Baja California, Mexico - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Located on the pristine coast of Baja California and the Sea of Cortez, Bahia San Luis Gonzaga (Bahia Gonzaga) offers sea kayakers a taste of wild Baja. Roughly 230 miles south of the border from Mexicali and in the middle of the San Felipe subdivision of the lower Sonoran Desert, Bahia Gonzaga offers the more adventurous traveler some of the best in nature Baja has to offer - Grey and finback whales, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, islands, hidden coves, ocotillo forests, giant cordón cactus, elephant trees, shore and seabirds, and desert reptiles. Best of all, with only a few paddle strokes, kayakers can find themselves in a true desert/sea wilderness.
Exploring the Bahia Gonzaga Area
For paddlers, Bahia Gonzaga offers many possibilities – from island and beach camping to remote coastal paddling. All the islands in the Sea of Cortez are protected as World Heritage Sites and as such visitors to the islands should obtain permits from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas office in La Paz, Baja California Sur (See below) if you plan to camp on the islands. No permits are required for beach camping on the Baja peninsula mainland.
Isla San Luis Gonzaga sits in the northern end of the bay and, at low tide, is connected to land by a narrow sand spit. Unless you kayak or motor to the island (or swim!) low tide is the only time you can access the island on foot. The island in its entirety is well worth exploring with its perfect sandy inlets and rocky outcroppings and hillsides studded with barrel cacti and ocotillo. From the top the views of the bay and surrounding desert and sea are incredible. Hikers in the group will find the trail access on the west side of the island near Alfonsina’s.
On the northwest side of Isla Gonzaga is Bahia Willard which offers great protection from northerly and southerly winds as well as the comforts of the rustic Papa Fernandez resort, with beach camping and palapas, or your own stretch of beach. On the southeast side of the island it is common to see sea lions basking on the waters surface as well as frigate birds and brown boobies soaring overhead. Circumnavigating Isla Gonzaga in a sea kayak can easily be done in half a day but is also the perfect island set up camp on an isolated beach for an over-nighter under the Baja stars.
The Punta Final area, in the far south east corner of Bahia Gonzaga is by far the best part of the bay to explore by kayak. The name Punta Final (‘final point’) conjures dark images of the unknown just around the corner for anyone who has ever considered paddling south from Bahia Gonzaga. The area can indeed be intimidating because of the immediacy of the remoteness and steep rocky shore line one sees once you turn the corner at Punta Final. Only the horizon of the Sea of Cortez on your left and the rocky shores of the Baja peninsula on your right are there to keep you company.
Luckily for sea kayakers there are plenty of isolated coves and beaches to explore and camp on less than ten miles paddle from the north end of Bahia Gonzaga. The small double inlet of Punta Tijereta offers five white sand beaches suitable for camping with the requisite desert filled with elephant trees, cacti, and wildlife to explore just behind camp.
Around the corner from Punta Final are Punta Paraje de Chencho and Caleta las Gatas, a distinct point and its associated cove. While the beaches here are a bit steeper and composed of fist-sized smooth granite rock, this is an area well worth exploring and perfect for a day visit or extended stay.
Tourist Cards, Mexican Auto Insurance, and Passports
A tourist card is required for traveling to Bahia Gonzaga and is simply a visa that allows foreigners to legally travel in Mexico. Tourist cards are easily obtained at the immigration offices at each border crossing.
In addition, Mexican auto insurance is required to travel into Mexico with your own vehicle. U.S. auto insurance is not accepted in Mexico – do not believe your agent if they tell you otherwise. Mexican auto insurance should be obtained before you cross the border into Mexico and, like the tourist card, is easily obtained near most major border crossings.
In the near future passports will be required to depart or enter the U.S. (so get yours now!). However, by of January 31, 2008 all adult travelers will be required to present proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, and proof of identity, such as a driver’s license, when entering the United States through land and sea ports of entry. Before you travel to Mexico, be certain of the current regulations by visiting the State Department website listed below.
Because of the ability to find isolation so quickly, kayakers contemplating paddling in the Sea of Cortez are advised to be experienced with quickly changing sea conditions, to carry standard survival and emergency gear in their kayaks and on their life vests and to dress appropriately for water conditions and temperatures. Since emergency response resources are limited in this area of Baja, response to a call for help may be slow or not occur at all, depending on your communication ability (E.g., EPIRB, VHF radio, satellite phone, emergency flares, signal mirror, or frantic hand-waving). So, if you travel in this region be prepared for any emergency and make proper safety choices on and off the water and always tell someone of your paddling itinerary.
Once you arrive in Bahia Gonzaga you can set up camp in several places depending on your comfort level.
Alfonsina’s, a hotel/restaurant and meeting place for all travelers passing through, is located at the north end of the bay and offers clean rooms ($50.00 or more per night) and a restaurant with great food. Keep in mind that even in May, outside temps can exceed 115 degrees and Alfonsina’s has no A/C, so you might pay for a room but end up sleeping on the beach seeking the cool sea breeze!
Campo Beluga, about 3 miles south of Alfonsina’s and on the beach as well, offers Palapa camping with clean outdoor showers and outhouses for about $25.00 per night per palapa. In my experience it is the best choice because it is ideally situated between Alfonsina’s and the hidden coves and wild coastline of Punta Final and further south.
The gringo enclave of Punta Final, about five miles south around the bay from Alfonsina’s, offers basic beach camping on a clean white sand beach for about $6.00 per night per vehicle. Not really equipped to handle tourists, they only offer broken down outhouses and no showers. You’re basically on your own, but for a small fee the manager of the property will bring you a barrel of non-potable water for rinsing gear and showers. This site is good if you’re comfortable camping without any amenities.
In all three circumstances everyone is always very friendly and helpful. And, in all three cases, I’ve been able to leave my vehicle unattended while I paddle for a day or for extending periods - each time I’ve expressed to the owner or manager what my plans are and each time they have carefully watched over my unattended property.
To get to Bahia San Luis Gonzaga you can go two ways. The first, and recommended route, is through Mexicali. From the border at Mexicali it is about 126 miles to San Felipe on highway 5 and then another 52 miles to Puertecitos, where the pavement ends. From Puertecitos to Bahia Gonzaga it is about another 50 miles on a very rough, but scenic, dirt road with rocks and washboard. While it is not a 4-wheel drive road - I drove my loaded Subaru Outback on it with no trouble – it is recommended that you carry a full size spare and a can or two of fix-a-flat.
The second route is through Tijuana, and not recommended. For first time Baja travelers, Tijuana is a difficult city to navigate and is the busiest border crossing in the world. Wait times at the border when returning to the U.S. can reach 3 hours or more. If you choose this route to Bahia Gonzaga take highway 1, which is paved, south from Tijuana about 275 miles and turn left at the Laguna Seca Chalapa exit. From this point it is about 36 miles to Bahia Gonzaga via the infamous Cocos Corner. The dirt road on this section is much better than the dirt road from Puertecitos to Bahia Gonzaga.
A note on military check points: It is common and expected to come upon military checkpoints at random places when traveling the roads in Baja California. The soldiers are armed and may look intimidating at first, but their purpose is to check for guns and drugs and they are always generally courteous and professional. They have legal authority to, and will ask you where you’re coming from, where you’re going and may even want to search your vehicle. Always obey these simple requests and you will be on your way again in no time.
*Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas - www.conanp.gob.mx/
email contact in La Paz: firstname.lastname@example.org
*US Department of State - http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html
*Baja California Information Pages - http://math.ucr.edu/ftm/baja.html
*For more questions check out this forum - www.bajatrekker.com
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