Nine Palms & Cabo Pulmo

After spending a while at Cerritos trying our best to surf, we were a mixture of excited and apprehensive to head to this surf beach just around the cape. We had visited once before back in March when we travelled with a group of vanlifers and at the time had no real interest in surfing, let alone equipment. I think we were offered a board to borrow at the time, but after watching the low tide expose just how many rocks were hidden just below the surface, we declined. 

Now, six months later we were back but this time with a little surfing practice and some boards.

The waves at Cerritos are very different to here, they are more unpredictable, green waves mixed with white water and much closer together, the difference between a beach break and a reef break. We had been spending our time standing on the sandy bottom and diving in front of an approaching white wave to catch it. We didn’t really need to paddle on our boards as we weren’t good enough to go out behind the break and the beach is shallow meaning it’s possible to simply walk out a fair way. In contrast, Nine Palms was like getting thrown in the literal deep end. A beautiful sandy beach it shelves an easy metre in depth in half the distance. If you could touch the bottom you would be standing on sharp rocks and sea urchins.

This meant we suddenly had to try and use our boards like proper surfers, paddling out to the waves. There is also a strong current on one end of the beach. On the positive side the waves tend to break on one side and roll across the beach, meaning there is a calm patch that everyone uses to paddle through. It was still hard work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good fat surfer, the reasons now becoming apparent. I brought up the rear, flailing around on my board and barely going forwards against the current. Eventually we made it to a quiet patch. Hanno, Kiki and Lee sat on their boards bobbing in the ocean, I tried to sit on mine, rolled off sideways and inhaled some sea. I began to think this thing wasn’t for me. 

While I may have been struggling, I wasn’t the only one. We all returned sore and tired that day, but it was nevertheless satisfying. That moment when you finally feel a wave catch you and speed you across the sea. We even spotted turtles swimming in the sea near us. Still, no pain no gain they say. After persevering for a few days I may not have improved much at surfing but I could at least tell I was getting a bit stronger. A long way to go until we reached those surfers way out in the sea doing tricks on their boards.

Towards the end of the week it became apparent that our foam board was not really any good anymore. A battered specimen rescued from Cerritos a long time ago, it had started absorbing water and was no longer balanced. It looked like if we wanted to continue to surf we might actually need to buy a board. Still, it had been good to learn on and had given us a cheap and easy start. Our other board was also not very good. The fault being with the surfer this time. We had acquired a ‘gun board’, made for big wave surfing and definitely not for beginners. It had been easier at Cerritos, jumping in front of the waves, but now the speed required needed to be gained by paddling and we just weren’t strong enough. Surfing is hard enough to learn as it is and having a board that suits the waves and your ability is very important. I spent many frustrated days not catching a single wave and as good as it was to have ‘paddle practice’ the enjoyment isn’t really there.

Our visit to Nine Palms was not just for some more surfing. We were killing some time while we waited for a few more things. Kiki and Hanno had a big parcel coming from Germany and we had to wait for a replacement tyre inflater after ours insisted a few days ago that the road shower was at 100psi while it dribbled water at me. It seemed to make sense to go on a tour around the south of the peninsula while we waited. 

The boys had another unsuccessful go at fishing, and while a herd of wild horses came to cool off in the sea.

It became apparent within a matter of days that we were not the only ones. Mike reappeared after our initial meeting at La Pastora, his friend from the road, a Swiss guy called Jaro was also parked up here in his kitted out Land Rover. Shortly after we also met Clem and Emilie with their son Lucian. They were living in Todos Santos too, it turns out that the overlanding world can be very small at times. It was quite nice after months of living in the desert with just the four of us, hearing only whispers of other travellers from the outside world, to see that we weren’t alone. Other people were still here and continuing their trip. 

We spent a few evenings in the company of some new travellers, we introduced movie night to the beach and talked about our plans. Clem and Emilie were keen to hear what mainland was like, as they wanted to go their themselves. When we left to continue up the coast to Cabo Pulmo a few days later, we promised to stay in touch.

We wanted to see if we could get a reasonable priced snorkelling tour here, the coral reef being the main attraction. In the end, it turned out to not be top of the priority list. Kiki and Hanno left Nine Palms and headed off, leaving us hanging around the van for another four hours until Aimee graced us with her presence. Cat finally on board, we followed on towards our agreed meeting spot. We stopped off to pick up a few groceries at the only shop in the village. It’s also the restaurant, bar and water point. Needless to say, it’s very expensive, supply and demand I guess. For the first time in a week we got phone signal and caught up with the outside world. 

It had been a relatively nice drive up the coast. The road appeared to have recently been graded and was in a much better condition that the previous time we had driven it. The slight issue had been that our engine was still misfiring, clearly something required further attention and I resolved to look at it when we got to Cabo Pulmo, assuming more oil had leaked down onto the HT leads. Now just a simple matter of driving five minutes or so out of the village and round to a more private beach on the north side, I wasn’t too concerned as I was pretty sure I knew what was wrong. 

We drove the remaining dirt road, past some massive potholes and out on the bay on the other side of the main beach. Hanno and Kiki waved us over, they were in the middle of trying to level Bruno using half a small mountain.

They too had also got signal, but it had not brought good news. Their parcel from Germany, full of expensive and difficult to find parts, had a problem. The courier had been in touch to say if they didn’t contact them within a time period it would be destroyed, blissfully unaware of this out at Nine Palms which has no signal whatsoever, they had got the message with only hours remaining. The time difference making it hard to contact people or find out what was happening. If that wasn’t enough, once they got Bruno level, it turned out the fridge had stopped working. 

Not to be totally outdone on the disaster front, I went to check on the cause of our misfire. Pulling out the HT leads I found them dry. Not the cause of the misfire. At this point however, I got rather distracted when I noticed our engine mount. I had seen a couple of small holes in the chassis around it previously. It was nothing particularly bad, but needed attention. I decided it could wait until mainland. It turns out that I was wrong. Some of the larger potholes on the road here had been too much for it and had ripped the mount nearly clean of the chassis, an entire foot of the rail being rotten. Fortunately the engine had only dropped an inch or so, but was now putting a lot of load on the other mount and the gearbox, this needed to go to a garage as a matter of priority now. We were still the best part of an hour down a dirt road from the nearest place however, so we hooked a ratchet strap through the crossbeam and around the engine hatch to hopefully take a bit of the weight and prevent any more damage. 

Go off grid for a week and it all goes wrong. Still ours would be a relatively easy fix, Kiki and Hanno’s problem being less straightforward. That night in at attempt to stop their parcel being destroyed they stayed up till 3am trying to get through to the courier with no success at all. The following morning they spent some time trying to get answers, with the plan that we would try and snorkel for free off the beach a bit later. In the end, Hanno went to test out the water, he said that the visibility was terrible. It looked like if we wanted to see the reef we would need to pay for a proper tour. We decided to head into the town and see what was available. We knew that the normal price was around $60 a person, but we said we’d only go if we got it for around $40. By the time we made it that afternoon, it was 5.15pm and everything was shut. Cabo Pulmo is purely there for tourism, take away the tourists and there isn’t really a town. It looked like we needed to come back in the morning and try again.

Heading back to Bruno, we had left Ruby as we didn’t want to drive more than we had too, we stopped at the shop for some more overpriced beer. Hanno asked the shopkeeper about snorkelling tours and she gave us a business card which seemed like a start. We also spotted a sign advertised tours for 700mpx (about $40) so maybe we would be in luck tomorrow. 

We decided that in order to have a chance of a tour we needed to get there when the tours left which is about 8am. Ruby cautiously picked her way out through the massive potholes and over some big topes. We parked up and walked down the main strip which has different tours places all down both sides. After being it deserted yesterday, we had expected it to be busier. There was still hardly a person in sight. We asked the first people we really saw in one of the offices. They knew the drill. We were ushered in front of a massive mural depicting the coastline. Someone explained in well practiced English the route while another bloke stood next to him enthusiastically showing us pictures in a leaflet. They would provide drinks, a snack and all the equipment. All this for the price of $60. We weren’t surprised, and they did go down to $50 with a bit of haggling but it was still a bit much for us. When we showed him the other tour being advertised he was dismissive, yes you can do that, but they don’t go to as many places, he said.

We wandered back, stopping at two other places. Nothing seemed to be promising and we thought maybe we just wouldn’t bother. One person took a phone number and promised to give us another price later. In the meantime, Hanno messaged the business card we had been given yesterday. Happily, the guy replied. After some negotiating we got it down to 800mpx per person for the next day at 1pm. This seemed liked a pretty good price and also meant we didn’t have to get up early, so victorious we headed back to the campers. 

We decided to park up on the main beach as it was closer and there was a couple of more private spots in some bushes.

Now with a day to kill, I entertained myself by making kombucha and raiding the beach for likely looking plants to put in the camper. This only kept my entertained for so long, and decided I would walk up the hill behind us as we had done last time we stopped. The weather was cloudy so it seemed like a good idea. Kikki decided to join me, then Hanno, so it was a short while later until we were ready to leave. Unfortunately, by this time the weather had suddenly cleared up. This wasn’t good because it was now incredibly hot in the midday sun. Perhaps stupidly, we decided to leave anyway. We only got maybe a quarter of the way up the hill before we had to stop for a breather. I was so hot and out of breath I felt a bit sick. I wasn’t the only one overheating, we decided that it was too hot in the sun and headed back down for a swim instead. The weather now unbearably hot for hiking compared to the last time I’d done it. 

