The Southernmost Mountain Range in Baja
By Alex Navarro
A couple of months ago I began my article by mentioning how amazed I am every time I fly into Los Cabos and see the beautiful contrast of the sandy brown desert landscape with the electric blues of the Sea of Cortez. But on that occasion, I didn’t say anything about the impressive mountain range that rises parallel to the shoreline all throughout southern Baja. This is the magnificent Sierra La Laguna. I have hiked it many times, but only twice I did long hikes. Once going up the Pacific side of the mountains and another time hiking up the eastern side of the range facing the Sea of Cortez. In the future I am really looking forward to planning and doing a multi-day expedition to the summit valleys, for maybe four or five days. One day hiking up, a few days camping at the top and one day hiking down. So, in this issue I would like to point out all I know and have learned about these incredible mountains, and also some tips for you if you decide to explore this area sometime.
The Baja Peninsula has three other major mountain ranges,the Sierra Juarez,the Sierra de San Pedro Martir, and the Sierra de la Giganta. Being all part of the Pacific Crest, which includes U.S. National Parks like Denali and Yosemite. The Sierra La Laguna is the southernmost range of the Crest system. The mountains provide home for many animals and plant life. Some places have cacti, palms and pine trees that grow side by side with cold pools and little waterfalls next to huge granite boulders. The reserve is a very popular place for studies and research. Every year the local schools and universities do expeditions to the summit.
The Sierra La Laguna, was formerly an island in prehistoric times, and was created about ten million years ago. The name Sierra la Laguna is due to the fact that before there existed a lagoon in the summit valley and it was a sacred place for the Guaycura people where they held ceremonies in the summer months to adore their god Guaymongo. The Guaycuras were a peaceful tribe of hunter gatherers. The men were naked and the women wore skirts. It is said that when the Spaniards arrived, the Guaycuras made canals in the summit and drained the lagoon.
The region is a mix of rugged mountains, steep canyons, valleys and large dry plains and area receives an average of about forty inches of rain per year. The flora and fauna include oak and pine trees, mesquite and palo fierro, and mammals like deer, coyotes, hares, pumas, foxes, doves, vultures, hawks, and eagles, plus 40 species of reptiles and hundreds of species of insects.
Many of the summits in the Sierra reach the height of 5,000 to 7,000 feet with the sea level just a few miles away. This magnificent area is sparsely inhabited, attracting mainly hikers, mountain bikers and naturalists. The mountain range walls are full of granite and many other rocks, so the sightseeing is amazing and if you are into geology you will love it.
The Sierra is located within the La Paz Municipality and Los Cabos Municipality. The core area of the biosphere is centered on the higher-elevation oak-pine forests, while the transition area includes the communities of Todos Santos, El Pescadero, El Triunfo, San Antonio, San Bartolo, Buena Vista, Los Barriles, Las Cuevas, Santiago and Miraflores.
The Sierra de la Laguna receives more rainfall than any other part of the peninsula. The heavy rains are from July to October. November through May is the most popular time for hiking. Temperatures can drop below freezing at night during the winter months.
- On the 6th of June in 1994 UNESCO established the 11,600 hectares of this mountain range a biosphere reserve.
- The surface area of the reserve is 277,832 Mexican hectares.
The Picacho de la Laguna is the highest peak (2,161 meters), and it is the highest point in the State of Baja California Sur.
- There are more than 900 plant species. About 20% of them are endemic to the Baja peninsula.
- The Sierra de la Laguna is home to about 224 species of plants.
- The highest elevations of the Sierra La Laguna have pine-oak forests.
- There are tropical dry forests at about 2,600 feet.
- At about 950 feet starts the Sonoran Desert landscape and goes down to the coast.
- The Tropic of Cancer runs directly across the Cape and the Sierra La Laguna at 23.5 degrees latitude.
- The biosphere reserve is the main source of water for 67% of the people in the state.
- The area has about 700 endemic species of vegetables.
- 289 species of birds exist in the reserve. 111 are resident and the rest are migratory. 41 are endemic.
- Of the 47 species of mammals in the reserve, 40 are endemic to Baja.
- The reserve has 7 great canyons.
There are many miles of undeveloped land and hidden trails throughout these mountains to explore. As I mentioned, The Sierra de la Laguna can be approached either from the East Cape (Sea of Cortez side) or from the West (Pacific Ocean side). To hike the summit the preferred way is from the western side of the Sierra starting from La Burrera ranch near Todos Santos. This is a faster but steeper route than from the east side. From the east side there are a few access points into the Sierra like Cañon San Dionísio from Santiago, Cañon San Bernardo from Miraflores, and Cañon San Pablo from Caduaño.
Most hikes are in various types of trails, canyons, and cow paths that wind through the mountains. Depending on the level of the experience you want, you can tailor your adventure or tour. You can hike down the opposite way you went up when hiking the summit. At the highest point you are able to see the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the Gulf of California/Sea of Cortez on the other.
Many hikes can start near Santiago, a one hour drive from San José del Cabo. Santiago town is called Santiago de los Coras. It is almost exactly on the Tropic of Cancer. In the town you’ll find the Mission of Santiago de Los Coras, founded in 1721. Padre Napoli founded the Mission.
There are many streams and waterfalls in the area, and there are many cold pools throughout the hikes to enjoy a swim and great for cooling down. You must have good balancing techniques when hiking across boulders along the streams. You can hike partly on streams barefoot, but be careful because the sand can be sharp and hot. Wear great hiking shoes or good trail sneakers. Take plenty of water and hats or scarves for sun protection.
It is great to get off the beach once in a while and explore the mountains as you have the best of both worlds here. Your hotel concierge can easily help you in booking a tour or expedition to the Sierra. There are many companies that run day tours to the famous waterfall in Cañon de la Zorra and the hot springs in Santa Rita, both near Santiago, and both with fairly easy 15-minute hikes or less.
Also, online you can find the best operator for overnight camping expeditions to the summit of the Sierra La Laguna. They lead guided treks throughout the Sierra with a range of day trips, excursions and overnight expeditions.
You can camp where you wish. Be responsible, pack out your trash, don’t contaminate the water, and leave no trace. Take many pictures and memories.
If you drive the highway through the Sierra you will find San Bartolo town. It is a great spot to enjoy traditional guava, pitahaya and mango sweets, turnovers and fruit preserves. Also in the drive you will encounter Miraflores where you will find beautiful hand-made leather items.
So as you can see, the Sierra La Laguna is a magical place to be explored for sure someday. My son is going with his school on a 3-day camping trip there next February, and hopefully I will go soon also. So If you feel like something different this vacation, maybe try an outing to these fantastic mountains too. Have fun!