The High Side of Baja

BY: MARLA O'BRIEN

Southern Baja is rightfully famous for its coastal wonders. The beaches, waves, whales and sportfishing draw thousands of visitors each year. But the rarely seen mountainous interior also holds many treasures. Anibal Lopez wants to share them with you.

The La Paz native has a degree in anthropology and 23 years’ experience as a guide, certified by the federal agency of tourism. He founded his own tour company, Baja 4 Elements Experiences, to lead small group excursions to the area’s hidden gems including the Sierra de la Laguna.

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“The Sierra is very special and unique. As you climb in altitude, you notice different flora and fauna,” Lopez explains. “I love to walk and see how the jungle becomes forest, and to be in a place that isn’t full of tourists.”

The mountain range runs north-south between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz and has a highest point of 6,857 feet. Above 2,600 feet, the dry desert transitions to pine and oak forest and is accessible from the communities around Todos Santos and San Antonio.

The Sierra de la Laguna was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1994 due to its unique ecosystem.

“Water is the most important resource here, feeding the local ranching communities and providing water for the entire region,” says Lopez.

Weather and precipitation also dramatically shape the experience of visitors to the Sierra. After the rainy season, rivers, pools and waterfalls form that slowly dissipate through the dry season. Lopez says that last year’s rains created a thundering 60-foot high waterfall at one of his favorite places to take hikers.

His Baja 4 Elements tour into the Sierra takes 5-6 hours and includes transportation from Todos Santos, entry fees and a packed lunch. The cost is $75 US or more depending on how many join each tour. Lopez rents an eight-seat Suburban specially-outfitted with four-wheel drive and high suspension for the journey over rough dirt roads. The tour is open to all skill levels. Lopez takes time to point out unique plants, answer questions and for guests to take pictures.

Tours also provide an important income stream to local ranchers whose private property must be crossed to access the Sierra. In the past, ranchers have lost cattle and goats after independent visitors neglected to close gates on their property. Due to incidents such as this, as well as hikers who have gotten lost or gone missing, the biosphere is becoming more strictly controlled.

“It’s important to hire a certified guide. The park needs to know who goes in and out, and it’s now required that I submit a record of all visitors,” Lopez explains.

This kind of rural ecotourism, where tour operators work in partnership with local farmers, benefits all parties and protects natural resources.

“The federal government has also created programs to help ranchers who have indigenous rock art on their land, so it can be promoted to the public and protected against trespass and abuse.”

With his background in anthropology, Lopez is particularly passionate about Baja’s rock art. In 2014 he authored a book on the subject called Evocaciones del Olvido, or “Reminders of a Forgotten Past”.

Find out more about Lopez and book tours on his website at baja4elements.com.