Below Los Frailes , the road continues to hug the coast, climbing over hills and swerving inland here and there. The scenery alternates between traditional ranchos and new gringo developments, with beautiful desert flora in between.
These days, the road is in pretty good shape between Los Frailes and Boca de la Vinorama and even on to Punta Gorda, but the last few miles before La Playita will test the sturdiness of the vehicle as well as the patience of the driver.
From Los Frailes to La Vinorama, a number of small real estate developments are popping up on the east side of the road: Boca del Salado has El Salado, with a small group of homes up on a bluff overlooking the sea. Rancho del Sol has another 34 home sites in the vicinity.
Between Los Frailes and Vinorama, a trio of Mexican, U.S., and Canadian flags marks the entry to the Castillo de Arena community, where a few vacation rentals are available to short-term visitors. Check Vacation Rental by Owner (www.vrbo.com ) for listings. Beach access is via the arroyo to the south, a 15-minute walk or short drive.
About 18 kilometers below Los Frailes and 34 kilometers up the Coastal Road from La Playita, Boca de la Vinorama refers to a river mouth, a rancho, and a growing expat community, all located just north of the Palo Escopeta turnoff, which heads west toward Mexico 1 and the Los Cabos airport. The development consists of 140 lots and at least one gated community.
The only business here is the Crossroads Country Club (Camino Costero Rural, no tel., 7 A.M.–9 P.M. daily, breakfast mains US$5–7, dinner mains US$8–16, cash only), which had moved from a palapa into the owner’s main house at last check. Crossroads has a bar and restaurant with Internet service, public phone, and book exchange. There are also a few grocery items (but not ice), postcards, and T-shirts designed by a local artist for sale.
The Desert Soaps on display are made from plants and extracts found in the surrounding desert. For breakfast, choose eggs any style for US$4. For lunch or dinner, there are fish tacos (US$6), quesadillas, sandwiches, and pasta with or without seafood (US$8–14). On Saturday nights open-mic sessions draw a crowd. Internet costs one peso (about 8 cents) per minute.
Swimming pools are a rare find in this off-the-grid location, but Villa del Faro (Camino Costero Rural, no tel., www.villadelfaro.net , US$140–425) has one that measures 60 feet. Once a private home for a large family, the property consists of four well-appointed casitas and a primitive stone cottage on the beach. Rates are higher than some of the options to the north, but true solitude is hard to come by, even in these remote parts, and the visit does include breakfast each day.
Just south of the Crossroads Country Club, a graded dirt road in good shape heads west over the lower Sierra la Trinidad hills, past a series of ranchos, to the 100-person pueblo of Palo Escopeta. From there, the road continues southwest to Santa Catarina, where it joins Mexico 1, just north of San José Viejo. The total distance from the Coastal Road to Mexico 1 is 34 kilometers, about the same distance you’d travel from La Vinorama to San José del Cabo on the Costal Road. The difference is a much smoother and faster ride, plus a change of scenery from coastal desert to ranchos and sierra foothills.
The route to the East Cape via Palo Escopeta is relatively easy to find and drive, but for first-time travelers, the turns may not be as obvious as the locals would have you believe. Here is the best set of directions we’ve found, courtesy of Villa del Faro:
From the Los Cabos airport, head south (right) toward San José del Cabo for three kilometers and watch for the Palo Escopeta road on the left after the sign for Veterinaria Chiapa. Signs on both sides of the road here say No Tire Basura. Under each one, another small sign says Palo Escopeta. A set of topes (speed bumps) are another indication that the turn is imminent.
Approaching from San José, turn right at the No Tire Basura signs. If you pass a Pemex and Veterinaria Chiapa, turn around. You have gone too far. Once you are off the highway, follow the paved road downhill at first, about 1.5 kilometers, until it ends, just past a now-closed bar called Catarina Beach. The road turns to dirt and crosses an arroyo; then it becomes paved again through the town of Santa Catarina.
