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We tend to think of three locations when we talk about the winter calving lagoons for the California Grey Whales that lie on the Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula : Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Scammon’s Lagoon) in Guerrero Negro, Laguna San Ignacio and Bahia Magdalena. Magdalena, however, isn’t really a single location at all, but a 300km long complex of lagoons, and therefore there is more than one option for those who wish to visit: the largest is Puerto San Carlos (population 4,700) to the south, which is favoured by daytrippers from Los Cabos and La Paz. Less than half the size and less visited is Lopez Mateos (population 2,000), but small can be beautiful and in this case makes for a relaxed whale watching experience at least the equal of what is available elsewhere.

 

It started off as a daytrip to Ensenada - an opportunity to try out some of the newer wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe at the start of May. Aurora, Juan Carlos, Norma and myself headed south knowing that the journey would be slower than usual due to the newer road being closed for rebuilding after subsidence the previous December. This meant we'd need to follow the old road south, a road which bends inland near La Misión and offers spectacular mountain scenery in contrast to the coastal road under repair.
A paradise for campers, snorkellers and kayakers alike, Bahía Concepción (Conception Bay) also provides some of the most spectacular coastal scenery anywhere on the Baja California peninsula. If you travel along the transpeninsular highway (Mex 1) you can see nearly 50km of turquoise waters and golden sands en route between Loreto and Mulegé on the Cortés coast

 

No visit to La Paz would be complete without a day's boat trip to the island archipelago which lies to the north of the city, consisting of Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida as well as the isolated rocks known as Los Islotes.

Despite an arid climate the desert islands in the Sea of Cortés play host to a remarkable biological diversity. Also known as the Gulf of California, this natural barrier between the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican mainland is the home of almost 900 species of fish, 10% of which are endemic. Nearly 700 plant species have been identified on the islands, including 150 types of cacti. 50 endemic reptile species can be found, as well as many birds and mammals unique to the area. For this reason 244 islands, islets and coastal areas in the Cortés were inscribed in 2005 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fortunately most of the major islands lie near the commercial flightpath from Tijuana in the north to La Paz in the south, so on a recent flight I was able to capture some spectacular views of "Mexico's Galapagos".

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......

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. 

The northernmost settlement of any size on Baja California's Cortés coast, San Felipe just might be the peninsula's most under-rated resort. Easily accessible via the border crossings at Tijuana, Tecate and Mexicali, this fishing village sitting at the end of the Mex 5 highway has up to now been relatively isolated, with access south restricted to those with a lot of patience and a high clearance vehicle. This situation is due to change, however, with the highway being extended south to eventually connect with the Mex 1 transpeninsular route, meaning San Felipe can more easily be integrated into a tour of the whole peninsula. What then does San Felipe have to offer its visitors?

Some of the guide books refer to it as the Cantú Grade, after an ex governor, but the spectacular mountain road which connects Mexicali to Tecate and Tijuana is known locally as La Rumorosa.

Here's our recipe for this Baja Californian classic. This version comes from my sister-in-law from San Felipe and demonstrated by Norma.

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