserve, which protects, among other things, the Revillagigedo Archipelago south of Baja California Sur.
Playa Balandra in La Paz Voted Best Beach in Mexico in USA Today Readers’ Poll
Although reader contests and editorial lists offer purely subjective rankings, it says something about the beauty and allure of the peninsula’s beaches that in a recent USA Today reader’s poll an astonishing six of the top 10 beaches in Mexico were judged to be found in Baja California Sur. Playa Balandra in La Paz was voted number one overall, but neighbor Playa El Tecolote, Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante, the East Cape’s Playa Cabo Pulmo, and Lover’s and Medano Beaches in Cabo San Lucas also made the cut.
Three Los Cabos Golf Courses Make Cut for the World’s 100 Best
Los Cabos has a remarkable golfing history. The first course wasn’t built until 1987, yet despite this late start the region has quickly established itself as one of the world’s most desirable golfing destinations. Golf Digest gave a glimpse into the reasons for this success in January 2016, when it rated three of the 14 area loops among the 100 best in the world. The Davis Love III designed Dunes Course at Diamante, the Jack Nicklaus designed Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, and Tom Fazio’s Querencia Course were all honored in the annual ranking. A 15th Los Cabos based course, a truncated par-3 layout from Tiger Woods, has since opened at Diamante.
Our Favorite Stories
Many thanks to our contributors around the Baja California peninsula for another great year of stories. Here are five of our favorites, and judging from the response we got on social media, three of yours as well.
The Best of Baja’s Attractions: Why the Baja California Peninsula is World-Class in More Ways than You Think
Why Baja? In one of our most popular articles this year, we examine the world-class food, wine, accommodations and attractions that can currently be found throughout the Baja California peninsula, and trace how these signature draws developed over the past few decades.
“The old Baja of dirt roads, ranches and rustic resorts still exists, but in recent decades the region has increasingly marketed itself to travelers as a more sophisticated vacation destination, touting not only sport fishing, stunning natural settings and a sunny year-round climate but luxurious modern conveniences and brand-name accommodations.
“Nowadays, the peninsula offers a multitude of world-class pleasures, from fine food and elegant wines to chic boutique hotels showcasing upscale amenities like expansive spas and championship-level golf courses.
“This evolution–most noticeable in larger areas like Tijuana, Ensenada, La Paz and Los Cabos–has resulted in an ever-expanding collection of accolades and encomiums from major media sources.
“Baja’s booming dining scene–buoyed by international acclaim for its Baja Med and Pan-Pacific fusion cuisines–hit a new high in May, when The Daily Meal released its annual list of the best restaurants in Mexico. Mexico City traditionally dominates such rankings, and did so again in 2016, accounting for 10 of the top 25 eateries. But the Baja California peninsula provided its strongest competition to date, placing eight entrants, seven of which are located in the state of Baja California: Mision 19 and La Querencia in Tijuana; Laja and Manzanilla in Ensenada; and Corazon de Tierra, Deckman’s en El Mogor, Finca Altozano and Silvestre in the Valle de Guadalupe. Not mentioned by The Daily Meal, but honored elsewhere was Valle de Guadalupe’s La Cocina de Doña Esthela, which was given the “Best Breakfast in the World” award by culinary website FoodieHub in 2015.
“Farm-to-table standout Flora’s Field Kitchen was the only Baja Sur based restaurant to crack The Daily Meal rankings, although that may change in coming years thanks to a host of up-and-coming young chefs, and the presence of celebrated restaurateur Enrique Olvera. Chef Olvera, whose Mexico City based Pujol is rated as the best in the country and one of the top 20 in the world, opened his first restaurant in Los Cabos, Manta at The Cape: A Thompson Hotel, in June 2015.”
Boom Times in Los Cabos
No less an authority than the New York Times recently reported on the enormous boom in hotel construction currently taking place in Los Cabos. Our Cabo correspondent, Chris Sands, reported on this phenomenon and its remarkable backstory back in May. This was his local’s take on what’s happening, and what it means for the future of the area.
“Construction projects are booming throughout Los Cabos, from the Pacific Coast north of Cabo San Lucas to Puerto Los Cabos, the luxury development located just outside San Jose del Cabo. Even the East Cape – a 70 mile stretch of coastline known for its pristine beaches and off-the-grid communities – is not immune, with at least two new high-profile projects in the offing.
“One need only drive the 20-mile tourist corridor which connects cape cities San Lucas and San Jose to see the incredible changes that are underway. Enormous building sites teeming with workers rise up every few miles, while the intervening highway lanes are littered with orange cones – for rerouting, and also for the additional entrances and exits needed to accommodate the ambitious new resorts that are transforming the coastline.
“Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Nobu, Hard Rock, VieVage, Montage, Solaz and Le Blanc are among the many brands moving into Los Cabos, pushing maximum hotel capacity from 14,000 to 18,000 rooms in the space of a few short years (2015 – 2018). That’s an increase of about 22%; a massive leap. And of course resorts in Los Cabos promise an impressive array of amenities, which means more new golf courses. Already home to 14 impressive courses, including three of the world’s 100 best loops (per Golf Digest), new Los Cabos layouts are on the way from major champions Fred Couples and Greg Norman, among others.
“Whether this meteoric growth is sustainable or not is a very good question. There are many reasons to believe it is: steadily rising tourism rates in Mexico, increased numbers of flights and tourists to Los Cabos, and beefed up infrastructure most prominent among them.
“Los Cabos saw a 14.7% rise in tourism in 2015, and Mexico as a whole has seen a similar jump in 2016. Flights to Los Cabos were up significantly in 2015, and more gains are expected as carriers take advantage of new liberalized aviation agreements between the U.S. and Mexico. Southwest Airlines, in particular, has ramped up flights to Los Cabos from destinations around the U.S., and is currently seeking permission to expand its Mexican service from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). A new toll road from the Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) to Cabo San Lucas has helped alleviate some of the traffic congestion in an area that is now home to almost 300,000 people.
“But it is debatable how much these new developments help local merchants, who have suffered in the wake of the new trend towards all-inclusive resorts. One good storm or incidence of cartel related violence could set the area back substantially, and it still remains to see how a desert area with a limited water supply is going to cope with rapidly rising demands. Yes, desalinization is a requirement for new properties, but desalinization brings its own problems, including harmful impacts on local fish populations. You know, the reason tourists came here in the first place.”
Sabor de Baja Hits New Heights in 2016
Each August, columnist Tom Gatch takes a break from fishing to don his finest white attire and journey to the Rosarito Beach Hotel, host of the annual Sabor de Baja culinary competition. The finest chefs, vintners and brewers from Baja California gather at this end of summer affair, where they showcase their delicious creations for appreciative attendees. By popular demand, here is Tom’s recap of this year’s gala edition.
“Over numerous decades, the Rosarito Beach Hotel has played host to a myriad of Hollywood celebrities, international dignitaries and discriminating visitors from around the globe. As a matter of fact, as the years have passed, some of its regular guests even began referring to it simply as ‘the legend’; paying homage to the fact that the hotel has remained one of the top properties of its kind on the Baja coast since the days of the early 20th Century.
“As it turns out, during the past several years, the hotel along with Chef Bo Bendana of the Mi Casa Supper Club have worked together to create yet another legend, which now draws throngs of eager epicureans and wine lovers to the annual Sabor de Baja that features delightful samplings of our region’s finest wines and craft brews pared with gourmet cuisine from top local restaurants. Without a doubt, the 2016 event set a new standard in that regard.
“This year’s affair was also upgraded with a new VIP section, which offered reserved table seating that was situated adjacent to the main stage. Guests who took advantage of this option enjoyed easy access to the wine and food along with a close up view of the featured entertainment and presentation ceremonies.
“An increase in onsite staffing ensured that the general admission attendees were also well accommodated with additional chairs for their tables whenever necessary. As always, however, it was the exceptional performance of the many vintners, brewers, chefs and restaurateurs taking part in this annual event that elevated it to its new apex in 2016.”
Golden Ghosts: El Triunfo and the Soul of Baja California Sur
The occasion of the 9th annual El Triunfo Arts and Crafts Festival provided an excuse, as if one were needed, for a deep dive into the history and culture of the two oldest secular communities in the Californias: San Antonio and El Triunfo. The two were prominent mining communities as far back as the 18th century, and 300 years later remain at the center of controversy over the future of gold mining in Baja California Sur.
“The two-lane stretch of Highway 1 between San Pedro and Los Barriles is one of the most beautiful on the Baja California peninsula. After climbing several thousand feet into the Sierra de la Laguna, the mountain range which dominates the center of Baja California Sur between La Paz and Los Cabos, the road curves perilously through a breathtaking panorama of peaks and valleys, the views of cactus, scrub and tree strewn slopes made more piquant by the specter of wandering goats and cows.
“Traffic along this portion of Highway 1 is almost always sparse, limited to the occasional pick-up truck or dust-covered SUV. In the rare event where traffic backs up, there are pull-off overlooks located between the winding mountain passes, and once in awhile a small town will appear, offering refreshments and a chance to rest one’s nerves.