At the town monument, the road turns left; keep going along this road until it becomes a dirt road again. From here, the road will wind back and forth. Ignore any lesser-traveled branches and stay on the main route. Approximately 8.4 kilometers after leaving Mexico 1, the road will fork. Bear left toward Palo Escopeta. If you go straight, you’ll find yourself at the town dump. Continue 9.3 kilometers, staying on the road most traveled, into the village of Palo Escopeta.
Veer left toward the ball court, which marks the halfway point of the route, and continue winding down the hills through the ranchos. Watch for cows in the road from here to the coast. Keep going straight for another 14.3 kilometers until you reach the Sea of Cortez at a T intersection. This is El Camino Costero Rural (Coastal Road), and you’ve reached Boca de la Vinorama. Turn left (north) to reach Bahíia de los Frailes and Cabo Pulmo, or right (south) to Punta Gorda and Los Zacatitos.
This route is equally straightforward coming from east to west. The turns through Palo Escopeta are easy to spot; when you get close to Santa Catarina, the turns might be a bit less obvious, but you can see the highway across the arroyo and there aren’t all that many options to throw you off course. When in doubt, stop and ask, “Donde está la carretera?” The answer will likely be “Todo derecho.” (Straight ahead.)
If you opt to stay on the Coastal Road south of the Palo Escopeta turnoff, you’ll pass two more ranchos and a small dairy farm called La Fortuna. Nearby (21 kilometers north of Buzzard’s Bar and Grill in La Playita), Oregonians Lloyd and Marti Miesen host a one-unit bed-and-breakfast, Boca de Las Palmas (U.S. tel. 503/922-0465 or 866/781-8159, www.martimiesen.com , US$275). Accommodations are in a one-bedroom guesthouse with a king-size bed, private bath, and luxury linens; an additional guestroom is available in their home on the same property for an additional US$75 (only with rental of the guesthouse).
For surfers, this B&B is conveniently located between the Shipwrecks and Nine Palms breaks. Amenities include satellite Internet, washer/dryer, filtered water (no bottles needed), and use of kayaks, boogie boards, and surfboards. Horseback riding is also available to guests and the public.
About 10.3 kilometers north of Pueblo La Playa, Punta Gorda is a reliable spot for onshore/inshore fishing, as well as surfing during the south swells of late summer and fall.
A number of new real estate projects are taking shape here. The farthest along of these is Los Zacatitos, which has a few artist residents. The development’s first restaurant opened in late 2008. Run by Paul and Angel Rini, Zac’s Bar and Grill Restaurant (tel. 624/168-4696, www.zacsbar.com , 1–8 P.M. daily, mains US$5–15) occupies a second-story, open-air space. The menu is a mix of Mexican, Italian, and American staples, including pizza for Monday night NFL. A new addition is locally brewed Baja Blond beer on tap. Check the Zacatitos homeowners association website, www.loszacatitos.net , for community news.
The Mexican resort developer Mayan Group and Pueblo Bonito each own large properties in the area.
South of Punta Gorda, the Navarro Group owns a large chunk of coastal land, and there has been talk about the potential of another marina. On the outskirts of San José, the Laguna Hills development has views of the Estero San José and Punta Palmilla in the distance. Close to Buzzard’s Bar and Grill and about three miles from La Playita, El Encanto is another group of waterfront homes and luxury condos.
About 10 kilometers offshore from Punta Gorda, two seamounts known officially as Banco Gorda, but more commonly called Gordo Banks, are of interest to serious sportfishing enthusiasts and advanced scuba divers. Fishing boats head out this way in search of marlin and wahoo, while scuba divers come for a chance to see schools of hammerheads and the occasional whale shark.
If you want to fish the banks, it’s best to hire a panga at La Playita, or book a charter out of Cabo San Lucas. For dive trips, try Eagle Divers (tel. 624/125-0008, www.eaglediver.com ) in Cabo San Lucas.