Kayaking Baja: Isla Carmen and Isla Danzante

Looking out at Carmen (on the left) and Danzante (on the right, in the back), photo taken from the highway

The Loreto Marine Park contains a string of beautiful islands that offer wonderful conditions for kayaking and camping.  In May of 2011 we spent 8 days paddling around two of those islands, Islas Carmen and Danzante.  This was the third and final portion of a larger kayaking trip in which we’d paddled from Mulege to La Paz, and then paddled Isla Espiritu Santo.  With some extra time after those two legs, we decided to drive back north to the Loreto area and paddle the 60 or so miles around Isla Carmen.


We ended up leaving our car at a family’s house in Juncalito, a small beach community just south of Loreto and a very convenient launching point for Carmen.  We took our time assembling our trusty folding Feathercraft K2 kayak (a wonderful boat that is our most valuable asset- literally, it’s worth twice as much as our car), and finally shoved off in the early afternoon.  Paddling south out of Juncalito’s bay was familiar ground; we’d covered this stretch a month earlier during our paddle to La Paz.  But just before Puerto Escondido we turned left and made the short crossing out to Isla Danzante, new territory for us.

We called it a day and set up camp on a beach in Honeymoon Bay, a popular yacht anchorage.  We soon regretted our decision to camp here when a nearby sailboat started up an obnoxious generator and ran it for hours; get some solar panels!

The next morning we woke up and started packing, and soon enough the sailboat’s generator started up again.  Then the boat’s occupants got in their tender and motored (of course) off to visit another boat across the bay, leaving their generator running!   I resent this kind of noise pollution in the wilderness, and seriously considered paddling out and emptying our toilet in their cockpit, but instead we sped up our packing and paddled off, vowing to never again camp in an anchorage if we could avoid it.

We tied our sheets to the top of the tent to help block the sun; it was May and starting to get hot during the day.

We made the short crossing to the southern end of Isla Carmen and proceeded north up the west side of the Island.  Conditions were wonderful, with calm and amazingly clear water.  We saw two separate sea turtles that dove underwater as we approached, but the water visibility was so good that we could see them swimming under our boat.  Later we saw a couple Humpback whales that let us approach within 100 feet, and as they swam away they repeatedly showed their flukes, and then one of them breached and completely left the water!   I was trolling with my handline and caught some sort of elongate fish, but when I gutted it the flesh was so mushy and unattractively gray that I threw it to the seagulls.

Partway through the next day we saw another humpback, and while we were waiting to see if it would resurface we were surprised by a pod of about thirty dolphins.  They swam right up to us and suddenly we had dolphins on all sides-and under- our kayak!  They passed us and we paddled after them, once again entering the middle of the pod where we all kept pace with each other.  It was really incredible, paddling right in a pod of dolphins, and we continued on like this for miles!  They’d let out their puffs of breath each time they surfaced, we’d watch them swimming under our kayak and occasionally jumping out of the water, and it was just a wonderful experience that lasted for well over an hour and left us with smiles plastered to our faces.

Dolphins!

We camped that night in a beautiful and protected cove, and as we unloaded the boat we were treated to one last acrobatic show as the dolphins swam by again, headed in the opposite direction now.  Snorkeling that afternoon I saw two beautiful hawkfish and wished that spearfishing was allowed in the Marine Park.  In the evening we ate our dinner as the water’s edge as the sun went down, and watched a dozen pelicans dive endlessly for fish in the shallow waters only a few feet from us.  After it got dark a moray eel came to feed at the edge of the water, which was gently surging in and out from the cove.  A couple times he was left high and dry wriggling on the beach for a few seconds as the water surged out.  A magical day.

a great camp

We only paddled a few miles the next day, because we came upon a wonderful looking camp that was just too nice to pass by.  It was a rocky beach with some interesting rock formations and an incredible view, and we sat and read and watched the dolphins swim by, listening to the endless slapping sound of the many jumping rays as they belly flopped back into the water.

Carmen looking a little ominous

Another shortish paddle the following day took us past some pretty rocky scenery and brought us to Playa Salinas, a beautiful sweeping white sand beach that holds a mostly abandoned salt mining works at one end.  We’d seen pictures of this spot and wanted to camp here despite it’s sandy nature (sand is a pain to camp on, it gets into everything).  It was definitely beautiful, but it was pretty windy and we had to hide behind the tent from the driving sand and had trouble keeping our shade tarp up; not the most comfortable day.

Playa Salinas

It was pretty windy the next morning so we tried sailing, but it was just a little too exciting after a while.  Even after the sail was down the tailwind pushed us along at a fast pace.  We were a couple miles off shore and before we knew it we realized that we’d passed by a sea cave that we’d been looking forward to seeing.  Camp that day was a pretty spot set back in some thorny trees, and we spent the afternoon reading in a bit of a heat stupor.  It was getting pretty hot during the days, and we could feel the trip coming to a close.

As we rounded the southern tip of Carmen we camp across some kayakers on a day trip (probably from a yacht) wearing skimpy bathing suits and bikinis.  We looked at each other, with our giant hats and long sleeves and pants, and laughed about our different relationships with the sun.  At this point we’d made it around Carmen, and crossed back to Isla Danzante.  It’s a small island so we decided to paddle around it too, counterclockwise down the east side and back up the west.  It’s a pretty island with dramatic, rocky topography.    Toward the end of the day we were getting pretty tired, but the last two spots that we’d planned as possible campsites were both occupied by separate groups of independent kayakers; we hadn’t seen any on the whole trip, and now here were a bunch of them, in our way!  But we found a nice little pocket beach and enjoyed our last evening of kayak camping for the trip, staring out at the beautiful view of Isla Carmen.

Sunrise on our final day of kayaking

We got up early the last morning and took in a wonderful sunrise, contemplating being finished with a long and wonderful kayak trip.   From our camp it was a short paddle back to Juncalito and our car, where we folded the kayak and packed all our gear and started off on the long drive back to Oregon. We tallied it up and realized that we’d been on the water for a total of 4o days, a trip of biblical proportions.

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4 responses to “Kayaking Baja: Isla Carmen and Isla Danzante

  1. Superb part 3 to Danae’s and Andy’s kayak adventure!

  2. 40 days of memories that will keep you going as you’re doing what you’re doing now — until the next big adventure! You got some spectacular pictures and your narrative makes me feel as if I’d been there!

  3. Great report, super photos!

  4. Looks like an amazing trip, kudos 🙂
    Did you find a source of fresh water on Carmen? I have heard rumors . . . and I’ll be paddling out there soon myself. So if you have directions or waypoints and can clue me in by email, I’ll be very grateful!!

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