Red rocks and cactus at
Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida
Cactus on the water's edge, at
Isla Partida's Enseanda Grande
This could be Sedona,
Unusual rock formations line the far edge of the bay.
These cliffs dwarf the huge
cactus rooted on them.
The calm, clear waters of
Ensenada Grande bring
charterboats of all sizes.
A campsite for dive charters on the beach at Enseanda Grande.
You can sleep in a tent or out under the stars.
These funny little buildings turned out to be
Not bad facilities for a beach camp
on a desert island.
Divers kick back here to contemplate all
they saw on their Sea of Cortez dives.
We wander up a wash and look back at the cove.
Cardón cactus, cousins of
Arizona's Saguaro cactus, grow
all over the canyon.
Bats pollinate these cactus at night.
As we hiked into the canyon
the heat and stillness erased
all thoughts of the ocean.
It is a bit of a stair-step hike.
Little whispy trees seem to thrive.
The hike ends at cliff's edge
overlooking the Sea.
Looking east from isla Partida.
On our way back the view of Ensenada Grande grows larger.
Beach living at its best.
Isla San Francisco just a few miles north of Isla Partida.
Vivid colors of Isla San Francisco
Isla San Francisco's popular "hook" anchorage.
The anchorage opposite the "hook."
Hiking trail on the ridge of Isla
Moorings bareboat charter boat.
Spectacular views reward hikers after a long scramble.
Isla San Francisco.
Ensenada Grande & Isla San Francisco, Mexico
Late April, 2011 - Our first stop north of La Paz was at
Ensenada Grande located on the west side of Isla Partida.
This is one of the few anchorages in the area that is well
protected from the nasty nighttime south/southwesterly
Coromuel winds, and we tucked right up into a tiny cove
where we were well sheltered by red rock hillsides.
Looking at the scenic bay around us, it seemed we were
at the meeting place of the desert's most spectacular
cactus-adorned red rocks and the jade green sea.
We jumped in the kayak to see everything up close, and
moseyed along the base of the red rock cliffs. Cactus
grew out of crevices in the rock, somehow eking out a
living from those few morsels of dirt that had gotten
wedged into the cracks.
The deeper water undulated turquoise green, while the
shallower water revealed all the details of the rocks and
fish under the surface.
On the far side of the bay the rock
formations were intriguing. Carved
out underneath by the wind and
waves, the rock cliffs were smooth
and rounded, as if shaped by a divine
hand working in wet clay. On top of
the bluff the desert's crispy crust
seemed almost to drip over the sides
towards the water. The tall cactus
seem small compared to the cliffs.
Leading up to the main beach the
water runs shallow for 100 yards or
more, rising and falling in a billowing
veil over the sand. This is a popular spot for day and
weekend charters from La Paz, and during our stay we saw
several extraordinarily appointed megayachts stopping in for
an afternoon or an overnight in the bay.
We pulled the kayak up onto the beach and were very
surprised to find a little encampment perched on the water's
edge. A Mexican fellow was singing Queen tunes as he raked
the word "Welcome" into the sand. His name was Hernando,
and he told us this little oasis was a "campsite" for visiting dive
charters. Three large, rugged tents were set up with cots and
bedding. True nature lovers could take their cots out onto the
beach and sleep under the stars.
Off to one side stood several homemade little shacks with
doors. Peaking inside one I discovered it was a neat little
outhouse, complete with a marine pump toilet, toilet paper
and a colorfully woven wall covering.
working in the
building, and he explained that
this place was used by dive
charter companies and was open
every day from April to
November. Down on the beach
there were plastic lounge chairs
and some fantastic varnished
wood chairs and umbrella tables.
What a cool place to take a load off after a
reef dive in the Sea of Cortez.
Turning back towards the red rock canyons
behind the dive camp, we found a desert
wash running down from the mountains to
the beach. Lush vegetation grew all around
and beckoned to us to
walk in a little further.
Wandering into the wash,
we found ourselves
surrounded by healthy,
vigorous cactus. As we
got deeper into the
canyon, the sounds of
the bay began to vanish, replaced
by the buzz of heat bugs
alternating with the intense silence
of the hot desert rocks.
We have been away from the
desert for so long it felt like coming home. We happily
soaked up the dry heat, enjoying the feeling of the sun
prickling our arms. The cactus were amazingly thick,
and as we walked deeper into the canyon we were
suddenly immersed in utter silence.
We had come ashore just for a quick look around and
were wearing water shoes and bathing suits. This
place deserved a much closer look, and the next day
we came back dressed more appropriately for a
desert hike, armed with hats and hiking boots.
A few cardón cactus arms were trimmed
with flowers. Like their northern cousins,
the Saguaro cactus, these guys get
pollinated at night by bats, so their
flowers are timed for nighttime opening.
The hike is a scramble up a boulder filled
wash, and it was a good little workout
stair-stepping our way up. As the bay and
boats and beach receded behind us, we
became more and more certain that we were
deep in the Arizona desert, far from all
thoughts of oceans or water.
