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70 Baja Must Do's

Baja California offers 70 unique experiences that you can't miss.

  1. Visit "La Bufadora" the only marine geyser in North America.
  2. Travel the wine route, where 90 % of Mexico’s wine is produced.
  3. Experience of grey whale sightings in Ensenada.
  4. Visit the Ensenada seafood market, one of the largest in the country.
  5. Taste the traditional Ensenada fish tacos.

The Lost Jesuit Mission

By David Kier
source: Baja Bound - updated: Nov 07, 2018

Lost Mission Bahía de los Ángeles
Time for us to examine again an unsolved mystery I first wrote about many years ago. The story begins even earlier: In 1966, an expedition led by Erle Stanley Gardner was exploring along an abandoned mine road south from Bahía de los Ángeles. They hoped to use it to get to El Barril and continue on south. A discovery of strange walls on a hillside overlooking a bay was made. A date-palm, indicating fresh water was close to the surface, was found at the base of a hill. Also, a ruined dam and reservoir were nearby. On the expedition was historian-author and then the editor of Desert Magazine, Choral Pepper. She was intrigued by these odd walls as to who built them and for what purpose. Pepper later wrote about that discovery in her magazine and included it in her popular 1970’s book, Baja California: Vanished Missions, Lost Treasures, Strange Stories, Tall and True.

Erle Stanley Gardner, considered the finest mystery author of the 20th century and creator of Perry Mason, had a huge fascination with the desert and with Baja California, authoring several books about his expeditions that included many four-wheel-drive vehicles, special dune buggies, off road scooters, and ATVs. These expeditions were financed in part from his Perry Mason TV show royalties. Uncle Erle (as he was known to his friends) was even able to get helicopters to be a part of some of his expeditions. Many cave painting sites were found on some of his expeditions that could not be seen from the ground. Gardner is credited with exposing the giant cave art of Baja to the outside world. Gardner always found interesting people or places during his Baja expeditions and his many Baja adventure books shared them.

The new book Gardner would write from this latest expedition was Off the Beaten Track in Baja, published in 1967. It combined various trips but primarily was about the February 1966 trip. The book did not mention the ruins they discovered but did include their time at Las Animas Bay. It is this unusual omission of such a discovery that adds a lot of mystery. Choral Pepper’s chapters about the site give us the carrot of interest. Archeologists led by Dr. Eric Ritter have studied the region of Bahía Las Animas to learn more about the Natives who lived there. Dr. Ritter did not mention the walls in his paper.

Barron in Mission Site
One of the expedition members thought the walls must have been a corral, but Gardner quickly pointed out it was a “hell-of-a-spot” for a corral! They were on the side of a hill, and not enclosed. The date palm and apparent age of the ruins were the most intriguing part. The rocks used to make the wall were coated with desert varnish, a mineral coating from the intense heat that can take centuries to form.

On the top of the hill, beyond the walls, were several Native sleeping circles and in them, many clam shells. The gulf coast is 2 miles away and the clams were a major food source. The ruins of a dam and reservoir, as well as the walls and date palm all, point to Spanish-era activity. The sleeping circles could be from pre-Spanish habitation or during the Spanish period. The Jesuit explorer, Fernando Consag, visited Las Animas Bay in 1746 seeking new mission sites and converts. A map made in 1757 reflects the voyage of Padre Consag and places a proposed mission, named Santa María Magdalena in this general area, south of Bahía de los Angeles. The map lists the mission as “started” and is placed north of another proposed mission, Dolores del Norte. Dolores del Norte was renamed Santa Gertrudis in 1752 when it was officially founded. Hanging at that mission is a bell, named Santa María Magdalena, maybe destined for the next mission north?

It was theorized by Choral Pepper that Mission Santa María Magdalena was begun, as Jesuit papers and maps showed, but the location was abandoned before very long. Possibly the spring which once filled the reservoir had stopped flowing? Whatever the reason, enough labor was provided to build the dam, reservoir, walls, and maybe other structures no longer visible. The location has a commanding view of both the sea and the desert far off, to provide good defense.