“El Triunfo (pop. 321) and San Antonio (pop. 463) are the most notable of these small towns. They’re located 35 and 40 miles south of La Paz, respectively, straddling the highway at altitudes close to 1500 feet. Although each has a few tourist attractions, it is only on special occasions, like the El Triunfo Arts and Crafts Festival – the 9th edition of which took place on a recent Sunday – that people ascend en masse to these sleepy mountain hamlets.
“On festival days like this one, El Triunfo glows. A kaleidoscopic profusion of cars pull off onto every conceivable shoulder of the road and its downtown arteries, while clusters of brightly dressed people file through the slowed traffic along the highway towards the sounds of music and the smell of grilled meat. The dominant color motif, as always, is gold. The traditional costumes of the women swirling with their dance partners around the plaza principal are accented in gold. Many of the large, well-preserved homes that sit south of the highway are painted white but trimmed in gold. The old church, whose profile looms above the modest skyline, boasts a golden coat with royal red piping, its golden bell towers glinting in the afternoon sunlight.
“Once upon a time, El Triunfo and nearby San Antonio were the wealthiest and most famous towns on the Baja California peninsula. This legendarily prosperous period occurred during the latter part of the 19th century, but in truth the two were mining capitals and historical anomalies long before post San Francisco gold rush fever put the small Sierra de la Laguna communities on the international map in 1862.”
10 Plant and Animal Species Only Found in Baja
Some of the Baja California’s most famous flora and fauna aren’t necessarily confined to the peninsula; surreal Boojum trees and giant Cardon cactus, for instance, can also be found in the mainland state of Sonora. In this long overdue article, we introduced our readers to some of the rare plants and animals that are uniquely and utterly “Baja.”
“The Baja California peninsula is like no place else on earth, a fact reflected in the peninsula’s distinctive and often unique flora and fauna.
“Much of the fascinating diversity in Baja California Sur is due to what is called island endemism, a process by which plants and animals develop independently in specific isolated environments. The unique island endemism of the Galapagos, for example, famously helped to inspire Darwin’s theory of evolution. Coastal islands off Baja California Sur like Magdalena and Espiritu Santo are hotbeds for endemic species, which have necessarily evolved over time in order to survive in their geographically circumscribed environments.
“But the peninsular mainland – “almost an island” in Bruce Berger’s felicitous phrase – boasts its own collection of strange and wonderful creatures, with many specifically adapted to the central or southern sierras, or to low-lying desert areas. Some are indigenous but not endemic, meaning they can also be found in other regions. Others are sui generis, found only in Baja.
“Here are 10 of our “only in Baja” favorites.”
Videos We Loved
We didn’t make any of these videos, but we’re happy to share them, since they show off the spectacular natural beauty of our favorite place on earth, as well as the special character of its inhabitants.
Baja Diver Trapped in Cage with Great White Shark
To date, over 20 million people have watched this frightening video, in which a great white shark bursts through the bars of an underwater diving cage as crew members look on in horror. Luckily the diver, who was enjoying the incredible underwater scenery near Isla Guadalupe(a volcanic island some 250 miles southwest of Ensenada), lived to tell the tale.
Women of Billabong Surf Todos Santos
“When wanderlust strikes,” writes Billabong, “we pack our bikinis and set our bearing for the Tropic of Cancer.” In this exquisitely shot video, several of the Australian lifestyle apparel company’s models head for the beaches of Baja’s first pueblo magico, Todos Santos, where they soak up local color and take advantage of the Pacific Coast community’s outstanding surfing conditions.
Audi Test Drives New Model in Beautiful Baja California Sur
Forget the Autobahn. If you really want to test out a new model, hit the highways and byways of Baja California Sur. That’s what German automaker Audi did with its new Q5 2.0 TFSI, and the beach, desert and mountain scenery is every bit as breathtaking as the luxury hybrid SUV’s high-powered performance.
Skateboarders Showcase the Charms of La Paz
Luis Humberto leads viewers on an unconventional tour of Baja California Sur’s capital, as he skateboards along the beautiful three-mile-long malecon, at signature attractions and through the city streets of downtown La Paz.
In Search of Painted Caves
Baja’s incredible and mysterious cave paintings date back thousands of years, and have exercised a profound fascination for writers like Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner and historian Harry Crosby. In this introductory video from the Bradshaw Foundation, Crosby offers a captivating introduction to these ancient masterpieces.
Thanks again for all your support this year. Happy Holidays!
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