Rancho Cacachilas in Baja California Sur is a Superb Eco-Ranch
By Sharon Kurtz
When the ranch guide offered to check my tent for tarantulas and scorpions before I turned in, I knew this would be an adventure.
Rancho Cacachilas is a nearly 35,000-acre solar-powered self-sustaining adventure guest ranch that offers more than just a recreational getaway in Mexico’s Baja California Sur Peninsula.
Two hours north of Cabo San Lucas, this glamping adventure is in the high desert overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
The name was inspired by the Sierra Cacachilas Mountain range located east of La Paz. It’s also the name of a thornless, evergreen shrub with berries; the earliest references occur in Jesuit journals from the mid-1700s.
I had eagerly accepted an invitation to visit the Ranch and was ready to experience the rugged beauty of the cactus-dotted landscapes and mountain vistas—and to find out what Rancho Cacachilas could provide as an all-inclusive travel adventure getaway.
But meeting up with scorpions and tarantulas, not so much.
Rancho Cacachilas initially developed about 14 years ago. In the beginning, there was only one Ranch; the rest were purchased over the years and now are divided into 10 small ranches.
It was only opened to guests five years ago and continues to focus on land preservation, community outreach, and best practices to support watershed conservation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed its momentum in developing the Ranch as a tourism destination, but it is quickly building speed.
Rancho El Chivito is the central hub offering ten safari-style tents and four brick-and-mortar resort rooms with a rooftop deck. The amenities here are basic but comfortable and include communal bucket outdoor showers.
A pool with stunning views of the hazy mountainous outline over the Sea of Cortez is a showstopper. Guests can also stay in Los Pisos remote wilderness camp with direct access to the trail system.
In preparation for our visit, we received an extensive packing list of clothing, gear, and miscellaneous items, stressing a reusable water bottle and biodegradable toiletries. Another clue that the Ranch was serious about eco-friendly practices.
Anxious to explore the Ranch as soon as we arrived, together with two other travel writers, we started with Rancho Gaspareño, the eco-ranch’s reception area is also used for offices, stables, and gardens.
It’s here where they host monthly ranch-to-table culinary events during the high season (November-March), at least one of which is sizable with national and international guests.
They hold workshops about bees and cheesemaking for visitors and the local community in Dos Hermanos ranch because the hives, goats, and creamery are there.
Their garden plots were large and bountiful, but sadly, the tomatoes were finished, and a new crop was planted in its place. I would have enjoyed savoring a warm red tomato on the vine as I did at my grandma’s when I was a kid.
Our guide, Sebastian, talked to us about the importance of crop rotation, water conservation, and using natural fertilizers from the ranch compost heap.
“We work with what we harvest, on our farms and in the ocean. Nothing goes to waste here.”
One of the fun activities on the Ranch is mule rides. Sebastian explained that they strive to continue the ranching traditions and culture throughout everything they do.
Pausing to give some love to the pack animals (Sultan was my favorite), we learned that mules had always been used for transport in these parts. They are much more adaptable to the desert landscape, need much less water than horses, and can handle rocky, uneven roads without tripping.
Green lodging options
Rancho Chivato was our home base. We made ourselves at home in our cozy tent lodging in the desert landscape—each complete with a covered porch, outdoor seating, and hammock perfect for a lazy afternoon nap.
The palapa casitas had everything we needed for a comfortable stay. We used the bucket showers, visited the communal bathroom facility down the trail, and lived off-the-grid. I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to the bucket showers.
It puts into perspective how we waste such a precious commodity and how much we depend on water in our everyday lives. Later, I found out why there was a flashlight on my bedside table.
I was spooked when I walked to the bathroom in the inky darkness at night. Hoping I didn’t cross paths with any critters, I made that trek in record time.
A Sunrise Show worth getting up for
Lulled to sleep by the gentle sounds of nature under a blanket of brilliant Baja stars, I woke to the warbling of an oriole that built its nest in a tree outside my window.
The tiny glimmer of pink and apricot hues in the early dawn was a precursor to the spectacular sunrise show to come. I bounded out of bed and hurried to the rooftop viewing platform to watch the incredible show unfold.
The wispy clouds were bathed in fuchsia and orange, the mountain peaks slowly emerging from the mist. The Sea of Cortez below shimmered with a silvery reflection.