Lee got some great drone shots of our failed walking attempt but also of the picturesque scenery.

That afternoon Mike appeared again for a short while before heading off over the point to park where we had been the two previous nights. In the meantime, we enjoyed swimming on a sandy beach with no current, a novel experience. 

The following afternoon we got our things together and walked the short way into town, deciding there was no point in driving the campers. We arrived at the place and met our guide. He gave us the equipment we needed and soon enough we walked down to the boat launch. Soon we were out on the sea, heading for the first point, Mermaid Beach, named after the rock formation that sits on its coast.

We had never done any proper snorkelling before, but it’s a pretty straightforward concept. Once we had arrived, he told us that we would swim a short way down the coast, joining together two popular snorkelling spots. We hopped off the side of the boat and into the crystal clear blue waters. The water is so warm that wetsuits are not necessary, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever swam in sea this warm before at around 30°C. 

We didn’t need to go far before we started to see lots of varieties of tropical fish. It’s quite hard to take pictures underwater, even with a waterproof camera, as the colours just don’t come out right, but I gave it a go.

I paddled along with our GoPro, taking a few videos and admiring the most colourful fish which was definitely the parrot fish. 

Our captain waited for us a little way down the shore and we all piled back into the boat ready to go to the next spot.

We were offered a slightly odd snack at this point, most of which disintegrated and ended up in the mask, maybe not the most practical choice for the activity.


Our next stop was in far deeper water further from the shore. Here we would be able to see a huge shoal of big eye jacks which was pretty amazing. Floating on the surface of the water we were only a few meters away from this huge shoal of fish as they swam through the water.

We spotted some dolphins in the distance and could here the clicks as the talked underwater. A pipefish swam past us in the depths below and the entire sea floor was alive with fish. It was pretty cool. 

From here, we had one more stop left. This was very close to where we had actually been parked the previous day, in fact we could have even swum to it from the shore although you’re not supposed to, the national park requires an entry fee. Here was some hard coral reefs, which I didn’t remember to bring the camera for. It wasn’t quite how I imagined a coral reef to be, the colours more muted. Kiki told me that this was because the majority of the corals were hard, the soft ones are more brightly coloured and the type that spring to mind when you mention a coral reef. The fish though were definitely tropical. Small shoals of brightly coloured fish swam past close enough to touch. I spied a cowfish and several different types of pufferfish too, all things that I’ve only ever seen before in an aquarium. The waters were shallow as we swam above the reef, the waves drifting us from side to side. After a while, we headed back to the boat, tour complete. 

Our guide, a little less chatty now his rehearsed tour was done, instructed us to leave everything in the boat. We could go and use the showers and pool at the hire place if we wanted. Not ones to turn this sort of thing down, we bobbed about in the pool until our guide brought Hanno and Kikki their equipment back, as they had brought their own, and then made use of the shower afterwards. We paid, and began to make our way back to the campers. It had definitely been a great experience, but not one that I think is worth $60. For the price we paid you definitely couldn’t complain though. 

With out time in Cabo Pulmo done, we decided to drive out and stay in La Ribera that night. A stop around halfway between here and Los Barriles, it would give us a chance to fill our water tanks. It was only around a 30 minutes drive to here, and we went along steadily conscious of our engine mount situation. On arrival we filled our water tanks and stopped up some groceries for a far more reasonable price than the shop we had been too before. By this point it was getting a little late and we were all quite tired. We had found a pizza place nearby which would be an easy solution for the night, we order and waited outside by the unlikely sight of a piece of English history, all the way from Birmingham. 

Fresh pizza collected, we drove off a short way to the beach. Highly recommended on iOverlander, we were a little disappointed when we arrived to see two police cars blocking the entrance. The next place to stop was a little way away and it was about to get dark, so this wasn’t ideal. More importantly, our pizza would be cold. Hanno jumped out and asked the police if the beach was closed. To my surprise they were happy enough to let us past, sometimes you just can’t tell. We drove a short way down this massive sandy expanse, which was immaculately clean. Parking up on a hard enough looking spot we grabbed our chairs and set about demolishing the pizza, which was excellent. It was a pretty good end to the day and it was also the first new spot that we had visited in a long time, which made a refreshing change. 

Aimee too had found a new favourite spot for the evening.

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