Cabo? Sure. But Not That Cabo.

La Ventana and Los Barriles

Aug 15, 2001
Outside Magazine

Like the snows of Alaska, the winds of the East Cape are a defining local aspect, shaping the land as much as the people, even taking on distinct personalities of their own. The sultriness of late summer and early fall, for example, is often tempered by a coromuel, a moist southerly named after Cromwell, the British pirate who captured Spanish treasure galleons by strategically using his knowledge of local gusts. Sometime after St. Francis Day (October 4) comes the last hurricane of the season: el cordonazo de San Francisco, or Saint Francis's whiplash. From then on, North American boardsailors compulsively monitor Internet weather sites waiting for a high-pressure system to build over the southwestern United States--at which point they pack their gear and head for either La Ventana or Los Barriles.
At the end of a dusty road 40 minutes south of La Paz, the sleepy fishing village of La Ventana huddles on a 15-mile beach facing Cerralvo Channel. La Ventana means "the window," an apt name given that, from December through March, this particular casement is wide-open to the 45-knot northerlies that barrel down the gulf like subway trains screaming through a tunnel.

Thanks to the forgiving direction of the prevailing winds, though, beach launches here are easy even for novice boardsailors, and the long, gradual arc of the bay creates a natural safety net for anyone who gets into trouble. Inevitably you'll wind up on the sand, where a four-wheeler from one of the local rental shops will fetch you. Advanced sailors will find that the dark water farther out has little chop, thick rolling swells, and warm temperatures. Closer in, on the reef near town, you'll find rollers that make for good play when the wind is just too strong out in the channel.
An underpublicized stop on the windsurfing circuit, La Ventana still offers no real hotels or nightlife, only one restaurant, and a handful of small places where you can rent gear and maybe a trailer to sleep in. But you can always camp on the beach, which is reliably hassle-free.
Things are much more civilized down at Los Barriles, a more established windsurfing spot and fishing center about an hour south. (Its similarly apt name, "the barrels," refers to its past as a smugglers' haven, when drums of tequila were illegally floated ashore.) Here you'll find a wide range of hotel rooms, restaurants serving wood-fired pizzas, and grocery stores stocked with California wines and sunblock, earning the town's other winking appellation: the southernmost suburb of San Diego. From mid-November to mid-March it's also the Baja home of Vela, the reputable windsurfing academy that maintains seasonal outposts in windy locales from Aruba to Maui. Since manufacturers use the school to test new designs, most of its equipment is late-model, and you'll appreciate its full quiver of sails once you experience the wide variety of local winds. (One tip: If you're not staying at Playa del Sol or Palmas de Cortez but plan to rent from Vela, it's best to reserve equipment at least a day before, since guests at these two Vela-affiliated hotels otherwise get first dibs.) Sail-swapping is a little more relaxed up in La Ventana, but in either place you should bring your own wetsuit and harness. If you're choosing between the two spots, think of it like this: Los Barriles is the reassuringly structured university; La Ventana is the playground at recess.

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