The Baja Coast along the Sea of Cortez offers treasures to the intrepid traveler
by Tom Gatch
Situated at upper end of the Sea of Cortez, the eastern coastline of northern Baja California supports an entirely different type of habitat and marine life profile than does the Pacific side. Rugged volcanic outcroppings and occasional groups of small, rocky islands intermittently interrupt the many miles of warm, sandy beach that adjoin a tepid desert sea.
The narrow highway south of San Felipe that eventually meets the small settlement of Puertecitos some 50 miles away, runs parallel to long stretches of unpopulated beach. The inshore waters nearby are a kayak angler’s dream, and catches of croaker and orange mouth corvina are not uncommon here during the summer months. In spite of being so close to the rapidly growing tourist town just to the north, this area along Baja’s Cortez coast is truly rural in almost every sense of the word. This is a place where travelers should be prepared to provide their own creature comforts. Puertecitos offers a small launch ramp; but aside from that, don’t expect to find any fancy hotels, gourmet restaurants or other tourist amenities in this somewhat isolated venue.
For those wanting to relax after a long day fishing or hiking around the local foothills nearby, one of the most beguiling aspects of Puertecitos is that it features an adjacent proliferation of small, volcanic hot springs that flow nearby. Just offshore, the Islas Encantadas, or Enchanted Islands, offer solid bottom fishing for leopard grouper, cabrilla and other popular gamefish, which often makes them one of the first stopping points for the panga festooned mothership operations based in San Felipe. During the warmer months, the area around the islands is a prime place to catch large white sea bass and yellowtail.
Beyond Puertecitos, the dusty and uneven thoroughfare heading south has a longstanding reputation as one of the most rutted roads in northern Baja. It can be very intimidating, and probably should not be undertaken except by the most seasoned of Baja travelers.
That having been said, the secluded areas of Bahía Willard and Bahía Gonzaga several miles down the coast offer breathtakingly beautiful seascapes and the solitude to truly appreciate them. The onshore, inshore, and offshore angling opportunities here can also be outstanding throughout the entire summer season. This entire section of coastline features a wealth of open, sandy beaches and rocky coves that are guaranteed to tempt the wandering beachcomber.
Bahía de Los Angeles is a very popular fishing location that lies even further south, but is best reached by automobile via the Transpeninsular Highway. As is true along the entire Cortez coast, summer visitors should expect extremely warm daytime temperatures and plenty of sunshine. The nearby islands attract large schools of baitfish as well as big white sea bass, yellowtail, skipjack, grouper, and cabrilla.
The region is also home to the world’s largest cactus, the giant cardón, which some Native Americans believed that the cardón cactus could even take on the attributes of human beings, and actually meander around the moonlit desert while they slept at night. It can reach a height of over 60 feet.
The first time I ever saw one of these huge cacti, I mistakenly referred to it as a saguaro. This is a common mix-up, since it greatly resembles a smaller, related species that is common in the deserts of Arizona. There are a number of other specimens dotting this arid landscape, such as the painfully notorious cholla, sometimes referred to as “jumping cactus.” Also present are a plethora of barrel cacti and nopal, which produces moisture rich and bright red fruits that are light green inside and taste a bit like kiwi fruit.
For thousands of years before the first Europeans ever set foot here, the roots, leaves, seeds, and fruits of many of these native plants provided a valuable source of food and water for countless generations of indigenous peoples that had to survive in this harsh environment. Young and tender nopal leaves and cactus fruits referred to as ‘tunas’ and ‘pitayas’ are still relished northern Baja California today.
One thing is certain: However you get there, wherever you go, there is a special magic that exists in this section of Baja Norte’s eastern desert region that consistently manages to enchant visitors, many of whom never suspected that they might eventually fall under its spell.
‘Hooked on Baja’ author & columnist, Tom Gatch, is one of Baja’s foremost writers with a focus upon outdoor and recreational topics in Baja and southern California.
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