Action-Packed Itinerary

How long does it take to cruise the Sea of Cortez? How long do you have? Here's a seven-month plan.

At one of my Mexico cruising seminars an admitted newbie asked, “How long does it take to cruise the Sea of Cortez?” At first that question may seem silly. If you’re going cruising, aren’t you planning to voyage slowly, poke into all the tranquil anchorages and explore all the villages, towns and resort ports? Not until you’ve sampled a bit of everything can you decide how much time you’ll want to spend there, right?

Not always true. Most U.S. cruisers have time limits, and some insurance policies require owners to stay north of hurricane alley all summer. Plus, as fabled a cruising ground as the Sea of Cortez is, it’s enormous:
• 570 miles north to south
• 1,500 nautical miles of coastline
• More than 100 uninhabited islands
• Environments ranging from dry desert to steamy jungle
For good reasons, many cruisers need a seven-month itinerary of just the must-see or must-do places. If you can’t see them all, see the best. Some are gorgeous while others are renown as cultural watering holes on the gringo trail.

November: Los Cabos
After the arduous voyage down the Pacific side of the Baja California Peninsula, cruisers must stop at either Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo to thaw out, trade foul-weather gear for the tropical cruising uniform — shorts, T-shirts and flip flops — relax in a marina slip, the first since Ensenada, and treat the boat to a freshwater washdown.

Twenty good eateries immediately surround both marina basins and daily forays into town make it easy to start a Mexico T-shirt collection. Don’t miss the Giggling Marlin. Reprovision at four excellent big-box stores, and pick up holiday goodies at Flora and Fauna in San Jose. Top off the tanks and head out before it gets too crazy.

December: La Paz
With six marinas and swinging room for hundreds of yachts in several almost-free anchorages, La Paz is the largest liveaboard boating community in Mexico. Check in as a “new arrival” on the Cruisers VHF Net at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, to ask questions and hear the latest nautical news and weather. Visit the Club de Yates de La Paz next to Marina de La Paz for morning coffee and weekly events.

Flying guests down from LAX for the holidays? Five airlines land at La Paz, while six land at San Jose del Cabo, but it takes a two-hour bus ride to get to La Paz. Take guests snorkeling for the day at Balandra before heading 20 miles to the fabulous Espiritu Santos Islands for three- to five-day excursions.

Puerto Escondido The 115 miles between La Paz and Puerto Escondido is the nicest, most pristine cruising ground in Mexico. If you and your guests enjoy viewing dramatic geological scenery, experiencing marine wildlife up close, swinging at anchor over crystalline turquoise waters, and exploring remote beaches and coves by dinghy or kayak, then take your time.

After exploring the west side of the Espiritu Santos islands, head north. Five easy overnight anchorages can be taken at Evaristo, Gato y Toro, Agua Verde, Candeleros and Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante before tucking into a slip or mooring at Marina Puerto Escondido, complete with fuel, a boatyard and restaurants. (Consider this a hurricane hole for the summer.)

Visitors can hike Steinbeck’s Canyon, visit La Salina ghost town on Isla Carmen, catch dorado or roosters off Loreto’s panga darsena, party/dance/ drink under the stars on Loreto’s malecon, or snorkel or standup paddleboard off the dazzling white sandspit off Little Coronado Island. Teens won’t be bored.

Santa Rosalia The second-best cruising ground runs 135 miles from Loreto up to Santa Rosalia. Two stops are imperative: San Juanico, to tie an ornament on the Cruisers Memory Bush, and Playa El Burro inside Bahia Concepcion (the sea within the sea), to say hola to Baja Geary, the daily weather man on the Sonrisa Ham Net.

At Santa Rosalia Harbor, tour the restored El Boleo mines and stock up on bolellos from the French bakery. Take the morning bus uphill to visit quaint San Ignacio, its date palm oasis and its historical 289-year-old mission church.

March: San Carlos
Cross from Santa Rosalia 75 miles to San Carlos, the two-marina resort harbor in Sonora. Before the desert heats up, slowly gunkhole 35 miles north from San Carlos as far as Tastiota, visiting any of 32 small but dramatic anchorages in between — the best of the pristine Found Coast. In one of the bays, Bahia Colorado, we often buy bags of fresh camarones from the shrimp boats that anchor overnight in March.

Balance all that nature with a few nights on the town in San Carlos, and then restock the galley in Guaymas’ supermercados before departing south.

April: Topolobampo
Scoot 175 miles down to Topolobampo, leave the boat at Marina Palmira, and visit the famous Copper Canyon. At Los Mochis, book 6 a.m. first-class seats — starboard side up, port down — aboard the famous El Chepe train that winds through breathtaking scenery into the pine-clad Sierra Madres. For a three-day trip, get off and spend the night at Creel on the canyon’s rim, spend the next day hiking or visiting a Tarahumara village, and then take the train back down to Los Mochis.

May: Mazatlan
Mexico’s second-largest community of liveaboard boaters fills four marinas in the manmade harbor near Mazatlan’s famous Golden Zone — high-rise beach resorts, boutiques and discos. Zip around town in local pulmonias, open air golf carts.

Big-league sportfishing is a sure bet — same latitude as Los Cabos. May brings striped marlin, sailfish, dorado and yellowfin tuna within 10 miles. By June, blue and black marlin arrive. Catch and release is mandatory for sails and advisable for marlin.

By June, cruisers should decide if they’re:
• Seeking a summer hurricane hole in the Sea of Cortez, so they can explore the mainland next winter;
• Scooting south to Central America;
• Returning the boat to the U.S. on a ship or a trailer; or
• Bashing back up the outside of Baja.