Hiking in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve: TOSEA Guests Share Their Experiences

Hiking in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve: TOSEA Guests Share Their Experiences

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

Parts of this article were originally published in Destino Magazine.

At Todos Santos Eco Adventures we run 4-day hiking trips in the mountains of Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve, a little-explored but fantastically beautiful area in Baja California Sur. We asked 6 former guests to share what they found most memorable about the trip. So here, in their own words, is each guest’s description of their Sierra trek:

Photo by Thea Thomas

“A few adventurous friends of mine in Baja had hiked to the Sierra de la Laguna and told me how amazing it was, but it was more wondrous than I imagined. At an elevation of 7,000 feet it is a world of its own, an “Island in the sky” as one friend described it. The forests of oak, pine and madrona are host to unique plants and animals. For me as a birder seeing the Yellow-eyed Junco, Oak Titmouse, Baja morph of the American Robin and Acorn Woodpecker was great fun. Our trip was lead by an incredible guide, Mauricio Durán, from Todos Santos Eco Adventures. His knowledge of the natural history of the area added greatly to our experience.”

Thea Thomas, Cordova, Alaska

Photo by John Valentine

“One of the highlights of the trip was meeting our guide Sergio. He is so knowledgeable about everything, a true renaissance guy.  I learned so much about geography, birds and the natural world from him.  I often think about that trip.  The hike itself to the top was more difficult than I thought it would be but absolutely beautiful.  What I couldn’t believe is the diversity of trees.  There were parts of it that looked exactly like Colorado.  The most exciting point was the freak electrical storm one night.  I think we had a few snowflakes and our water bottles had ice in them.  I have never seen or heard such an electrical display.   I remember the beauty and serenity of the camping area and the hikes we took each day to the peak and waterfalls. The beauty and diversity of this area nestled between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez—so different from the normal Baja tourist itinerary.  People need to see the incredible beauty of Baja beyond the beaches.”

John Valentine, Kansas City, Missouri

 “Your effort to get to the top will be well rewarded. Seeing both the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific at the same time was an extraordinary experience!”

Jon Dallman, Seattle, Washington

Photo by John Dallman

“I’m 58 years old, and consider myself in pretty good condition. I ride mountain bikes three times a week. Practice yoga in-between. But no matter how much you do, climbing to El Picacho in Southern Baja’s Sierra de la Laguna Mountain Range is a challenge, and our hike to base camp took about 6 hours. The most welcome sight at the end of our hike up was that picture-perfect camp, completely set up with pitched tents and snacks laid out on the table. I felt as if I was on a photo shoot for one of those Abercrombie and Fitch high-end tours of Africa. We spent the night enjoying delicious al dente pasta, and a choice of excellent wines by the light of a crackling fire. We camped along the shores of an ancient dry lakebed at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. Giant pine and oak trees sighed in the breeze. Vaqueros (cowboys) had carried all of our gear and food up on muleback. The mules, now hobbled, were happily munching the tawny grasses of this high mountain meadow.  It was a scene straight out of the old west.”

Mike Brozda, Todos Santos, Mexico

“My greatest memory of the trip was the bells.  The cowboys hobbled their horses and mules so they would not leave the meadow and each of the animals had a bell around its neck. The bells created a symphony under the starlit night, and it was spectacular.”

Patty Romanchek, New Buffalo, Michigan

“I went swimming on my birthday in a frigid mountain lake. Everyone was going to join me…but after I took the plunge, they all were still on the rocks

Photo by Craig Ligibel

laughing. That was the coldest birthday swim I have ever had. One of our group was a urologist. He assured me that a certain appendage that had almost disappeared would be sure to return the next day. I’m glad he was right!”

Craig Ligibel, Annapolis, Maryland

“Sergio led us on a 3 hour climb up the face of El Picacho itself, the literal and metaphorical high point of the trip. The trail winds through shady pine forests before emerging into oak-covered scree. We threaded along a razor’s edge portion of the trail, with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean on our left, and the Sea of Cortez on the right. We descended about 100 feet–down the distinctive notch you see in El Picacho–before scrambling up

Photo by John Valentine

huge granite boulders to the top. We spent about 90 minutes at the top of the world in Southern Baja, drinking in the view, munching on snacks, and snapping photos. That evening, back at camp, we had a meal of delicious fajitas, rice and beans, fresh hot tortillas with guacamole, fresh vegetables, and toasted our success.”

Mike Brozda, Todos Santos, Mexico

For more information about trekking in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve please visit our web site at www.tosea.net and/or email us at

The Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve: Baja’s Island in the Sky

by Sergio and Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures (this article was first published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico)

The Baja peninsula has long been famous for its remote and beautiful islands, most of which we are accustomed to visiting via water craft. But there is an island near Todos Santos that is readily accessible by car that we can easily explore on foot: the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. Part of an island off the coast of Baja some 10 million years ago, the incredible diversity of plant and animal life of the Reserve still reflects the island isolation the area once enjoyed – over 23% of plants and 10% of animals found in the Reserve are endemic to the area. Nestled between Todos Santos to the west and Los Barriles to the east, La Paz to the north and Los Cabos to the south, it is truly an island of lushness surrounded by shores of desert and sand.

