San Juanico in the Sea of Cortez, Mother Nature was obviously in a playful spirit when she formed the remote Sea of Cortez anchorage of San Juanico Bay. Fanciful spire-shaped islets, fossilized bubbling cauldrons, colorful lava reefs and blonde sand beaches provide boaters with spectacular scenery amid at least two anchoring areas – a playground for boaters.
San Juanico is an excellent overnight anchorage to keep in mind when traversing one of the most attractive yet remote stretches of Baja’s Sea of Cortez side. Loreto is about 22 sea miles to the southeast, Mulege is about 46 sea miles to the northwest, and no coastal towns or marine services are found in between. San Juanico is also a popular cruising destination thanks to its natural beauty and good anchorages.
The two-mile long Bahia San Juanico is bounded by the low darkish point of Punta Mercenarios on the south and by the higher sheltering ridge of Punta San Basilio on the north. My GPS approach waypoint about one and a half miles east of Bahia San Juanico is 26 degrees, 21.5’ North by 111 degrees, 24.0’ West.
Although you can see into the whole bay from this approach, you might want to move from one anchorage area to another within this bay if the weather changes. So it’s practical to think of San Juanico as three distinct areas: North End, Middle Ground and South End.
Sheltered from moderate northerly weather behind the ridgeline of Punta San Basilio, this end of Bahia San Juanico is probably more scenic, and its three or four anchoring spots are more intimate – meaning smaller and tighter.
Two pinnacles of whitish rock 80- and 100-feet tall rise dramatically from 30 feet of crystal water. I’ve dubbed them Isla Spires. Another 80-foot tall islet (Isla Lump) rises behind them to the northwest. Several arches and caves are found above and below the water in the rather steep face of the north wall.
Likewise, we dubbed these spectacular rock spires Isla Spires in "Mexico Boating Guide," because even the locals had no name for them. The Spires are a landmark in the north end of San Juanico Cove. There's good snorkeling around all these rocks, but watch for current around the outer rocks.
The largest beach in the whole bay is about half a mile long, and it wraps around the northwest corner. The sandy shoal off the north half of this beach is popular for kids to swim. However, in some years, precautions need to be taken for sting rays. Wear tennis shoes in the water, and scrape your feet slowly along the bottom to make enough noise to scare away any sleeping monsters.
Ramada Cove, about one mile around the corner north of Punta San Basilio, is another possible anchorage in calm weather for all but the larger boats. It’s actually in the south side of wide open Bahia San Basilio. When San Juanico suddenly gets crowded, think of Ramada Cove as the overflow anchorage. If there’s no wind from the north quadrant, you can anchor in 15 to 20 feet of water fairly close off the small beach in Ramada Cove. Or, for boaters anchored inside Bahia San Juanico, Ramada Cove provides an interesting dinghy expedition in settled weather.
San Juanico’s middle stretch of shoreline is mostly too irregular and rocky for anchoring, and south of Isla Tercera’s tiny beach a small two-horned reef juts out from shore. However, all this makes Middle Ground ideal for exploration on foot. Several
small beaches and tide pool areas alternate with house-sized hillocks as you move down the rest of Middle Ground shoreline.
Here’s where I’ve encountered fossilized “paint pots” that eons ago were bubbling mud. You’ll also see wildly folded stripes of color in exposed rock faces, veins of impure and fractured amethyst crystals, pink and white quartz and other geological wonders. If you don’t want to walk the shoreline from the big beach, you could land a dinghy on Playacita Tercera, a small crescent beach inside the rock-enclosed basin (described above) immediately south of Isla Tercera.
Look but don't Touch
Please don’t hack into this marvelous and ancient geology. Don’t pocket pretty little rocks you might find lying on the ground. Instead, let the only souvenirs you take away from San Juanico be photographs, drawings, paintings, sea stories and vivid memories. Let’s all help preserve this magical spot for the many generations to follow us.
Behind Middle Ground, the land rises fairly gently toward the south, so you can hike inland amid statuesque cordon cactus and desert chaparral. Birds and butterflies are usually seen in abundance.
Behind the big beach lie two small lagoons that are brackish to dry most of the year. However, some old charts say fresh water was found here. Occasionally, shepherds bring their goats down to the dry lagoons to munch the greenish brown desert bushes in the shady ravines. Being wakened to the bleat of goats and tinkle of cow bells is a San Juanico treat.
Where do they come from? A dirt track behind the lagoons leads about two miles inland to the goat-herding village of Rancho San Juanico – probably how this bay got its name – and another five miles of semi paved road leads to Highway 1.
At the curving South End of the big beach, Isla Tercera (Third Island) lies about a quarter of a mile due south of the spires. This encompasses the bulk of the North End.
In this North End, anchoring is possible – depending on your boat, your scope, the tides, the weather and other boats present – on three sides of Isla Spires (east, south, west), southwest of Isla Lump, and northwest of Isla Tercera.
The spires and islets in the North End create miniature neighborhoods where several boats can anchor without feeling in each other’s space. The anchoring depths range anywhere for 50 feet out near the hook on the south face of Punta San Basilio down to 15 feet off the big beach. The most intimate spot is in 15 feet of water right between Spires and Lump. The deeper bottom outside Isla Spires is a mix of sand and rocky patches. The rest of is mostly sand and mud, but avoid any slippery patches of sea grass off the lagoons.
I once saw a small boat anchored inside a tiny (400 yards across) basin southwest of Isla Tercera, but because the area southeast of this island is foul with rocks and rockpiles, that boat came in and out through a narrow, four-foot deep pass on the west side of Isla Tercera.
Summer in the central Sea of Cortez brings long periods without a breath of wind, or with only occasional southerly breezes. Those are good conditions for anchoring in the South End of San Juanico. Most of it is wide open to north and northeast winds and swell.
A half-mile long volcanic reef is the primary feature in the South End. It extends northwest in a straight line from the base of the large hill near Punta Mercenarios. Snorkeling on the very sheltered western side is quite comfortable in 10 feet of water, and you can walk in off the nice beach behind the reef.
The outer tip of the reef rises up from about 40 feet of water, and scuba divers can inspect not only the reef but also the short stretch of steep wall going out toward the rocky tip of Punta Mercenarios.
Smaller boats and multihulls could anchor comfortably in the wide area inside the north tip of the reef and toward the detached rock near shore, in from 17 to 30 feet of water over sand, rubble and mud. Larger boats would anchor just west of Punta Mercenarios, or in the “V” formed between this low rocky point and the submerged reef, in 20 to 25 feet of water.
If the wind picks up from the north, you can move over to the North end. Two other north-wind anchoring alternatives in this region are Punta Mangles (about five miles down the coast) and Punta Pulpito (about 8.5 miles up the coast).
San Juanico remains one of the prettiest but most fragile destinations in the central Sea of Cortez – just like Mother Natures playground for conscientious boaters.
Article by Capts. Pat & John E. Rains