I strongly believe that everything should be big, silly and over-the-top. Go big or go home, right?
That's why I spent 10 days in Mexico for Thanksgiving and my birthday. Because what better way to usher in another year? (And also because I found a sweet deal on Virgin America -- $264 for a nonstop, roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Los Cabos.)
Despite evidence to the contrary
I am not a party person. Like, at all. So I almost decided Cabo wasn't the place for me -- it's got a reputation for party, party party.
But. When I found out about the tiburon ballenas (whale sharks) that I was almost guaranteed to see in La Paz, just two hours from Cabo San Lucas, there was no more question. I was going.
The whale shark/tiburon ballenas/Rhincodon typus is a slow-moving, filter-feeding shark and the largest known extant fish species. The largest confirmed individual was 12.65m (41.5 feet) long and weighed 21.5 metric tons. Unconfirmed reports clim significantly larger ones exist.
Rather than pay however many dollars per night to stay in some resort in Cabo San Lucas, though... I made a last-minute decision to pack a tent and a sleeping bag, and just camp on the beach.
Best decision of my life!
Good morning! Like the view?
First of all, beach camping is either free, or less than $5 per night. So even if you end up having to pay $25 to check a bag, you still save money. Second, Los Cabos (and the greater Baja Peninsula) is home to some of the loveliest beaches in the world. The water is warm, and you can either snorkel or surf (or at least swim) at most beaches.
Me and my favorite travel buddy ever in the whole world, Justin. Technically, he had the right of way on this wave, because he was on the inside -- but we decided we wanted to ride this one together. The Baja peninsula has great surfing spots for beginners and experts alike, depending on season and conditions. This (Los Cerritos) was obviously a beginner beach, because I'm the biggest noob ever.
Oh, and going back to the "saving money" thing -- you'll save some money by cooking your own food around la fogata. Not a ton, because food isn't super expensive -- but at most of the touristy places, it's basically American prices, so...
In fact, lots of locals camp. I wasn't around for any major holiday, but I heard that lots of families pack up their tents or RVs and spend their long weekends near the water. The rest of the year, fishermen sleep on the beach by night, and fish by day. We even saw one semi-permanent fishing campground just outside of Cabo Pulmo National Park.
Not to mention, Cabo Pulmo has some amazing snorkeling and scuba diving. It's not exactly like tropical diving -- you'll see more color in Hawaii or the Caribbean -- but they have some massive schools of fish. And some coral:
Because it's a peninsula, you've got two bodies of water to choose from -- the Sea of Cortes to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Plus, it's conveniently located not in the path of the drug cartels, so it's actually pretty safe.
The Pacific shoreline is mostly undeveloped. If you're in a vehicle that can handle sandy roads (4WD is recommended, but I did just fine in a Hyundai Accent), you can access many remote beaches. To find them, drive north from Cabo San Lucas on Highway 19. There are several main beaches that are marked on tourist maps and from the road -- these include San Pedrito (km 59), Los Cerritos (km 66), Todos Santos, and others -- where, in my experience, camping is completely free and acceptable. (Although, if you end up on a beach marked, "Prohibido el paso," "Propriedad privada," or even just, "No Tresspassing," you might get moved along by an ATV in the middle of the night.)
Oh, and in case you're wondering. This tent is the Mountain Hardwear Unisex Skyledge 2 DP Tent. It was perfect for this trip because it's very high quality and durable, well-ventilated and pretty ultralight. It's also the easiest tent I've ever assembled, and I totally love it. Plus, Mountain Hardwear gear comes with great warrantees -- I got this tent for free when the rainfly to my last MH tent, which I'd owned for more years than I can ever remember, started to come apart. To my knowledge, there is no better tent for beach camping (and it's great for backpacking, too).
As you leave the highway and approach the beach, drive carefully. There are places where you're not sure if you're on a road, or just following random tire tracks in the sand. If you get stuck:
1. Keep the wheels straight.
2. If you're trying to back out, move forward a few inches. Then put it in reverse and use the extra momentum to get through the little rut. That worked for me sometimes.
3. If your wheels are spinning, stop and change direction. Repeat. And remember: spinning the tires will only make it worse. If you're driving a manual, which you probably will be, use second gear.
4. If that doesn't work, try putting the car in neutral (or in gear, with one person in the car using a light touch on the gas pedal) and pushing it out -- this worked pretty well for me in a small car.
5. Add traction, like sticks or plants, under and in the direction of the tires. You can also try using the car's floor mats, nap side down.
The good news is, your car probably won't flip over -- even if you have an unreasonable fear that it will.
They say whale season is January-March, but we saw whales on four different occasions in early December, which was a pleasant surprise.
There are also several places to camp along the Sea of Cortes. From San Jose del Cabo (the city with the cheaper airport), follow Highway 1 to Calle Palo de Arco (the old road) to Calle Eucalipto. When you start getting close to Cabo Pulmo Preserve, there will be tons of huge pot holes in the road -- watch out for them! Eventually, the road will turn into a dirt road. People will say you need 4WD to continue, but you probably don't. I didn't.
There are two main places to camp in Cabo Pulmo. Los Arbolites is in the actual preserve, and has some amazing snorkeling at the right end of the beach. It's $5 to camp, but it comes with fresh water (which you can rinse your gear with), bathrooms, and possibly showers (I didn't look for them, so I'm not sure).
