kayaking Baja
Isla Espiritu Santo

translation = Holy Spirit Island

This site is dedicated to helping people get organized for a mind-blowing multi-day kayak trip in Mexico.

At a glance:

  • Isla Espiritu Santo is one of the best kayak destinations in the world

  • kayaking is easy here - almost anyone can do this trip guided (3-4hrs / day), even without prior experience

  • guided trips cost US$330-$600 / person (plus rental of snorkelling gear, wetsuit & sleeping bag if needed)

  • independent paddlers with their own gear pay only US$4/day (plus transportation if needed)

  • convenient access from tranquil La Paz, Mexico

  • great weather October through April

  • abundant marine life: whales, turtles, dolphins, manta rays, sharks, even whale sharks

  • good snorkelling: crystal clear water, coral, tropical fish

  • the highlight for many is snorkelling with sea lions at Los Islotes

  • pristine white sand beach camps in protected coves

  • interesting wildlife: ringtail cats (Babisuris), wild goats, endangered black-tailed jack rabbits, bats, lizards, tiny ground squirrels, perhaps even deer

  • numerous seabirds including boobies, turkey vultures and entertaining pelicans

  • world famous fishing

  • fantastic gold-and-crimson sunsets and luminous starry, starry nights

  • the island is actually made up of two islands, Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida, separated at high tide but joined together by an isthmus when the water recedes
  • La Paz has a storied history of pirates & pearl fishers

Many sign-on for day kayak trips to Isla Espiritu Santo. They enjoy it. But we feel it is too far to travel from La Paz for only 1-day. Do a multi-day trip.

guided or independent?

Would you rather have a guide lead you to the best spots? Or kayak Isla Espiritu Santo on your own?

In 2006 we travelled to La Paz planning an independent trip, expecting to rent kayaks on arrival — but ended up signing on with a BOA tour.

Our advice for independent kayakers:

  • independent paddlers need a permit (US$4/day) from SEMARNAT. Most pay for this at the La Paz office: Calle Ocampo 1045. (612)122-4414 or (612)125-4945
  • bring all your own gear from home

  • bring your own kayaks too, if possible, as renting is not as easy as you would expect

  • a foldable or inflatable kayak would be ideal for Baja

  • if you must rent, contact BOA or Mar y Aventuras (who have the best kayaks in La Paz) by email well in advance

  • both those companies are reluctant to rent except to very experienced paddlers as they fear damage to the boats

  • bring multi-fuel stoves for camping as propane / butane canisters may not be available in Baja

  • alternatively, you can rent a stove along with the kayak

  • don't forget to rent a port-a-potty (toilet), now required for camping

  • camp the night prior to departure at Playa Tecolote on the mainland

  • arise as early as possible to take advantage of the low winds in the morning

  • paddle the 7.2km (4.5mi) crossing to the island

  • if your experience level, confidence or weather conditions do not permit such a long open crossing, it is easy enough to pay for a lift with one of the many boats crossing with day trip tourists. If that does not work you will need to hire one of the boats to take you across — expect to pay US$60 or more for a one way charter.

  • if you are paddling solo do not cross on your own. It's too dangerous if the wind kicks up.

Our advice for guided kayakers:

A web search will locate dozens of sites wanting to organize your trip. Most are middlemen taking a cut of your fee. Best is to book directly with the company actually putting you in one of their kayaks. Each season one or more new tour operators emerge, but two recommended companies do most of the tours:

We can recommend both. You should compare both before you book with either.

Both offer similar excellent tours. Any kind of trip you wish can be organized depending on your desires & availability, but most sign on to either of the two most popular tours:

  • 4-day, 3-night north to south on the western side of the island

  • 7-day, 6-night (35mi) circumnavigation of the island

If you have the time and the cash, circle the island. The eastern side is different, far less hospitable. High cliffs with few points where you can land.

Both companies offer those trips with a full-time motorized support skiff, or without:

  • cooperatively catered

  • fully catered (with boat)

The most important difference is that the skiff can speed you to good snorkelling spots each day, carry your gear & evacuate you in case of emergency. It is comforting to have the boat.

transportation

Our advice is to fly into La Paz (LAP) Mexico. Try the most popular discount airline Aero California out of Los Angeles (LAX).

More airlines fly to San José del Cabo, Mexico but you then need arrange ground transport north to La Paz. Check the baggage weight allowance if you are bringing a lot of gear. (You may want to split the load into 2 bags / person.)

You might drive Baja — an excellent adventure in itself. Or take one of the (relatively expensive) ferries from the mainland: Los Mochis to La Paz or Mazatlán to La Paz.The highways from the USA to Los Mochis and Mazatlán are very good so this route is easier on the vehicle than driving the length of Baja. (Note that the Sematur ferry is no longer running. The only option is BajaFerries — check their website for details.)

Our advice: Baja is best enjoyed in your own vehicle. If you fly down, bring camping gear & rent a vehicle in Cabo or La Paz. Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo are your best bets for getting a good deal on a rental.

  • shop for rates as low as US$150 / week for economy

  • daily rates are high, as a rule

  • shop for unlimited mileage

  • consider renting a camperized VW van or small motor home

Whether you rent or drive your own vehicle, research carefully your insurance situation:

  • insurance can cost you more / day than the actual rental charge

  • you need Mexican liability and collision insurance

  • confirm the deductible

  • your credit card benefits may not include needed insurance

  • whatever coverage you have from home, bring a copy of the details in writing with you to Baja

If you choose not to drive, no worries — bus service in Baja is very convenient.

accommodation

There are good options in La Paz and the surrounding area from 5 star resorts to free wild camping on the beach. We list some of the most popular spots in the left hand navigation collumn. Links to websites or email are included if available. It is easy to find a room even during high season.

If you sign on for a tour with one of the main outfitters, the hotel may be included in your package. BOA clients normally stay at El Moro. Mar y Aventuras clients often stay in a small hotel above their La Paz office called Posada LunaSol.

Experienced paddlers planning to kayak across the Canal de San Lorenzo should put in at Playa El Tecolote — the closest point on the mainland to the island. Best camp at Tecolote the night before departure. Tecolote has several restaurants with washrooms. It's the most popular tenting beach close to La Paz, generally insect free due to sea breezes.

If you do not have your own vehicle, 3 public buses trip to El Tecolote each day, about 23km (14mi) north on paved roads from La Paz.

considerations

Details, recommendations & warnings.

  • Espíritu Santo was in the news in 2003 after private Mexican and foreign donors (including the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund) purchased the islands and transferred them to the Mexican government for protection

  • beware tiny, almost invisible jellyfish. Few people are stung — but have the treatment (white vinegar) ready just in case.

  • shorty wetsuits are advised for snorkelling during the winter (Dec-Mar)

  • some feel the best months are March - April when winter winds start to die down but before the heat of summer

  • many of the maps floating around are inaccurate. Compare yours with the satellite image on this page or websites like GoogleEarth.
  • there are good scrambles and day hikes from most campsites. Bring good walking shoes and long pants if you want to walk inland. Most hiking is over medium to difficult rough trails with a good deal of loose rock.
  • at least 2 fresh water wells can be found on the island. (Caleta El Candelero and El Cardoncito) Do not count on them — bring all your own water.
  • of the supermarkets in La Paz, the best to supply your kayak trip is expensive CCC (Centro Comercial California). Cheaper is Ley's supermarket.
  • Nov-Feb the nights can get cold. Bring a sleeping bag rated 0C (32F) and warm clothes.
  • La Paz gets only 15cm (6in) of rain a year. This is a desert.
  • Dec is the busiest month for kayak tours on the island. February the busiest month for tourism in La Paz.