Barbarita Tours offers visitors incredible opportunities to see wildlife through their camping and snorkeling tours of San Jose Island and surrounding islands.
A couple hours north of La Paz, sheltered from the hustle and bustle of most tourism by a rough dirt road that winds along the coast, lies the small hamlet of San Evaristo. Perched on the side of a lagoon on the Sea of Cortez, San Evaristo is a tiny gateway to some of the best snorkeling and diving to be found anywhere in the world. Dolphins, turtles, sting rays, humpback whales, schools of big, colorful fish, eels, octopus – on a recent trip, we saw them all in stunning abundance.
San Evaristo is also home to the Barbarita family, whose various members run Barbarita Tours, taking visitors out on camping, hiking and snorkel adventures in San Evaristo and the surrounding islands including San Jose, San Francisquito, San Pardito and more. They also run the only beachside restaurant in San Evaristo, perched in the sand just above the lagoon. Recently, we booked a weekend trip for four of us for 3 days and 2 nights of adventure.
But before we go any further, let’s get right to the highlight of our trip: we swam with dolphins. Hundreds of dolphins. In the wild. On our first day out. The entire (very reasonably priced) trip paid for itself right there, in our opinion. But while that was certainly an incredible “bucket list” experience for us all, there was still so much more to see.
Our weekend began with a 2 hour drive up the winding, rocky dirt road, north past San Juan de la Costa, along cliffs overlooking the Sea of Cortez. The Barbarita family will pick you up in La Paz and drive you to San Evaristo, but we decided to drive ourselves, reasoning that it was all part of the adventure. The scenery along the coast is stunning, but for the driver, it requires slow going and careful attention. Four-wheel drive is strongly recommended, the road is not dangerous, but has some pretty rough patches and steep, winding curves that are slippery with loose dirt and rock. On the way, we spotted a herd of cows having their own private party on the beach below.
We left La Paz at 7:00 a.m. and arrived in San Evaristo by 9:30 a.m. Our guide, Pepe, and captain Javi, loaded our stuff into a panga. We didn’t bring much, the tour included all the camping gear and meals we would require for the weekend, so we brought only our own drinks and snacks, snorkel gear and clothes.
Once our stuff was loaded onto the boat, we headed out of the lagoon to San Jose Island, looming just offshore. As we marveled at its size, Pepe told us it is actually the 6th largest island in Mexico. It was a calm morning, and as we rounded the corner, the water on the far side of the island turned silky smooth.
We passed red and orange sandstone cliffs that would look right at home in Sedona, Arizona. Our first wildlife sighting was a small herd of goats, staring at us tourists from a tiny beach among the rocks before they scrambled off in search of food.
After about a 45 minute boat ride, we spotted our camp site, a small beach nestled between red, pink and orange sandstone rocks. Our tents were already set up, and Pepe’s family were there to greet us. This is not “glamping” – the tents are small, just large enough to sleep 2 people, but the Barbarita family made sure we were comfortable and well fed. In short, it was perfect. We quickly unpacked our belongings, changed into our bathing suits and headed back out on the boat.
Swimming with Dolphins
Just a few minutes out on the water, one of us spotted something surface up ahead out of the water. Then another, and another form curved up above the waves. Before we knew it, we were in the midst of a huge pod of dolphins, with literally hundreds of them jumping, swimming and playing around our boat. We looked at our guide, Pepe, who encouraged us to jump in! A mad scramble for our snorkel gear ensued, and over the side of the boat we slid, as quietly as we could, into the chilly water. The dolphins, which mostly kept a safe distance, were nevertheless all around us, and a few got close enough that our guide Pepe got some good underwater shots of them swimming below the surface.
After a few minutes of swimming with dolphins, the pod headed off to wherever they were going, and we pulled ourselves back into the boat, excited and happy to have had such an amazing experience so soon into our trip. We continued on toward our first planned stop, a series of small rocky outcroppings and mini islands where Pepe told us the snorkeling would be amazing. He was not wrong.
Los Cabos may be famous for its arch at Land’s End, but it’s not the only place to see these amazing rock formations. And unlike in Cabo, in these calm, shallow waters, we could swim and snorkel right through them. The water was amazingly clear, and the fish a rainbow of colors, sizes and shapes.
Our guide, Pepe, and Captain Javi took us to several different spots to snorkel and swim, and we were not disappointed. We even got to enter a cave where the water was shallow enough to stand.
Finally, tired from all the swimming and snorkeling, we headed back to camp. On the way, we slowed to watch a turtle swimming lazily just next to our boat.
Minutes later, we spotted another rare sight for this time of year, a young humpback whale that had not yet headed north for the summer. We actually saw two whales during our trip, always an amazing experience.
Dinner and Camping on San Jose Island
Back at camp, our hosts were ready, and we relaxed at a table already set up to welcome us. Our tents were ready too. Though small, they were comfortable enough to sleep two, with mats to provide cushioning and sleeping blankets laid out on top. (Tip: we brought our own pillows and a sheet to cover up with, the weather was already warm enough that we didn’t need more than that.) There was even an eco toilet set up in a standing tent just around the corner, our own little outhouse – fancy!
