Prehistoric Rock Paintings of Baja
Not far from the whale-rich world of San Ignacio Lagoon lies the arid mountain canyons and wondrous ancient rock paintings. Hidden in secluded caves and shaded overhands you can find wildlife, humans and other iconography depicted in white, yellow, red and black. While Spanish missionaries may have discovered many of these prehistoric paintings in the 18th and 19th centuries, they remained largely obscured on the global scale until Erle Stanley Gardner wrote a Life Magazine article. Following this, UNESCO declared the Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco as a World Heritage Site in 1993. These paintings are just as remarkable as the Tassil d'Anger in Algeria, Altamara in Spain, or Lascaux in France. On Baja Unbound's Cave Painting tour, you hike into the stunning volcanic rock canyons with cowboys and gear-carrying mules accompanying you. This active trip is best-suited for physically fit travelers as the uneven trails and hot weather can be taxing. You also have the option of riding horses rather than hiking as well. We hike about 5 miles with a 1100' drop on our first day, and the following days include some challenging climbs into the caves and hikes through the canyon base. Our last day includes a return climb back out of the canyon. Each evening, set up camp near a palm-studded oasis. Campse simply but comfortably immersed in nature with delicious meals prepared for you. Gather around a campfire lighting up the dark sky each evening and join the group in musings about the history behind the cave paintings and the cultures that grew out of their heritage. Note: This Baja hiking adventure can be modified for all fitness levels by supplementing the hiking activities by riding Mules on tour. Please inquire with your Adventure Consultant for more information.
In the book The Cave Paintings of Baja California, author Harry Crosby says “In the sierras of central Baja California, hidden in most forbidding terrain, thousands of brilliant paintings survive in caves and shelters. Here a prehistoric people created giant images, heroic assemblages of men and animals. The Painters’ time passed, they laid down their brushes and disappeared, the art was lost to sight, and their existence was reduced to the breath of a legend.” This is a splendid introduction to the artistic legacy of the region.
On this amazing hiking journey you travel to the equivalent of North America’s Lascaux caves. While no one knows why these great murals were painted, it is hypothesized that it was done in the context of shamanic rituals among these hunter-gatherer people. As one looks at the paintings, some on ceiling surfaces over 10’ above the ground, the natural question is “How did they reach those surfaces to paint them?” Scaffolding is the logical answer, yet such sophisticated engineering is not something we might normally associate with hunter-gatherer people. There are images of people, deer, big horn sheep, rabbits, snakes, birds, and even though over a week’s walk from the sea, marine creatures such as whales and dolphins!
Besides being in a remote part of the world, the other reason few visit these paintings is that getting to them is challenging. The trails are steep and rough. However, our trips offer you the advantage of mules that carry the weight of our camp, leaving you free to hike unencumbered. If you are in moderately good shape, get out and walk several miles a week, or ride a bike regularly, etc. then you may be a good fit for these trips. You need to also bring a sense of adventure, as this is rugged country where our itinerary is only a guideline. Travel logistics are simple as we provide transport to and from Loreto. We invite you to join us on what will no doubt prove to be one of the most amazing, thought-provoking vacation adventures you ever enjoy.
Images & Videos
Drive to San Ignacio via Santa Rosalia
After breakfast, depart Loreto toward Santa Rosalia, a historic French mining town still littered with mining machinery, French architecture and large industrial facilities. We tour the Museum of Mining History and stop by the Santa Barbara Church, renowned for being designed by the Eiffel Tower's Gustave Eiffel. We finish our tour at the El Boleo Bakery before relaxing with a fresh lunch at a local restaurant.
Back on the road, we drive toward the old mission town of San Ignacio. Learn more about Baja California's Spanish heritage as we tour the local mission. After, settle into tonight's lodgings, explore more of the town and gather together for a delicious Baja dinner.
San Ignacio, San Francisco, Guadalupe Ranch and hike to Santa Teresa
Indulge in a leisurely morning before meeting up with guests joining us from the San Ignacio Whale Camp. Once we've gathered, we continue our journey to Sierra de San Francisco. We stop just outside of town to view our first large mural of the tour: Cueva del Raton. Gaze up at the depicted mountain lion and black-faced humans before continuing to town.
