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Baja Nature Diaries
By Jay Gittens

Take a Hike

Local hiking of La Paz, Mexico

By Jay D. Gittens

Balandra Beach La Paz Balandra Beach La Paz

La Paz is becoming increasingly popular, attracting more visitors to its low-key alternative style of tourism. This delectable land where the mountain-backed desert and sea coalesce to form unique landscapes makes for some fantastic hiking to suit all levels and abilities and you don’t need to venture too far out of the city to find some great trails.

This is a guide to the three most popular beginners to intermediate hiking trails in or close to the city of La Paz.

Balandra Bay

This protected area of fauna of flora is almost completely wrapped in hills with exception to its seaward side. It’s a 40-minute drive from the centre. It’s possible to hike up to the summit of the hill right beside the car park which provides exceptional views and is accessible for most. The best trail to take however begins several miles before Balandra Bay. A communications pylon is a good landmark to work out where you need to leave the highway to park in the desert beneath the foothills. A “private property” sign is quite legally ignored by all who know that we have the right to responsibly access this natural heritage.

As a little altitude is gained you will arrive to a fork in the trail just as a beach backed by a luscious mangrove forest comes into view. The left track will guide you there in around 30 or so minutes along a relatively level yet rocky path. If you have the time and ability you might hike to the beach before returning to the junction to take the favoured uphill route to nature’s natural observatory of Balandra Bay.

Mangrove Balandra, La Paz Mangrove Balandra, La Paz

Along the way, loose stones whose colours and mineral compositions vary widely, slip and slide underfoot. The diversity of rock types here will likely keep any visiting geologist amused for some time as they silently interpret to themselves the events that brought this area to be. Prehistoric gastropod shells and fragments of fossilized hard corals lay testament to tectonic uplifting, a process that very slowly transforms old sea beds into islands and coastal hills and mountains.

After perhaps 30 minutes of moderate walking you should arrive to a large flat area, the “observatory”, just to the left of the pylon and directly in front will lay a stunning view of Balandra Bay. It’s very lonely and peaceful up here. The silence is only interrupted by the chit-chatter of small desert birds and the tell-tale pulsating rhythm of male cicadas competing for the attention of females. You can venture further on up to get a view of the bay from different angles and just a little further to gaze out at the expanse of the open ocean.

Cerro de La Calavera

You only need to head north along the malecón towards the Palmira area where you will find a gasoline station on the right. A few hundred metres beyond begins the hike up into Calavera. The south face is the most direct ascent for the sure-footed. The great thing here though is that the hike provides access for all abilities. If the south face exceeds your comfort level, simply walk on around to the eastern slopes where you will have a choice between a steadily rising dirt road and a steeper and narrower rocky trail. Either way you will want to head to the sandstone caves roughly halfway up the southern slope. Through years of weathering, wind and rain has eroded the sandstone, carving out swirling shapes, windows and skull-like impressions that gives Calavera its name.

Cerro de La Calavera La Paz Cerro de La Calavera La Paz

Further uphill, a cross commemorates the Virgin of Guadalupe and gives one the feeling of a small triumph. It makes for a good water stop and depending on the position of the Sun, the cross may cast a shadow just large enough to shield two hikers. If you are here leading up to sunset you can observe resting turkey vultures spreading out their wings to the evening Sun.

Cerro Atravesado

This trail is located to the far south of the city behind the Coca Cola facilities. This is the transition zone between the city’s edge and the sweeping desert. At the east-end of Boulevard Colosio, take a left turn onto the highway that leads to Tecolote and just past the gasoline station you can park either side of the road where the trail will be clearly visible to your left. The main route of Atravesado is a gently rising dirt road and will grant access to the top of one of two summits to mountain-style bicycles. After perhaps 10 minutes moderate walking, a junction offers two main options. The left takes you spiraling around a small peak comprised mainly of huge granite boulders, eventually taking you past the shell of an abandoned concrete house that looks very out of place amidst its natural surroundings. Advance past this to see panoramic views of the city with the Mogote sand spit and bay of La Paz sprawled out in the distance. This view gives you an insight into the geographical size of the City of La Paz and its huge bay. Both are a lot bigger than the average visitor might think.

Cerro Atravesado Baja Sur Cerro Atravesado Baja Sur

Take the other route to look back at an expanding wide-angle view of the city and bay as well as the vast cactus studded desert that backs it.

Tips for hiking in Baja

For safety consider not hiking alone. Plan your route and tell someone of your intentions. Use the correct footwear to suit the terrain you are walking on and consider other kit essentials such as hat, face mask or buff, walking cane, basic first aid kit and biodegradable sun lotion. A map and compass and knowledge of how to correctly use them may be necessary for long distance and/or remote hiking. Each hiker should take a fully charged mobile phone regardless of any coverage blackout during the hike. Only hike within your level of ability and knowledge of the area. Consider the option of appointing a knowledgeable guide that specializes in local hiking for anything unknown or extensive. Take more water than you think you’ll need and if possible, use good quality insulated bottles.

Please consider the environment so we can all enjoy it with minimal impact. This includes no feeding, touching or harassing wild animals or doing anything to alter their behaviour. It is important not to introduce any species, plants or animals and not to damage or extract any plant life. Finally, take any rubbish that you accumulate away with you, even if garbage cans are provided.

For more information about hiking in La Paz and the wider State of Baja California Sur you can contact me directly.

Contact:
+52 1 (612) 197 5824
Website
jaydgittens[at]gmail.com