Los Cabos to La Paz: Do You Know the Way?
Last time we hopped from Mag Bay non-stop down to Los Cabos. So, this time, let’s slow down and check out eight interesting sights and stops as we cruise around Baja’s giant East Cape bulge. This leg ends at the approach to the La Paz Channel, the gateway to the Sea of Cortez.
Because this 140-mile leg has only three anchorages that offer decent protection from northerly winds, it’s wise to wait for a good forecast before departing either “Cabo” in the Los Cabos region. Also, on this leg, the southbound current off the Pacific will mix with any local wind-driven current and tidal current from the whole Sea of Cortez.
Plan to run this initial curving coastline at least 3 n.m. out, just to avoid the few detached rocks and seasonal shoals that get amplified by runoff from recent tropical storms, especially soon after hurricane season. A 2-lane road flanks the coast for only the first 50 miles.
The Gorda Banks (Outer, Inner) offers world-famous fishing over a big patch of detached seamounts (some only 42’ deep) located from five to 12 n.m. offshore to the southeast of Punta Gorda. Unfortunately, the historic WWII shipwreck 4.5 miles north of Punta Gorda finally rusted away. Anyway, if we hope for tasty dorado, cabrilla, grouper, or pargo for lunch, we better have lines in the water at sunrise. From Boca de Tule (first submarine canyon) to landmark Cabo Los Frailes (second submarine canyon) is about 10 miles; en route, look for manta rays around detached Roca Salado discovered by oceanographer Terry Kennedy.
Bahia Los Frailes: Pronounced FRY-layz, this 1.25-mile-wide bay immediately south of the Frailes (Friars) headland (755’ tall) provides boaters with coveted north-wind shelter and the only anchorage (two narrow shelves) within the national park. Have your Conservation Passports ready to show park rangers in pangas; they may suggest the best spots to drop your hook for the night.
Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park offers spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving on El Pulmo, the massive living coral-reef structure, now 20 years restored back to its colorful, pristine state and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This natural beauty is not to be missed.
Anchoring, even a dinghy, is strictly prohibited in the park to protect the fragile living corals. Scuba divers can suit up and enter the water from aboard a ranger panga or charter boat drifting over the reef fingers. Snorkelers can do the same or can walk in from the beach south of Pulmo village, a collection of dive shops, hotels and, cafes 2.5 miles north of Cabo Los Frailes.
Ready to depart? We’ll safely avoid Pulmo Shoal (6’ depths) and its two shipwrecks by heading 3 n.m. due east from the Frailes anchorages, turn due north, and continue at least 5 n.m. north before making any westing. Punta Arena de la Riviera (23°33.35’N, 109°27.82’W) is low, sandy, and shoal for half a mile out, sometimes breaking, so we stay 1.5 n.m. offshore.
Marina Costa Palmas, next to La Ribera fishing village in Bahia Las Palmas, promises to open its 20-slip marina on Jan. 1, 2023; then boaters can enter its newly dredged (15’) man-made channels, grab a comfy slip (6’ draft), get fuel and supplies, and soak up some Four Seasons amenities at Costa Palmas. For more information, visit CostaPalmas.com.
Explore Ashore? Natural hot springs bubble up around the oasis villages of Santiago and Mira Flores, 20 miles from the marina, in the Sierra la Laguna foothills. Ask Costa Palmas’ concierge to find you a knowledgeable local guide with 4WD for the day. Although just off Highway 1, these undeveloped hot springs are on private “ranchos.” Pack in all your food and water plus 200 pesos per person.
Bahia de Los Muertos: Although most of this 1-mile elongated bay is wide open to east and south conditions, little Muertos Cove at its north end gives good anchoring shelter (40 boats) from north winds that sometimes blast down the Sea of Cortez. Don’t expect fuel, water, or public moorings here, but you can usually get a cold beer and hot tacos in the Corona cantina on this beach. The former Bay of Dreams golf resort closed, but their clever Train Room restaurant at the south end of the bay sometimes opens for dinner-group tours. Gather up a group.
The place name “Muertos” refers to six train axles that, in 1920, were sunk as anchors in the north cove. The buried axles (known as dead-man anchors or “muertos” in Spanish) had once tethered three ore barges owned by El Triunfo silver mines up in the Lagunas. Back then, the barges came alongside a low stone wharf to load tons of silver ore bound for Mazatlan. Ruins of the stone wharf and warehouse are still visible today on the cove’s northern shoreline. Up in the mountains, remnants of El Triunfo’s 100-year-old train tracks are still found.
Punta Arena de la Ventana is a significant turning point into the Sea of Cortez, and four miles north rises the huge uninhabited Isla Cerralvo. In between, we transit the Cerralvo Channel, which is sometimes fraught with a strong current, wind chop, and tons of migrating marine life – whales, rays, and turtles galore.
In case the south wind chased you out of Muertos, anchorage for a dozen boats is possible on the north side of Ventana Lighthouse Point, off a 3-mile dazzling white sand beach. And you’re seven miles closer to La Paz.
San Lorenzo Channel, 30 n.m. up from Ventana, is the E-W passage midway between the shoaly north end of the La Paz peninsula and the shoaly south end of Isla Espiritu Santo. Lighted buoys and towers mark this 1.4-mile-wide deep-water channel itself. If big ships can thread this needle, we can too. Once through, we turn southwest and then south with increasing boat traffic.
La Paz Approach
In the next 11.5 n.m. to the start of the La Paz Channel, we pass 16 places of boating interest. Let’s look.
Balandra Bay reopened to anchoring in October after a 2-month cleanup from the 120’ yacht that burned to the waterline here. (No injuries.) We can snorkel the turquoise lagoon and kayak the mangroves. On departure, avoid aquaculture pens.
Roca Lobos Rock Light marks the entrance to Caleta Lobos, a pretty 2-fingered anchoring cove. El Merito is the intimate northern finger. Then we cruise south outside Isla Lobos (frosted cupcake) and poke our nose into roomy Playa Pichilingue Cove. Here the north shore is quieter, away from the shoreline highway and Marina Cantamar, with dive-boat docks at the south end.
Bahia Pichilingue: We stay at least half a mile offshore and run south parallel to massive Isla Nepomuceno for 1.35 n.m. A tank farm is visible atop the island’s south end. Now we get super alert to avoid fast ferries and big ships exiting this busy commercial harbor. We can’t see them until they turn north – toward us.
From my waypoint (24°15’N, 110°20’W) half a mile south of Nepo island, we can safely turn east to explore two picturesque spots: False Bay is where Sevenstar sometimes picks up yachts for transport, and tiny Tesoro Cove is where a treasure box of pearls was unearthed during road building. Rounding Punta Colorado, we can anchor off the snorkeling reefs at Playa Erendira and take the SUP, kayak, or dinghy to explore adjacent Caleta Erendira.
Punta Prieta: This major turning point is 1.55 n.m. down from Punta Colorado, and we want to round Prieta about a quarter to a half mile off to figure out the complex buoys and channel markers.
We must (1.) stay south of the Pemex offshore ship moorings, even if a ship is not tied there, and (2.) south of boats moored off Berkovich boat yard, yet (3.) get quickly north of the first lighted markers lining the start of the La Paz Channel that will take us south into the city harbor. Or (4.) Marina CostaBaja’s lighted entrance lies just east of the Berkovich boats and northeast of the start of the La Paz Channel. (See chart.) Follow it for less than four miles to reach the heart of La Paz harbor.
I’m taking a break to get back to sea myself, but next time, we’ll explore the thriving nautical side of La Paz, the gateway to the Sea of Cortez.