If we had to pick a
favorite activity out of all available to Baja travelers, a visit to the
magnificent cave paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco would be one
of the top two. Granted, a visit to the cave paintings of
Sierra de San Francisco of Baja is not the easiest thing to accomplish, but the
reward is certainly worth the effort.
There are cave paintings
and rock art in
many locations in Baja. Some locations are relatively easy to get to and
more difficult. The best and most well preserved sites are, of course,
the ones that require the most difficult journey. A journey to
cave paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco is definitely a serious Baja
The existence of the cave
paintings were known to Spanish missionaries in the 1700's. They
only became known to the the outside world in 1962, when an expedition
was initiated by mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner. The painters
were probably ancestors of the Cochimi Indians who were early
inhabitants of the area, but
the motives for their primitive art are still unknown.
Originally the paintings were thought to be somewhere around 2000 years
old. Recent carbon dating tests have suggested that some of the
paintings may have been painted as many as 7500 years ago. The
method used in the carbon dating process has been disputed. We
are not going to get involved in a debate about "who done it" or "how
old" the cave paintings are. We do know, from visits to several of
the sites, that these ancient cave paintings are one of Baja's
greatest treasures. We have posted links to a few research sites
at the end of this article.
At bare minimum you
should set aside a full day to see the caves up close. There is
one cave, Cueva del Ratón in the Sierra de San Francisco, that can easily be
visited in a day from San Ignacio by way of vehicle. No hiking is
involved to visit this site. There are a couple of other caves at
El Palmarito, east of San Ignacio, that can be visited in day, by way of
vehicle and then riding trained mules. This excursion requires some medium hiking
get close to the cave site.
But...since you are already in
central Baja, and the chances are you will never do this again why not do it
right. Plan to spend at least two nights in the mountain canyons.
This way you can visit five or six different sites without wearing
yourself out. When you are back in civilization, reliving your
trip, I guarantee that you will be thankful you spent the extra time.
trips into Sierra de San Francisco require a guide and a cave custodian
(both INAH approved) mules (even
if you are really hardcore and want to hike), burros and handlers for the
animals. You have to pack in tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils
and enough food, water and supplies for the
number in your party plus the guides and animal handlers.
In addition to the paintings
themselves, there is the feeling of inner peace and serenity that a visit to Canón Santa
instills in it's visitors. This area, a beautiful palm-lined canyon, is absolutely quiet, incredibly
clean and the number of stars in the night sky will absolutely astound you.
Sleep comes easy and early in the canyon after a day of hiking to the caves.
the cave paintings falls under the guidance of Mexico's National Institute of
Anthropology and History (INAH). All
visitors to the cave paintings must purchase a special permit and must be accompanied by
a registered guide.
The necessary permits, guides and guided tours can
all be arranged in San Ignacio. If you are not proficient in Spanish
it may be best to use a tour company. If you are planning an official research
trip arrangements must be made through the INAH office in México City.
used Ecoturismo Kuyima in San Ignacio for cave painting and whale tours, on
more than one occasion, and we feel comfortable recommending them.
to ride mules or spend a couple of nights in the mountains...but you do want
to see some great cave paintings! Check this out,
Cave Paintings and Rock Art near
Mulegé. There are some easier day trips to some absolutely incredible sites
a bit further south. Mulegé is approximately two hours south of San
Ignacio, by car on the main Baja highway.
Cave Paintings and Rock Art near
(615) 154-0070 From U.S. dial 011 52 (615) 154-0070
NEW! SAN IGNACIO VIDEOS
!!! Please give us your feedback
about this site !!!
INAH office in San Ignacio (Spanish Only)
(615) 154-0222 From U.S. dial 011 52 (615) 154-0222
On-line Research links:
Cave Paintings and Cowboys of Baja California
by: Debra Valov
Great Mural Rock Art, Baja California
Images of Baja California: Images by Harry Crosby
U.C. San Diego, Special Collections Library