Los Barriles: A Quiet Getaway
By Melissa Heisler
Five years ago, my husband and I moved to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The change to the slower pace of Mexico was just what we needed and took a little for us to become accustomed to. Funny that we now sometimes need to escape from the traffic and tourism of Cabo, which is barely a quarter of what we used to experience back in the U.S. When we do want to get away from it all, our first thought is Los Barriles.
Just 90 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas on the Sea of Cortez, lies the sleepy village of Los Barriles (“the barrels” in English). This city is one of three that makeup what is referred to as the East Cape. The first city from Los Cabos is La Ribera, also known as La Riviera, and is located just one hour from the San Jose airport. Developers are currently transitioning this city from a traditional locals-only fishing village to a high-end destination featuring a newly created marina and Four Seasons resort. Forty minutes north of La Ribera is the original resort town of the East Cape, Buena Vista, featuring modest resorts constructed around 1976. Less than a 10-minute car ride north of Buena Vista is Los Barriles. Be careful not to confuse Buena Vista to the south of Los Barriles with the city of Buenavista to the north.
Exiting off Highway 1 the commercial hub of Los Barriles can be found, what there is of it. A few banks and the local grocery store welcome you into the town along with a multitude of RTV (rough terrain vehicle) rental companies. Los Barriles is a town where more RTV’s can be found on the road than cars. Moving toward the Sea of Cortez the road ends at the Hotel Las Palmas. Turing left a few smaller hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops can be found. We have stayed in this area in the past and found it easy to walk around to the restaurants and the beach. During our most recent stay, we rented a guest house just north of the main drag so we could experience Los Barriles like locals.
To the north of downtown along the coast is a community scattered with single-family homes on sizable plots, most with views of the ocean, the mountains, or both. Except for the paved road connecting Los Barriles to El Cardonal to the north, most of the roads are dirt. Homes and developments are gated, but not out of fear of robberies. Cows and goats wander throughout the neighborhoods along with a host of feral cats. Gates keep these plant-chewing animals from ruining one’s garden.
Los Barriles is located almost midway between La Paz and Los Cabos. It is a scenic one-hour drive from the Los Cabos Airport and just under two hours from the La Paz airport. As the area does not have much in the way of shopping and medical care right now, it is important to note that a long drive may be needed for supplies or medical care.
Lifestyle in Los Barriles
Probably the most surprising aspect of life in Los Barriles is the language. One would expect to hear English in the heavily tourist-focused locations and not in a small village like Los Barriles. However, I find that I speak more English in Los Barriles than I do in Cabo San Lucas. Enter any restaurant or store and you will find yourself greeted in English. If you are looking for an easy transition to a Mexican city, this would be it.
The food is also more to the American and Canadian taste than to a traditional Mexican fare. For example, Tío Pablo is a locals’ favorite specializing in prime rib. Some of the newer restaurants are bringing trends from the U.S. down including avocado toast and making traditional chilaquiles into more of a breakfast bowl. If you prefer to cook for yourself, pop-up vendors can be found when you first turn off the highway selling vegetables and fruits from local farmers as well as a variety of seafood.
We go to Los Barriles to get away and relax. It is easy for us to spend the day walking the almost five miles of pebble beachfront. Others like to rent an RTV and race on the beach or through the mountain trails. Hiking and biking through the challenging terrain can entertain most outdoor enthusiasts. Kite surfing is one of the main attractions of the city. Even if you don’t try your hand at it, watching this unbelievable sport is worth the visit. If you are looking for a less strenuous sport, try your hand at pickleball. The local pickleball court was within walking distance of where we stayed this visit and offered a small snack shop with smoothies, light lunches, and happy hour. Signs are also popping up for more traditional tourist activities like zip lines, although the residents prefer house parties to paid activities.
Easy day trips from Los Barriles add to the quiet attitude of the area. Head south for a photo opportunity at the Tropic of Cancer monument noting the 23.5˚parallel of latitude, one of the five major circles of latitude around the earth. Between this demarcation and Los Barriles lies Santiago which hosts natural hot springs and a small zoo. Best to do a little research before heading to Santiago as finding the springs can be a bit of an adventure in itself.
If you are looking for better-documented attractions, head north to San Bartolo where you can easily find the hot spring called Ojo de Agua or the eye of water. This hot spring has been made into a swimming pool and is lined with food stands. A family favorite, this attraction is not open every day or year-round. Drive north of San Bartolo to visit El Triunfo. This small town hosts a music museum and a new cultural center to be opening soon. This mining community was booming in the early 1900s and today you can explore some of the abandoned mine trails and smokestacks. We spent a few hours here touring the sites and then enjoy local specialties at a Sunday farmer’s market.
