Riding Back in Time - The winding two-lane road leading to the East Cape is bordered by a thorny array of cactus plants and scrub brush, interjected occasionally by splashes of color from blooming acacia and bougainvilleas. Immediately beyond the airport, the terrain becomes a mix of convoluted canyons, wide dry arroyos, and the rare spring-fed stream. Cattle range freely, scrounging for their sustenance while squadrons of turkey vultures circle languidly overhead. Wild yet inviting mountains punctuate the distance. For a moment I fancy I'm a cowboy in a western movie. But the fortunate reality is that I'm riding in a fine new air-conditioned van, listening to a CD of lively mariachi music and practicing my Spanish with Manuel, the congenial driver providing my transport to the Buena Vista Hotel, 30 miles to the north, and world's away from the more predictable charms of Cabos San Lucas.
East Cape Entertainment - On the East Cape the attractions are first and foremost sport fishing. Anglers come from around the world to try their luck in the bountiful Sea of Cortez. Changing with seasonal migrations, the catch includes Striped Marlin, Blue Marlin, Black Marlin, Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Dorado, Roosterfish, Mackerel and Wahoo. Both heavy tackle and esoteric saltwater fly-fishing are supported. As befits an ocean side paradise, other activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, ATV tours, beach combing and good old fun-in-the-sun relaxing.
Vista Sea Sport - Such exciting diving merits a quality dive operation. Fortunately, this is to be found in Vista Sea Sport, positioned to serve all of the East Cape's lodgings. Owners Mark and Jennifer Rayor have lived in Buena Vista for 12 years. Both PADI instructors, they have assured that all staff members, including their excellent boat drivers, are certified to at least Divemaster status and are well trained in CPR and First Aid. Their fleet of dive boats includes a 31-foot cruiser; plus three "Super-Pangas," sun-covered, outboard-powered runabouts locally built and perfectly suited to the sea conditions. All boats are outfitted with radios, oxygen and first aid kits. Most importantly, Mark and Jennifer exhibit a solid knowledge of, and a deep love for, Sea of Cortez diving. After diving with them myself, I can recommend their services with confidence.
East Cape Hotel Options - Quite justifiably referred to as Baja's "hidden treasure," the East Cape still only has a few hundred hotel rooms in all. The community is supplemented by a recent sprouting of private vacation homes, some quite sumptuous, including those owned by big name celebrities looking for a quiet hideaway amidst natural splendor. The East Cape hotels range from plain to plush, though all seem modestly priced in relation to their setting and services. All feature full American meal plans that include three meals daily. Following are a selection of hotels that, during my recent inspection, I felt offered a superior combination of quality and value.
Las Palmas de Cortez - Popular with the sport fishing crowd, this property recently benefited from a multi-million dollar upgrade to its outdoor public spaces. Features include a large, oceanside infinity pool, expansive oceanside deck areas, and a big swim up bar populated by equally large fishermen. This hotel boasts of the largest fishing fleet in the area.
Rancho Leonero - A small, American-owned resort, set on its own rocky bluff overlooking the Sea of Cortez, this property represents the most exclusive of the available lodgings. The swimming pool and deck offer a stunning ocean view, while the adjacent restaurant and bar have a safari theme with mounted wild-game trophies. The reef out front, while perhaps a bit shallow for beach diving, offers good snorkeling opportunities. Considering that the rates seem to be only marginally higher than the other options, Rancho Leonero seems a great choice for couples, families, or groups who will appreciate the beautiful rustic beach and remote natural setting.
Seasonality - This is a region where visiting at the proper time of year, and being prepared for prevailing conditions, is critical to the success of your holiday. If coming for warmer water scuba diving, you may expect good conditions June through November. Prior to June, water temperatures are relatively quite cold. By the end of November, the winds have changed direction and sea conditions will deteriorate. Barring a hurricane, prime conditions may be expected during August, September and October. However, divers who are prepared for colder water may also enjoy the Winter months. Although a heavier wet suit is required in the Winter, and the visibility may not be as good, the sighting of everything from huge pelagics to numerous nudibranchs can make it well worth the trip.
The Bottom Line - Baja California Sur offers a truly unique natural environment - I describe it as "Arizona by the Sea." For beautiful coral formations, visit Cozumel, Fiji, or Indonesia (for instance), but for big animal action your best bets are Galapagos, Ecuador; Cocos, Costa Rica; and Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Of these options, the Sea of Cortez is by far the most accessible and affordable. Seasonality is the key to a great trip, but truly inspiring diving await those who are ready for something new and exciting. I invite you to fly to San Jose del Cabo, and turn north to the road less traveled, as you too may enjoy your own "Escape to the East Cape."
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