A mission named “Santa María Magdalena” is shown on some modern maps a few miles northwest of Mulegé. This error dates back to Arthur North’s expedition of 1905-1906 when he camped by stone ruins locals said were called La Magdalena. Arthur North had read the Jesuit documents available and learned of the proposed mission called Santa María Magdalena, in the north. Not considering there could be more than one Magdalena, he applied that mission name to the ruins near Mulegé. Many books and maps continued that error.

David Kier in Mission Site
When I interviewed Choral Pepper about the mysterious walls south of L.A. Bay, some 18 years ago, she did not have the exact location in her memory but recalled it was in sight of the sea. She wished me success in my quest to find the lost missions. I telephoned three other members of that expedition (J.W. Black, Bruce Barron, and Ricardo Castillo) and none remembered the exact location. I next made four trips south to try and find the walls, dam, and palm tree between 2001 and 2004. I concentrated on the road they used and had partially constructed in 1966. I even drove to Bahía las Animas but missed seeing the walls up on the hill. An Internet Baja enthusiast spotted lines on Google Earth imagery and showed them to me to see if they could be what I was looking for. My reply was that I had to go in person and look! In January 2009, my wife and I headed south to that hill with the lines, 35 miles from L.A. Bay.

The road into Bahía las Animas splits and most traffic takes the left fork, as I had done in 2004. This time, I used the right fork. As the road came along the hillside, there was the ruined dam and reservoir. We got out to check it out and took photos. Then we drove a bit further, rounding a bend at the foot of the hill, and there it was the palm tree! It was just a scraggly looking trunk, exactly as Choral had described 43 years earlier. I was overwhelmed that we found the site and how little it has changed in all the years. We drove past the palm and bushwhacked to what looked like a good place to climb the hillside. The walls are not visible from this road, but they are seen from the other side, on road to the bay.

We climbed up the steep side and at the first ridgetop, there they were, two walls so oddly located up there. We continued and took photos trying to match the same spot where Choral Pepper took photos 43 years earlier. At the top of the hill, beyond the second wall were several sleeping circles, filled with shellfish pieces. A shallow cave was along the south edge, above the dam, with a commanding view of all who would approach from the south. All in all, it was a most rewarding experience. Regretfully, Choral Pepper passed away in 2002 before I found the site. I think I felt her spirit guiding me that day.

I returned to Las Animas Bay in 2017 to camp and tried to drive to the palm tree from the bay. Flash floods had erased the road that circled the hill where it rejoined the main road. The right fork for the dam/palm/ hill climb area was still visible south of the hill, 7 miles from the main road between Bahía de los Ángeles and Punta San Francisquito. Additional photos at

Desert Magazine (page 20) Historic mysteries, such as this one, helped motivate my research to write the book, Baja California Land of Missions.

About David:
David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler, author of 'Baja California - Land Of Missions' and co-author of 'The Old Missions of Baja and Alta California 1697-1834'. Visit the Old Missions website.
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Are You Protected from the Unexpected in Mexico - Q & A

Are You Protected from the Unexpected in Mexico?
Baja Good Life Club International Medical Protection

The Global Health Plan for BGL Members is for catastrophic health protection. The Global Health protection is now at an affordable cost for BGL members to provide peace of mind in the unforeseen event of a major illness, cancer, and the associated conditions listed on the plan overview. We are providing peace of mind in the event of a Catastrophic illness or manifested medical condition. The premium is ONLY $2,589.76 annually (as of Dec. 2018). Equals to about $216.00 a month (Premiums are paid semi-annually).

Questions and Answers below: (more as they are asked...)

TRAVEL - Is Mexico a safe place to RV?

By Dan Goy 
We can never talk about RVing on Baja without at least 1 person raising a concern and posing the question. Not surprising given the significant negative media campaign about violence in Mexico over the past few years. The reality is bad things happen everywhere in the world including Canada & the United States and these facts should not make us afraid to travel or leave our homes.