Hiking Experience in the high desert
The following day after my early sunrise photo session and a hearty huevos rancheros breakfast with fresh eggs and artisanal cheese from the Ranch, we donned our hiking shoes and hats.
With extra water in our backpacks, we headed off into the wild beauty of the high desert with our guide Sebastian and his Belgian Malinois Chaco.
We hiked the water trail and a tiny bit of the Middle Mountain track with views of La Ventana Bay, Cerralvo Island, and Sierra de la Laguna, the highest peak in Baja California Sur.
As we traversed gullies, scrambled up and around boulders, and climbed old wooden ladders to higher elevations, I was amazed at how rich and alive a desert landscape could be.
Ranchers have been working in this arid desert land for centuries. We learned about the endemic cape wild plum, “Salte,” and the Lomboy tree’s medicinal properties.
We spotted the ranch’s namesake shrub, Cacachilas. The giant Cardón Cacti dotting the landscape are native to this region and can grow nearly 60 feet tall. A scientist recently shared that the oldest they discovered in the area was over 800 years old!
After finishing our hike, we visited Rancho Dos Hermanos, where a herd of 36 goats supplies the milk that creates the artisanal cheese made in their in-house creamery.
Goat cheese has always been a staple of the surrounding ranches. We were treated to a trio of tasty cheeses with honey from the apiary and cape wild plum compote from the trees on the Ranch.
The Evolution of the Ranch
With experiences like mule rides or mountain biking into the wilderness, there are over 50 miles of world-class biking and hiking trails crisscrossing the Ranch.
They also hold running races every November, including a 35K and the 54K Don Diablo Trail Run. With partners like Red Travel and Todos Santos Eco Adventures, they can arrange whale watching, island tours, whale shark, and other excursions in the Sea of Cortez and protected reserves along the Pacific.
In keeping with their mission of education, they hold workshops for the community and area ranchers, including holistic management, beekeeping, and even rainwater harvesting.
The Walton Effect
The Ranch’s under-the-radar owner is Christy Walton, the widow of John Walton, of the Walmart Waltons, one of the highest-ranked female philanthropists in the world.
Christy fell in love with Baja while sailing in the Sea of Cortez with her husband in the 1980s. They established Rancho Cacachilas to restore the area’s ecological and cultural heritage. As stated on the Rancho Cacachilas website, the Ranch’s goal, in part, is to:
“Manage, protect and enhance the lands while integrating scientific research, education, and diverse economic activities such as eco-tourism, animal husbandry, and traditional artisanal projects”.
Since the Ranch started primarily to promote research, I asked Sebastian Del Valle what prompted the decision to enter tourism.
He mused, “We know La Paz will grow into tourism. It has a lot of activities and attractions, and it will come. It’s just a matter of grabbing tourism by the hand and growing together.”
“We don’t really believe in sustainable tourism—because sustainable tourism is not enough now—we believe more in regenerative tourism.”
I responded that Christy must have had a vision for the Ranch back at the start of this project, and Sebastian agreed.
“Christy has a vision. A lot of people want regenerative tourism, but they also want to make money. But we can do better. For Christy, it’s not to make money—it’s to show the ranchers what they can accomplish—what they can do.”
“Most of our employees are locals. We show them the best practices for guarding against water erosion, and they take what they learn back to their houses.
We want to be a part of helping to improve organically. We want visitors to enjoy the experience, take this tradition and culture and learn, spread it, and have a positive impact.”
La Paz Tourism Managing Director Fatima Aviles added, “Tourism In our region is growing. We want to work with an educated traveler to get the Ranch and our mission known.
We do not want to adapt to tourism—but to stay authentic. We want to preserve the culture of the Baja California rancher, their lifestyle and traditions, and how it has been evolving through the years.”
Rancho Cacachilas is an alternative vacation option for adventurous and curious travelers. After spending a few days at the Ranch in a learning environment and enjoying nature in an authentic Baja Sur experience, I am a believer. I love that people and places like this are helping to improve the world.
Spread the word.
P.S. I crossed paths with tarantulas and scorpions while on the Ranch, just not, thankfully, in my bed.
Click here to learn more about Rancho Cacachilas or book your stay.