Little scraggly trees grew here and there, taking tiny sips
of water from the moisture that occasionally seeped down
the wash. Lizards crawled on the rocks at our feet.
Finally the boulders in the wash gave
way to a wide open pebbly expanse,
and we marched up and out of the
canyon onto a vast plateau. Sensing a
stunning view just over the rise, we
picked up the pace to a near run until
we stopped short at the edge of a cliff
that hung out over the water below.
The Sea of Cortez stretched for miles
of blueness into the distance, and we
could clearly see every rock and
contour of the water hundreds of feet
After inhaling a few
deep breaths of
satisfaction we started
back down again,
watching the little cove
of Ensenada Grande
growing beyond the
desert rocks and
cactus. What a
fantastic combination of
desert and ocean.
As we walked the last few steps through the scrubby brush at the base of the wash, the dive
camp reappeared along the beach. The scene looked so inviting, like a little slice of heaven.
The Coromuel winds continued to howl at 20 knots all
night every night, making the boat swing and sway on the
anchor line. But we were close enough to the shore to
prevent any waves from reaching us, so we stayed flat and
One morning we caught the tail end of the previous night's
Coromuel wind for a ride up to Isla San Francisco. With
the breeze at our backs we romped along steadily at 8
knots, exhilarated to feel the boat surge forward in
response to even the slightest puff.
Isla San Francisco has a picturesque anchorage that is shaped like a
huge circular hook and is lined with a thin white beach. We took our
position among the collection of anchored boats and then just stared
at the shore for a while, mesmerized by the colors and the view.
Bright blue sky, craggy reddish rock hills, blindingly white sand, and
smooth green water lay before us. The island begged to be explored,
and we immediately dashed ashore to scurry up the short hike to the
ridge trail that snakes along the hills at one end of the bay. What a
perfect perch to gaze down at the anchorage and out across the bay
to the Baja mountains on the horizon.
There is another anchorage on the other side of the
island, opposite the favored "hook" anchorage, and it is
easily visible from this ridge trail as well. We pranced
along the skinny footpath, meeting the crews from
several other cruising boats and charter boats along the
way. This place is "not to be missed" and few boats
coming up from La Paz ever miss it.
During our stay we connected with the crews from two
bareboat charters. One was a young couple form
Vancouver Island aboard a McGregor 26 for a week.
After seeing so many heavily outfitted 40' cruising
sailboats driven by grey haired retirees, it was refreshing
to see these two kids in a little boat arrive in the anchorage.
Their sailboat was outfitted with just a simple outboard
engine, tiny solar panel and mini-fridge, but what a blast
they were having. They swam and snorkeled with
abandon, and when we invited them aboard Groovy for
cocktails along with some other cruisers, it was soon
evident that even at their young age they were more
experienced sailors than many cruisers.
We saw several sleek
charter sailboats from
the Moorings too. The
one with the Swiss
family aboard was our favorite. They were celebrating their 20th anniversary and sharing
the moment with their four young teenage and pre-teen children. The mom and dad were in
and out of the water as much as the kids were. Sunbathing, reading, teasing each other,
and pushing each other over the sides, this family made the most of every day. They were
on the boat for just a week and they liked Isla San Francisco so much they stayed for four
nights. Like the other young charterers, they were seasoned sailors, and had chartered all
over the Mediterranean and Caribbean. We were impressed when they headed out for an
afternoon daysail and sailed off their anchor with ease, rather than using the engine.
Watching these exuberant vacationers was
inspiring. It is easy, after living this lifestyle for a
while, to forget just how special each day is. When
Mark stood on the swim platform for a very long
time one afternoon, debating whether or not to
brave the cold water, I reminded him, "Hey, those
folks on the charter boats wouldn't think twice..." With
a loud splash and a gurgled shriek, he hit the water
and bounced back to the surface
wearing a satisfied smile.
Isla San Francisco has another
hiking trail that leads up to a higher
peak. This trail is not used too often,
and after passing a few rock cairns
that marked the start of the trail, we
were soon scrambling up an
unmarked pebbly, slippery slope.
At the top we were rewarded with
marvelous views that were well worth
the dicey descent that followed.
We had heard news of an impending late season "Norther" that would
bring big north winds and stormy seas for a few days. Crews of boats
began strategizing which anchorage would offer the best protection,
and because of the huge cruising event called "Loreto Fest" going on
a bit north of us, we knew we would be challenged to find a good
anchorage that wasn't already loaded with other boats if we didn't get
going soon. Looking back with 20-20 hindsight we now realize we
should have stayed put at Isla San Francisco for another week, as it
offers the best north wind and wave protection in the area. But we
didn't, and we were soon in for a wild ride before we found paradise
again at Agua Verde.
Find Isla Partida (Ensenada Grande) and Isla San Francisco
on Mexico Maps.