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San Felipe's Giant Cactus Forest: Valle de los Gigantes

Valle de los Gigantes

For many, the coastal town of San Felipe is synonymous with fresh fish tacos, desert racing and amazing sunrises over the Sea of Cortez. But if you are up for an easy day trip into the desert, a very unique natural experience awaits.

A short drive south of San Felipe, you will find the appropriately named park called Valle de los Gigantes (Valley of the Giants). The valley is home to an impressive forest of cardón cacti, the tallest growing cactus in the world. The massive cardóns can only be found in Baja California and Sonora and are capable of growing to heights of well over 60 feet and can weigh up to 25 tons. These slow growing plants also have an equally impressive lifespan, often reaching ages of up to 300 years. It is honestly quite humbling to stand underneath of one of these giants as their massive branches stretch upwards into the desert sky.

Many people, including the proprietors of the park (!) mistakenly refer to the cardón cactus as the saguaro cactus. While the two species are closely releated, no saguaros actually exist in Baja California, but are found in Sonora, Arizona and California.

A Cardón Goes To The Worlds Fair

Cardón Cactus - World's Fair

Photo courtesy of Blueroadrunner.com.

When the 1992 Worlds Fair was being planned, officials in Mexico decided that one of the unique giant cacti should be transported to Seville, Spain to be on display for the event. A massive, 45 foot tall cardón was selected and workers carefully constructed a frame of metal and foam around the cacti to protect it while in transit. Although the process of extracting and shipping the giant encountered many setbacks, the 150 year old specimen was eventually trailered out of the desert and put on a ship to Europe. Upon arrival, the cardón was successfully replanted in Seville and it still remains there today. A misleading and somewhat humerous typo on the display plaque made for the fair erroneously states that the cacti is 1,500 years old instead of 150!

Getting There

Take highway 5 south out of San Felipe towards Puertecitos. The turnoff for the Valle de los Gigantes is just before KM 14 near Punta Estrella. There is a small fee to access the park but it is well worth it! A short drive on the dirt will take you to the parking area that is surrounded by the giant cardóns. Those with 4 wheel drive vehicles can venture further into the park, but the road is said to be very rough and difficult to transit.

Valle de los Gigantes sign

Photo courtesy of My San Felipe Vacation.

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