La Unica, a Baja Hideaway
By Greg Niemann
Imagine being on your own private island with a small staff cooking meals and bringing made-to-order drinks at your command. A place where you can lay on the broad, sandy beach or languish in tepid water all day long. Where you can grab a kayak or snorkel on a reef teeming with tropical fish. A place where your own modest bungalow faces a dramatic sunrise and a night sky so black the Milky Way looks like an artist’s creamy brush stroke across a black canvas.
Sounds like an ultra-expensive mid-Pacific hideaway for the mega-rich, doesn’t it? But what if I told you it’s not really an island but a landlocked cove, and not in the mid-Pacific but only a short two-hour plane trip away, halfway down the Baja California peninsula. And that the price is within reach of most families. Intriguing? Yes. Unique? Yes. In fact that’s what the place is called, La Unica, The Unique.
Baja AirVentures, owned and operated by Kevin Warren, has been flying its guests 286 air miles south to this rustic wilderness retreat on Baja’s Sea of Cortez for 18 years. A paragon of isolation, La Unica hugs a broad, white sandy beach facing a beautiful, emerald-green bay bordered by its own island.
It was back in 1999 when I visited La Unica, a unique trip for me as well. I had driven all over Baja on my own and this was the first time I sat back and let someone else entertain me.
La Unica has no shops, no town, no television, no electricity even, save that provided by a small generator for the kitchen/palapa/social center. Furthermore, it has no road and no landing strip rendering it more of an isolated island than most islands really are. In addition to the flight, guests and supplies are shuttled in by a 26-foot panga. While it may lack amenities often taken for granted, it offers priceless beauty and a kind of solitude nearly impossible to find, yet it's only a few hours away.
I joined Kevin, who also serves as chief pilot, activities director, guitar strummer and more, at San Diego’s Brown Field where a guest family and I piled into his Cessna 207 for the two plus hour flight to the small village of Bahía de los Angeles (Bay of L.A.). Baja AirVenture pilot Tom Wood brought the guests’ friends, another family, in a Cherokee Six.
We buzzed the town
Upon arrival, we buzzed the small town of Bahía de los Angeles so the taxi van could pick us up. While Kevin and Tom loaded the panga, we guests (two professional couples from San Diego and their total five children between the ages of 8 and 12), visited the comprehensive Natural History and Cultural Museum which offers enlightening information about the entire Bay of L.A. area.
As I had driven to Bahía de los Angeles earlier that summer, the main adventure for me was the flight itself. A very long day’s drive was reduced to a couple of hours of flying time. Most exciting was seeing the Baja California terrain from only a few thousand feet. I saw canyons I’d hiked and towns I knew and roads I’d driven. I saw inticing places that demand further scrutiny in the future.
But one doesn’t arrive at La Unica by air or car so we piled into the large panga for the 45-minute boat ride south to the Bahía de Pescadores. As we turned into the inviting bay, the only visible life on the virgin landscape was La Unica itself.
Ten blue and white bungalows lined up like soldiers faced the bay. In their center was a larger structure, a 25’ high, 40’ diameter palm-thatched palapa which would become our social center over the next few days.
We were assigned bungalows, each furnished with two cots, padding and sleeping bags. Hey, it’s a wilderness retreat, not a luxury hotel. Most relaxing was the hammock outside. Each bungalow has its own bathroom with flush toilet and a big shower stall where solar fresh water shower bags are strung. Each room has a lantern as the only power is the generator for the main palapa; even that is turned off about 9:30 rendering guests time to sit on the beach and sing, time to marvel at the starry night, time for reflection or to go to bed early, tired from the pace of doing nothing but play.
And La Unica offered lots of toys. There were several types of kayaks including three with rudders and inside seats. There was snorkeling equipment, fishing poles, windsurfing equipment, a small sailboat, horseshoes, badminton, ping pong, and more. We hiked; we snorkeled with sea lions; we saw whales. The panga was in use constantly; a couple of us fished for yellowtail, dorado, bonito, grouper, and bass just outside the cove. In the afternoon it was used to pull the boys water-skiing on a surfboard around the bay. By the third day two youngsters had mastered standing up on it.
Catching calamar at night
Most exciting was the night we all went calamar (squid) fishing. We boarded with life jackets after dark and took off across the bay. Kevin, Tom, and Captain Maleno Leyva Hernandez, who’d been with La Unica for three years, then fired up a lantern creating an eerie light across the water, and we dropped our lines. One of the boys asked, "How do we know when a squid bites?"
"You’ll know," laughed Kevin, "You’ll know."
I realized what he meant as just then my rod doubled over and I was hooked into an 18-inch squid. Before I could land him everyone else had hooked up and it was a riot landing all these heavy squid that were squirting water all over the place. Within minutes we had well over a dozen of them and headed back. We were all drenched, but exuberant from the quick and powerful action.
Chef Dagoberto Camacho Urias outdid himself preparing our fresh calamar the next day. The other meals and snacks were good and fulfilling. We ate fresh fish. The staff remembered who drank what and constantly offered Cokes, beers and margaritas. It was a strange blend of rustic opulence.
Kevin, whose Baja AirVentures had been flying surfers to Natividad Island and points south since 1989, opened La Unica in March 1996 with just the palapa and two cabins. By 1999 he was accommodating 16 guests and had two more cabins under construction. He found the pristine bay by flying over it. One day in late 1995 he stopped in Bahía de los Angeles, made some inquiries and secured 228 acres with over a half mile of beachfront on the spot.
An experienced and accomplished pilot, Kevin today has more than three thousand hours flying in Baja alone. It’s readily apparent that all of the Baja AirVentures professional pilots and guides are also big outdoor enthusiasts.
Then Kevin talked about hopefully putting in an airstrip. There was also talk about a road going over the mountains to the bay, but it hasn’t happened in the 15 years since my visit and no one really believes it will happen soon. Plus its isolation is its charm.
This type of unique adventure is not for everyone. But for a quick few days getaway, it should appeal to many couples or families.
Kevin’s operation is still running strong – 15 years later, and today offers additional venues, like kayaking trips, whale watching adventures, and whale shark tours. For more information, call Baja AirVentures at (800) 221-WAVE (9283) or visit the website or mail bajaair(at)cox.net.
Today, in addition to Baja AirVentures, there are numerous Baja adventure excursions depending on your interest. Some specialize in off-roading, others kayaking, or fishing. There are several eco-trips available including the long-standing Baja Expeditions. It seems there’s something for everyone in Baja.
Editor's Notes: Since Greg's trip, Baja AirVentures no longer offers the specific La Unica trip featured. However they offer a similar trip at Las Animas Wilderness Lodge located on a nearby bay. Baja AirVentures also offers drive in trips.
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.