Sailing Sites by Mike Godsey
The Sea of Cortez, between the Baja Peninsula and mainland Mexico offers world class sailing. The main sailing season is from mid-November to mid-March. However, there can be good wind from mid-October to mid-April. The on windy days the winds range from 15 to 25+ with most sites averaging 5.0.
What makes Baja sailing special is the wind fetch. In Maui the winds just accelerate close to the island. In the Gorge the wind can be light just a few miles upwind. However in Baja the El Norte wind blows over hundreds of miles down the length of the Sea of Cortez. This means that even 5.0 sail/9M kite days can have shoulder high swell. On the big days, the swell can go over logo high. The other difference is the distance between swell peaks. The swell is not the huge chop of the Gorge. This is ocean swell and it can be 50 to 75 feet from crest to crest making slashing and jibing incredible.
The sailing sites are most crowded over the Christmas holidays. At most sites you do not have the crowds you see in the Bay Area or the Gorge. The water is warm, crystal clear and you sail with porpoises, whales, and fish.
The water temperatures vary greatly from north to south. In L.A. Bay you will need a full suit. From La Ventana south a thin, short sleeve suit will do for almost anyone.
Here is a rundown on the conditions to expect at different Sea of Cortez sailing sites starting from the north.
Baja has few of the sharks that worry sailors on the west coast and Hawaii. The only dangers here are needle fish. These sea-going daggers have been known to leap out of the water causing puncture wounds. If you see long narrow fish 1 to 2 feet long jumping out of the waves in front of you, dump into the water and water start going the opposite direction. Hitting one of these daggers when it is moving at 20 mph and you are moving at 30 mph can send its point jaw into some unpleasant places. At all of the sailing spots, longtime sailors can recount last seasons fish stories. For example, if you are at La Ventana, drop by Ventana Windsurf and ask Steve to see the X-rays of his butt. And when at Las Barilles, stop by Vela and ask Bill about his knee. The danger is small but the stories large. At times, there are man-of-war jellyfish but they are small compared to the ones in Maui. All in all Baja sailing is very mellow.
This is by far the most popular Baja destination. If you are coming down for a short trip and like at least a hint of resort life, this is the best place to consider.
There is a wide variety of accommodations ranging from windsurfing resorts to the camping of North Beach. Please see our "Resorts and B&Bs" page for further information. The social life is hot (by Baja standards) and there are lots of stores and places to eat. Telephones, banks, RV park, gas stations await you. There are superb resort and windsurfing rental facilities. For you none windsurfing partner Los Cabos an hour to the south may beckon. There amaze of resorts, golf courses and tennis courts and shopping malls stand ready to devour money and time.
The wind is strong and side shore with very big swell close to shore. On most days, this a rugged place for complete beginners. There is often a good size shore break but once you are a few feet from shore it is no problem. Sometimes there are boats anchored in the inshore waters that you have to watch out for. If you sail southward you will find several points with breaking surf and fun backside wave sailing on larger days.
The winds are a bit stronger here than at La Vantana but when El Norte dies there can be periods of no wind. The large sweeping beach way downwind acts to catch wayward sailors but if you are more than a mile offshore you will have a long drift.
The wind alternatives range from ATVs, to world class fishing, to exercise classes, sea kayaking, and mountain biking. From shore you can see the windline as it moves towards the land. Typically the wind picks up at a civilized hour in the late morning. In town are all the supplies you need and there are good restaurants. There is usually a satellite network so you can get the weather channel and track those Highs and Lows. There is also internet access. On a typical year the winds blow 4 or 5 days out of seven here. The wind here is fairly consistent and the swells can get very large.
This is the easiest sailing place to find. From the border, head south for several days. The highway goes right on the outskirts of town. Head into town to your destination.
Los Barriles caters more to travellers staying at windsurfing resorts and RV parks, but also offers beach camping. In addition this area has the most complete infrastructure including supermarkets and medical care.
Baja Adventures offers a full-service Bed & Breakfast in Buena Vista -- just south of Las Barilles. This nice B&B offers rates from single bunk rooms to double accomodations.
Vela Windsurf Resorts is located in front of the main launch in Las Barilles -- on the beach at Bahia de Palmas, 1/2 mile east of Highway 1, on the north side of town. Vela has a reputation for having some of the best windsurf equipment, accomodations, and instructors in Baja.
If your budget or lifestyle prefer beach camping, then you may be able to camp at North Beach in the arroyo on the north of town. The status of this camping area is always in flux.
