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 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
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.
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).
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
Famous Iron Chef Rick Bayless created an episode called Todos Santos Magic for the recently-aired Season 8 of his PBS series, Mexico, One Plate at a Time. We created much of Rick’s itinerary for the Todos Santos segment, and Sergio appears in a fair bit of the program with Rick. Now you can enjoy some of the same, off-the-beaten path places and activities that Rick did – as well as a few more gems he didn’t have time to get to!
Food Lover’s Day One: Treasure of the Sierra de la Laguna
Doña Ramona at her stove
Today you’ll head into the Sierra de la Laguna mountains to meet Doña Ramona, a woman honored by the state of Baja California Sur as a state cultural treasure – and you’ll see why soon enough! Working in the outdoor kitchen that her husband built for her 50 years ago, Doña Ramona, with help from her daughters and daughters-in-law, will instruct you on preparing incredibly delicious beef or fish machaca in the traditional manner, using her family’s metate (grinding stone) to shred the meat, cooking it over the wood-fired stove in her kitchen, and serving it up with traditionally prepared tortillas and other side dishes that you’ll make yourself. Doña Ramona is a fabulous cook, but it’s actually the pottery that she makes for cooking and dining for which she has won such great acclaim, and during your class you’ll see why leading Todos Santos restaurants like the fabulous Café Santa Fe use her pottery in their kitchens. It’s a cooking class unlike any you’ve ever had before, and what made her one of the stars of the Rick Bayless show on Todos Santos!
This afternoon head back to Todos Santos to relax and treat yourself to a trip to La Bodega de Todos Santos, the town’s only wine store that exclusively features Baja California vintners. Started in 2010 by California wine country native Mac Sutton, La Bodega is the perfect complement to what he describes as “the incredible, inventive gastronomy of Todos Santos” and reflects his philosophy of Eat Local, Drink Local. There are tastings on Monday nights from 5 to 8 PM, with 3 glasses of wine for 140 pesos and complementary tapas, and there is also Big Red Wednesday (same hours), during which guests can buy red wines by the glass and enjoy tamales and tostadas from Doña Guillermina. It’s a wonderful introduction to Baja wines. Mac and his sweetheart Perla Garnica are also the organizers of the most excellent GastroVino Festival de Todos Santos. Building on the extraordinary success of their debut 2012 festival, the 2013 festival will be May 18-19, and will again feature wine and food pairing dinners, Baja wineries, local restaurant cuisine and live entertainment. It’s definitely an event to mark down on your calendars! La Bodega’s regular hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 12-7 PM.
This evening enjoy one of Todos Santos many extraordinary restaurants. The Café Santa Fe has long been justly considered one of the best restaurants in Baja, and a meal there should be included in any Todos Santos itinerary. Another option is the lovely Landi’s, where high Mexican cuisine is served in a lush garden setting.
Chef Dany at the Hotel California
Food Lover’s Day Two: Preparing the Perfect Meal – It Takes a Village
Today you’ll take in the glorious scenery and nature of Baja, all the while preparing for the evening’s master cooking class with Hotel California Executive Chef Dany Lamote. Start the day off with a trip to Basilfields, a beautiful organic farm that supplies many of the restaurants in Todos Santos. Here the owner will give you a tour of the farm and help you pick out the fruit or vegetables you want to have transformed into tortillas for the evening meal. Yep, that’s right. Whatever fruit or vegetable strikes your fancy – spinach, tomato, strawberry, nopale, basil, mint – we’ll take it to a local tortilleria that will turn it into a batch of fresh, delicious tortillas for you by the end of the day. With the tortillas in process, head out for a desert canyon walk to learn more about the beauty and bounty of the desert, then reward yourself for your exertions with lunch at one of the town’s great local restaurants like El Pastorcito – best place in town for tacos al pastor, or Compa Chava’s – a cute local joint serving up dynamite ceviche. After lunch head over to the beach at Punta Lobos to procure the final ingredient for tonight’s meal – the fish! Todos Santos is home to two fishing cooperatives whose captains and crew are all 4th generation fishermen and you’ll buy the fish from them right as they land with the day’s catch. Doesn’t get much fresher! After stopping to get the tortillas, you’ll head to the Hotel California where Chef Dany will be waiting for you with a multi-course dinner menu and the Baja wines and tequila to match each course. If you’re lucky there’ll be avocado milkshakes for desert. While the cooking class at the Hotel California is extremely fun and very informative, you can also choose to have a wine-pairing dinner prepared for you at Dany’s own restaurant – Santo Vino – which specializes in the wines and cuisine of Baja. It will be a magnificent feast either way!
Food Lover’s Day Three: How Sweet it Is
This morning find your way over to Los Colibris Casitas for a Huevos Rancheros Master Class with local lawyer-turned-chef, Iker Algorri. Connoisseurs of huevos rancheros may argue among themselves about what makes great huevos rancheros great, but they all agree that the secret is in the sauce. And it should be known to all comers that Chef Iker has created the definitive huevos rancheros sauce– the Coloradito. So this morning you’ll learn from the master himself about his Coloradito Sauce, and a few others as well, so that you too can return home a true Mexican breakfast master.
Chef Iker Algorri at Los Colibris Casitas
Now as some of the sauces might have a little kick to them, your next stop should be Paleteria La Paloma, surely one of the best ice cream shops in Baja and home to an inspired range of local ice cream and sorbet flavors including lemon-rosemary, rose petal, passion fruit, pitaya, corn, mamay and guava, as well as the more traditional fare. Ice cream not your thing? Then keep on heading to the edge of town to the dulcerias, or sweet shops (Rick Bayless enjoyed a stop here.) The Todos Santos dulcerias are famous for their locally-made candies including cocada (coconut macaroons), jamoncillo (milk and piloncillo – unrefined sugar), zorrillada (milk, piloncillo and requeson – a special kind of cheese), coyotas (sweet baked empanadas with cajeta or cheese) and chimangos (sweet fried bread). You can also often find local honey from the ranches as well as damiana – a local aphrodisiac – in liquor or leaf form in season.
Playa Las Palmas
This afternoon walk off your morning indulgences at one of the most beautiful beaches to be found anywhere, Playa Las Palmas. Nestled between two rock cliffs, this beautiful expanse of sand is framed by a huge grove of Washingtonian palms growing right up to the beach and a fresh water spring that has created a lovely marsh area for birds. There are horses that live in the palms so don’t be surprised if they come over to see if you’re carrying any leftovers from your foodie endeavors. If you don’t feel like the beach then take your stroll in town and enjoy the town’s many terrific art galleries and creative shops.
This evening enjoy one last meal at one of Todos Santos’ restaurants relatively new restaurants started by young Mexican Chef Sergio Rivera, who creates spectacular seafood, sushi and steak dishes at La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar. You can’t go wrong!