SOMETIMES the treasure isn’t at the end of the rainbow, but down a rough dirt road that will rattle your fillings out. When driving up Camino Cabo Este (East Cape), north of the popular spring break destination of Cabo San Lucas, your tires hit sand and potholes for 50 miles. Most rental car companies advise against driving it and let you know that they are adamant they won’t come to your rescue. If you can, spend a little more and get an SUV for the extra suspension. The obstacles include barbed wire strung across the road, boulders, and donkeys, but don’t let the slow pace deter you. The beaches are deserted, the waves roll in for your surfboard, and whales breach just off shore.
For the full Camino Cabo Este experience, fly into San Jose del Cabo. Drive south into old San Jose on the toll road (or go local with stop lights), zigzag through the streets toward the marina and head north on that tough dirt road.
Where to stay
In old Baja, there are no all-inclusive resorts (yet). Instead, Villa del Faro, an upscale eco-lodge, offers casitas — including a stone cottage on its own secluded beach.
Further up the coast, Cabo Pulmo is a dive community complete with Marine Park. No cars are allowed within Villa del Cabo Pulmo There are just sand paths for the visitors and dogs.
Small hotels line the coast, where you can sleep under a mosquito net if you want. There’s no internet or cell service, just the sound of stones tumbling in the waves on the beach, the whoowhoowhoo of birds in the trees, and the rustle of palm fronds.
What to do
Activities along the East Cape are different from the Cabo bars spilling over with drunk spring-breakers. You can take a desert hike with the Sea of Cortez in the distance and see wild cacti and other vegetation. A couple of tee-shirts and shorts are all you’ll need to spiff up after your hike.
Mountain bike the trails, or get stuck on the beach with an ATV, but make sure you take a dunk in the water. The sea is teeming with coral bars, spotted Guinea Puffers, green moral eels, and schools of giant parrot fish. Squadrons of pelicans swoop above you, as manta rays fly through the air.
What to eat
Head into the local towns for $2 tacos and beer for a buck. You may not recognize a lot of the local food but venture beyond the habitual for more local fare, from the Rajites (stuffed, roasted, fresh pepper with cream and corn) and chicken, beef and nopales al molcajete (grilled pear cactus pads with onion and chili peppers) to machaca (breakfast beef with eggs and fresh tortillas).
Weekend-trip from Baja’s East Cape
Punta Pescadero is a rustic fishing resort north of Los Barriles, a small town with homemade chocolates and flaky tortillas. The 3000-foot paved runway attracts private King Airs and Turbo Commanders. Buzz the bar and Alberto will hop in a dusty SUV to pick you up. The hotel is a family-friendly place, where construction workers rub elbows with CEOs of Silicon Valley. It’s just an hour on a paved road, and then 30 minutes on dirt along the coast, from the San Jose del Cabo airport through old Mexico.
With a mason jar margarita in hand, watch whales breach at sunset and dolphin pods play in the morning sunlight.