Enjoy the best of Baja when you mix paddles with boots.
ISLA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO Explore the best of Baja on this float-and-hike adventure through the Sea of Cortez.
AT FIRST, I’M SURE
it’s a trick of the light. But there really is a cluster of shells embedded in the white rock 10 feet above our heads. The sight of fossilized sea life is a welcome distraction from our current predicament: Our hiking party is temporarily marooned on an 8-foot-high rock shelf, trapped here by the advancing tide. Our guide explains that we’re standing on an ancient seabed, compressed by time and uplifted by tectonic plates to reveal the ocean floor hanging in the sky.
We’ve been traversing the bluffs of Isla del Carmen, a 20-mile-long island in the Sea of Cortez, hunting for fossils like imprints of trilobites and coral outlines. As I scan the wall for shells, I hear happy shouts and turn around to spot the rest of our group in a flotilla of red and yellow kayaks, bobbing in the aquamarine surf and waving their paddles.
The same tide that washed in during our hike is propelling them toward an early lunch on a white-sand beach. My group waves back, even as we’re a little disappointed to see them. Their appearance confirms what we feared: We’re falling behind in an impromptu race.
Our party kicked off a threeday adventure through Mexico’s Loreto Bay National Marine Park yesterday. We’re beginners when it comes to paddling, so we hired a guide to help us navigate the 6 miles from our launch just south of Loreto to the southern tip of Isla del Carmen. There, we camped on a cardoon cactusfringed beach called El Faro before breaking into two groups to race to another beach, 3 miles away. Half of us chose to follow the shore in sea kayaks, while the others opted to trace the sea cliffs on foot. I’m a hiker and, though I knew I’d be at a distinct disadvantage on land, I chose to explore the island’s unique geological history up close. Low tide revealed long stretches of flat volcanic rock, its inky black fragments frozen in place and pockmarked with tide pools teeming with starfish and crabs that scuttled off sideways when we got too close. The waves licked our ankles as we trotted around outcroppings, then came on fast, pushing us up to our current 8-foot sea shelf.
Now, surrounded by translucent blue-green water on three sides and a sheer rock face on the fourth, being out on the kayaks is starting to look pretty good. But then our guide scrambles partway down the shelf and jumps the last few feet into the water. I notice that these aren’t the violent tides I’m used to out on the Pacific Coast, so I follow and hop into the waist-high water, which is almost as warm as the 70°F December air. It’s so clear I can see pufferfish, sting
rays, and huge schools of blueand yellow-striped damselfish going about their day in the world below.
We arrive at the beach second, but by that point, I’m no longer hurrying.
DO IT Head to backpacker.com/ baja-adventure-guide to find an itinerary. Note: The Sea of Cortez is beginner-friendly on calm days, but check conditions. (Pack water; Isla del Carmen is dry.) PERMIT Required (~$2/person per day); obtain at the CONANP office in La Paz or Loreto. GUIDE Aventuras Baja (aventurasbaja .com) charges $1,295 for this trip (includes food and gear). CONTACT bit.do/loreto-bay-np
Kayakers make camp on the southern tip of Isla del Carmen.