After a morning of driving the 123 hot and dry kilometers between El Rosario and Cataviña, this desert outpost emerges as a pleasant surprise in the midst of the protected Parque Natural del Desierto Central. The town itself offers a few places to stay and limited options for food and supplies.
All around are giant boulders and a most impressive collection of picture-perfect desert plants. This is the place to open your field guide and learn to identify cardón cacti, elephant trees, cirios, and the rest of the flora that makes the region one of a kind.
For travelers making their way down the Transpenisular Highway, the first convenient opportunity to view a cave painting (the origins of which are unknown) comes at Km. 176, where a large arroyo crosses the road. Park near the INAH sign on the east side of the road.
Before beginning your hike, look up at the bluffs in front of you for a white wooden sign that marks the cave. Keep the sign as your directional guide and you will find a trail up the rocks once you get to the bottom of the bluffs, or you can scamper up several different ways. Once you reach the sign, you must go into the overhang behind it to see the paintings.
Unfortunately, graffiti on the rocks leading up to the cave detracts somewhat from the experience.
Misión Santa María de los Angeles
Whether you’re following the Baja California mission trail or simply want to enjoy the spectacular desert scenery, be forewarned that the 23 kilometers track that leads to the adobe ruins of the Misión Santa María de los Angeles (1767–1769) is about as rough as they come in Baja. A dirt bike or ATV may be the only motorized vehicles able to pass, and even then you’ll likely have to walk the last mile or so.
A better plan would be to hire a guide and mules from Rancho Santo Inés. Though there is little to see today, the mission is significant because it was the last one the Jesuits established before their expulsion from the peninsula in 1767. The Cochimí called the site Cabujakaamung.
Cabañas Linda (Cataviña village, east side of the highway, no tel.), a pink, single-story motel on the east side of Mexico 1, offers basic rooms for US$35. The proprietor, Lucy, also serves lunch or dinner daily for US$5 and coffee for US$1.
A kilometer south of Cataviña, Lucy’s mother, Matilde, offers meals, hot showers, and hostel-style rooms at Rancho Santa Inés (Km. 181, no tel.). A room for 6–8 people runs US$35. Campers and self-contained RVers can choose a spot under any of the widely spaced mesquite trees in the dirt lot for US$6 a night. The area around the camping lot makes for incredible hiking. And the family at Rancho Santa Inés will guide hikers in the area for US$10 per group.
Until recently, this Desert Inn (tel. 200/124-9123, toll-free U.S. tel. 800/800-9632, www.desertinns.com, US$80) property was part of a Baja chain, but it was sold in 2011. Future plans for the property are unknown at this time.
Cirio cacti dot the grounds of the Parque Natural Desierto Central de BC RV Park, which has 66 spaces for US$6. Look for the sign on the west side of Mexico 1 before the Desert Inn.
Café La Enramada (no tel., daily, mains US$5–9), in front of the old highway Pemex station across from the Desert Inn, is a reliable place to fill up on large portions of inexpensive Mexican food, including its own specialties, such as Chicken a La Enramada and Chicken al Mármol. The Desert Inn has a full-service restaurant open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Rancho Santa Inés now offers antojitos (traditional Mexican snacks) at the ranch instead of at a former location on Highway 1.
At any given time, there may be another taco and/or burger stand open in Cataviña. The same applies for a couple of small markets with basic groceries. It’s better to come prepared to camp, if that is your plan, rather than expecting to find essential supplies in town.
Across from the Desert Inn, the old Pemex station appears to be under renovation. In the meantime, there is usually someone selling gas from a barrel here or across the street. If you’ve filled your tank in El Rosario before the long drive across the desert, you shouldn’t need fuel in Cataviña, but it never hurts to top off whenever you have the opportunity, since it’s a long way between Pemex stations in this part of the peninsula.
The next closest stations are at Villa Jesús María, about 60 kilometers to the south, and Bahía de los Angeles, 170 kilometers to the southeast. Several towns—including Punta Prieta, El Nuevo Rosarito, and Chapala—do sell gas from drums along Highway 1.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition