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Baja Bound
Hit the Highway through the Heart of Mexico's Last Frontera. By Michael Benoist

DAY 1: If said in tandem, the words "Mexico" and "road trip" bring to mind inexplicably placed speed bumps, banditos, and many rolls of Tums. But toss "Baja" into the mix and thoughts of low-slung fishing villages, pristine beaches, and a classic North American jaunt take hold. From Los Cabos Airport, near San José del Cabo, drive one hour northeast to Cabo Pulmo and the only living coral reef in western North America. There, stow your gear in one of Cabo Pulmo Resort's thatch-roof bungalows and motor out to the emerald waters on the far side of the reef. Scuba vets will feast on two-tank dives alongside fridge-size grouper and graceful rays. Newbies can learn equipment basics then head to shallow waters for a single-tank swim among the reef's 300-plus species.

DAY 2: Powered by the surging El Norte winds and criss-crossed by 30 miles of hardpack singletrack, Los Barriles, an hour's drive to the north, is Cabo Pulmo on Red Bull. Arrive in the a.m., when winds are at their mildest, grab a room, a board, and a shorty wet suit (winter water temps range from the mid-60s to the high 70s) at Vela Windsurf Resort at Playa del Sol and get tutored by the resort's pros (free clinics on weekdays). Come afternoon, when winds rough up the waters, exchange your board for a mountain bike, refuel on dorado tacos at one of the taquerias in the town's center, and pedal out to the trails. Favorite Lefty Loop runs for 12 roller-coaster miles, slaloming through a cactus garden then tracing a ridgeline with eye-stuffing views of the Golfo de California.

DAY 3: Normally, the thought of driving seven hours in one day during vacation would be heretical. But when you are within cruising distance of one of nature's most celebrated events, it's obligatory. Each year, from January through March, 27,000 gray whales migrate to calve in Baja's Magdalena Bay. After your own four-hour, transpeninsular migration, board a six-passenger panga (the local fishing boat and general ferry service) in San Carlos for a two-hour whale-groping tour. Return via Highway 1, stop in La Paz, and check into the cheery Hotel Mediterrane; its rooftop terrace overlooking the harbor—and neighboring restaurant, La Pazta, serving wood-oven-fired pastas—will fast cure any road weariness.

DAY 4: Rise early: Baja Expeditions' kayak-laden panga leaves at 8 a.m. for the sea lion colonies at Los Islotes. There, you'll swim with mothers and their playful pups before motoring to the north end of Isla Espíritu Santo for a panga-supported paddle back to La Paz. En route, lunch on a deserted beach, explore looking-glass-smooth bays, and snorkel jagged rock reefs.

VITALS:

Cabo Pulmo Resort: $49 a night; $75 for two scuba-tank rentals; $108 for a basic scuba course; www.cabopulmo.com
Vela Windsurf Resort: $94 a night, including a bike and meals; $70 board rental; www.velawindsurf.com; locally-owned whale-watching pangas are available for two-hour tours ($100 and up)
Hotel Mediterrane: $55 at www.hotelmed.com
Baja Expeditions: $85 for kayaking and snorkeling; www.bajaex.com


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December 2004/January 2005



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