Exploring Baja Sur – Los Barriles, Buenos Aires Waterfall, Punta Pescadora
I’d read about this arroyo in a couple of blog posts and 4-wheeler websites. It’d been recommended to us as a nice day trip by a few people. I knew what was supposed to be at the end of it. But, looking at the bone-dry, wide-open mouth of Buenos Aires Arroyo just north of the town of Los Barilles where big dump trucks drive in and out with loads of gravel, I just couldn’t believe there would be a waterfall somewhere back there.
The word arroyo in Spanish means creek. But in Baja, where the roads cross the arroyos, they are remembrances of creeks. You can tell that at some point water flowed through it, but it is impossible to imagine. And in almost every arroyo anywhere near Los Barriles, well-worn 4-wheeler trails stretch off into the distance.
“Just pick a trail and follow it,” were the instructions we were given to find the waterfall that I was sure was going to be dried-up. A 4-wheeler is the perfect vehicle for exploring all of Baja and every gringo in Los Barriles uses them for everything from beach cruising to grocery shopping but since we’d towed our Jeep nearly 3000 miles from Delaware, we couldn’t justify the expense of renting one.
No one seemed to know the distance to the “waterfall”. ‘Take plenty of water’ was the only advice. We’d been driving through soft, deep gravel/sand for about 20 minutes and hadn’t seen another soul. As close as this was to town, I’d figured there would be a steady stream of explorers, but the only people we’d seen were two horseback riders way back at the mouth.
The rock walls on either side of the arroyo were getting taller and steeper. The canyon was narrowing. We started to see some green vegetation along the edges. Then the sand looked wet. We kept going, very slowly, worried that we might get stuck in one of those jello-y wet sand situations. And then we crossed a little stream of water that snaked back and forth from wall to wall. Where in the world did this come from? The stream got bigger, we had to drive around and over big rocks now. Finally we stopped, deciding it’d be better to explore by foot.
It was so quiet. The wind back at the beach was whipping the kite boarders into a frenzy but here, not even a blade of grass moved. A little further there was a deep, saffire-blue pool filled with cattails. We splashed on. There were no tracks here to follow, no footprints. The landscape was beautiful but eerily empty. The canyon made a sharp turn. We rounded the corner and there it was – a beautiful little stream tumbling down a wall of boulders from a palm tree-lined pool above surrounded by a handful of people in beach chairs gripping beers. “Welcome to Canada,” they said with a wave and a smile.
The pool at the base wasn’t big enough for swimming as some reports had said. And the cascade was much smaller than in the reports as well. But it was incredibly amazing to me. That this little paradise could exist where just a couple of miles down the wash looked like the Sahara, was shocking. The Canadians, who’d been coming to Los Barriles for years, said that the arroyos change all of the time and that the waterfall used to be much higher. “See that hole,” they said pointing to a ground level divot in the canyon wall. “Last year that was about 12 feet up.” Hikers scrambling down the side of the waterfall told me that you can follow the stream for a long distance back to a slot canyon with a bigger waterfall. That is on my list for the next trip to Los Barriles.
We’d also been told about a beautiful beach a ways north of town (again, very vague distances) that was great for snorkeling. Some had called it Snorkel Beach and some had called it Punta Pescadora. The road out to it was a dirt, rock-strewn track along cliffs with incredible but scary views better suited to 4-wheelers but passable with the Jeep.
It is hard to know when you arrive at a ‘beautiful’ beach in Baja because they are all beautiful. You come around a headland and see a scallop of sand with the desert mountain back drop and you say, “That is amazing.” Another headland, another stretch of sand. “That is incredible,” you say. On and on it goes. But we knew when we arrived at Snorkel Beach.
For me the water was too cold for snorkeling and besides, we hadn’t brought any gear. But we paddleboarded around the rocks and could look down into the clear water and watch all the fish – so it was like dry snorkeling. A gleaming white hotel/restaurant peeked down on us from the cliffs above the beach and once we’d gotten sufficiently baked we decided we needed to test their fish tacos. Sitting on the patio of the aptly named Punta Pescadero Paradise Hotel in the warm Baja sun with a 180 degree view of beaches and mountains and the Sea of Cortez, a cold beer in one hand and a taco in the other, was definitely one of my versions of paradise.
The town of Los Barriles is a comfortable, friendly, gringo-ized spot that would make the most nervous traveler relax. It has a German restaurant, an Irish restaurant, a pizza place, a bowling alley, pickle ball leagues, convenience stores, a decent grocery store, and plenty of happy hours and burgers and fries. The town even hosts a huge dog show at the end of February to benefit the local humane society. And the nice thing is that it doesn’t feel like a resort town – yet.
We stayed at a campground called Playa Norte. It was about a mile north of town directly on the beach and was one of the cleanest campgrounds we’ve ever experienced on either side of the border. The owner, William, and his staff were constantly working on projects. One of the employees, Emilio, walked the beach and campground every morning starting around 7:30 picking up trash and greeting the guests. Having a such a comfortable, beautiful home base made it very easy to explore the waterfalls, hot springs, mining towns, surf spots, and beaches of Baja Sur – when we were able to tear ourselves away!