Once in town, we're met by our cowboys who load your gear onto waiting horses and mules. Several hours later, find yourself high on the rim of the Santa Teresa Canyon. Descend over 1000' on a rugged trail bordered with canyon walls and cacti, ultimately reaching Arroyo San Pablo. At our waiting campsite, our guides prepare a delicious meal; after, gather around a campfire for stories and shared excitement for tomorrow's adventures.
Hiking Distance: Four miles; 1000’ descent
In Santa Teresa Canyon and Arroyo San Pablo
Explore the surrounding cave paintings and arroyos throughout the next three days. Your days are filled with hiking through stunning landscapes, excursions into ancient caves and picnicing under palms trees.
Look forward to visiting Cueva de la Soledad--a cave decorated with human figures, or "monos," as well as deer and birds depicted in red and black. One wall is decorated with an intriguing checkerboard, lined with yellow and featuring red and black boxes. It's a bit of a scramble to reach the cave situated high above the canyon, but the setting itself adds to the thrill of discovery.
We also visit Cueva de las Fleches, or the Cave of the Arrows. This cave is aptly name as it features human figures oddly pierced with arrows. While many cave paintings feature animals pierced with arrows, human figures punctured with arrows is a much more rare depiction. Further, Cueva de las Flechas is known for it's sophisticated portrayals of human figures. Attempt to unravel the painting's symbolism or story as you wander the dim cave.
One of the most stunning and dramatic caves we visit is Cueva Pintada--the Painted Cave. Stretching 500' (160 meters) from the base, scholars believe the ancient painters crafted scaffolding in order to reach the cave ceiling's heights. Well-preserved and extensive, Cueva Pintada hs no equal. Observe images of beasts, birds and humans--as well as the surprising sea lion or giant whale--in a cave holding three times as many figures as Baja's other cave paintings. Lying remote and relatively undiscovered until the late 1880s, Cueva Pintada retains its sense of mystery.
Neighboring Cueva Pintada lies Boca de San Julio, perhaps Baja's most beautiful cave with its sunlit walls and surrounding mountains. Boca de San Julio houses depictions of a pregnant deer, a buck seemingly mid-leap, and potentially a large sea lion.
Lastly, we visit Los Musicos, a cave known for its small depictions of human figures situated on a backdrop of vivid white lines resembling musical staffs. The overall effect is that of humans playfully representing musical notes skipping across two musical bars.
Hiking Distances: Four to six miles each day
Hike out to Guadalupe Ranch, Return to Loreto
Rise early and visit any caves remaining on our "must see" list before climbing up the Arroyo San Pablo. Our journey continues to Guadalupe Ranch before taking us to the village of San Francisco de Sierra. As we walk, take in the unique surrounding landscape and remember some of the incredibly rare sights you've seen here.
Our van meets us on the rim and transports you back to Loreto. Arrive by late afternoon, settle into your lodgings for the evening, and rejoin with the group for our delicious farewell dinner at our local favorite, La Palapa.
Hiking Distance: Four Miles. 1,000' elevation ascent.
Return home or extend your stay
Catch your return flight home or extend your stay with more Baja adventures. Join us with some sea kayaking in the Loreto Bay National Marine park or one of our many other single day Trip Extension options.
Dates & Rates
This trip requires a minimum of 4+ guests to run at the above prices. We can confirm departure for a smaller group with an additional supplement fee per person.
2020/2021 Season Prices
4 - 6 Guests - $1790
7 - 8 Guests - $1570
If you don't see a date that works for you we can set up custom departures for groups of 4 or more.
Single Supplement: If you are a solo traveler and wish to have your own hotel room in Loreto (or if we are unable to pair you up with another solo traveler), an additional single supplement of $120 USD is required.