The good news is that Los Barriles is not usually hit with tropical storms and hurricanes like the Los Cabos area. The bad news is that they have some fairly extreme weather. Our first visit to the East Cape was a few years back. Buena Vista is the host site of the East Cape Offshore Bisbee fishing tournament. We had gone there to cheer on a few friends. The heat was intense with no breeze. After living in the area, we are more used to the fact that the summer heat makes everyone sweat, but if you are new to the area it could get some getting used to. On the other hand, December through March are fairly cold by local standards. Jeans and a light jacket are a must and the temperatures do fall at night. The early months of the year also bring on extremely strong winds. We experienced this on our last visit. It made it impossible to sit on the beach except for the safety of the El Gecko restaurant, but it didn’t stop us from walking miles on the beach every day. The winds do make for very happy kite surfers. The best time to visit Los Barriles is in the fall when the weather is near perfect.
No matter the weather, what Los Barriles offers are stunning sunrises over the Sea of Cortez, sunsets over the mountains, and brilliant stars at night like I have never seen before. It’s still our favorite place to chill.
Things to Do in Los Barriles
By Scott Hed
Given the proximity to the desert and the Sea of Cortez, you’ll not be short of things to do in and around Los Barriles.
Starting on land, you can hike, ride mountain bikes or ATVs, or even horseback ride through the hills. Look for the estimated 125 species of plants found in the area, including the giant Mexican cadron cactus. These impressive desert sentinels can reach up to 30 feet in height, although individual specimens have been observed at twice that height. With branches that are sometimes as large as the primary trunk, this cactus can weigh as much as a whopping 25 tons. Bird watching is a popular activity, and there are six species endemic to the area—including the adorable Cape Pigmy Owl.
On the water, you’ll have access to what Jacques Cousteau referred to as the “aquarium of the world”—the Sea of Cortez. Sport fishing is extremely popular out of Los Barriles, with anglers heading out to pursue marlin, sailfish, tuna, mahi mahi, roosterfish, wahoo, and more. In fact, the East Cape is one of the best places in the world to pursue roosterfish from the beach. On our visit, I was able to land my first billfish—a striped marlin just shy of 100 pounds—and we also enjoyed meals of fresh mahi mahi that we caught ourselves. For those wanting to get in the water and up close with marine life, you’ll find some incredible experiences on offer. We took a day trip up to La Paz, where we snorkeled with the huge but docile whale sharks—ticking off an item from our bucket list.
South of Los Barriles, you can visit the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park to snorkel and scuba dive among the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean. You can see sea lions, sharks, rays, sea turtles, and a huge variety of tropical fish in these protected waters. Sea kayaking and paddle boarding are popular activities on the often-tranquil waters of the Sea of Cortez. However, as noted earlier, the winter months can get quite windy, which is when you want to give kite boarding a try. The winds are so good and so consistent that Baja’s largest international kite boarding exhibition and competition was held off the beaches of Los Barriles for several years each January.
Of course, if you’re not inclined for these more active pursuits, Los Barriles and the East Cape allow plenty of chances to take leisurely strolls on the beach, find your inner Zen in a yoga class, or simply relax in a hammock while gazing over the serene Sea of Cortez. This area truly has something for everyone, and we cannot wait for our next visit.
What’s the Area Like?
By Scott Hed
No matter how you arrive, here’s what you’ll find around Los Barriles and the East Cape area. Unbelievable natural beauty where conifer-covered mountains give way to the cactus-specked hills of the desert before sloping down to flat white sand beaches that meet the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. The climate of the region easily qualifies as a desert, receiving less than 10 inches of rain annually. However, during autumn it isn’t uncommon to receive a downpour that brings the plants of the desert to life. Weather averages are around 80 F during the days except for June, July, and August when temperatures can get up to 100F. Lows are in the high 50s F to mid-70s F (June, July, and August) at night. In the winter months, it can be quite windy which actually is a draw for some as you’ll see in the activities listed below.
Aside from nature’s splendor, you’ll find Los Barriles and the East Cape area to be quite a departure from the hustle and bustle of Cabo San Lucas. If you prefer to be away from mega-resorts, nightclubs, and busy highways, you’ll likely really enjoy the slower pace found in the smaller villages along the East Cape. Aside from the few thousand residents of Los Barriles (roughly half of which are full- or part-time expats), the other small villages of the East Cape include Santiago, La Ribera, and Cabo Pulmo.
Los Barriles has the most services of these small communities, and you will find a full-size grocery store, fresh tortillas at the local tortilleria, and if you didn’t have any luck on the water, fresh fish at the local fish market. Dining options include everything from fish tacos under a shady palapa to pizza joints to gourmet cuisine served on linen-covered tables. Two banks with English-speaking staff, two gas stations, medical and dental clinics, a hardware store, and veterinarian are just some of the services that make this an easy place to visit or live.
Options for short- or long-term lodging range from oceanfront hotels to plenty of vacation rentals in all sizes and price ranges found via Airbnb or other booking services. Whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with a large group, you’ll be sure to find something in your taste and budget.