The Baja peninsula is Mexico’s hidden gem of solitude, biodiversity, and adventure. This finger of land jutting out into the Gulf of California, more commonly known as the Sea of Cortez, extends from the U.S. border south to Cabo San Lucas. Wild cactus-filled deserts and towering mountains meet one of the world’s richest marine environments. The warm azure water is filled with whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, manta rays, and tropical fish. Pelicans and seagulls soar through the skies and dive into the water. Hummingbirds hover from flower to flower.
Paddling through this intimate paradise is a must for intrepid travelers. There’s plenty of heart-pumping activity on your kayak during the day, followed by peace and quiet as you settle into your sleeping bag on a remote beach beneath the starry sky at night. For nature lovers, it just doesn’t get any better than the Sea of Cortez, home to one-third of the earth’s marine mammals and hundreds of birds. Jacques Cousteau once called it the “world’s aquarium.” Plus, the relatively calm water makes it a great place for first-time sea kayakers to master the sport, or for experienced paddlers to embark on a long excursion.
Most kayak trips begin in Loreto and travel through the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With more than 800 species of marine life and more than 600 kinds of plant species—many of them endangered—this delicate ecosystem is now protected. For more information about local conservation efforts, check out the Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org).
On a 5- to 10-day excursion, you’ll probably stay in this part of the sea. You can circumvent Isla Carmen and Isla Danzante, tropical islands with stunning white-sand beaches, towering bluffs, and secluded caves. It’s not hard to spot whales and sea lions. Each day, you’ll explore different parts of the shoreline, kayaking through sheltered coves and past deserted beaches. There are plenty of chances to swim, snorkel, and take hikes through the island’s spectacular canyons. If whale-watching gets your pulse going, spend a day in the federally protected Magdalena Bay.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge and have at least 10 days, you can paddle the 105km (65-mile) stretch from Loreto to La Paz, past volcanic mountains rising out of the sea, red-hued desserts, sandy beaches, and plenty of wildlife. If you want to start in La Paz, you can explore the remote uninhabited islands of Espiritu Santo, San Jose, and Catalana. Few people have visited any of the desert islands speckling the southern part of the sea, and even fewer have seen them from the unique elbow-level perspective of a kayak. Whichever specific trip you choose, paddling yourself through any part of this open water with such mesmerizing views is an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure.
Mexico Tourism Board, Calle Juan Ruiz de Alarcon No. 1572 ( 664/682-3367; www.visitmexico.com and www.discoverbajacalifornia.com).
Tours: Sea Kayak Adventures, P.O. Box 3862, Coeur d’Alene, ID ( 800/616-1943; www.seakayakadventures.com). Baja Expeditions, La Paz ( 800/843-6967; www.bajaex.com).
When to Go: Nov–Apr.
$$ Posada de las Flores, Av. Salvatierra y Fco y Madero s/n ( 52/613-135-1162; www.posadadelasflores.com).