Best Secret Islands on Earth * Espirito Santo, La Paz, Baja, Mexico

May 23, 2011

Mexico: Espíritu Santo

Great Value It’s not easy to find an undiscovered Mexican beach getaway, but a collection of islotes off Baja California Sur’s eastern shore remain pristine desert-island paradises. Instead of miles of resorts, you’ll find white-sand coasts and crimson peaks filled with Unesco-protected wildlife. The most inviting is Espíritu Santo, a volcanic speck with shallow inlets that lies 15 miles from La Paz. To get there, sign up for a one- to five-day cruise with the eco-minded Baja Expeditions (from $260 per person per night). There are no hotels, but travelers can sleep in the small vessel’s eight tents or opt for a night back in La Paz at Posada de las Flores (doubles from $180).

T+L Tip: Round out the Baja Expeditions trip with a Mexican cooking class on the beach. Chef Antonio Orozco teaches you to make carne asada on a charcoal grill.

Wedged between the Baja California Peninsula and the mainland of Mexico is the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. Called the “world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau, this is one of the most diverse seas on Earth. This stretch of sea is home to species representing one-third of Earth’s marine mammals. Unique creatures that exist only here include the vaquita harbor porpoise, the world’s smallest aquatic mammal and the most endangered of all cetaceans.

The Gulf’s 900+ islands provide nesting and stopover habitat for hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds and are breeding grounds for seals and sea lions. Five species of marine turtles nest along the peninsula’s coastlines, and nine whale species—blue, fin, sei, Bryde’s, minke, humpback, and gray—ply the Gulf’s waters.

Deep ocean trenches and nutrient-rich shallow seabeds make this one of the most important areas in the world for both commercial and sport fishing. Nearly 900 species of fish, 90 of them endemic, are found here. The Gulf of California provides more than 70% of the total Mexican fish catch by volume.

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