Cycling | 6 comments
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Off the beaten path along the Eastern Cape in Baja California, Mexico – by bike.
On my recent trip to San Jose del Cabo, I’ve decided to ‘saddle up’ and ride my bike on the East Cape road. For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but just to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to constantly move and experience new places outside of hotel resorts. When visiting Cabo two years ago I didn’t explore this road because the information I had at the time it was a gravel road.
When I was in San Jose del Cabo for the first time in 2012 I rode my bike on the four-lane Corridor highway connecting San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. The Corridor is stretch of lovely beaches sprinkled with luxurious beachside resorts between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. I also rode my bike on highway 1, between San Jose del Cabo and La Paz. This is the highway that heads straight North from San Jose del Cabo to Los Barriles and capital city of Baja California Sur, La Paz. It winds through the Sierra de la Laguna, southern Baja’s highest mountain range, with peaks rising over 7,000 feet from the Sea of Cortez.
Well, this time, something was pushing my curiosity and I wanted to see if the East Cape Road was really just a gravel road. And guess what! I was surprised to discover that a good portion of the East Cape road is paved. But before I start describing my ride, here is little bit about East Cape for those who have never been in Cabo.
The East Cape: Breathtaking!
The term ‘East Cape’ here in Baja, refers to the lovely and largely unspoiled (comparatively) region beginning just east of San Jose del Cabo and running northward along the Sea of Cortez, for about 160 kilometers to Bahia de Los Frailles. Some say the East Cape hubs of Buena Vista and Los Barriles, magnificently situated on Bahia Las Palmas, are the Los Cabos of twenty years ago. This is where the waters of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean mix and as you may expect these are some of the best waters for fishing on the Planet!!
Nutrient rich Pacific water feeds the vast assortment of Marine Life found here. Coarse white-sand beaches ring the bay, most of them readily accessible from the parallel Coastal Road. Baja California pearling once reached its southernmost point here. If you want to fish, snorkel, SCUBA, or just relax and enjoy a laid back pace of life, this may be your nirvana. After you finish reading my story about bike riding in this area, you might also include cycling on your agenda in the future!
Road to Puerto Los Cabos
So, here is my story of bike riding into the East Cape. From the old town Centre of San Jose del Cabo I began my training ride at the traffic roundabout with Calle Boulevard Antonio Mijares and Calle Benito Juarez. I went across a massive bridge that spans the arroyo, hopefully relieving the area residents of being cut off from the city center during the brief summer rainy season.
The road is paved, and has several roundabouts along the route. On the other side of the bridge is the first traffic roundabout, where in the middle sits huge bronze sculpture from Leonora Carrington collection (man holding a fish). Here is also entrance to the San Jose Estuary and Bird Sanctuary.
San Jose’s Estuary and Bird Sanctuary
Located between the town of San Jose del Cabo and the Marina, San Jose’s Estuary and Bird Sanctuary is a large area home to exotic birds and wild life. This marshy estuary is considered the largest body of fresh water in all of Baja California. Historically, the estuary provided a source of drinking water for the early settlers of this region and continues to be a source of irrigation. Today this sanctuary is a place for bird-watchers and nature lovers alike to enjoy the natural beauty. Visitors may also enjoy the estuary by bike as there is a bike path about 5.5 km long and is especially popular during sunrise and sunset for the beautiful colors and scenery.
I went around the circle and continued to ride on a wide boulevard, around two more roundabouts and up the short but steep hill. At the top of the hill on my right was an important bronze sculpture ‘The cross’, designed and built by Gabriel Macotela, one of Mexico’s most distinguished sculptors. This bronze sculpture over looks Puerto Los Cabos Marina and has become a landmark for San Jose del Cabo. The Cross can be seen from vantage points throughout the city. It honors the missionary history of the land and signifies a bold step forward into the future.
After the hill I had to brake hard as I was descending and quickly approaching yet another traffic roundabout in Marina Puerto Los Cabos and La Playita village.
The beginning of the East Cape Road
This is where the real Camino East Cape road begins. The actual Spanish name for this road is Camino Cabo Este. I went around traffic circle and took the road which goes East, away from the coast. This road is in very bad shape. I think I’ve never seen paved road that has so many pot holes. Not even in Edmonton! Some of them are very deep indeed! But I was curious enough to slowly continue exploring this road with my bike. This terribly bumpy, but paved road, runs for about 5 kilometers. The road is mostly washboard, often rocky, and deep soft sand where it crosses dry arroyos.
