Discover Mexico's Baja California, a uniquely beautiful region famous for its sweeping desert landscapes and long stretches of golden coast. Southern Baja California, in particular, claims some of the best beaches in the state, and you'll get to visit them while also enjoying adventures like swimming with whale sharks. Finish the trip in rustic style with a multi-day camping trip on an offshore island where you'll go snorkeling around mangroves and underwater caves.

Highlights

  • Explore the beaches and marine reserves of Baja California
  • Hike to natural hot springs and romantic waterfalls
  • Embark on coastal road trips to remote beaches
  • Go camping on unspoiled islands and swim with sea lions

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in La Paz, Transfer to Santiago Santiago
Day 2 La Zorra Canyon & Hot Springs, Transfer to Cabo Frailes Cabo Frailes
Day 3 Cabo Frailes to Punta Arena, Stop in Los Barriles Punta Arena
Day 4 Punta Arena to La Paz, Swim with Whale Sharks La Paz
Day 5 Day Trip to San Rafaelito & Playa Balandra La Paz
Day 6 Day Trip to EspĂ­ritu Santo Island La Paz
Day 7-8 La Paz to Isla San José, Beach Camping, Tours Isla San José
Day 9 Isla San José to La Paz, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in La Paz, Transfer to Santiago

Welcome to Baja

Welcome to Mexico and La Paz! Located at the southern end of Mexico's Baja California region, this port city is one of the true coastal gems of the country. All around are protected wildlife areas and long beaches fronting the most crystalline waters in Mexico. The area is also a migratory route for whale sharks, and swimming with them is a popular activity you'll experience on this itinerary. Upon arrival at the airport, pick up a rental car and hit the road on a two-hour drive from La Paz south to Santiago, a charming little village founded by Jesuits in 1724.

Santiago is adjacent to the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. This protected area encompasses about 277,835 acres of dry forest, fertile valleys, rocky canyons, and granite peaks. The ecosystem here is incredible, as the region is home to about 40% of all species of animals in Baja California, including mountain lions, mule deer, and badgers. It's also the most vital reproduction site for common hummingbird species (like the yellowthroat and Xantus) in all of Mexico. For these reasons, the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a prime hiking/birding destination.

Upon arrival in Santiago, head into the hills just outside town to Rancho Sol del Mayo. Here you'll check into your rustic (although fully equipped) cabin. This ranch is ideally located for hiking excursions into the reserve. So be sure to get some rest, because tomorrow you're off on a nature hike!

Day 2: La Zorra Canyon & Hot Springs, Transfer to Cabo Frailes

Sol de Mayo, an oasis in La Zorra Canyon
Wake up early for a guided hike into Sierra de la Laguna. You'll follow a route through La Zorra Canyon to the Santa Rita Hot Springs. Surrounded by desert palms and cacti, this group of lagoons is a tranquil oasis hidden in the desert mountains. Take a dip in freshwater pools and mineral-rich thermal hot springs created by volcanic activity that has been ongoing for thousands of years. The hike ends at the Sol de Mayo, a waterfall that plunges about 49 feet (15 m) into a romantic lagoon where you can take a swim. During the hike, Keep an eye out for hummingbirds and, if you're lucky, the northern pygmy owl.
 
After returning from the hike, you'll hop back in your rental car and make the hour-long trip to Cabo Pulmo National Park. Located on the east coast near the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, this UNESCO World Heritage Site and marine park protect 27 sq miles (71 sq km) of unspoiled coastline and offshore coral reef. Your destination is Cabo Frailes, a secluded beach community on a bay with calm waters that are great for swimming and snorkeling. Once you arrive, you'll have the rest of the day to relax and enjoy these activities. 

Day 3: Cabo Frailes to Punta Arena, Stop in Los Barriles

Go camping at Punta Arena

In the morning, you'll head north on a scenic 2.5-hour ride up the coast to Punta Arena de La Ventana. You can break up the drive with stops along the way at Los Barriles and Buenavista. The windswept sections of the coast near these towns are popular with kitesurfers and windsurfers. You can even hop on a board and try it for yourself. If water sports aren't your thing, feel free to grab lunch at a restaurant in town (the seafood is always fresh and delicious). Then spend a couple of hours sunbathing, snorkeling, or simply relaxing on the beach with a good book. There's no rush today.

