Los Angeles Times

Reconnect With The Great Outdoors

Dramatic desert terrain. Unique marine habitats. Breathtaking coastal scenery. The natural world is on full and glorious display in Baja California Sur -- and in no place is that more true than Los Cabos, at the peninsula's southernmost tip. Encompassing some of the earth's most distinctive and beautiful ecosystems, Los Cabos offers an array of eco-adventure opportunities. Outdoor enthusiasts can spend their days snorkeling over the brilliant colors of the coral reef at Cabo Pulmo, kayaking to the iconic El Arco, exploring the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains or simply enjoying the perpetually restless jades and sapphires of the spectacular Sea of Cortez.

Known as the "Jewel of the East Cape," Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park is located 60 miles north of Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez. A particularly rich and diverse ecosystem, Cabo Pulmo offers Baja's best diving and snorkeling and is also home to the only living coral reef in western North America. Bounded by a rustic beachfront, the park is an environmentally sensitive underwater sanctuary, an ideal place for divers and snorkelers to experience hundreds of different species of tropical fish and crustaceans.

Los Cabos is also home to three government-protected sea turtle hatching grounds. Visitors to the destination are treated to a rare sight each year as five types of turtles -- loggerheads, leatherbacks, black turtles, olive ridleys and hawksbills -- nest and hatch their eggs between June and December. For a more personalized experience, guests can observe the hatched turtles in a specially designed holding corral, handle the baby turtles in a supervised setting and personally release them from the beach into the welcoming waters of the Sea of Cortez. Paddling across the unspoiled waters of this protected paradise is another great way to experience Los Cabos. Kayaks and canoes can be rented for $10 to $15 per hour and paddled from Medano Beach to Land's End and Lover's Beach for a unique way to get acquainted with the seascape. Palmilla Bay in the San Jose Bay is filled with underwater wonders and is an ideal kayaking destination because of its shallow waters and vibrant coral bars.

In November through early March, as Baja's famous "El Norte" winds sweep through the Sea of Cortez, wind- and kite-surfers flock to the area to take advantage of the near-perfect riding conditions. Kite-surfing, a relatively new sport, was spawned from elements of windsurfing and wakeboarding and involves strapping a shortened surfboard to a rider's foot while a parachute lifts him into the sky for some truly jaw-dropping jumps. Requiring a certain amount of practice, skill and agility, wind- and kite-surfing are high-intensity activities that have become popular thanks to the ideal conditions of Los Cabos. Reputable tour operators are available throughout the area for private lessons.

Rolling waves created by the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez also make Los Cabos a prime destination for surfing. Mike Doyle Surf School offers group and individual instruction from professionally trained lifeguards and experienced surfers.

Land lovers, meanwhile, will cherish the quiet beauty of Desert Park, a 50,000-acre ecological preserve filled with such hidden treasures as waterfalls, rare wildlife and breathtaking desert oases. Mountain bike rentals are available for the day or by the hour. For a more challenging hike, the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains afford adventurers views from one of the highest elevations in Baja. The mountains have been officially designated a Biosphere Reserve because the indigenous flora and fauna have developed characteristics that exist nowhere else in nature. At 6,507 feet, this mountain range overlooks the vast Mexican desert as it flows into the tranquil waters of the Sea of Cortez.

New to the destination and ideal for "extreme" nature lovers are zip-line tours of Baja's desert canyons. Cabo Adventure Canopy Tours allows visitors to experience Los Cabos from high above the destination's dramatic terrain.

Off-road voyages are another unique way to explore the desert outback. Cabo Adventures' Desert Safari tour takes adventurers in a classic Mercedes-Benz Unimog over bumpy terrain and desert streams and through remote villages on a journey that eventually reaches the heart of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains. Baja Outback's Hummer Tours -- where guests actually get to drive the rugged vehicles -- make for exceptional day trips, offering adventures to Todos Santos, Rancho La Verdad, Santiago and the East Cape.

There are dozens of tour operators available to help visitors arrange and personalize their daily excursions and most tours and activities can be arranged through hotel concierge services.

With nonstop flights or convenient connections available from Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento, Los Cabos is both accessible and exciting. For more about Los Cabos, call 866-LOS-CABOS or visit www.visitloscabos.travel.

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