There’s so much more to Baja California Sur than Cabo San Lucas! Take your Cabo trip to the next level by exploring this exquisitely unique and biodiverse State of Mexico with these top sights and experiences.
Where is Cabo and Baja California Sur?
A quick geography lesson, just so we are on the same page. Baja California Sur is the name of the Mexican State located on the southern part of the Baja California Peninsula (Sur means south in Spanish).
The Baja California Peninsula is the world’s second longest peninsula. It runs parallel with the west coast of Mexico, with the Pacific Ocean on the west side and the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California) on the east side.
Cabo (meaning “cape” in Spanish) is a general reference to the well-known tourist corridor on the southern tip of the Peninsula between the towns: Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo.
La Paz is the State Capital of Baja California Sur and is about 185-km (115-mi) north of San José del Cabo on the east coast of the Peninsula. La Paz is a good place to keep in mind if you are looking for a “home base” to cover many of the sights and activities on this list.
Top things to do and see in Baja California Sur
Hike the Sierra
The mountain range of Sierra de la Laguna is a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve on the Baja California Peninsula. The Reserve is an area of enormous biodiversity including “the most important reproduction site for Mexico and Latin America’s main hummingbird species”. Along with its exception birdlife, Sierra de La Laguna Biosphere Reserve is home to mountain lions, mule deer, gophers, badgers and more. In fact, its native mammal speices represent 70% of the fauna found in Southern Baja California.
As you ascend the mountains, the scrubby, semi-arid landscape gives way to dry forest, and at its highest elevations is covered in pine and oak. Along with the changing flora and cooler micro-climate, you’ll experience incredible views of the Baja California coastline as you climb higher into the Sierra.
Trails around the Sierra can cross private land and may not be marked or designated. It is best to hire a naturalist guide who can help you navigate the territory and provide insight into the local ecosystem along the way. Hikes vary for half-day adventures to multi-day through hikes. You can even hike all the way from the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula, over the Sierra to the east coast.
Wonder at the beauty of Isla Espiritu
Isla Espiritu is a spectacular island in the Sea of Cortez, red-hued, arid landscapes meet azure blue waters. This outstanding location in Baja California Sur is a National Park and is part of a broader UNESCO World Heritage recognized conservation area, so you can trust that it has something unique to offer.
The Island’s natural beauty is met by its biodiversity, including countless bird, fish and reptile species along with various marine mammals! In fact, when we started looking into our trip, we couldn’t believe how many species Isla Espiritu Santo and its surrounding waters had in common with the Galapagos Islands.
You can enjoy Isla Espiritu Santo by kayak, snorkel, SUP and on foot. There is no permanent infrastructure allowed on the island in order to conserve its pristine environment. Most visitors take a day trip out of La Paz, or stay overnight in an eco-camp (touted as “glamping” but recent tightening of restrictions has led to campsites becoming more basic)—these usually come with a two-night minimum stay.
Swim with sealions
If you’ve never swum with sea lions, you are in for a treat. These friendly, playful and curious sea mammals love to interact! There are a couple of notable sea lion rookeries in the Sea of Cortez and various companies operate snorkel tours from La Paz.
The weather and sea conditions, along with the length of the tour usually determines which rookery you will visit. We swam with dozens of sealions around the rookery at Isla Lobos, a rocky islet north of Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida.
Snorkel with whale sharks
Whale sharks overwinter in the Sea of Cortez from about November through February each year (although this can vary). Yes, they are really big sharks—the biggest actually! But not to worry, the giant filter-feeders only eat plankton.
Despite this year’s Baja whale shark migration being behind schedule (our tour in late November had to be cancelled due to a lack of sightings), we have snorkelled with whale sharks on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Therefore I can 100% recommend this activity without reservation. It is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life.
Spot whales in winter
Various whale species migrate up and down the Baja California coast through the course of the year. It’s no exaggeration to say this part of Mexico is one the best places for whale watching in the entire world!
Gray whales migrate from the arctic to warmer waters around Mexico annually, to escape the northern hemisphere winter. As Arctic waters begin to freeze, the whale’s follow their food supply southward to the Baja California Peninsula’s west coast. There they mate, calve and nurse their young through the first vital months of their lives. Peak Gray whale season off the Baja Peninsula coast runs from January to March although you may be lucky to see them late-December through to April.
Blue whales also frequent Baja California from January to mid-March. The world’s largest animal can usually be spotted in Loreto National Marine Park on the east coast of the Peninsula from January to mid-March. You are also likely to see Humpback and Fin whales in this same area during the late winter-early spring months. Not to mention Sperm whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.
In order to ensure the protection of these incredible creatures, whale watching is tightly regulated and you must always travel with a licensed tour operator.
Shop for art in Todos Santos
Looking for culture? Todos Santos (All Saints) is a small town on the Pacific Coast of Baja California Sur about 73-km (43-mi) north of Cabo San Lucas. The town sits upon a mesa overlooking a palm-filled oasis valley fed by a freshwater spring.
Todos Santos was colonized in 1723 by Jesuit missionaries and became a center for sugar can production. The thriving agricultural town developed a vibrant cultural scene that attracted artists and performers. Today this legacy of the arts continues in this Pueblo Magico, a special designation by the Mexican government that recognizes small towns with unique and special features.
Take a day trip from Cabo or spend the night in one of the town’s many beautiful boutique accommodations. Eat and shop your way through the downtown filled with artisan goods from around Mexico.
Learn to surf at Playa Los Cerritos
Combine your time in Todos Santos with a surf lesson at nearby Playa Los Cerritos. While many Baja California beaches have rips and other breaks that make it unsafe to swim, the surf conditions at Playa Los Cerritos are great for beginners. Ocean currents bring warmer waters to this coastline between July and November. From December through June, you might feel the need to wear a wetsuit. Surf schools will usually provide a wetsuit as part of their service.
Spend a day at Playa Balandra
About 30-minutes from La Paz and 2-hours from Cabo is one of the most exquisite beaches you will ever see, Playa Balandra (Balandra Beach). The “beach” is a shallow bay with multiple sandy beaches, crystalline waters and mangroves.
Arrive early and hike to the top of the viewpoint for breathtaking top-down views. Then cool off in the waters of this protected area.
Note, that due to its protected status there are capacity limits on visitors to the beach and visitation is in time slots which are strictly monitored. Time slots and opening times are in constant flux, so check the latest information before you plan your trip.
There is also no infrastructure at Playa Balandra. That means no restaurants or hotels. You need to bring along everything you need for the day including food, water and plenty of sunscreen. If you want an easy way around all this, book yourself on a tour to the beach.
So, which of these are you going to do on your next Cabo trip? Let me know in the comments below.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,