Just a few miles out of Cabo San Lucas and you can still experience the Baja outback and what real rancho life is like. There is a great diversity of plants, animals, rock formations, oasis, landscapes and views to enjoy if you just get out of town a bit.
As I sit here in my downtown Cabo compound relaxing and listening to the breezes in the palms I reflect on yesterdays “magic carpet” ride into the Los Cabos backcountry. I took a good friend into the local outback in my Yamaha Rhino which my friend said felt like a magic carpet ride because these UTV’s (Utility Terrain Vehicles) have such great suspension you barely feel any of the roughness of the roads or tracks. These types of vehicles are not that fast with a top speed of approximately 40mph it is more than enough speed on the tight twisty and sometime very steep tracks that you’ll find. While I do enjoy rough road trips as I call them I personally am not a big proponent of truly off-road driving. There are plenty of great dirt roads and tracks all over Baja making it un-necessary to go create your own off-road tracks and eating up the desert. Most of the roads and tracks we used to get up into the local mountains and arroyo areas behind Cabo can be easily traveled by any 4x4 and in some cases even cars but I wouldn’t advise it.
However you get out of town and into the Baja backcountry you'll be surprised by the varied desert or mountain landscapes and oasis as well as animals and plant life. Baja in most areas provides a true “desert solitude” as one of my favorite authors; Edward Abbey would call it. A trip into the outback of Baja can be a once in a lifetime experience if you are a newbie explorer or just a great break from the more populated areas if you live or travel in Baja regularly. You will also see some incredible scenery, rock formations, waterfalls as well as some fantastic views of the mountains and sea depending on where you go.
I’m always amazed that for how many people visit Baja and the Los Cabos area for example; how few actually make a trip into the local outback areas of Baja. The fun of using these smaller buggies is a great outdoor experience and way of seeing and feeling it all without being closed up in some air-conditioned car. There are several companies that have tours you can take or you may want to rent your own 4x4, ATV or UTV (make sure you have a working GPS) if you go it alone. There are also great areas for riding horses and mountain bikes however the later can be difficult due to the deep sand in many areas. These later forms of travel along with hiking can be great ways to silently travel but are not for everyone as the heat alone can take a real toll on you physically.
I wish these vehicles were a bit quieter but overall it is truly an amazing way to see all the birds like, heron, egrets, quail, dove, eagles, road runners and of course the giant turkey buzzards. You will also see lots of rabbits, lizards, squirrels, burros, goats, cows and horses from the ranchos. It is also possible to run across some of the wilder animals like raccoons, mountain lions, coyotes, snakes or even deer for example but have no fear because if the know you are there they are gone so fast you rarely get much of a look at them. The plant life is impressive as well with miles of many types of cactus, desert shrubs and trees interrupted with palms, mangos and giant ficus trees with enormous roots and even oaks and pines at higher altitudes, showing you where the oasis or underground water is.
Some advice is to bring along water, water and more water along with a shovel, a few tools, map, compass and or GPS if you are exploring on your own. If you plan on going it on your own, then be sure you are familiar with some major landmarks. As I mentioned earlier there are many roads and tracks all over Baja and it is very easy to get lost if you don’t take note of landmarks and where the sun is in relation to where you are going. Getting stuck in the sand is easy even with a 4x4 on the arroyo tracks, or breaking down in the outback can be more of an adventure than you desired unless well planned for. If you do find yourself stuck in sand before you dig in using more power it is best you let some air out of your tires… it can make a huge difference! Cell phones do have better coverage than in the past but only if you are on higher ground so you cannot always rely on them for help or you may have to hike up for a signal. Also the desert areas can be very hot in midday with little shade so if you are planning your excursions in the hotter months you may want to leave early or late and not spend the whole day out in the wild. If you do make a full day trip there are areas where you can find shade and even water to relax and cool off. The winds help a lot at keeping the temps down and many times when get up in elevation you will find a strong ocean breeze.
While I'm sure the ranchers and other habitants of the backcountry will eventually tire of an increase in visitors, as of this time I find them very friendly and helpful. Be sure to be respectful of gates and fences; while some roads have gates you may pass through as many of the gates are to control livestock and not to keep people from passing through. Be sure the gate does not say “propriedad privado” (private property) as this should tell you not to pass through. First off, if you open a gate then close it and secondly if you find yourself trespassing, politely excuse yourself and turn around unless you find yourself invited for refreshments and or snacks. In general the people in the more rural areas of Baja are the nicest, friendliest and most helpful you may find anywhere in the world but it may be difficult to communicate if you don’t speak Spanish as they rarely know much English, why should they, however smiles and friendly gestures go a long way.
There of course is more development on its way and while there is a lot of Baja outback to explore there are plans for new roads such as the Cabo bypass being built that we ran into. In talking with some of the workers that seem to be way out in “nowhere”; in years to come these areas are destined to have more traffic and become more populated. For now it is a short distance from any of the major Baja cities or towns to the backcountry however that is slowly changing.
If you really want to experience more of what Baja really is, go and take a “magic carpet” ride through the desert and mountains to really experience what Baja is all about! Just remember to be respectful of others and if you pack it in pack it out, unfortunately close to the towns there can be a serious garbage problem that obviously does not need any additions. Have a great ride and enjoy your Baja explorations.
Feel free to email any suggestions or comments you may have concerning this article or your own plans to experience more of Baja!