Camping at Los Arbolites beach in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico. It's not free, and it's not exactly super secluded... but it's a beautiful place to roll out of bed and into the sea for some snorkeling.
A few minutes further down the dirt road, past the point, is a second beach. It's free to camp, and immediately outside the official preserve, so lots of fishermen camp/live there. Expect some activity in the pre-sunrise hours, and don't leave your stuff on the beach near the pangas -- it could get run over by a truck.
Sunrise at the beach just outside the park. It's free, but definitely not private.
Try to see the bull sharks and the massive schools of fish in Cabo Pulmo before taking Highway 1 north to La Paz -- where you can snorkel with whale sharks
dive (or snorkel) with sea lions
And camp on some amazing, isolated(ish) beaches -- either along the road to Balandra Beach, or on the beautiful Isla Espiritu Santo. Talk to the outdoorsy-looking guys outside of the Burger King on the malecon about a panga ride -- it'll be cheaper than going through a shop. They might be able to recommend a great place to camp -- if not, ask them to take you to Ensenada Grande, because it is amazingly gorgeous:
or El Corralito, because it has great snorkeling.
Wherever you decide to camp, bring lots of water, food and bug spray. There's this weird new mosquito-borne disease called chikungunya spreading through the Caribbean and Central America, and also a growing number of cases of Dengue fever. I went in late November/early December, and I only got, like, two bites. But apparently it's worse in the earlier fall.
On the very last day of the trip, we decided to visit Lover's Beach (actually, we'd decided to spend another day surfing in Los Cerritos, but the surf was dead that day) in Cabo San Lucas. As the water Taxi took us out to the Land's End Arch (just beyond Lover's Beach -- the whole roundtrip fare with the "tour" of the arches shouldn't cost more than $10 USD per person), I looked back to the shoreline and saw... resorts. Tons of them. And I looked at Justin and said, "Wait... they have that here?"
It was the perfect way to see Cabo.
9/9/2015 09:44:18 pm
Hey I just wanted to thank you for your entertaining and informative piece on the Baja. I was researching camping down there and your bit has jumped up the rankings. My wife, who is game for the adventure, will ensure bug repellant comes in our rented car from Cabo. We'll bring our tent & sleeping things & snorkels & fins (we like our stuff) for $25 paid. Perhaps this is familar: we'll leave for Cabo Pulma & beyond La Paz near Thanksgiving to early Dec 2015. Great blog, well-written. Regards- Laird
10/16/2015 04:11:24 am
I am speechless after seeing your camping images, this is really insane place and you have enjoyed fully, I would also like to visit this island, again thanks for showing such natural place.
12/18/2015 04:12:35 pm
Is camping strictly beach style, do you know if there is camping near trees, I love hammock camping but if thats not an option I want to bring a tent?
The A-frame was originally made of canvas but now some are made of breathable material. You can use a waterproof fly to cover the tent to protect it from rain. There will be an air space between the tent and the fly so that it keeps you warmer when it's cold and cooler when it's warm.
1/25/2016 07:42:14 pm
You've been my inspiration for a baja beach camping adventure. Thank you! My husband and I will spend 5 days (not including flying in & out) in baja. Do you think that is enough time to cover todos santos, magdalena bay, la paz, and some other beaches along the eastern seaboard before heading back into cabo? Also did you buy a cooler there? Can we build a fire at most of the beach campsites?
Thank you very much for publishing this kind of article. I like your article very much.I want to share
11/15/2016 06:03:10 pm
Love your article! And thank you for sharing.
12/29/2016 10:54:41 am
CampingThings” simply aims to share the best camping equipment reviews and trekking experiences to help you get more out of getting out more… (see what we did there). Please get involved, tell us about your best adventures, secret camping spots and latest camping gadgets and equipment.
1/15/2017 02:41:07 pm
Thanks girl-I like your style. Definitely made up my mind about my baja trip after reading this!
1/22/2017 04:04:45 am
How often do you go camping? Don't you ever crave that break from the big city, smog, and crowds of people? I know I do. There are times when I can hardly stand the hectic atmosphere of small towns. I like an occasional break from the madness. That is why my family and I enjoy a camping adventure in the great outdoors. Just the family, some simple camping supplies, plenty of food, and we're good to go. What do you bring along on your wilderness outings? Maybe you enjoy family camping tents to keep the rain off your heads and mosquitoes out of your face. These days there are just so many options to choose from when it comes to camping equipment. The right equipment can actually make you want to stay away camping longer.
3/20/2017 02:59:33 pm
Every home has a flashlight, although they never seem to have working batteries in them when you need it, but that's a whole other story. Flashlights are an important part of every home's emergency preparedness plan, but which type of flashlight is best for you? Here are some quick tips.
9/19/2018 10:01:55 am
Wow, your trip looks amazing. I'd really like to see the whale sharks. I didn't realize they were something you could see in Mexico. Also it would never have occurred to me you can camp in Mexico. I hear so many stories about Mexico in US media making it sound like a scary place but it sounds like at least in Baja it isn't that bad. Is that still true today, do you know? I wonder if things have changed at all since 2014. Thanks for the advice.
11/18/2018 06:41:51 am
I hear so many stories about Mexico in US media making it sound like a scary place but it sounds like at least in Baja it isn't that bad. Is that still true today, do you know? I wonder if things have changed at all since 2014. Thanks for the advice.
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