A Dead Man, a Saint and a Little Orphan Boy: Exploring the Cortés CoastWritten by Ian Wright
The extension southwards of the Mex 5 highway is making the Cortés coast beyond San Felipe far easier to access in conventional vehicles, and hitherto isolated places are now within daily reach. We took a drive down there to see for ourselves how far we could get and return on the same day. We set off in a VW Golf (with a tent, just in case we needed it!) one morning from San Felipe......
South of San Felipe, past our beach recommendation, avoiding the airport and beyond the Valle de los Gigantes, the road first takes you to Puertecitos. This stretch of highway is not of the same quality as the Mexicali-San Felipe section, and the there are a number of abrupt dips (vedos) in the road which can cause problems, particularly for long vehicles.
There aren't many facilities on this route, but if you need refreshments stop off just before Puertecitos at "Cowpatty". There's not much in Puertecitos either, but it does boast some geothermal pools, where tidal water combines with spring water at certain times of the day. We drove in to enquire about a visit. It would've cost us 180 pesos to go in, but the pools weren't ready yet, so we headed on down the coast slightly earlier than we'd planned.
A few minutes later we were on the newest section of the road, unsurprisingly the best quality surface of all south of Mexicali. Beautiful sea views to the left of us contrasted with the dramatic mountain scenery to our right. There was very little traffic other than the occasional maintenance truck sweeping up the small stones which can fall onto the road from above.
About forty minutes south of Puertecitos we got our first sight of El Huerfanito ("the little orphan boy"), the northernmost of Las Islas Encantadas ("The Enchanted Islands") which lie off this part of the Cortés coast. El Huerfanito is also by far the nearest to the coast, and isolated from the others, hence its name.
Behind El Huerfanito we could see Isla Miramar, though it wasn't until we were further down the coast that we could see how it had acquired its nickname, El Muerto ("The Dead Man") - with a bit of imagination it looks like a corpse lying on its back, with the head at the southern end. Next one along is Isla Lobos ("Wolves Island"), in this case the "wolves" are a colony of sea lions (lobos marinos), followed by Encantada itself.
Finally the southernmost and largest island in the group is Isla San Luis, like the others volcanic in origin and home to pelicans. Then a few minutes south the modern paved road ends (May 2013), and gives way to the rough track which it is in the process of replacing. We had a fantastic view of beautiful Bahía San Luis Gonzaga below, which gave us just enough inspiration to head further south and take a closer look.
Being in a small VW Polo our earlier advantage in negotiating the vedos further north was abruptly cancelled out by the terrain ahead. We took our time and spent nearly an hour on the last five or so miles to Gonzaga Bay, negotiating a military checkpoint en route before the Pemex and sign for Alfonsina's a mile and a half from the coast. Finally there's a security gate before you complete your bumpy ride down to the beach.
Our persistence certainly paid off, the bay is beautifully picturesque, with golden sands and turquoise sea in front of you and green vegetation and mountains behind. A small settlement lines the beachfront, culminating in Alfonsina's, the bar/restaurant/hotel which gives this isolated settlement its name. At least as many people seem to fly or sail in as use the road, though this will surely change as Mex 5 continues to become more accessible to those of us using more down to earth forms of transport.
By this time we were into late afternoon, so we began our return journey, over the bumpy road, past the waving soldiers and back onto the paved highway. The early evening light gave us an even more spectacular view of Las Encantadas on the way back to San Felipe. The tent stayed in the car!
The road extension project is certainly making this beautiful part of the Cortés coast accessible to more people. What remains to be seen is how beautiful this area remains when the project is completed, through traffic to the southern cities like Loreto, La Paz and Los Cabos increases and the threat of over-development comes to another part of the peninsula.
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