Baja California Sur’s glorious colonial past has made it a center for historical architecture and traditional art forms, and it’s also a great place to surf and fish. Since Baja California Sur occupies the southern end of a peninsula, overland travel to the rest of Mexico is time-consuming. To shorten the trip, daily ferries depart for the mainland, mostly to Mazatlán. The average trip by ferry takes five hours.
Baja California Sur was inhabited as early as 11000 B.C. Nomadic tribes left behind artifacts such as arrow heads and Clovis points, which have been discovered in the northern part of the state.
Primitive paintings dating to 1700 B.C. can be seen in Cueva de Palma, San Gregorio, Sierra de San Francisco and Sierra de Guadalupe. The paintings depict animals in motion, such as snakes, cougars, birds and wild cats. Hunters with arrowheads and primitive swords also appear in the paintings. These images are consistent with other evidence suggesting that most of the inhabitants were nomadic hunters and gatherers.
When early explorers and missionaries arrived, they found four ethnic groups, including the Pericú in the south, between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz and on several of the islands in the Gulf. The Guaycura occupied the area north of the Pericú, from La Paz to south of Loreto. The Monquil also lived near Loreto. The final group was the Cochimí, who ranged throughout the middle of the peninsula. Most of these tribes were hunters-gatherers lacking agriculture or metallurgy. However, they produced pottery and were fairly skilled fishermen. The Pericú enhanced their fishing methods by building wooden rafts and other simple forms of watercraft.
The first Spaniard to arrive in Baja California Sur is believed to have been Fortún Ximénez who landed there in 1533. Hernán Cortés led an expedition in 1535 but did not stay long. Other explorers came and went over the next century and a half. Since Baja California Sur is one of the most isolated parts of Mexico, there were no serious efforts at colonization until the late 17th century.In 1697 the Jesuit missionary Juan María de Salvatierra established Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, the first permanent mission in Baja California Sur. The Jesuits then extended their presence south to the Cape as well as north to the modern border with Baja California.
The Franciscans took control of Baja California Sur in 1768 and then ceded it to the Dominicans in 1773. These administrative changes reflected increasing Spanish interest in the region. As the Spanish presence grew, colonization bred disease and violence that caused a significant decrease in the population of the indigenous people during this period.
During the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), Baja California Sur was largely isolated from the hostilities because of its remote location. After the war, the region was divided into four municipalities by President Guadalupe Victoria and Governor José María Echeandía.
Loreto, the oldest continuous settlement in the region, served as the capital until 1830. That year, heavy rains forced the government to move to La Paz, which has remained the capital since then.
At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1847, the United States withdrew from Baja California Sur. The following year the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico agreed to sell the land that now comprises the modern states of California, Nevada and Utah, as well as portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. In return, the United States acknowledged Mexico’s ownership of the Baja Peninsula. Despite the agreement, in 1853 a journalist named William Walker led a group of 45 Americans to capture the city of La Paz. The expedition did not have the official support of the United States, however, and the Mexican Army quickly drove out the Americans.
The territories of Baja California Sur and Baja California were formally established in 1888 under the government of President Porfirio Díaz. Baja California Sur became a state on October 8, 1974.
Baja California Sur Today
Tourism, sport fishing, agriculture and salt mining make the biggest contributions to the state`s economy. Salt is mined from the ocean and sold as table salt or a preservative. Major crops include garbanzo beans, sorghum, tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat, corn and green chilies. Ranchers raise pigs, cattle, goats and chickens. The state’s extensive coastline ensures plentiful harvests of seafood such as lobster, shrimp, tuna, abalone and clams.
Local bands traditionally play an accordion and two guitars, interpreting rhythms like corridos, waltzes, polkas and mazurkas.
From July to October, large Pacific waves draw crowds of surfers to the beaches of Todos Santos and Pescadero. East Cape and Scorpion Bay are also well known to surfing insiders.
Facts and Figures
- Capital: La Paz
- Major Cities (population):La Paz (219,596) San Jose del Cabo (164,162) Ciudad Constitución (63,830) Santa Rosalia (52,743) Loreto (11,839)
- Size/Area: 28,369 square miles
- Population: 512,170 (2005 Census)
- Year of Statehood: 1974
- The coat of arms of Baja California Sur emphasizes the region’s connection to the sea. Silver fish against a blue background stand for the ocean and its abundance, while a silver shell recalls the border battle waged by the inhabitants of Baja California Sur. A narrow golden border symbolizes the region’s rich soil, and a wider blue band signifies the virtues of loyalty, justice, and truth. In the center, a gold panel represents wealth and value, while a red panel suggests unity and daring.
- Baja California Sur, bordered by two seas, has the longest coastline of all the Mexican states at more than 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles).
- Baja California Sur features more islands than any other state. Although most of the islands are located in the Gulf of California, the largest one is Margarita Island, on the Pacific side.
- Todos Santos in Baja California Sur is widely believed to have been the inspiration for the Eagles’ song “Hotel California.”
- The cardón cactus, the world’s largest species of cactus, grows on the Baja California peninsula. It can reach heights of 21 meters (70 feet).
- Every year from mid-December to mid-April, hundreds of gray whales arrive off the coast of Baja California Sur from the Alaska shores. Whale-watchers flock to Guerrero Negro, Laguna San Ignacio and Sierra de Laguna, where they can see whales jumping up to 40 feet in the air.
- Rock shelters in the Sierra de Guadalupe and Sierra de San Francisco feature larger-than life cave paintings of humans and animals. Loreto Bay, in Baja California Sur, was the setting for the final episode of season seven of the ABC television show, “The Bachelor.”
One of the main tourist attractions of the region is Las Palmas, a prehistoric archaeological complex. Located on the southern Cape and nearby islands in the Gulf of California, the site features caves and rock shelters containing secondary burials of human bones painted with red ochre.
The Comondú Complex gives evidence of late prehistoric occupation throughout the central portion of the peninsula. It is characterized by small, triangular projectile points may demonstrate the introduction of the bow and arrow into the region.
The Great Mural Rock Art, dating to around 1700 B.C., is the best-known archaeological artifact in northern Baja California Sur. Numerous rock shelters in the Sierra de Guadalupe and Sierra de San Francisco mountain ranges are adorned with larger-than-life paintings of humans, deer and other animals.
Beaches and Sea Activities
Todos Santos is home to the Hotel California, a landmark that helped Baja become world famous after the Eagles, an American rock band, released a song by the same name.
The two resort cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Juan del Cabo, perched on the southern tip of the peninsula, offer many hotels and recreational facilities. A highway known as the Corridor links the two towns, providing easy access to the area’s many attractions. Whale watching (from January through March), deep sea fishing, golf and tennis, motorcycling, scuba diving and snorkeling attract a variety of tourists. Medano Beach lures windsurfers into the bay, and nearby at the tip of Baja California Sur is the frequently photographed rock formation known as Los Arcos. The town of Mulegé promotes sport fishing and diving along with tours of prehistoric cave paintings.