School’s out for summer, which means it’s time to load up the SUV and head south for some family fun on the peninsula. There’s nothing better than disconnecting from the internet to spend time together fishing, kayaking, hiking, swimming, and exploring the unique treasures of the peninsula. Here are some of our favorite family-friendly experiences to have on the peninsula this summer.
Swim, splash, and slide at the balnearios in Northern Baja. With pools, waterslides, and picnic areas, Baja’s balnearios don’t just provide a day’s worth of entertainment; they’re a vital way to cool down when the weather gets warm. Rancho el Palmar south of Rosarito has plenty of pools for the kids, and picnic areas for adults to enjoy the day. South of Ensenada in Maneadero, the massive Las Cañadas is a mega-park full of everything from massive waterslides to zip lines. Overnight camping and cabin rentals are available.
Visit the giant cardón cacti in Valle de los Gigantes. Just south of San Felipe, you’ll find the Valle de los Gigantes (Km 14) where cacti grow up to heights of nearly 60 feet tall and weigh up to 25 tons. The cardón cacti of this region are so unique that one cactus was transported to Spain for the world’s fair in 1992. Once you pay the admission to enter the park (US$10 per car), you can drive and walk among the cacti, some of which are over 100 years old. Four-wheel drive vehicles are required to explore the entire park by car, but even those without four-wheel drive can explore part of the park, and you can always park and walk around on foot as well. A family photo with these prickly giants is sure to be a contender for this year’s holiday card.
Digitally detox in the foothills of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir. A stay at Rancho Meling will help you fully disconnect from your devices and reconnect with each other (there’s no cellphone service here and electricity is only available a few hours a day courtesy of a generator). Meals are served family-style and activities include swimming, horseback riding, basketball, volleyball, and horseshoes. Because of the higher altitude, this is one of the coolest spots temperature-wise on the entire peninsula. Visit the nearby San Pedro Mártir National Park where you can do some hiking amongst the pine trees, visit the National Astronomical Observatory, and watch for condors that are being reintroduced into the wild here as a part of a program headed up by the San Diego Zoo.
See the harbor seals at La Lobera. Just south of San Quintín, travelers will find La Lobera, a natural crater along the coast where the harbor seals haul out. The ceiling of a cave collapsed and created a circular crater overlooking the sea and beach where harbor seals enjoy sun bathing and playing. There’s a viewing deck along the crater that was constructed for visitors to peer down to see the harbor seals. The coastline around La Lobera is rugged and beautiful, making this pit stop worthwhile even if just for the views. The turn off from Highway Mexico 1 is at Km. 47.5. Watch for the blue sign for “La Lobera.” From here, drive about 10 minutes west (follow the powerlines) where you’ll find the La Lobera crater just south of a building along the coast (GPS: 30.110592, -115.788123). Depending on recent weather and road conditions, four-wheel drive may be necessary for access.
Visit the cave paintings in Cataviña. Located right off of Highway Mexico 1 north of Cataviña, these cave paintings are an easy 10-minute hike, making them some of the most accessible examples of rock art on the peninsula. The turn off from Mexico 1 is at Km 176 on the east side of the highway. Look for the blue pyramid sign and the parking lot just off of the road. There are a few informational signs (in Spanish) talking about the history of the region and the indigenous Cochimí who inhabited the area. A path lined with stones and a few arrows lead the way up to the vibrant cave paintings, tucked into an overhang on the hillside. This is also a great spot to admire the unique central desert landscape with its cardón cacti, cirios, barrel cacti, and even a few blue palms.
Swim with whale sharks in Bahía de los Ángeles. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish, growing up to lengths of 40 feet and weighing over 21 tons. These docile creatures are harmless to humans and are impressive to see up close in real life. Mid summer to early fall is the best time to see these gentle giants in the waters of LA Bay. The Whale Sharks are mostly around the southern bay of Rincón, but can be found in other areas as well. It’s best to go out in the early mornings when the bay is calm to kayak, snorkel, or swim with the whale sharks. Many of the local fishing guides will take you out to see them or Ricardo’s Diving Tours and Villa Bahia can also make arrangements. If you’d like to kayak out to see them on your own, read Graham Mackintosh’s article about kayaking with the whale sharks for more information.
Camp along the shores of the Sea of Cortez at Bahía Concepción. Conception Bay is one of Baja’s greatest treasures, with its striking turquoise bays and white sand beaches. People spend their days here swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking in the sheltered waters of the many beaches and bays. You can camp overnight on many of the beaches such as Playa Santispac (Km. 113.5) or Playa El Requesón (Km. 91.5) for just a few dollars a day. Read Carla King’s Full Guide to Bahía Concepción.