Martin Verdugo's is on the beach at Bahia de Palmas, next to Vela. It is partially shaded area with 69 level RV sites and 25 tent sites. There are full hook-ups, flush toilets, showers, laundry, and a restaurant & Bar. The RV camping here is crowded and you are parked with almost overlapping mirrors. This is definitely not a pristine Baja experience but the sailing is great!
The Playa de Oro RV resort has 54 RV sites and 2 tent sites. It has full hook-ups, flush toilets, showers, boat ramp, laundry, and ice. You can make reservations by calling (818) 336-7494.
The northernmost of the fabled East Cape sites. South of La Paz this site was relatively unknown until the 93/94 season. 15 years ago we sailed here for a week and never saw another sailor.
The water and air are warm and the campsites are fairly protected from the wind. If your are driving down for a week or two and sailing is your only goal, this is a good place to spend your trip. The sideshore winds at La Ventana are a combination of two wind patterns. The hot, broad San Juan de los Planes valley downwind creates a local thermal wind that accelerates a mild 18 knot El Norte into fun 20-25 knot breeze. When El Norte cranks this thermal assist gives La Ventana serious winds.
The wind at La Ventana is further accelerated by the venturi effect created by Isla Cerralvo located offshore. The swells are a bit smaller than sites to the south (still they dwarf the Gorge on a 4.0 day) but they line up cleaner than Los Barriles. There is back side wave sailing at the small break at the shallow sand bar about 300 feet off the camping beach. There is another good wave sailing place at the turn of the beach to the south. None of these offer real down the line surf sailing but they are fun!
There is more interesting back side wave sailing 200 yards upwind with glassy breaking waves. There is also some wave action to the south at the bend in the beach. At all of these sites, a surfer can use a long board in the early morning before the wind kicks in. There is world class surfing 90 minutes away at Todo Santos on the pacific side but don't expect any wind.
The sandbar in front of the camping area aborbs the shorebreak making this Baja's best place for complete beginners. There are lots of very sharp sea urchins in the cobblestones towards the pier just down wind. Unless you are able to return exactly to one of the cleared pathways through the cobbles you should wear booties.
If you climb the small hill across the road in the morning you can see the windline and watch as it approaches the shore. A huge beach sweeps downwind acts as a parachute for drifting sailors. Even if you breakdown 6 miles outside you will land on the beach after drifting only about 1-2 miles. On a typical year the winds blow 4 to 6 days a week.
Be forewarned this is not a place for those looking for nightlife. There is a nice campground with water, trash pickup, showers, and somewhat funky restrooms. It can be very crowded at times. The town has no bar, no paved roads, no gas station, and unreliable phones. There are several tiny but good restaurants. There are 3 small windsurfing and kiting B&Bs. See our "Resorts and B&Bs" page for a full listing. If you are camping the prices for provisons are currently cheaper than at other Baja sites.
The reason La Ventana was so late being discovered is its isolation from Mex. 1. To get there if you are driving south, watch for the airport on the right as you near La Paz. If you are flying into La Paz leave the airport heading east and turn right when you reach Mex. 1. Once past the airport, head towards La Paz. When you get to the whaletail monument turn right and you will be on Boulevard Las Garzas (also called Agustin Olachea). Follow it to the first stoplight where you will turn right on Boulevard Luis D. Colosio. Continue out of La Paz and it turns into Hwy 286 to SJ de Los Planes.
You will know you are on the right road when you pass the Pepsi and Coca Cola bottling plants. Then the road heads to a mountain ridge. Then it drops down an endless hill into the Los Planos valley, where you will have your first view of La Ventana and the huge island offshore. If it is blowing you will see flashes of mylar sails.
As the road levels out, look for a paved road on the left going to El Sargento. Go about 7 KM to the tiny village of La Ventana. Just past the garish pink house on the left you will see Baja Joe's, then Ventana Windsurf. A bit down the road is the campground. Captain Kirk's is on the right about a half mile further.
Located between Santa Rosalia and Mulege at the end of a 15 mile dirt road, Chivato offers scenic high wind camping. El Norte is somewhat accelerated here by the thermal warm basin of spectacular Conception Bay to the south. There is big swell and flat water speed sailing here in strong winds. Produce and water are sometimes available and there is a resort nearby. The rumors of the camping area on the beach being closed have so far not been realized and improvements to the camping area are being made. The camping is on a firm sand beach. The launch is sandy with none of the rocks found at most of sailing sites. There is OK diving right near shore on windless days but fish are scanty near shore. The wind and water are very cool compared to the sites way to the south. The fishing is good from a kayak but nothing like the East Cape sites at this time of the year. Blowing sand can bury equipment and slow moving sailors. Typically the winds blow 2 to 3 days per week.
