The first inhabitants of the East Cape were the Pericue, a warring tribe of indigenous peoples living in the region at least 10,000 years ago. Burial sites and other archaeological remains discovered in caves on the hillsides surrounding Cabo Pulmo demonstrate the importance of this area to them. The Pericue subsisted on fish, shellfish, and marine mammals and were one of the few aboriginal groups on the California coasts to use wooden rafts and double-bladed paddles for maritime travel.
After Cortez’s discovery of the peninsula in 1533, sporadic encounters, sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile, put the Pericue in contact with a succession of explorers and settlers from Europe and the Philippines. Early in the 18th century, the Pericue succumbed to Old World diseases and battle attrition. It is possible, however, that some of their genes survive among local ranch families.
Perhaps the most famous visitor to the region was John Steinbeck, who in 1940 traveled the coast by ship with his friend, the marine biologist Ed Ricketts to collect marine specimens. In the book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, in which he recounted their journey, he describes in vivid detail the rich wildlife encountered in Pulmo Bay and the curious people who paddled out to meet them.
In the history of East Cape development, perhaps the most significant visit made to the region was that by Robert Van Wormer. While visiting Rancho Buena Vista in 1959, “Bobby” fell in love with the white-sand beaches and abundant marine life. He soon moved here and ultimately created his own fishing destination, Hotel Punta Colorado. Along with his wife, a local lady named Rosa Marie “Cha Cha” Ruiz Gonzalez, and their three sons, Bobby turned the East Cape into a world-class fishing destination. In Los Barriles and beyond he became a much loved and respected head of a growing community of expats, who turned to him often for assistance with their own projects. The Las Palmas de Cortez Hotel is the jewel in the crown of his accomplishments.
Prior to completion of the Trans Peninsular Highway in 1974, the southern portion of the peninsula was accessible only by boat or small aircraft. It was not until the late 1980s, when completion of the international airport at San Jose ignited a boom of real estate development that more than a few intrepid souls made the bone-jarring trip to the more isolated parts of the East Cape in search of solitude and unridden waves. Gradually they bought land from locals and erected simple beach homes of concrete block and palm-thatch construction. Those first visitors would hardly recognize much of the East Cape today.
In 1995, a vast area of sea from Las Barracas to Los Frailes was designated Cabo Pulmo National
Park, and in 2011 the park, which exhibited a 463 percent increase in biological abundance over 10 years, was deemed the greatest marine conservation success world-over.