Diving and Snorkeling The World’s Aquarium

By Jay D. Gittens
source: Baja Bound - updated: Nov 20, 2018 10:10 AM

Once dubbed the “The World’s Aquarium” by none other than marine explorer and conservationist, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, is located on the western side of Mexico, separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Baja California peninsula. Its surface area spans in excess of 60,000 square miles with depths surpassing 3,000 meters.

The Sea of Cortez crept into existence some five million years ago when tectonic forces of an unimaginable scale slowly but surely separated the Baja peninsula from mainland Mexico resulting in the creation of a unique assemblage of marine and terrestrial organisms, some of which are endemic to the region.

The Gulf of California is still to this day widely considered to be one of world’s most biologically rich bodies of water, harbouring close to one thousand species of fish and a prize of majestic marine animals such as whales, dolphins, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, bull sharks, sea turtles, oceanic giant manta rays, sea lions and even orcas.

La Paz Bay and its surrounding islands are home to a large number of the marine animals that can be found in the Sea of Cortez and it is this bounty of marine life that attracts ocean enthusiasts from across the globe to discover or revisit the great sites we have in this unique location.

Diving and snorkeling sites (accessed by boat) Los Islotes – *suitable for diving and snorkeling
These rocky islets lay within the Espiritu Santo Archipelago forming one of three main no-take zones in the Espiritu Santo National Park. Los Islotes is home to some 400 plus California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) which are one of the most popular wildlife tourism attractions of the island group due to their abundance and the playful nature of the juveniles. Because fishing is prohibited here, the fish are present in all of the diversity and abundance that Jacques Cousteau once described. This site is suitable for both scuba divers and snorkelers, with the sea lions and most of the marine life occupying areas of shallow water close to the rocks, caves and crevices.

El Bajo – *suitable for diving only
El Bajo is comprised of three open-ocean seamounts located around 30 minutes north-east of Los Islotes. Amazing rock formations covered in marine life decorate the seascape with a wide range of vivid colors and textures. The main attraction to El Bajo is the possibility of observing oceanic sharks; the most common species encountered being the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis). Even in the absence of these great beasts, El Bajo is a fantastic dive site crammed full with life.

La Reina – *suitable for diving and snorkeling
La Reina is a rocky islet situated off the northern tip of Isla Cerralvo. It is home to a small bunch of California sea lions, mostly retired bulls banished from the main rookery of Los Islotes. The dive site has some amazing rock formations, the most stunning of which is a submarine canyon whose walls are dressed in sea fans that quiver in the soft currents among colorful colonies of sponges. The marine life here is in abundance. The main attraction of La Reina is the visitation of oceanic giant manta rays that grace the waters here from around mid-June to mid-October.

Swanne Reef – *suitable for diving and snorkeling
Located in the San Lorenzo Channel between La Paz and Espiritu Santo island, Swanne Reef, or Swanne Rock, lies under around 10 meters or 30 feet of water at its deepest point. The reef’s crown falls just short of the surface making it easily accessible to snorkelers. Due to the reef being located in the channel, it’s important to note that on occasion there can be moderate to strong currents resulting from tidal flows. Swanne Reef is vibrant with life and color and on occasion large schools of fish can be encountered here. If you are really lucky you may see sea lions and cormorants diving down to a feast amongst the schools.

El Salvatierra (shipwreck) - *suitable for diving only
The Salvatierra began its life during WWII in the Chesapeake Bay area serving as a ferry to carry shipyard workers across the bay. Sometime after the war ended, the ferry was bought at auction by the Ruffo family who brought the ship through the Panama Canal to La Paz to serve as a ferry to and from mainland Mexico.

In 1976 the Salvatierra ferry collided with Swanne Reef before drifting further across the channel and settling on her port side in 20 metres or 60 feet of water. A salvage operation was cut-short when Hurricane Liza passed over La Paz, resulting in a large number of deaths in the city and major destruction to its infrastructure. This violent storm also shifted the Salvatierra turning her upright but tearing the entire housing from the deck in the process rendering her unsalvageable.

