I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Cedros Island, off the west coast of Baja California with a couple of groups of desert plant enthusiasts who had booked an eco-tour with Cedros Outdoor Adventures. This is the second time in the past year that I’ve had the opportunity to visit Cedros Island, and I really enjoyed the trip, both times.
I’ve heard that 15 years ago it was difficult for tourists to get to Cedros Island, and not always pleasant once they arrived, but what a great difference time can make! Those interested in visiting these days can expect a safe, comfortable and enjoyable trip.
Jose Angel of Cedros Outdoor Adventures picked up the group of plant enthusiastics in San Diego, in a comfortable mini-bus with a professional driver. We headed south across the border into Mexico. After a brief stop at customs to get our tourist permits, we traveled the scenic toll road south, winding along the Pacific coast. After about a two-hour drive we arrived at the small Ensenada airport. In years past, to get to Cedros island you had to drive ten hours south to Gurerro Negro, and try to hitch a ride on a salt company plane or boat. No more! Now there is regular plane service from Ensenada. Our plane was a thirteen passenger Cessna Grand Caravan. The flight was short (about 1.5 hours) and very smooth. You get great views of the Baja California coast, several islands, and Cedros island from the air, too.
As you arrive by plane you can see much of the mostly uninhabited, 25 mile-long, mountainous island stretching out below. Stands of endemic Cedros Pines that survive on fog-borne moisture cling to the highest peaks. The mountains go straight down to the water, and all along the island are tiny beach coves, many with colonies of Guadalupe fur seals and sea lions lounging in the sun.
The new airport at Cedros is small and very clean, with chairs in the waiting area. While on Cedros we stayed at the new Hotel Zam Mar. Juan Carlos and Josefina, the owners, are friendly and helpful, and Cedros Outdoor Adventures had arranged for them to pick us up at the airport when we arrived.
The Zam Mar Hotel is attractive, with clean, modern rooms, a landscaped patio and café facilities. Internet can be accessed from the hotel office or via wireless if you bring your computer. The showers were hot and the bed was comfortable. There is also satellite TV, though I didn’t spend any time watching it. Too many other interesting things to do on the island!
The food on the island is fresh and delicious, especially if you love seafood. The first day I had White Sea bass, cooked in butter and garlic; it was a huge portion served along with beans and tortillas, of course. Other memorable meals included shrimp salad, fresh tamales, burritos, grilled lobster and sushi.
The main event of this trip was hiking and looking at plants. One day we took a panga up the east coast of the island, past lounging sea lions and seals, to the small fisherman’s camp at Punta Norte. From there we hiked up a rocky arroyo, past the old mine to the endemic Cedros Pines, overlooking the cliffs and ocean on the west side of the island. Just magnificent.
On the hike everyone had a great time looking at and photographing the many varieties of cacti and other succulents growing on the island. There has been a lot of rain this year, so many plants were in bloom. On other days we drove along the west coast of the island, hiking and looking at the plants on that side, which is drier and has a very different look than the east coast. We also hiked up a ridge above Cedros Town to see one of the only three Cardon cacti on the island.
Looking down on the tiny pueblo of Cedros Other activities during the trip included a tour of the Mitsubishi salt company, which processes and distributes industrial sea salt, and sightseeing around Cedros Town. This is a village of a few thousand people. It features a picturesque port, with a stone sea wall and lots of yellow and blue fishing pangas. There is a small, pebble beach where the locals gather to swim and socialize in the summer.
Cedros Island is one of the most remote areas of Mexico, and as I understand it, until recently was not geared to the comfort of tourists. There was no commercial plane service and the accommodations available back then were not pleasant. In addition to this, the island had a problem with trash management. The first two concerns no longer apply, and new policies of trash management are underway. Most of the island has been cleaned and the metal is being sold for recycling. There is still a large dump area outside of Cedros Town but we are told that this area, too, is in the process of being cleaned up.
Jose Angel Sanchez, the owner of Cedros Outdoor Adventures, is a marine biologist who has been working for conservation in this region for many years. Part of that goal involves helping to create environmentally friendly, sustainable economic opportunities for local people in remote areas such as Cedros Island. In years past, the only major industries on Cedros have been the salt company and the fishing co-op, so many locals are eager for the opportunity to bring tourists to Cedros. Jose says he has been working with them to improve services and it’s clear that it’s working.
Our groups went to Cedros to look at plants and take thousands of photos. Many other tourists come for sport fishing. For them, there are dedicated pangas that are safe, clean and equipped with fish finders, GPS and cell phones, as well as regulatory lifejackets and safety certified. The new hotel is comfortable and geared to serving an international clientele. Overall, this region, and particularly Cedros Island is a friendly and interesting destination for outdoor activities like fishing, birdwatching, whalewatching, photography, or for seeing the unique plants and culture of this region. Though it is now opening up to tourism, tourism has not taken over. This makes it a great time and place to experience the real Mexico: friendly people, good food and unspoiled nature.
By Melanie Lamaga