After enjoying the coastal villages, you'll eventually arrive in Punta Arena; a remote peninsula on the edge of the BahĂ­a de la Ventana. This is the Baja California most tourists never see, as it's untamed and full of wild beauty. The beach here is long and wide and fronts tranquil turquoise waters. It's also a public beach and thus open for camping, which is what you'll do here. Set up your tent and spend the remainder of the day relaxing before enjoying an incredible Baja sunset.

Day 4: Punta Arena to La Paz, Swim with Whale Sharks

Swimming with whale sharks

In the morning, you'll pack up and head out from Punta Arena on a 1-hour drive northwest back to La Paz. Once you arrive, you'll drop off your rental car and check into your hotel. Then it will be time to head out on another marine adventure: swimming with whale sharks.

A boat will take you out from the marina into the Bay of La Paz and the area where the whale sharks congregate. Then you'll be able to hop in the water and snorkel with these magnificent animals. Despite being the largest fish on the planet, there's no need to fear these gentle giants. They are perfectly docile and harmless. The only risk is to the sharks themselves. That's why touching these animals isn't allowed—although feel free to take plenty of photos. After this unforgettable excursion, you'll return to your hotel and have free the rest of the day.

Day 5: Day Trip to San Rafaelito & Playa Balandra

Playa Balandra

After breakfast, you'll head out on a five-hour boat tour to beautiful locales near La Paz. First, you'll pass by Lobera Rafaelito, a tiny islet that's little more than a cluster of rocks with a metal lighthouse perched atop it. However, it earned its name because it's a haven for sea lion colonies. When you arrive, you'll get to hop in the water and take a swim alongside them.

Then you'll continue a little north to Playa Balandra. This secluded bay, with its crescent white-sand beaches, is wide and inviting. However, the real magic lies in its expansive shallows of crystalline water. Here you'll visit some unique rock formations and enjoy time on the beach and swimming in the water. You can even hike up the hills flanking the bay, where you'll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views over the sea.

Day 6: Day Trip to EspĂ­ritu Santo Island

Spot dolphins off the coast of EspĂ­ritu Santo

After breakfast, you'll embark on a full-day boat tour to Isla EspĂ­ritu Santo. This island, located about an hour off the coast of La Paz, is one of the hallmark protected areas in the entire country. It's the 12th largest island in Mexico, known for its unspoiled beaches, turquoise waters, and abundant marine and avian wildlife. For these reasons, EspĂ­ritu Santo has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This excursion is packed full of adventure. Not only will you get to stop at beaches and go snorkeling at offshore coral reefs, but you'll also visit secluded islets and do a lot of wildlife spotting. One highlight is a visit to a sea lion colony; at another, you'll observe the endemic birds of the area like gray herons and frigates. After the tour, you'll return to your hotel in La Paz. During the return trip on the boat, keep an eye out for dolphins.

Day 7-8: La Paz to Isla San José, Beach Camping, Tours

The famous sandstone cliffs of Isla San José

In the morning, a driver will pick you up at your hotel in La Paz for the 2-3-hour trip north to the tiny coastal town of San Evaristo. It's a scenic drive flanked by the majestic Sierra La Giganta Mountains on one side and the azure waters of the Sea of Cortez on the other. Upon arrival, you'll take a boat a few miles across the channel to the southwest coast of Isla San José. This island in the Sea of Cortez is Mexico's 6th largest island and is known for its colorful sandstone cliffs and rock formations.

You'll head to the rustic beach camp upon arrival, where you'll spend the next couple of days (all meals included). Besides lazing on the beach, you'll enjoy plenty of active excursions. The marine ecosystem here abounds with exotic wildlife, including dolphins, whales, and sea lions, so you'll get to go swimming and swimming with these animals (depending on the season). You'll also go snorkeling in mangrove lagoons and underwater caves. Another treat is taking boat tours to nearby islands like El Pardito and San Francisquito for nature hikes. 

Day 9: Isla San José to La Paz, Depart

Adios, Baja

Say goodbye to the untamed islands of Baja California! You'll return to the mainland in the morning, and your driver will transfer you three hours back to La Paz and the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map

Map of Southern Baja California: Sea of Cortez Adventure - 9 Days
Map of Southern Baja California: Sea of Cortez Adventure - 9 Days