Today the Salvatierra still remains and has attracted an abundance of marine life that is enjoyed by divers year-round. To me, it is one of the very best dive sites we have. As well as huge groupers and sea bass that can be seen tapering away into the sandy depths, this marine oasis attracts sea turtles, mobula rays and huge schools of fish and is carpeted with invertebrate life.

Fang Ming (shipwreck) - *suitable for diving only
The Fang Ming is a shipwreck originating from China. In 1995, she was seized by Mexican authorities for attempting to smuggle Chinese migrant workers into the United States and in 1999 she became Latin America’s first intentionally sunken ship for the purpose of creating an artificial reef.

Almost two decades down the line, the Fang Ming has developed into a haven for marine life harboring numerous species of fishes, mobula rays and sea turtles to name but a few. This shipwreck is sheltered from much of the effects of winds and swells by Isla Espiritu Santo making it suitable for divers of all levels.

Marine Life
While much of the marine life in and around La Paz Bay is present year-round, some species are seasonal and in some cases are known to cover long distance migrations. The following information serves as an approximate guide to what marine wildlife attractions may be available throughout the year.

Whale harks
Whale sharks are one of the long-distance migratory species that somewhat predictably visit La Paz each year. Each year around October, whale sharks begin to gather in the bay of La Paz. Historically November and December have the highest abundance but the species is present in sufficient numbers from around mid-October to the end of April. While it is not possible to scuba dive with the whale sharks within the designated viewing area along the Mogote sand spit, visitors are able to snorkel with the sharks since the sharks spend much of their day on or close to the surface.

Sea Lions
The California sea lions are permanent residents of La Paz and some of its islands. The two most popular locations to interact with sea lions are Los Islotes in the Espiritu Santo Archipelago and San Rafaelito, a small rocky islet in La Paz Bay itself. During the months of June, July and August for Los Islotes and June and July for San Rafaelito, it is not possible to snorkel or scuba dive with the sea lions as it is mating season for the species, however observation from a boat is permitted and can be very interesting to witness their courting behavior and observe mothers’ nursing their new-born pups. For the rest of the year, participants can enjoy in-water interactions with the species often leading to playful encounters with inquisitive juveniles that very often frolic in the shallow areas close to their shore.

Oceanic Giant Mantas
If you read my recent article about the giant mantas, you will know that they all but disappeared from La Paz for 15 years, returning in sufficient numbers just this year. The mantas historically occupied the area around La Reina between around mid-June and mid-November. This year the mantas arrived very close to past observations but they seemed to have left the area perhaps three weeks earlier than anticipated. Of course, the community waits in hope that the mantas return again next June.

Whales and Dolphins
There exists no dedicated whale or dolphin watching tour service in La Paz itself because their presence is very random. La Paz has a year-round resident population of bottlenose dolphins and also a migratory population that visits during summer months. These dolphins can often be observed from the shore or a boat and occasionally will interact with swimmers in the water. From around December to April, various whale species such as gray, blue, humpback and fin whales can often be seen in the bay or around the islands just offshore.

Sea Turtle
Of the seven species of sea turtle that roam today’s oceans, six of them are present in the Sea of Cortez. The two most commonly encountered species tend to be the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea). At times, sea turtles can be somewhat wary of boats and swimmers but will on occasion allow and even initiate close encounters with humans, particularly when diving the shipwrecks.

The bounty of marine life around La Paz is remarkable both in terms of species richness and diversity. Properly managed ecotourism plays a great part in the awareness and education of our marine wildlife and in the oceans in general. Visitors and locals are urged to use reputable operators when diving or snorkeling here particularly as we have several threatened and/or protected species and areas. It is crucial that private boats do some research before embarking on trips within the National Park or around threatened species.

For more information about diving and snorkeling in La Paz you can visit the Facebook page of La Paz Dive Club, email lapazdivers(at) or call +52 1 (612) 197 5824.

+52 1 (612) 197 5824 
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