- Fully escorted guided tour including professional naturalist guides to accompany you
- All meals from breakfast on Day 1 through lunch on the last day
- Camping gear
- Transportation while on tour
- All National Parks & Biosphere Reserve access fees required by itinerary
- Hotels before and after Tour
- Transportation to and from the Airport
- Meals in town
- Extra souvenirs you wish to purchase
ALL PRICES IN US DOLLARS. We will do our best to adhere to the itineraries and trip descriptions listed on our website. However, tour itineraries or subcontractors (such as taxi, cruise boats or hotels) may change slightly due to reasons beyond our control including but not limited to Acts of God, wind, waves, inclement weather or other. We always welcome you to call us to clarify any item - often this is the best way to fully clarify expectations - call us collect or on our toll-free number. You will be sent pre-trip email with latest details within a month of your tour - it is your responsibility to check in with us prior to your trip to see if you have all the information you need. We will always do our best to provide you with the best possible tour and to fully meet your expectations to the best of our ability.
FAQ & More
Fewer than 500 people make it to these remote canyons annually.
We offer these trips from January through mid-April when the weather is most conducive to hiking. Happily, this is also the only time of year to see the gray whales of the Pacific.
The first day’s hike leading down to the depths of the canyons is a challenging day. We recommend the use of hiking poles. The distance is around two miles down and the trail is comprised of dirt and loose rock. Most would consider it a moderately difficult hike. The elevation is not high, starting at about 3000’ (970 meters), so altitude is not really an issue. Once in the canyons the hiking is easy, but some of the climbs to the caves require travel over some steep stretches where hands and feet are needed to climb. On the last day we hike back out of the canyon, slow and steady. We estimate the climb to be around 1100’ (330 meters).
Yes, horses are available for a modest additional charge. If you choose this option we request that you bring your own riding helmet.
Sea Kayak Adventures will provide you with a detailed packing list prior to your trip. We provide all of the necessary camping equipment for you to fully enjoy your adventure. For this particular tour we highly recommend a broken in pair of hiking shoes or boots as well as a pair of treking poles for navigating the steep canyons. If you have any questions, or need help deciding what to bring, you can call or e-mail one of our friendly Adventure Consultants at any time for some extra advise!
During the days expect temperatures between 70-90 degrees depending on the month you visit. It will be warmer in April than February for example. At night it cools down to 40-55 degrees. Packing clothing items that will allow you to layer is essentail. We also recommend sun protective clothing for this adventure, as it will help shield your skin and face from direct sunlight.
We provide roomy 3-person backpacking style tents for each 2 people. Many nights people sleep out under the stars. We bring along a small portable kitchen and cook over propane stoves, serving ample but simple meals. There is limited water, plenty for drinking but not for washing up. We take a small portable toilet and carry our human waste out of the canyons. We are proud to practice Leave No Trace camping techniques.
We suggest a minimum age of 12 years old, but only if the youngster has had extensive hiking and camping experience.
The Loreto Airport (LTO) is serviced by Alaska Airlines direct from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The flight from LAX to LTO is typically in the morning. Depending on where you are traveling from, you may need arrive in Los Angeles a day early, and stay overnight in a hotel near the Airport. Many LAX Airport hotels offer a free shuttle service to and from the Airport. Westjet has seasonal Saturday service (mid February - May) direct from Calgary (YYC) to Loreto (LTO). As flight options for Loreto are limited, we recommend making your reservations as soon as your ROW Sea Kayak Adventures tour is confirmed.
Note: Loreto is also accessible through San Jose del Cabo(SJD) and LaPaz(LAP); however both of these options will involve an additional internal flight or a long bus ride (5-7 hours) North through the Baja Peninsula.
Our tour costs are based on double occupancy on any included hotel nights. Solo travelers who would like their own single hotel room can pay a single supplement (see "Dates & Rates" above for the single supplement price for this tour), or can be matched up with another solo traveler of the same gender if one is available and willing to share. If we are unable to pair you with another solo traveler, we must apply the single supplement charge to cover our hotel costs. Solo travelers will always have their own tent during kayaking tours, at no additional cost.