Road Trip!

Beat you to the car
BY: CINDY RAY

If you are looking for a road trip and haven’t been totally spooked by our article in this issue about driving down here, but you want some memorable beach and sea views, you may consider a meander up the East Cape.  The surfing beaches and the gently curling surf of the Sea of Cortez is quite a treat as are the lingering old rancherias along the way.

Just South of San Jose on the Coast Road (officially El Camino Rural Costero) is La Playita (Little Beach) where one can rent fishing pangas and camp. A panga is a big rowboat with an outboard motor. You rent those babies with a driver.The beach is great for camping.

The beach is adjacent to tiny town of La Playa, also called La Playita, and both are within walking distance of old downtown San Jose.  La Playa used to be a subsistence fishing town but these days the boatmen mostly take out tourists, a way better deal for them. Between San Jose and La Playa is the arroyo which brings our water down from the mountains behind town. Wild sugarcane grows there in the estero-the valley had been planted with sugar cane in the past.  Mango and banyon trees giving it a somewhat tropical feel. This all catches on fire in a pretty regular rotation.

Heading north the Coast Road is paved for about 15 miles through the coastal hills; watch out for loose livestock grazing freely- mostly cattle and burros, but you get the occasional goat as well. These are raised for cheese.

At the end of the pavement lies the small community of Zacatitos, which sits on the outcropping known as Punta Gorda. The surf breaks are affectionately called Santa Cruz by the many who flock to it in late winter ,sometimes through spring, depending on the swells. The large resort  called Mayan Palace is being built between the actual town of Zacatitos and the beach. This construction has closed access to the upper bluff except from the paved road inlet marked “Zac’s”.  Zac’s is a good watering hole with great food and drink on the main road in Zacatitos. Zacatitos is just a scattering of mostly Gringo housing, mostly kind of scruffy, all off the grid. Real estate here has never really caught on.

The road is dirt from there and winds around the bluffs showing off the pristine coastline. 

The next watering hole is Shipwrecked where there is a beach usually full of surfers waiting for some action; camping; and a small store which has some snacks and drinks.  Between Shipwrecked and La Fortuna is a restaurant perched on the bluff; Restaurant La Fortuna; where one can sit on the shaded patio and watch the spectacular view and below.  La Fortuna was a small dairy farm and some ranches with cattle and burros can still be seen roaming free there.

About three miles south is nine Palms, also a favorite surfing spot.  The road has been paved for an all too short three mile stretch by a developer building a formidable master planned community on the bluff above. Less than six months ago this area was was home to ranches and residents riding their horses on the beach, but the demographic has changed considerably; you can’t stop progress.  That being said however; as the pavement ends stands a sprawling beautifully gnarled old fig tree on the arroyo to the beach undisturbed during floods and hurricanes.  It is centuries old and a splendid survivor from man or countless natural disasters.  Stoic comes to mind.

Another four miles north is the community of La Vinorama; also dubbed Crossroads as the inland road to San Jose comes in here, and T’s into the coastal road. This road is called the Palo Escopata road and is known for its wonderful dump along the route. It comes into San Jose a few miles south of the international airport. Vinorama was named for a large ranch called Rancho Boca de La Vinerama.  A restaurant/hotel is on the beach; VidaSoul with outside patio dining and live music on Saturday nights.  The spot is a favorite of windsurfers when the winds are just right and for guided quad and sand rail adventurers.  It is also a favorite area to view whales anywhere from late winter through March.  The community is quite large almost a settlement; however, as with most of the East Cape homes the residents change somewhat with the seasons. VidaSoul used to be called the Crossroads Country Club as a joke, because it was not much more than a lean too. Now it’s quite nice and a lively spot.

Continuing yet another six to 7seven miles you enter Las Frailes (The Friar) so named for the rock formation at the tip of the bay which resembles hooded friars.  It is also home to a colony of sea lions all year.  The point protects a white sand beach and is usually filled with fishing boats and campers along the arroyo.  As it is in close proximity to the national under water marine park which is protected, the fishing is very good near there.  There are a couple of resorts (sometimes seasonal) to stay the night and a community of small ranches and homes.  The small protected inlet with its poignant blue waters is quite often filled with a menagerie of boats and a favorite port of sailboat flotillas in the winter months.   There are rock caves under the water about 40 feet off of the coast as well.

Cabo Pulmo will be your next destination on the Cape.  As an international  destination for snorkel and diving enthusiasts  it’s pristine coral reefs protected with Mexican national park status and is only one of three coral reefs in all of North America.  It is the furthest north of the three reefs and was scavenged for pearling in the previous century.  Along the reef system reside several marine species and is imperative to the ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez.  On the main road is the Welcome Center for Cabo Pulmo very informative on the Sea Of Cortez in general.  To the southwest of the bay is a fine sand beach named Mermaid Beach or Playa La Sirenita also named for the rock formation resembling a female figure.  The town has six or seven, (after five who can count?) bars/restaurants and a few small tiendas.  Stores. There are several good businesses for diving and equipment rental.

Just north of the town of Cabo Pulmo you cross the Tropic of Cancer: another six miles and the dirt and sandy road becomes asphalt.  The next eight miles leads on to La Ribera which is a larger town of approximately 2000 residents.  In La Ribera there are numerous restaurants and stores and a Pemex station.  The town hosts the Baja Sur 300 race annually which is held in January.  This is a Baja course run mostly down the coast road with modified pickups, dune buggies, side by sides, and motorcycles.  The event brings contestants from the Baja area and is a favorite of the locals who set out their chairs and coolers  and make a great day of spectating all along the course.  The town also has banana and mango trees and a few hotels and a trailer park.   Fishing and hiking are popular here, as is paddle boarding and enjoying the sandy beachs. 

If you continue up the coast the next communities are Rancho Leonero, La Capila, Rancho Buena Vista, and Buena Vista, the last being small suburbs to the town of Los Barriles (The Barrels).  Los Barriles lies on the Bahia Las Palmas with a population of approximately 5000 residents.  This town bills itself as the kite surfing capital of North America and the windsurfing capital of Baja.  Fishing charters and wind and kite surfing lessons are the main activities here.  The town has everything: ATMs; medium stores; gas stations; and restaurants. There is a large Gringo population and hotels. Even trailer parks.

At this point you are on the main highway, you are stylin’ on pavement again. Highway 1 leads back south to San Jose or through the mountains north to La Paz.   Many of the rancherias and old Mexican homes are disappearing and making way for resorts and homes with courtyards but there are still some original ranches along the El Camino Rural Costero with their shaded porches and signs for cheeses made fresh (either cow or goat’s milk) are lingering.  But a slow progress has arrived on the East Cape. A sign of this is all the new barbed wire. Old timers remember how it all used to be open land. The reason it can’t be that way any more goes back to the Mexican constitution and how it protects squatters. As land values go up, squatters move in.