Participate in 6 Unique Wonders

Boaters have access to activities that might make their non-boat-owning friends jealous.

Boaters in Mexico get to experience remarkable wonders by land and sea that are all made possible by traveling via boat. And not just another pretty sunset (yawn), but a participatory world right off the bow. Here are six experiences boat owners can partake of that other people have to work a lot harder to accomplish.

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Pet a baby gray whale. This is in the wild, not in a petting zoo. As you coast up or down the outside of Baja, anchor off Punta Abreojos, then board a ranger panga to enter San Ignacio Lagoon National Park, where hundreds of pregnant gray whales retire each winter to give birth. In one corner of the 16-mile lagoon, certain mommas, dubbed “friendlies,” are known to lift their 20-foot-long babies to the surface right alongside the familiar ranger pangas, allowing people to pet — or even kiss — the baby whales’ noses.

Migrating gray whales start arriving here in December and depart in March. For details, contact Baja Eco Tours at (619) 819-2966, or from the Abreojos anchorage, hail a park ranger on VHF Channel 16.

The gray whales near Punta Abreojos often let visitors touch them.

Hear the ghosts of La Salina. For 200 years, pioneer families came to live on Carmen Island to harvest salt from vast natural ponds, bag it and load it on a ship to Guaymas. But in 1982 the owners suddenly shut down operations, evicted all 200 villagers, forced them to leave their belongings and board the last ship bound for Guaymas. Overnight La Salina became a ghost town consisting of 20 two-bedroom cabins, a schoolhouse, a tiny chapel and a two-story stone building. Today, the rusted hulks of machinery are wasting away, and the tall wooden pier has collapsed into the bay. A caretaker occasionally lights a candle in the chapel, but the wind blows it out. Boaters in Mexico who visit will probably hear screen doors slowly creak open and slam shut. But even in the eerie desert silence you may hear children giggle in the schoolyard and someone whistle a sad tune on the beach.

La Salina’s roomy anchorage on the east side of Carmen Island is good in the prevailing north wind. From here it’s 20 miles down to Puerto Escondido or 27 miles up and around to Loreto.

Be sure to listen for ghosts at La Salina, a town abandoned practically overnight. Photo credit: Pam Bacich

Swim with the world’s largest fish. Whale sharks (rhincodon typus) are docile polka-dotted giants, and despite their enormous maws and their size — some males grow to 62 feet and 34 tons — they’re filter-feeders, eating only plankton, not humans. La Paz is one of the few places on Earth where whale sharks congregate, November through April, after a 12,000-mile transpacific migration. Perfect conditions for whale-shark sightings are found about four and one-quarter miles north of Cerralvo Island, around tiny Arrecife de la Foca (Seal Reef). La Paz guides warn that no more than four good swimmers can be in the water near an endangered whale shark, and one person must stay in the boat. Whale sharks are normally slow swimmers, so photos are almost assured. But please don’t touch the giants.

Seal Reef lies about 35 miles east of La Paz via the San Lorenzo Channel.

A whale shark interacts with swimmers near Cerralvo Island. Photo credit: Walt Stearns

Land on the “Catch 22” movie set. Remember the movie “Catch 22”? Where the B-25 crash lands? And when bomber pilot Yosarrian goes insane? Just north of San Carlos, Sonora, boaters in Mexico can anchor off Algadones Beach, swim ashore (or take the dinghy) with a few pesos in your pocket and enjoy a cold cerveza at the Soggy Peso Bar. This cotton-white beach is where the B-25 actually crashed and burned (intentionally) during the filming of the hit movie “Catch 22,” based on Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel. When filming ended, Paramount Pictures had to bury the B-25’s charred hulk in the sand at the north end of Algadones Beach — thus the foundation of the Soggy Peso Bar.

From Catch 22 Beach, it’s only one mile south to Marina Real, or six miles around the landmark Tetas de Cabra headland to Marina San Carlos.

Drape yourself in red fans and yellow sponges. Cabo Pulmo Reef at Los Frailes is the largest living coral reef system in western North America, and boaters in Mexico can enjoy it. Nine fingers of hard coral lie just below the surface in crystal clear water. After thriving for 20,000 years, this 9-mile-long reef almost died but was rescued 25 years ago as a national park where fishing is prohibited.

Now Cabo Pulmo is the most successful marine reserve in the world, according to the Smithsonian. I believe it’s the richest and most spectacularly colorful underwater place in all of Pacific Mexico.

Hail “Cabo Pulmo National Park” on VHF Channel 16 and one of the uniformed rangers will zoom out in a panga to show you where to anchor and give you a reef map that shows the best snorkel and scuba spots. Jump in! Glide through corridors of coral castles that fly red and purple coral fans, flanked by orange and yellow sponge flutes. That clicking sound? It’s thousands of shrimp and lobsters hiding in the coral crannies.

From here, it’s about 32 sea miles down to San Jose del Cabo, or 90 miles up to La Paz.

Vibrant fish and coral await snorkelers at Cabo Pulmo National Park.

Hike Steinbeck Canyon’s secret waterfalls and swimming holes. When naturalist John Steinbeck first hiked Baja in search of endangered big-horn sheep, locals expected he’d return with a trophy carcass. Instead, he emptied a pocket full of dry sheep pellets, boasting to reporters that he’d found big horn sheep, yes, but he’d left them “alive and healthy.”

Tucked deep within the picturesque Sierra La Giganta, Steinbeck’s circuitous canyon route is found about 15 miles south of Loreto. The medium-intensity hike, about one and three-quarter miles, twists between steep shady cliffs and requires a couple of 15-foot boulder scrambles, but intrepid hikers are rewarded with a couple of waterfalls and waterslides into skinny-dipping pools — especially dramatic and welcome after summer rains.

Steinbeck’s Canyon starts less than two miles west of Marina Puerto Escondido, reached via a gravel road that runs west from Highway 1.