If you asked a small child to draw a picture of the perfect home for a pirate ship, Puerto Balandra might be pretty close to what they’d come up with.
Nestled on the northern end of Isla Carmen, this small cove overlooks the lights Loreto. However, it’s isolated enough from the few towns scattered along the Baja Peninsula that it feels remote from the rest of the world.
It’s still dark enough to see the stars with stunning clarity once the sun sets over the peninsula to the west. Although the bay is small, Puerto Balandra somehow still manages to encapsulate everything that a visit to the Sea of Cortes is all about.
Puerto Balandra is a tiny, almost circular bay that is entered through a shallow gap in the rocky bluffs to either side. The narrow entrance is hardly visible until you are almost inside it.
Once inside, the shoreline is a mix of jagged cliffs interspersed with clusters of vibrantly green mangroves and small, shell-covered beaches.
The rocks on the cliffs are reddish and volcanic and the hillsides overlooking the ocean are studded with a mix of cactus and the waving green branches of the palo verde.
This was our playground on a recent day of adventure and relaxation in Baja.
In the back of Puerto Balandra is a small estuary, filled with copses of red mangroves growing in the small, salt-filled lagoons rimming the head of the bay.
Skirting the edge of the lagoons, several keen-eyed passengers found tracks of the bighorn sheep as well as the small, dainty prints of the ring-tailed cat.
A large, colorful Sally Lightfoot Crab scuttled around the edges of their muddy banks, and a blue heron peered from the edges of the shrubbery.
Further down the beach, a pair of black and white American Oystercatchers flitted back and forth, calling loudly to each other in a high, piercing whistle.
Capturing images of these handsome, talkative birds became the goal of several camera-toting guests, while others preferred to take out a kayak and scout the shallows for fish.
One kayaker returned to the beach excitedly reporting seeing several small stingrays sitting together, motionless and half-covered with sand. Other guests combed the beach for interesting shells, took a spin on the paddleboards or simply enjoyed sitting in the sun with drinks in hand.
Skiff tours venturing out of the bay and further down the coast of Isla Carmen, reported a small group of bottlenose dolphins surfacing at erratic intervals.
The wide variety of animal life reported in this one small bay over the course of the day - bighorn sheep to bottlenose dolphins, parrotfish to great blue herons - is a great example of why the Sea of Cortes is known as one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems on the planet.
One example of this diversity is the aforementioned desert bighorn sheep. This once rare mammal was originally introduced on Isla Carmen to allow it to live and breed in a relatively protected environment. The original population of 30 sheep has now grown to 300, with some being transported back to the mainland to bolster the populations of sheep living elsewhere.
On a skiff heading south along Isla Carmen’s western shore, we were lucky enough to spot one of these elusive mammals, clambering among the rocks along the face of a steep bluff almost directly above us.
Another skiff tour also spotted two more sheep on the slopes above the water, in addition to a dead sheep at the base of a cliff that was attracting the attention of a small mob of turkey vultures and ravens - a reminder that foraging on such steep slopes can have fatal consequences.