Los Cabos offers a natural playground for eco-tourism excursions

By: Kevin Brass

With its reputation built on luxury pools, golf courses and buckets of suntan lotion, Cabo San Lucas is often overlooked as an eco-tourism destination. Yet the southern tip of Baja is an ecological wonderland, full of adventures for even experienced travelers.

First and foremost, Cabo is a gateway to the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortes, the wonderland that has inspired everyone from Jacques Cousteau to John Steinbeck. Fishing, diving and snorkeling are part of Cabo’s foundation. But Cabo has far more to offer eco-tourists than boat trips. The region is full of artifacts of ancient man and unique eco-systems that thrive where the rugged desert meets the sea.

You don’t necessarily have to be an experienced outdoorsperson or a certified specialist to enjoy the natural riches of Los Cabos. Great scuba diving notwithstanding, here are three eco-tourism activities worth exploring:

Whale-watching. From December through April, gray whales migrate to Baja to lounge and breed in the calm lagoons.

To many, whale-watching is an activity best done from the deck of a palapa bar. Many of Cabo’s best hotels, including the Hotel Cabo San Lucas, the Hotel Finisterra and the Hotel Palmilla, provide excellent vantage points from which to watch the passing whales. In addition, whale-watching day trips depart Cabo daily during the season.

Many travelers prefer to get up close for a spectacular experience. As they lounge in the lagoons, many of the whales allow the boats to come up close and pet them.

Magdalena Bay, one of the best locations, is about a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Cabo, which means it’s usually best to make a multiday expedition out of it. Baja Adventure offers three-day road trips to Magdalena from Feb. 15 to March 30, when there is the highest concentration of whales in the bay. A small boat takes visitors into the lagoon to mingle with the mother whales and their newborn calves.

You can also fly to the lagoon, which takes about 75 minutes by Cessna. Aero Calafia, which offers air charters to a variety of secluded locales, can arrange trips.

Desert treks. Several companies lead excursions into the bleak desert landscape, home to secluded waterfalls and cave paintings dating back to 10,000 B.C. With the sun blazing off the rocky terrain, these trips are not for the faint of heart. But many rewards come from exploring the arroyos, canyons and mountains that meet the sea in one of the most environmentally unique areas in the world.

Although the landscape looks desolate, it can be a surprisingly lush trip. The stark mountains are full of desert springs, which sustain the life of a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Many of the day excursions use four-wheel-drive, all-terrain vehicles, which offer a fun way for a family to motor to secluded spots on the desert (although the ATVs may offend some conservationists). Xplora, based at the Westin Regina Resort Los Cabos, organizes ATV treks into the Cabo Real nature reserve, where a slow ride through canyons leads to a waterfall. Another itinerary includes a stop at an old village and ends up on a secluded beach on the Pacific Coast.

But there are many choices for those willing to brave the desert heat. Baja Adventure organizes mountain bike trips. Other operators use Jeeps and trucks.

Three days a week, Eco-Tours de Baja, a subsidiary of Cape Land Tours, offers trips to an 18th century mission in a covered safari truck. The journey also includes a stop in a secluded canyon in the mountains, where travelers can swim in natural pools and hot springs. Another trip focuses on fossil cemeteries dating back 5 million years.

For heartier hikers, Nomades de Baja organizes three night expeditions to the rugged San Francisco de la Sierra region, north of San Ignacio, to seek out ancient cave paintings. The scratchings in the rocks provide evidence of nomadic tribes that wandered the desert thousands of years ago. Nomades also offers one-day Jeep safaris down the bumpy desert trails, which it markets to corporate groups.

Kayaking. In sharp contrast to the area’s tequila-laced party boats, kayaking is a quiet way to explore the coves and lagoons that pepper the coastline.

A wide variety of spots are available, depending on the client’s time and skill level. Many Cabo tour operators truck people two and a half hours to La Paz and take a boat another hour and a half to an island called Isla Espiritu Santo, which offers a dozen stunning, placid coves of blue-green water set against the desert island. But that excursion can also be boiling hot, so many kayakers go to the rougher coves on the Pacific Coast.

While most operators in Cabo offer kayaking tours, some are specialists. Among other trips, Baja Adventure, which is owned by an experienced kayaker, offers a day jaunt to what it claims is an “almost unknown spot” on the Pacific Coast near Todos Santos, a quiet cove perfect for snorkeling. The company offers a variety of customized tours, including programs for groups.

Closer to base, Estero San Jose, a 125-acre estuary neighboring the Intercontinental Presidente, is a protected estuary that is home to more than 200 species of birds, including a wide variety of stately egrets and herons. For those who aren’t interested in the view from the bay, there are public footpaths that make bird-watching easy.


Several local tour operators in Los Cabos specialize in eco-tours. Among them:

Aero Calafia: Air excursions. 011-52-114-34302;

Baja Adventure: Excursions include whale watching and desert tours. 858-735-8687; www.bajaadven

Cabo Expeditions: Diving and whale-watching trips. 011-52-624-143-2700;

Eco-tours de Baja (subsidiary of Cape Land Tours): Inland excursions via safari trucks; pays 20% commission. 011-52-624-1430775;

Nomades de Baja: One-day and multinight land expeditions. 011-52-624-148-1468; www.nomadasde

Xplora: ATV treks. 011-52-624-142-9000 ext. 8316; ra.htm.

Compiled by Kevin Brass