The East Cape region is loosely defined as a stretch of coastline along the Sea of Cortez that extends from Bahia de las Palmas in the north to the Laguna Hills and El Encanto developments just outside of San Jose del Cabo. It encompasses the sizable towns of Los Barriles, Buena Vista, and La Ribera, as well as numerous smaller fishing villages and several historic silver mining towns in the mountains.
Although reachable in about an hour by car from Los Cabos, much of the region remains off the grid – accessible via dirt roads, powered by the sun, and watered by delivery trucks and rooftop storage tanks. Travelers who venture to the East Cape region typically come to pursue one or more water sports and back country activities, including snorkeling and scuba diving, kayaking, kiteboarding, hiking, sportfishing and the like. They are willing to forego modern amenities like air conditioning and TV for the simplicity and convenience of having these outdoor activities just a few steps away.
Places of Interest
- Cabo Pulmo National Park: In 1995, a vast area of sea from Las Barracas to Los Frailes was designated Cabo Pulmo National Park. The park exhibited a 463 percent increase in biological abundance over 10 years, and in 2011, it was deemed the greatest marine conservation success world-over. Visitors come for unparalleled snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking experiences.
- Cañon de la Zorra: Head to the small agricultural community of Santiago for access to Cañon de la Zorra—a 60-foot waterfall, where you can take a dip and put your head under a 90-degree waterfall. A mask and snorkel add to the fun, especially when you see what looks like gold dust at the bottom of the pool. Turn west off Mexico 1 to enter the town of Santiago. Just before the Pemex gas station, take a right away from the town. Follow the signs to the Ecological Center. If you get confused, just ask for directions. It’s approximately six miles to the main gate (where there is a small entrance fee) and a one-mile drive thereafter. At the end of the road, park your car (in the shade) and walk eight minutes to get the falls.
- El Triunfo: More than 100 years after silver was discovered in the southern Baja mountains at San Antonio, silver and gold were discovered in a nearby mountain area, soon to be called El Triunfo (The Triumph). By 1865, this once-sleepy cattle ranch became a boom town of approximately 10,000 people. It was, at the time, the largest settlement in all of southern Baja. After 60 years of mining, El Triunfo finally closed its operations in 1926. The tall chimney and surrounding brick buildings just off the south side of the highway are the remains of the old smelter. Don’t miss the piano museum and the Santuario de Cactus. A pizza or a sandwich from the recently opened restaurant El Triunfo Café will make this day trip even more enjoyable. From Todos Santos, drive north on Mexico 19 for about 30 minutes. At the intersection, bear right on Mexico 1 heading south toward the East Cape and back to San José del Cabo. Mexico 1 will pass right through the center of town approximately half an hour later.
- Mision Santiago el Apostol Aiñini: This Jesuit mission was founded by Padre Ignacio Napoli near the present-day town of Santiago. It was active from 1724-1795. A modern church now stands on the ruins of the last mission site.
Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve: In the rugged interior of the lower Baja Peninsula, climate zones merge to form an unusual ecosystem high above the desert floor. Rainfall is higher here than in any other part of the peninsula, which means deciduous trees can coexist with drought-tolerant species. Recognizing the importance of this wilderness area, the Mexican government declared it a protected area in the mid 1990s. The tallest peak in the Sierra de la Laguna is 2,161 meters high.. The hiking season runs late fall through early spring. The peak is best approached from the west, near Todos Santos.
A very short history of the East Cape
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.