For nature lovers and adventure seekers, the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir offers visitors a glimpse at some uncharacteristic Baja terrain. The 68,796-hectare (170,000-acre) Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir (tel. 646/172-3000, firstname.lastname@example.org, 7am-8pm daily, US$3.50) is home to the highest peak in Baja, Pichaco del Diablo, (Devil’s Peak) at 3,095 meters (10,154 feet). The park is full of pine and fir trees, snowcapped peaks, and 142 plant species, making this one of the most prestigious natural protected areas in all of Mexico.
This is a wonderful area for hiking (make sure to have GPS and topography maps) and self-contained camping. All supplies must be brought in. To arrive at the park from Mexico 1, turn east off of the highway in San Telmo at kilometer 140. Follow the signs for the “Observatorio.” This will take you on another road for 78 kilometers where you’ll find the park entrance. At the park entrance is a small ranger station where you will stop to pay the park entry fee (US$3.50 per person per day) and can pick up a map of the park and get information on hiking, camping, the small cultural museum (10am-3pm Fri-Sun.), and the observatory.
For those who are staying in the small ranches in the foothills of the San Pedro Mártir, the park makes a wonderful day trip for a change of scenery and the opportunity to see the observatory and to do some hiking.
Observatorio Astronómico Nacional
The Observatorio Astronómico Nacional (tel. 646/174-4580, email@example.com, 10am-1pm and 2pm-3pm Mon.-Fri., free tours) is home to the second largest telescope in Latin America. The San Pedro Mártir provides ideal atmospheric conditions for astronomy with clean air and very little light pollution. The observatory is regarded as one of the best places on earth to observe the planets and stars. There are three high-powered deep-space telescopes at the observatory. The largest, with a 2.12-meter optical lens, was built in 1975.
You can take a short, free tour to see the inside of the observatory and the large telescope. Try to contact the observatory in advance about the tour. Otherwise, you can inquire at the yellow gate of the observatory (there’s a telecom system here that you can use to let them know you’d like to take a tour). Since it’s a working observatory, they may not be able to accommodate last-minute visitors or you may end up having to wait for a while until being able to see the observatory. There are no nighttime tours available. The view from behind the observatory is stunning with Picacho del Diablo, the Sea of Cortez to the east, and the Pacific to the west.
Misión San Pedro Mártir de Verona
Of all of the missions in Baja California, Misión San Pedro Mártir de Verona is the highest in elevation and also the most difficult to reach. The mission was founded by the Dominicans in 1794 and stayed in operation until 1824. Only the remains of the foundation and parts of a low rock wall have survived over the years. The remains are not accessible by automobile; a two- or three-day hike or pack animal ride is required to reach the mission site. Those who venture to the mission ruins usually depart from Rancho Santa Cruz via San Isidoro to the east, or La Tasajera via La Grulla from the south.
There are a number of marked trails throughout the park that are well maintained. Several depart from the camping area and from park roads. Hiking off-trail is also permitted in the park, but make sure to have GPS and topography maps. There are a number of beautiful ridges and vistas to enjoy. Take enough water and be aware of the altitude, which is around 2,700 meters. One popular route is the six-mile round-trip hike to El Altar. The trek features views of Picacho del Diablo, the desert of San Felipe, the Sea of Cortez, and even the coast of Sonora on a clear day.
Experienced backpackers may want to summit Picacho del Diablo. The mountain is normally approached from the eastern side on a three-day trip.