By Michael Koehn
Southern Baja has a riches of adventure opportunities and the most popular ones are very well known. But there are other adventures to be discovered, up the less traveled roads where the old Baja lifestyle remains intact and people live unchanged from the way they have for hundreds of years.
Recently, the Mexican government has been promoting what they call “alternative tourism” in southern Baja, encouraging adventure enthusiasts to explore places like the rugged Sierra La Laguna Mountains, an ecological preserve and home to collection of small ranchos with rustic accommodations where tourists can explore the auténtico lifestyle of old Baja. This mountainous area is home to a unique and vibrant ecosystem and is protected by the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere Reserve which was created in 1994.
With friends Axel and Felipe Valdez of Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, we recently drove high into the mountains above Santiago. It wasn’t long before the signs for the first ranchos appeared. At Rancho La Acacia we were greeted by Don Victor Castro. His property offers small guest casitas traditionally constructed with thatched roofs and walls woven from the indigenous palo de arco. Inside, there was a spacious kitchen and dining area, sleeping rooms and enough space to settle in while exploring the area. The rustic accommodations are typical of what is offered to hikers and explorers in the area.
To promote the community of ranchos, Mexico’s federal government has constructed a trail that connects the properties so that hikers can visit them in a circuit, and, as we worked along the rancho route, we stopped to visit with people like Catalina Manriguez, one of several local women who work together to create their own local products to sell, like homemade candy, cactus plants, goat cheese (Rancho El Chinal), and who also run the small community restaurant. At Rancho Aserradero they make beautiful handcrafted wood furniture, while at Rancho El Refugio we meet Rojelio Rosa, a local legend who is an expert in the flora and fauna of the area. His guestbook includes entries from all over the U.S. and Europe. Other ranchers specialize in leatherwork (Rancho El Guayparian) and farming, creating products they can sell or exchange with other ranchers or visitors.
The most popular rancho in the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra La Laguna is Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo, a center for learning about local flora and fauna, and the gateway to the area’s most famous attraction, Cascadas Sol de Mayo, the 40-foot waterfall that pours through a collection of massive boulders into a deep, clear swimming hole.
Exploring the local ranchos is a rewarding experience, a visit to an older, simpler world and a vibrant cultural lifestyle in southern Baja that is not represented in the glossy tour brochures of Baja’s more famous attractions.
For more information:
Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo
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