Biosphere Reserves in Mexico
The Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve was created by presidential decree in 1994 by Carlos Salina de Gortari. To be designated a biosphere reserve in Mexico a place must meet 3 basic criteria:

Photo by Craig Ligibel

  1. Have an endemic or threatened species. And we’ve got that in spades! The Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve boasts an astounding 79 endemic plant species, 8 endemic reptile species, 4 endemic bird species and 4 endemic mammal species. A total of 59 species of birds, 40 species of mammals, 31 species of reptiles and 61 species of insects have been recorded in the Reserve. Over 900 species of plants have been observed. It’s truly extraordinary.
  2. Cover an area greater than 10,000 hectares. There’s plenty of room to spread out! The Biosphere Reserve covers 11,600 glorious hectares (~28,665 acres), while the Sierra de la Laguna area itself, including the Biosphere Reserve, encompasses 112,436 hectares (roughly 277,835 acres).
  3. Have one ecosystem that is not substantially altered by human contact. The Sierra de la Laguna is one of Baja’s most beautiful but least explored areas, with plenty of wild spots that have largely escaped the impact of human civilization. In addition to animals such as mountain lions, mule deer, gophers and badgers, a wonderful array of birdlife inhabits the reserve, including the endemic cape pygmy owl, Xantus hummingbird and Belding´s yellowthroat, making the area a bird-lover’s paradise.

Biosphere reserves in Mexico are created with three main objectives in mind: conservation, training and sustainable human development compatible with conservation. Unlike national parks, biosphere reserves allow people to continue to live in the protected areas – although new population centers are prohibited – and our reserve has 35 private properties and 6 ejidos. That result is that the Sierra de la Laguna retains a thriving ranchero culture that is great fun to explore.

Hiking the Sierra de la Laguna
There are a variety of ways to explore and enjoy the Sierras on foot and in all these hikes the diversity of terrain is amazing. At the base is San Lucan Xeric Scrub, also known as Mezquital, which merges with the dry forest. These areas feature a large number of plants that have adapted well to life with limited water including palo zorillo (skunk trees), torotes (elephant trees), lomboy trees and ironwood. The dry forest extends up to about 800 meters (~2,600 feet) and is remarkable in the juxtaposition of plant life, with mosses and other plants that thrive on water co-habiting with more arid types like cardon and biznaga. If you’re still hiking at this point you’ll experience the wonder of moving up through an unexpected oak forest in Baja then on into lush preserves of pine and oak from about 1,400 meters (~4,600 feet). It’s a remarkable transformation of terrain.

Photo by Craig Ligibel

If you’ve made it this far chances are you’ll be camping in the high valley and at this point you may start to ask yourself, “If this is the Sierra de la Laguna, i.e., Mountains of the Lagoon, where the heck is the lagoon?” Well, there was indeed once a lagoon in the flat meadow between the highest peaks but that drained away around 1870 after years of supporting local agricultural and mining operations, leaving only the name behind. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t water in the Sierras. Indeed in normal, non-drought years the Sierras can receive over 100 centimeters (39 inches) of rain and serve as a key water source for Todos Santos, Pescadero and other coastal communities. If you have a few nights to camp you should take a day to explore the beautiful waterfalls near the high valley created by this relative abundance of rain.

And of course, if you’ve come all this way you must take a day to explore El Picacho, the incredible 2,161 meters (~7,000 foot) peak from which you can enjoy sweeping panoramic views of the peninsula, with the Sea of Cortez on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. If you’re lucky enough to make it up to El Picacho you’ll see clearly that the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve is not only a literal island now rooted firmly in a landmass, but also a magical, magnificent island of the sky.

In the Know – Mauricio Duran, Head Guide with Todos Santos Eco Adventures. On the geographic scale the Sierras are mere youngsters, clocking in at about 138 million years old. By comparison, parts of the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S. are 650 million years old, while the Barberton Greenstone Belt in eastern Africa has mountains that are 3.5 billion years old, widely believed to be the earth’s oldest.

Hiking with Todos Santos Eco Adventures
We offer several different options for hiking and exploring the incredible beauty and diversity of the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve:

Day Hikes: We have 2 day hike options in the Sierras. One is called Reaching for the Sky and, as the name implies, we climb as far as we can before we have to turn around to make it home before dark. The other is the Riverbed Stroll, which is generally flat and easy and in which we encounter waterfalls at certain times of the year. There is magnificent flora on both hikes and excellent birding.

Overnight Hikes: We offer two 4-day/3-night hikes and a 2-day/1-night hike. The 4-day hikes include Sea-to-Sea in which we start at the Pacific Ocean, hike across the peninsula through the Biosphere Reserve, and end at the Sea of Cortez. The other 4-day hike is the Todos Santos Loop. The main difference is that the latter features an easier descent and less exciting logistics. On both 4-day hikes there are burros to carry all the gear, guides to lead the way, cooks to prepare the food and pour the wine, and warm sun showers to wash away the exertions of each day. Decidedly comfortable camping! The 4-day hikes are only for avid walkers. The 2-day/1-night hike is a terrific combination of Reaching for the Sky and Riverbed Stroll. All hikes are lead by experienced guides and naturalists who are certified Wilderness First Responders. www.tosea.net