The road is bad, but not so bad that a regular car will get stuck or have clearance problems. Just be really careful and be ready for a rough drive… or a bumpy ride on your bike, like me. There is a small curvy canyon to get through with large rocks embedded in the road. There are a couple of areas the cyclists (and drivers) will have to watch for in the curvy parts, where the road eroded down the hillside. Perhaps they’ve been repaired by now as large service trucks use these roads daily for construction & supplies.
There was a cement factory after one kilometer up the road and for a while the pavement disappeared under me as I was going across 200 m long white sand wash out. There was a narrow dirt road on my left heading towards local hippodrome. At this point it was a slight uphill and there were cows on the side of the road. Back on the paved road again with even more pot holes, this road continues for about 4 more kilometers up and down through the cactus landscape.
The wash-outs were everywhere, and the locals obviously just take their life in their hands and zoom along, leaving the more careful driver and myself – the lonely bike rider on this road, in a dust cloud!
El Encanto roundabout
Shortly after the private property on the right which offers RV’s for rent and horse rides for tourists I came upon another circle with signs pointing to the El Encanto village. A right hand turn here would take me back to the coast above Buzzard’s Bar and Grill. There is a white dirt road that begins at this village and follows the East coast all the way to the Cabo Pulmo and Los Barriles.
The Buzzard’s Bar and Grill
After the estuary bridge from San Jose del Cabo and about 7 kilometers of driving, there are multi million dollar estate homes on the beach and a hole in the wall called Buzzards. Buzzards used to be at the very end of paved road headed out towards the East Cape. Now the road stretches out to Zacatitos but that doesn’t mean that Buzzards still isn’t a funky beach restaurant enjoyed by both locals coming in on ATVs or driving out from San Jose.
I didn’t enter the Buzzard’s bar for a cold ‘cerveza’, although I was tempted. I continued straight at the traffic circle and to my surprise this section of the paved road looked much better. At first there were several wash outs and sand dunes all over the road, but the pavement was much better. No pot holes at all!
About one kilometer from the last circle was a guarded gate, but the guy who’s working there opened the ramp (actually it was a chain across the road) as soon as he saw me… no questions asked! I certainly didn’t ask him anything, just a short ‘hola’ and I went through the gate. The road immediately turned into a smooth paved two lane road. I don’t understand why they have a gate there, but from this point I started to enjoy my bike riding.
This eastern back-road was a strip of asphalt going through the middle of the peninsula and rolling hills in the desert. The road winds its way up the cape’s breathtaking east coast inland and through some amazing scenery. During the late 2000′s boom, developers bought up the coastline, and now there are just fences everywhere, marking Private Property and very little beach access for the general public. The scenery is beautiful if you like deserts. Miles of cacti and dry bushes and rocks! Some of the cactuses you see on the side of the road are gigantic! I wondered how old they were. Someone mentioned that it takes fifty years to grow only one brunch!
I could see in the distance beautiful isolated beaches where I am sure is fantastic shore fishing, great diving, snorkeling and many fine places to camp there, waiting for someone’s enjoyment. This is a large area where you can kick back and really enjoy Baja. There are also some great surf breaks along the way if that is your interest. I had two lanes of road, with no shoulders and occasional washout curbs, only for me. There was no traffic at all! But no shade either and it was getting very hot. Luckily I had two bottles of water with me.
ZAC – Los Zacatitos
I continued riding on the bike, sweeting like a pig and suffering in the heat, pedaling over some steep hills. Further up the road on East Cape washboard road is another place worthy of visiting. It’s called ‘Zac’s Bar & grill’. This marvelous establishment is much, much more than ‘super scrumptious, delectable food’, strong cocktails, and a classy, comfy, down to earth atmosphere graced with a gorgeous view (particularly during the sunsets). On the road was a small sign ‘ZAC’, pointing to a gravel road on my right, towards the ocean. Zac’s has become a gathering place for locals, ‘townies’ and vacationers alike (adventurous tourists). I didn’t stop here either, as I was too determined to reach the end of the pavement on this road.
Shortly after Zac’s turnout I approached another major divide on the road. This is also the point where the paved road ends if I wanted to continue straight. I imagine this is where the ‘real’ adventure would begin. Hmmm… Is this the end of my journey I wondered? From here it’s only dirt road… all the way to just south of La Ribera.
For me the excitement was that this was not the actual end of the paved road. Not yet at least. The paved road was on my right and the signs were directing me to ‘Shipwreck’ beach. The East Cape area developers are paving the first stage of the planned south to east main road, and arteries dropping down to beach road developments are being done first. That was the road I could use safely on my clincher tires. So I turned right and continued to explore the unknown territory, but I could ‘smell’ the end of the pavement was very close.