Pepe’s mother, Lupe, who runs the restaurant in San Evaristo, made us a dinner of delicious shrimp quesadillas. Stuffed and happy, we relaxed with our beers to watch the sun set.
Later, we marveled as the stars came out, easily spotting the Big Dipper, the Milky Way and even a satellite moving across the sky – a small beacon of technology in this no-tech slice of paradise. With no ambient lighting and just a sliver of a moon, the stars looked close enough to touch.
Day Two: Snorkeling at San Pardito and San Francisquito Islands, and Sea Lions
Early the next morning, through the mesh of our tent, we woke to the glorious sight of a bright orange and pink sunrise. The Barbarita family stayed in a tent next door to our camp site, and was ready with coffee as we emerged from out tents.
No rushing required here, the family gave us ample time to wake up, drink our coffee, watch the sunrise and eat a delicious breakfast of huevos rancheros with a zingy side of salsa. Perfect.
By 9:00 a.m. we were eager and ready to get back out on the water. Pepe and Javi got our gear loaded into the boat, and off we headed to San Pardito island, a marine reserve teeming with colorful fish and protected by the single family that lives on the tiny island.
One of our group is a master diver who lives in La Paz, and even he was amazed at the size and quantity of the fish we saw, including a school of huge angel fish, stingrays, a number of large parrot fish, trumpet fish, big snapper, giant puffer fish, starfish hugging the sand and coral on the bottom below, a zebra eel, frog fish and so much more.
Snorkeling with Sea Lions
“More snorkeling, or sea lions?” As we left San Pardito Island, Pepe asked our preference, and our chorus of “SEA LIONS!” was met with a grin. We headed to a small rocky island, where a colony of the playful creatures awaited. A huge male watched us carefully as we approached, and we were sure to keep a safe distance from the rocks. But, as soon as we jumped off the boat into the water, the younger sea lions also slid off their perches and swam out to greet us. The playful young pups darted all around and under us, checking us out and showing off their mad water skills. A young one even came up to one of our group to look him carefully in the face before darting off again. Papa Sea Lion decided at one point to come in and check us out for himself. We all had an “uh-oh” moment and quickly retreated, giving him a respectful distance. Satisfied, he returned to his perch on the rocks.
Lunch on a White Sand Beach
With another morning of snorkeling under our belts, we headed to a nearby beach for lunch. As we rounded a cliff, we saw several yachts and sailboats bobbing in the calm, clear water of a pristine little bay, with a white sand crescent beach beyond. The water was turquoise, absolutely clear, and gorgeous enough to rival any Caribbean destination. It looked like something out of a movie set. We happily disembarked onto the sand, where our crew quickly set up a tent, and proceeded to serve up some of the tastiest shrimp, scallop and fish ceviche we’d ever had, created of course by Pepe’s mom, and topped off with a variety of hot sauces. Delicious! After lunch, two of our party hiked up the rocks behind the beach to take in the stunning view, while the rest of us lazed on the sand and swam in the crystal clear water.
For our second night, we opted to stay in the cabanas behind the restaurant in San Evaristo. They are rustic cabins with just the basics, but after a night of camping on the sand, the beds felt like we’d arrived at the Marriott. Some of our party took the opportunity to nap, while the rest of us grabbed the kayaks provided as part of our tour package, and paddled out into the lagoon. We quickly spotted several turtles and happily paddled along slowly as their heads popped above the surface to check us out.
Shade palapas were set up on the beach with a table and chairs, and we relaxed and got ready for dinner. Our master diver had gone spear fishing earlier and caught a huge snapper, which the Barbarita family happily served up as fresh sashimi with jalapenos, soy sauce and pickled onion. We encouraged the family to enjoy the rest of the fish, as there was far too much of it for us to eat in one sitting.
And of course, because we are all dog lovers and rescuers of Baja street dogs, we enjoyed a visit from Lupe’s dog, Rocky, who came over to check us out and decided to be our mascot during our stay.
Sunday morning we slept in a bit on our comfy beds, then arose again to the sound of the waves lapping the shore – and of gulls shrieking as they fought shrilly over breakfast. The Barbarita family was ready with coffee as we emerged from our cabanas, and we were served a delicious breakfast of chilaquiles under our palapa again, just steps from the water. Some of us returned to the lagoon for one last snorkel with the turtles, before reluctantly packing up our stuff and heading back to La Paz. All agreed we will definitely return to this little slice of paradise to enjoy more of nature’s wonders.
Barbarita Tours: https://www.barbarita-tours.com/
Phone/WhatsApp: +52 1 624-108-5652
Office: Ignacio Ramírez, #384, e/ Nicolás Bravo y Antonio Rosales, Col. Centro, La Paz, Baja California Sur, México