It was Zig Zigler, a late American motivational speaker, who said “Difficult Roads Often Lead to Beautiful Destinations”. He meant this figuratively of course, but the saying is quite literally true in Baja. We’ve arrived at some of the best destinations via the worst roads, and Cabo Pulmo is one of our favourites.
Cabo Pulmo is a protected National Marine Park along the Sea of Cortez, on Baja’s East Cape. It was referred to by Jacques Cousteau as “The World’s Aquarium”. With its turquoise waters and abundant sea life, it’s famous for scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. It’s also become a sought-after destination for Vanlifers who are willing to brave the long bumpy road for the reward of visiting the jewel of the East Cape.
Why is Cabo Pulmo so special? Why is it worth bumping down a 10 km road for the better part of an hour? It’s not just one thing… it’s all the things. And we’ll tell you about all those things in this post.
What Makes Cabo Pulmo So Special?
Snorkeling in the ‘World’s Aquarium’
With over 50 species of fish, Cabo Pulmo is regularly visited by sea lions, rays, whale sharks, and humpback whales, attracting not only Vanlifers but visitors from around the world. We snorkeled right off the beach, and it was some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done. It’s worth noting that after we had already been snorkeling, we discovered that the rules for snorkeling off the beach are unclear, at least in practice (there’s a lot of “you can, but you can’t” that happens in Mexico). The best way to support the community and Marine Park is to snorkel with a guided tour, which takes visitors to the best reefs and offers opportunities to see some of the bigger sea creatures.
Camping on the Rocky Beaches
The beach is the site of a former RV Park, long since abandoned. The entrance area to the beach appears a bit cluttered, with many RVs and semi-permanent structures hobbled together. However, we drove a little further along the beach and claimed a sweet spot with a view of the turquoise water, surrounding mountains, and cacti.
Hiking the Trails in the Surrounding Mountains
Cabo Pulmo isn’t famous for its hiking and mountain biking, but it should be. There are miles of scenic trails with fantastic views of the surroundings. We were lucky enough to see whales frolicking in the water from one of the viewpoints. The trails aren’t easy to find (we used the AllTrails app) but if you go to the trouble of finding them, you’ll have them mostly to yourself. We hiked up into the mountains several times while we were visiting and if hadn’t been so hot, we would have been on the trails with Walter every day.
Kayaking the Bay
Kayaking the bay turned out to be our most unexpected adventure. Marc took the stand up paddleboard (SUP) out in kayak mode and returned with tales of exploring beach coves, seeing frolicking dolphins, and being visited by a sea turtle.
Not wanting to miss out, I set out on board the very next morning, hoping for a similar adventure. Alas, it wasn’t to be. After a lovely but uneventful paddle out to the far point, about 5 kilometres from camp, the wind and waves came up making it impossible to get back. I paddled as hard as I could to the closest section of beach and safety. When the waves spit me onto the shore, I stashed the SUP on the nearest rock formation and spent 45 minutes running down the beach in my crocs, desperately hoping to get back to the van before Marc called the search party.
First question from Marc: “Are you ok?”. Second question from Marc: “Where’s the SUP?”. We immediately tossed Walter and all our gear into the van and sped (as fast as Sally would speed) down the sandy road toward the far end of the beach, several kilometres away but closer to where I believed I’d stashed the board. I ran down the beach for a second time and thankfully managed to rescue the SUP from it’s precarious resting place. It wasn’t until we arrived back at camp that evening that we realized the solar shower had been lying on our roof when we sped off earlier in the day. It was nowhere to be found. RIP solar shower – better it than the SUP.
Cabo Pulmo is One of our Baja Favourites
After two visits to the Baja Peninsula, Cabo Pulmo remains one of our favourite destinations. It’s not one thing that makes it special – it’s a combination of all the things. It feels wild, empty, and miles away from the other, more touristy destinations in southern Baja. If you enjoy outdoor adventures and wide-open spaces, you’ll love this place too. After visiting, we were surprised to discover that even tiny, dusty little Cabo Pulmo is feeling the tourism pressure with more visitors than it’s infrastructure can handle, and the threat of large hotel and resort development proposals. It seems that no part of southern Baja is immune to the effects of tourism. We hope that this special place can be preserved.
Helpful Tips and Resources
- Local Communities Saved Cabo Pulmo with a Marine Park. Then Came the Tourists – a good article about the successes and pressures in Cabo Pulmo
- Photo Essay: Once Barren, a Protected Reef in Mexico Now Teems with Huge Fish – great seascape photos by Leonardo Gonzalez
- AllTrails – trails maps and information for Cabo Pulmo
- iOverlander – best resource for camping in the area