At last: The end of paved road
I took this road extension and went downhill for another 4 kilometers, all the way until the road crossed gravel road that goes parallel to the coast. The last 3 kilometers on the road were made of smooth concrete surface. At the bottom, I was again stopped by chain spread across the road and guard on duty. He wouldn’t let me continue straight into the private small development area named Rancho Rocas del Mar and down to the Shipwreck beach. I could turn East or West onto the gravel road. Of course, I didn’t want to do that, so I turned around and started climbing back up the hill, the same way I came. Finally, I reached the actual end of the East Cape paved road. Total distance from San Jose del Cabo to this point was 22 km. I needed just over an hour to get here on my bike.
Though I didn’t get to this beach, I could see it from the point where I was stopped. The beach is off the beaten path along the East Cape and perfect for those wanting seclusion. Shipwreck beach was named after an actual offshore shipwreck that has since been removed. This uncrowded surf spot along the Sea of Cortés has a great right-hand point for surfers. It is about a 40-minute drive from San José del Cabo.
The following 75-80 kilometers of undeveloped land has the most pristine beaches in all of Los Cabos area. The East Cape comprises the entire eastern (Sea of Cortez) side of the Baja peninsula from Punta Pescadero (just north of Los Barriles), south to the eastern edge of the new marina in San Jose del Cabo.
Return to San Jose del Cabo
My return to San Jose del Cabo was almost uneventful. I said almost, because on the way back, somewhere at the half way point is one very steep climb, where I almost dismounted from my bike and walked to the top. Close to the top the gradient reached 17 per cent and it was really testing my limits. Luckily I was using my 34t compact chain ring and 23t sprocket at the back. Somehow I managed to reach the top on the bike, but man, it was hard! I was struggling all over the road… the reward at the top was a beautiful view of San Jose del Cabo in the distance and the entire desert’s landscape in between.
One more thing. Don’t forget to be careful and slow down at the exit gate, where chain is stretched across the road. The guard on duty might be sleeping or just talking on his cell phone and might not see you coming. You don’t want to be stopped by the chain!
I listed here approximate distances from downtown San Jose del Cabo to some interesting points along the East Cape route:
San Jose del Cabo and Camino Cabo Este road
Puerto Los Cabos 3 km
El Elcanto circle 8 km
Gate to Este road 9 km
Los Zacatitos (Zac) 17 km
Turn off to Shipwrecks 19 km
Shipwrecks beach 22 km
La Fortuna beach 24 km
9 Palms 32 km
Boca de la Vinorama 36 km
Boca del Salado 46 km
Rancho del Sol 53 km
Los Frailes 64 km
Cabo Pulmo 70 km
Las Barracas 75 km
El Rincon 80 km
Punta Colorada 85 km
La Ribera 96 km
Rancho Leonero 100 km
Buena Vista 105 km
Los Barriles 110 km
Remember these are approximate distances. Only locals really know the exact distance to all the places along the East Cape route.
The tranquility of the East Cape
This whole trip from San Jose del Cabo to Shipwreck beach and back by bike can take more than two and a half hours, depending on your shape, heat and wind conditions. I think I provided enough details about the road and places to visit on this stretch of the East Cape for everyone to decide if this is something they would like to do.
The area is growing, but at a relatively slow pace and is perceived as being much more laid back than the glitzy nearby resorts of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Much of the East Cape is like a different world than that of the Los Cabos resorts which are so near, yet seem so far away.
Although most of this area is accessed by dirt or graded roads, the paved highway is working its way down from La Ribera, slowly but surely. Someday the entire East Cape will be accessible by paved road, allowing any type of vehicle to traverse the area. But for now the road is still an adventure, large RVs are scarce, and some of the best coastal scenery to be found in Baja awaits you at every turn. If you are looking for a deserted beach to find some well-deserved solitude, the East Cape is waiting for you.
As far as biking goes, this route was interesting and adventurous. I did it once again few days later, but wouldn’t recommend doing it very often. First five kilometers of the East Cape road are really bad! This area could potentially become a cycling paradise. The dramatic terrain of Los Cabos and the whole Baja peninsula is ideal for mountain bike riding. There are several bicycle clubs and many hotels that rent bikes by the day or by the hour. But my blog was all about riding bicycle on the road as I didn’t see anyone writing about their road experiences on the internet.
Don’t let any of the negative things you hear about Mexico traffic discourage you from riding your bike in Baja California. The scenery can be absolutely incredible and the locals are some of the friendliest people on the face of this earth. There are endless stories of the locals appearing out of nowhere to provide help. In my case, there were lots of people who approached me with questions about riding the bike and many just waved to me.
The East Cape road will soon be affected by some new mega resorts that are planned to be built in the area. Enjoy this incredible area while there is still time!
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