The Best National Parks to Visit in Baja California, Mexico

Jessica Vincent

To many Baja California means three things: sun, sea and margaritas. However, with its wild, uninhabited desert, the oldest coral reef in North America and epic mountain peaks, the world’s second largest peninsula offers boundless opportunities for getting up close and personal with nature. Read on to discover some of Baja California’s coolest national parks.

Cabo Pulmo National Park

Home to one of only three coral reefs on the whole West coast of North America, Cabo Pulmo National Park is one of Baja California’s most precious protected marine areas. Estimated to be almost 20,000 years old, the coral reef here is considered to be the oldest in the American Pacific and, in 2005, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Once an area in danger of being destroyed by overfishing and irresponsible tourism, today thrives with almost 800 animal species. Keen divers flock to the park for close encounters with huge shoals of colourful fish, as well as sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins, sea lions and whales.

How to get there:

With its close proximity to popular holiday town Cabo San Lucas, getting to Cabo Pulmo National Park is relatively easy if you have your own wheels (it’s about a 90-minute drive along a well-marked highway). If you don’t have your own car (and don’t fancy getting a local bus and then hitchhiking the last bit), it’s easiest to take one of the many tours leaving Cabo.

Spot up to five turtle species in Cabo Pulmo National park

Parque Nacional Constitucion de 1857

Snow, in Mexico?! Yes! Nestled in the Sierra de Juarez mountain range, Parque Nacional Constitucion de 1857 is one of the few places in Baja California that sees a huge dumping of snow in winter, creating, for just a few months a year, a surreal, Narnia-like forest. In the summer, with its towering pine trees, epic sunsets and stunning lakes, it’s a popular camping, trekking and mountain biking spot for locals. The park became a protected area in the 60s due to its large number of endemic species such as the Cimarron lamb, the Bura deer, wildcat, gray fox and coyotes, as well as other smaller mammals like raccoons, squirrels, and moles. With plenty of eagles, hawks, owls and herons, this is a great place for keen bird watchers too.

How to get there:

Parque Nacional is located 96 miles east from Ensenada. You’ll need your own (sturdy) car to get here, as the road can be quite challenging, particularly once you pass Ojos Negros.

Golden hour at the stunning Constitucion de 1987 National Park, Baja Norte

Loreto National Marine Park

Introducing one of North America’s biggest marine mammal playground. With 2,065.81 square kilometres (797.61 sq mi) of pristine protected islands, cliffs and submarine canyons, Loreto National Marine Park has become a safe haven for thousands of dolphins, manta rays, sea lions, whales and much, much more. The star attraction here (during the months of January-April), however, is the rare opportunity of getting up close and personal to the biggest mammal on earth: the blue whale.

How to get there:

Loreto National Marine Park is easily accessible by boat from the town of Loreto. During high season, pangas (small fibreglass fishing boats) leave from Loreto’s fishermen’s port daily. For the best deals, go down at 7.30 am and haggle a deal directly with the captains (normally it’s 4,000 pesos for a whole boat, so if you can rally a group of you together, this works out pretty reasonable). There are also several tour operators selling whale watching tours and island day trips online, but expect to pay more for these.

Spotting the huge blue whale in Loreto National Marine Park

El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve

At a whopping 24,930 square km, El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve is Mexico’s largest protected area. Miles of giant cactus-dotted plains, epic dusty-pink canyons and glistening water holes make this a truly awesome landscape to trek through. However, most who make the journey out here are looking for something in particular. Before Jesuits arrived in Baja California in the 1600s, the Cochimi Indians had lived a semi-nomadic life across Baja California’s desert for thousands of years. Sadly, most of these Indians were killed off by disease brought over by the Jesuits, so little is known about their way of life, traditions and culture. However, they did leave behind something very special: some of the largest – and oldest– concentrations of rock art in the Americas depicting hunting scenes, shaman rituals and coming-of-age ceremonies.

How to get there:

Due to its sheer size (and if you want to find those paintings) visiting El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve solo is pretty much a no-go. The paintings can be visited either on a 3-day hiking trip from San Ignacio (where you get to see one of the most impressive cave paintings, La Cueva Pintada) or a day tour from Mulege. Salvador Castro Drew (+52 615 161 4985) offers very affordable tours, and knows just about everything there is to know about the paintings.

Discover 7,000-year-old cave paintings in the Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve

Sierra de La Laguna

One of Baja California’s most beautiful yet rarely visited areas, Sierra de La Laguna might just be this region’s best-kept secret. As you climb up to 2,161 m (Baj Sur’s highest peak), the Sierra’s rainy microclimate quickly transforms the dry, arid land that lies below into a lush, pinewood forest. 10 million years ago, the Sierra used to be an island off the coast of Baja, meaning that today 33% of the 900 flora and fauna species here are endemic. With hardly any tourist traffic and little amenities, hardcore trekkers come here in search for a complete wilderness experience. Few leave disappointed.

How to get there:

With little infrastructure, poor signage and ever-changing weather conditions, this hike can be challenging to do without an experienced guide. The easiest access point, a popular hike that takes you to Picacho de la Laguna, is from Todos Santos. This is also where most organised day trips and multi-day treks depart from. If you want to go with a guide, Baja Sierra Adventures is probably your best bet.

Sierra de La Laguna: a paradise for birds such as the acorn woodpecker

Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park

Sierra de San Pedro Mártir has been enticing adventurers and wanderers since the 1700s. And it’s easy to see why: stunning granite formations, snow-capped peaks, sky-high conifer forests sheltering bobcats and bighorn sheep, and colourful blooming meadows are just some of the things that have made this place Mexico’s most prestigious national park. This also just so happens to be one of only six places in the world where the almost-extinct Californian condor has been successfully reintroduced into the wild, making it a hotspot for birdwatchers in recent years.

How to get there:
Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park is easy to reach if you’ve got a car and the drive is spectacular. Turn left at the Sierra de San Pedro sign at Km 140 on the Transpeninsular, south of Colonet. Once you’re in the park, most well-marked hiking trails depart from the main camping area. Please note: facilities are basic, so bring your own supplies (including water).

View from the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir summit

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