Hiking to waterfalls, soaking in hot springs, flying over waves – it’s all about the water along much of the East Cape.
While the Sea of Cortez is the main body of water on this side of Baja California Sur, it’s not the only place to get wet.
One of the main reasons to go to the Santiago area is to witness the cascada that tumbles more than 30 feet from the rocks to form a pool before continuing on as Cañon de la Zorra river. The town of Santiago is at an elevation of about 1,500 feet, with the drive to the falls being mostly an incline.
Access is through the Rancho Ecologico Sol de Mayo. Those staying in the cabins may hike to the falls for free, while others pay a day use fee of a few dollars. The cabins are rustic and available through Airbnb. I can’t recommend them for a variety of reasons – safety being No. 1.
Still, the falls are worth the trek. They are just on the edge of the biosphere reserve of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range. Being in the mountains the palm trees along the banks and sprouting from the granite seemed completely out of place.
The walk to the falls should be do-able for most people in decent shape. It’s 10 minutes or so after parking. Even those with knee issues are apt to be able to make it to where the waterfall first comes into view. The descent and climb out, though, could be challenging for some. Steps have been built into the terrain and ropes/cable are there to grab onto at times, which was necessary for balance and safety. It was not a route for my dog.
Still, AJ was able to go on the trail leading to the river above the falls. This is more gradual, and leads right to the water. The trail disappears at river’s edge. However, for those who want to scramble along the boulders there is more terrain to conquer.
At the waterfall there are several sandy areas to pass the day. The water is swimmable and even shallow enough to walk across to the other side. The depth right under the falls was hard to judge from shore.
At least three natural hot springs are nearby on the dirt roads – Santa Rita, El Chorro and Aqua Caliente. The former is where Penny and I spent at least a couple hours soaking in what was probably about 102-degree (Fahrenheit) water. The San Jorge river could act as a cold bath if one so desired.
Being part of the protected biosphere, there is a minimal cost to use the hot springs and the person on site records your name and hometown – presumably for the government. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed to reach the Santa Rita springs, not so for Aqua Caliente.
A little northeast of Santiago is the town of Los Barilles. This is where kiteboarders and windsurfers come to ride the waves of the Sea of Cortez, with November-April being the best months. While it’s possible to take lessons, spectating from shore is a delight as well.
Like a kite festival on land, these kite sails on water dance in the wind. The colors and designs are like artwork. The riders, well, it was like they were doing a dance with the waves.
Some people appeared to hover above the water. This was because they used a hydrofoil attached to the bottom of the board so they would hydroplane.
A cute hotel in the area is a little farther north in El Cardonal, called Las Terrazas. It’s a good place to stay if you don’t mind being a bit in the boonies. It’s accessible by paved road or a more scenic dirt road that parallels the water. Yes, there is a pool – just not heated; and a hot tub – just no water. Still, the room was perfect for two plus a dog, with a divider that gave each of us plenty of privacy. It was a little odd to have a mini-fridge and microwave, but no plates or silverware, along with no detergent to wash the glasses.
Aside from a comfortable bed and great views, the outside balcony beckons one to relax, read and enjoy looking out to the water.
The beach is a short walk. Wind prevented us from wanting to kayak (the hotel has one for rent) and the water was too cold to venture past knee depth, at least in December. A secluded less rocky beach is farther north.
This road leads to small towns to the north, but we didn’t keep going. Once the Jeep truly needed 4-wheel drive we opted to turn around.
The restaurant at the hotel, Cielito Lindo, has authentic Mexican food, with the bartender making a mean margarita. It’s always a good sign when the locals are at a restaurant and not just gringos. A short walk up the street is La Hornilla restaurant. Everything we ordered we would recommend, but a special shout out goes to the chili rellenos with potato.