Mystery in the Valley of the Giants

Just fifteen kilometres south of San Felipe you can find one of the Baja California peninsula's most interesting yet under visited locations: El Valle de los Gigantes. 

 

1-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Sign2-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Entrance3-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Entrance

 

 

Its name translates into English as "The Valley of The Giants", which to me sounds like the name of an Irwin Allen produced 1960s sci fi series. This place would indeed make a magnificent location for sci fi, though in this case the giants in question are the centuries old cacti which dominate the landscape. The largest of the cactus species here are the tallest in the world, and can grow to more than 17 metres in height, but the mystery for me is which species are they?

4-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Welcome5-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Norma-Shade6-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Visitor-Centre

 

If you look on the Moon Guide or the State Tourism website or most other places they are all adamant that the species in question is the cardón (Pachycereus pringlei). The site's own literature and website, however, describes them as being of the saguaro species (Carnegiea gigantea). To uninitiated eyes like mine they do look very similar.

7-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus8-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus9-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus-Flowers

Whichever is true (and my money is with the majority on this) they are a spectacularly unique sight, and to wander amongst them is a memorable experience. It's the kind of place where you might expect a stop motion animated dinosaur to suddenly appear from behind a giant cactus. For us we had to make do with a lizard who popped by to say hello and take advantage momentarily of the shade our car offered.

10-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus11-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Ian12-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus

As well as the giants there are many other species present, including ocotillo, choya and mezquite with its 30 metre roots. It is heaven for cactus lovers or anyone else who appreciates the stark beauty of the desert.

13-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus14-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus15-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus-Ian

Getting There/Practicalities:
Head south of town towards Puertecitos (remembering to turn left to avoid going to the airport!) and look for a right turn which is well signposted (see pic above). You then follow a track for a few minutes before reaching the entrance, where you pay a nominal entrance fee, slightly more if you drive on in your car and special group rates for larger vehicles.

16-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus-Ian-Norma17-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus18-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus

If it's hot I recommend you drive on to the main site - although a sandy track it is easily traversable by any car, plus you'll be giving yourself a central location to find precious shade in the desert sunshine. The only other available shade is a small wooden frame with just enough room for a small car, and also inside what we nicknamed the "Visitor Centre" - a solitary portable toilet that had paper but no water supply.

19-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus20-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus21-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus

It should go without saying in such a place but I would remind anyone planning a visit to take copious amounts of water for consumption during your stay: there are no facilities other than those mentioned above. That's not a complaint, by the way, the place needs to be as unspoilt as possible. It is possible to hike through the valley, but there is little by way of signage, other than a no entry sign and others demanding cleanliness and prohibiting the use of firearms. Organised hikes can be booked in San Felipe.

22-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Lizard23-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Lizard24-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Lizard

The Valle de Los Gigantes is yet another of Baja California's unique, almost otherworldly places to visit. I'd love to hear from any cactus enthusiasts who can definitively identify the Gigantes in question!!!

25-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Norma26-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus27-Valle-de-los-Gigantes-Cactus