Get up-close-and personal with wildlife on Isla Espiritu Santo. The large island 25 kilometers off the coast of La Paz is Isla Espiritu Santo, a designated UNESCO world heritage site. It’s considered by many to be the most beautiful island in the Sea of Cortez and boasts dozens of bays with white sand beaches and waters full of marine life. Most travelers experience Isla Espíritu Santo on a boat day trip from La Paz from one of the many operators in town such as Fun Baja. These boat trips focus on diving and snorkeling in the waters around the island, because of the rich marine life that lives around the rock and coral reefs. Visitors will have a chance to swim with sea lions and see dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles, orca, and blue or humpback whales.
Visit the waterfalls of the Sierra de la Laguna. Just outside of the small town of Santiago are the natural pools and waterfall of Cañon de la Zorra. The 30-foot waterfall cascades into natural pools below, and the surrounding rocks are perfect for lounging and sun bathing. Because the canyon is located in the biosphere reserve of the Sierra de la Laguna, access to Cañon de la Zorra is only gained through paying a US$6 admission fee at Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo (GPS: 23.499002, -109.790511). You’ll park your car at the ranch and hike along a trail for about 10 minutes to reach the waterfall. Overnight camping and guest cabins are also available at the ranch. To reach Cañon de la Zorra from Santiago, follow the signs for “Cañon de la Zorra” and “Sol de Mayo” from Francisco J. Mujica street in town.
Go fishing on the East Cape. Summer is prime season for big game fishing in Baja Sur, and there’s arguably no better place than the East Cape to try your luck. Marlin, sailfish, dorado and tuna can be found in deeper waters offshore and in shallow waters the catch can include cabrillas, jack crevalle, roosterfish, pompano, cabrilla (leopard grouper), triggerfish, snappers, sierra, ladyfish, and barred pargo. Many of the hotels in Los Barriles and Buena Vista have their own fishing fleets or can arrange for a charter for you. Or, Gary Graham (who writes the Discover Baja Fishing Report each month) and his wife Yvonne operate Baja on the Fly and can arrange complete East Cape fishing packages for single anglers or groups, taking care of hotel accommodations as well as guided beach, panga, or cruiser trips on private or hotel cruisers. Other activities like diving, kayaking, and whale watching can be arranged for family members who don’t fish.
Explore the coral reef at Cabo Pulmo. One of only three coral reefs in North America, the Cabo Pulmo reef is 5,000 years old and the only living coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. The Parque Nacional Cabo Pulmo is one of the most popular destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling on the peninsula. Divers and snorkelers flock to see the colorful tropical fish, moray eels, octopus, lobster, sea turtles, sea lions, dolphin, and whales. Boats operate dive and snorkel trips from the beach access in town. If you’re snorkeling, the reef begins just a few meters off the shore, which makes Cabo Pulmo an extremely appealing spot for snorkeling from the beach. Try Los Arbolitos beach or Los Frailes if the wind has picked up in the afternoon. There’s a new visitor center in town that’s great for kids with interactive exhibits about the local wildlife and reef system.
Surf the West Cape. Surfers of all levels will find an appropriate wave along the West Cape. More advanced surfers will enjoy the breaks at La Pastora or San Pedrito. For younger kids or beginner surfers of any age, head to Playa Los Cerritos in El Pescadero where the gentle beach break has a forgiving sandy bottom. Rent boards or take a surf lesson with Mario’s Surf School.
Tips for Traveling in Baja With Kids:
- The sun is intense in Baja and summers are hot in Baja Sur, so be prepared with sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and rash guards for sun protection in the water.
- Travel with plenty of bottled water as there may be stretches where it’s difficult to find potable water. Make sure to bring extra water along on any hikes. Have plenty of snacks for the stretches where abarrotes (groceries) stores are few and far between.
- There are lots of hazards for active kids in Baja (cacti, stinging insects, rough terrain). Travel with a small first aid kit: band aids, tweezers, aloe vera, Neosporin, Benadryl, aspirin, bandaids, etc.. Ginger tablets are a great solution for upset stomachs as well as car or boat sickness.
- Teach your kids the “Stingray Shuffle.” It’s important to shuffle your feet in the sand when entering the ocean to scare away any unsuspecting stingrays hiding in the sand.
- There will be long stretches of driving, so be sure to have road trip games and activities ready to go. Spanish workbooks are a fun idea while traveling in Mexico.
- While most places will have rental sporting equipment, if you have younger kids, you may want to bring along their own snorkels and fins, so that they know they have a set their size they are comfortable using.
- In terms of paperwork, everyone over the age of two is required to have an FMM tourist permit to travel in Baja. This means that everyone over the age of two needs to have a passport. A passport card is valid if entering by land. A birth certificate is sufficient for children under the age of two.
- Road tripping in Baja is an excellent opportunity to introduce kids to world travel and to teach them acceptance of other cultures, practices, and people. Show them how to be respectful and knowledgeable travelers by teaching them local customs and helping them learn some basic phrases in Spanish.