Chavato is easy to find. There is a sign "Palo Verde" at the entrance to the road to Punta Chivato. Once on this 15 mile dirt road follow the sign
"New Road" at the fork in the road. The road is usually it is in pretty good condition unless it has rained recently.They have reopened the hotel restaurant and are building a second restaurant near the airstrip.
Located south of Santa Rosalia there is a place with some nice waves. You need a boat to get there easily. Breaking swell with good rides.
Cabo Plumo has spectacular scenery, Baja's only coral reef, great fishing, whale watching, kayaking, hiking, biking, diving, huge swells, and very high winds. The only element missing many years is reliable wind. There are only about 20 wind-protected camping sites and they are usually taken by long-term campers. Camping on the exposed beach in 25 to 40 knot side offshore winds is not fun and it is not uncommon for sailing gear and small dogs to be blown out to sea.
Like Jay Valentine once said, "this is a site waiting for an accident to happen." Be forewarned Pulmo is for advanced sailors only. The winds are side-offshore and the shore break fattens up on broken masts. If you break down far outside you risk being washed up in Central America.
On the upper reef, the breaking swells are far larger and more vertical than other sites and the white water can sweep your equipment away. 500 feet downwind, the razor sharp lower coral reef has fangs that stick above the surface at all but the highest tides. Do not sail in near the lower reef since the water ranges from 4 feet to 4 inches in depth.
Killer whales are occasional visitors to the edge of the reef. On a typical year, the wind blows 2 to 3 days per week but there can be long spells with no wind and conversely, long spells with continuous wind if you're really lucky.
Unlike the rest of Baja, the winds typically blow all night and sleeping can be a challenge. It is not uncommon for the wind to fade by mid-morning. If you sleep in a tent, ear plugs are necessary. The nearest potable water is 16 miles away. When the wind has blown in the 3.0 to 4.6 range for several days, well-organized 6 to 9 foot swells break as they hit the shallow reef beyond the point. Its like backside sailing without an impact zone.
There is spectacular kayaking at the point to the south. There is fairly good fishing but fishing is forbidden within 5 miles of the reef. There is also some of the best shallow water diving in Baja on the lower reef.
Bahia de Los Angeles
This spectacular, huge island-studded bay has a small but devoted windsurfing community. If you are driving and you only have a week in Baja, this is your first and last stop. The air and water are far colder than sites far to the south. The winds are moderate here and the passage of even relatively weak Highs to the north will bring good north winds. Despite its beauty, the only sailors that stop here are those who are unwilling to drive for one or two more days to warm water. Typically the winds blow 2 to 4 days per week. The road can sometimes be rough the last 40 miles.
L.A. Bay is easy to find. Just turn left at the well-marked turnoff and head east to the Sea of Cortez. La Gringa, as it's called by the locals, offers good flat-water sailing from your campsite across the La Gringa Bay to the point. Camping is currently $3.00 per day per car. The beach is sand and cobblestones. Set up camp in a high spot to avoid inundation during real high tides as the water comes in from behind you via a low spot. The waters inside are great for beginners and intermediates. Advanced sailors can head outside and towards the islands. The small unattractive village offers basic supplies and some food items. The market on the right side of the road has a telephone.
Punta Arena / Playa de Los Naranges
Located at the mouth of spectacular Bahia de La Conception these sites offer mostly light wind sailing in the 5.5 to 6.0 range. Great camping and boating. You can buy fresh seafood at the fish camp. Lots of long-term non-windsurfing campers. Typically the winds blow 2 or 3 days per week.
To find Punta Arena, pass the Punta Chivato turn off. The road will continue along a coastal plain heading towards Conception Bay. As you ascend the first hill just before the bay look for a wide graded area on the left with a dirt road leading eastward. There will be a sign saying Punta Arena. Follow the road for about 4 miles. There will be a maze of dirt roads at times. Keep on the central road at the 3 way fork. If you come out at a sandy beach with lots of RVs you are at the wrong place. Your destination is about a half mile to the east but you may not be able to drive there along the beach. Head back into the desert and take the next right until you come to a sandy beach with thatched shelters with concrete pads.
For the next several hundred miles there are a few sites for high wind sailing but they are hard to get to and offer only primitive and isolated camping. They are secret spots so all I'm going to say is that: they are horrible, the wind never blows, and there is no place to plug in your Winnebago.
La Paz Tide Tables
L.A. Bay Tide
Santa Rosalia Tide