Just over 1,000 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border is the town of Cabo San Lucas and just about an hour north of Cabo is the town of Los Barriles. And if you drive another hour or so beyond that, you’ll arrive in El Cardonal.
The drive from Cabo to Los Barriles is not exactly an easy drive, and it’s a drive you would be well-advised not to make at night, but it’s not a bad drive and truth be told it is pretty much fabulous if you open your mind. Baja is a picture of contrasts. The desert on one side of you and the Sea of Cortez on the other. Driving along the two-lane roads one is quite likely to cross the path of a cow or two, many roadside makeshift memorials and if you’re lucky enough (or if you’re with someone who’s in the know) you’ll come across an open air cantina that serves amazing cucumber margaritas. Once you reach Los Barriles you’ll find a relaxed comfortable town where everyone is friendly and welcoming. There are quite a few gringos who live amongst the locals and they do so because they’ve embraced the beauty and culture of Baja. While major shopping such as Costco and Mega are offered in Cabo, Los Barriles will keep you in the essentials along with homemade tortillas and freshly roasted chicken, because really, what else do you need? Well, a good bottle of Tequilla but that’s another story. And by the way, the Costco in Cabo has probably the most fantastic view you’ll ever see from any Costco parking lot, ever.
Heading out of Los Barriles it isn’t actually that far to El Cardonal, maybe 15 – 20 miles, but it takes a bit of skilled driving to reach the town by the paved mountainside road. There is also a dirt seaside road that extends between Los Barilles and El Cardonal but because it will make your teeth rattle, it’s more of a one day just for fun, or only when bad weather road conditions dictate, kind of road.
Because of the road conditions and the remoteness of the area, it does take about an hour of slow-moving driving to reach El Cardonal, but it is well-worth the effort. And that’s easy for me to say because I wasn’t doing the driving.
Finally, you’ll come upon the sign welcoming you to El Cardonal. It’s a sleepy little seaside village where I’m pretty sure everyone knows everyone else. There are no street lights, no sirens, no noise. It is a world unto itself and it is a very special place where the quality of life and the importance of family takes precedence. But, back up, we didn’t turn right to El Cardonal, we turned left and headed down a long and wide “washboard” dirt road to a little piece of paradise on the shores of the Sea of Cortez. After another 20 – 30 minutes, we turned right and headed toward the beach.
At the end of the road is where you’ll find the home of my monkey sister. She is not my sister by blood, she is my sister by choice. A sister since 2nd grade. It’s a funny story as to why we call each other monkey sisters, but it’s an unbreakable bond. She and her husband built their home on the beach of the Sea of Cortez before others began to follow. When we first visited in 2010, we asked, “How in the hell did you find this place?” The answer was, “We just drove south until we couldn’t drive any more.”
We have traveled to Cabo and El Cardonal twice and we look forward to many more visits, as long as my monkey sister continues to let us “invite ourselves” to stay. It’s an easy flight from Los Angeles, CA to Cabo San Lucas, just a bit over two hours and the views from the airliner windows are really something to see. I’ve never felt anything but comfortable in Baja. The locals are kind and giving and if you just do your homework and pay attention to your surroundings you’ll be fine. There are of course issues, but there are issues everywhere, no matter where you travel. Oh, and yes, it’s safe to drink the water in Baja. I have to admit it wasn’t until the 2nd trip that I was convinced, but I am now.
Tenga un viaje seguro!