GONZAGA BAY (GPS coordinates 29'48 latitude N ~ 114'23 longitude W) is one of the most beautiful destinations in Baja. The fact that it is so difficult to get to has a lot to do with its slow growth. Bahia de Gonzaga is approximately 90 miles south of SAN FELIPE and about 48 tough miles south of PUERTECITOS. The road south from Puertecitos has long had a reputation for being one of the worst roads in Baja. Despite the significant road grading and paving provided by the Mexican government in the 1980's, this road is still very intimidating to all but the most seasoned Baja travelers. The first eight miles below Puertecitos are now paved, but that still leaves a lot of washboard dirt road to navigate from that point south.
In 1958 when James Adkins Sr. first landed his small Cessna 180 on the tidal flat behind the main beach at Gonzaga Bay, he knew he had discovered something very special. There were no homes or development of any kind on this spectacualr beach, so in 1959 he was the first person to set up a trailer on this amazing and desolate beach. In the years that followed many other Baja aficianados followed, including Alfonsina, who established a small and rustic 5 room hotel right next to Jim's small trailer.
Folks that make it to Gonzaga Bay once usually return again and again. It's just too beautiful to see only once. This area actually consists of two separate bays, connected by a small tidal flow at higher tides and a shallow sand bar at low tide. The large front bay faces the Sea of Cortez and tends to be the main bay for most activities, including 74 oceanfront homes and the restaurant & hotel at Alfonsina's. The back bay is almost fully protected except for a wide access channel just up from Papa Fernandez Camp on the north end. There are also a few homes around Papa Fernandez Camp, but both settlements remain pretty quiet most of the time. Papa passed away on February 20, 2001 at 104 year old, but his family keeps the camp and small restaurant running. Having dinner with Papa was one of Carlos Fiesta's most memorable Baja moments.
Although the back bay at Gonzaga has been occupied by Papa Fernandez and various fishermen since the early days, the beautiful beaches of Bahia de Gonzaga sat empty for the first half of the 1900's, until the late 50's when James Adkins Sr. landed his plane on the desolate tidal flat behind the beach and set up the first trailer on the wide sandspit that would later become home to a few dozen local residents. He also forged the dirt airstrip along the lagoon behind his home by dragging a steal grate behind his truck, which is the main airstrip still in use today. His son, Jim Jr. (a close friend of Carlos Fiesta and a Baja legend of his own) later went on to explore Baja and has become an important force in the development of SAN JUANCIO on the west coast of Baja.
Once a year all of the solitude of Gonzaga Bay gives way to an incredible fiesta on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Alfonsina's is the venue for the largest party this side of Ensenada, and if you make it to the party you will never forget it (if you can remember it!).
Gonzaga Bay is an excellent harbor for those who arrive by boat and there are two airstrips for private pilots who choose to fly in. The OLD RUNWAY runs north-south behind the beachfront homes and the back bay, and should not be used at extremely high tides as it can get completely covered by the incoming tidal flow! The newer runway is just south of Alfonsina's at Rancho Grande, runs east and west, and is in excellent condition.
In years gone by adventurers such as John Wayne would visit Gonzaga Bay to enjoy it's stark beauty and solitude. Today's visitors can enjoy these same pleasures. The Baja adventurer looking for raw beauty, peace and quiet, and a taste of the Sea of Cortez will find Gonzaga Bay hard to beat.
Alfonsina passed away just after Memorial Day in 2010 and she will be missed. Antonio (Tony) is the main man who usually runs the hotel and he is a good man. Juaquin, Alfonsina's son, also helps out.
Rancho Grande is the land located just south and west of Alfonsina's. Run by Rafael, the resort owner's son, the resort offers a nice market, gasoline, ice and a satellite telephone. He is a great guy and does a good job serving his customers. A true oasis in the desert!
A new Pemex gas station has recently been built on the northeast corner of the main road, right across the street form the Rancho Grande market. It is not open. Rancho Grande almost always has gas to sell from large drums.
Despite the bad road condition heading into Gonzaga Bay, almost any vehicle can make it to this corner of Paradise. Carlos Fiesta made this run in an old Audi with no ground clearance, various Fords, and in 2005 in a old beat-to-death Buick Skylark with obsolutely no shocks. Vehicles with low clearance just need to take it slow.
Visitors looking for an even slower pace may want to take an excursion across the back bay for lunch at the small restaurant north of Gonzaga Bay at Papa Fernandez camp. It's like going back in time to a different world!
Gonzaga Bay shares the same arid climate as SAN FELIPE. An average of only 2 inches of rain falls here per year. And there are times when the area goes years without any rain.
Gonzaga Bay was one of the coastal stops for Carlos Fiesta on his 2,200 mile SOLO BAJA CIRCUMNAVIGATION!
The Enchanted Islands starting north of Gonzaga Bay offer raw nature and beauty few visitors are able to experience. Very remote!
PUNTA FINAL is even more remote than Gonzaga Bay! Located about 8 miles across the Sea of Cortez on the f-a-r south end of Gonzaga Bay, Punta Final is the ultimate "drop out" location. But even this remote location has some degree of drama. Just ask a local resident what they think about the 4 condos recently built on the beautiful bay just east of the village. For more information, check out "Local Interest - Side Trips" below.
If you would like to see what Gonzaga Bay and Punta Final look like FROM SPACE check it out!
THE GRINGO FACTOR
Gonzaga Bay has been a gringo getaway since John Wayne discovered the place while on holiday between western movie shoots. Although Alfonsina's is run by her family and Tony, and the Rancho Grande operation (market, beach palapas and the air strip) are run by the Rodriguez brothers, mostly gringos lease out the 70 homes that front the main beach here. Punta Final 7 miles to the southeast is also a collection of gringo vacation homes, while Papa Fernandez Camp a mile to the north of Alfonsina's is mostly local people with a smattering of gringo homes on the bay front.
YOUR FIRST STOP IN TOWN
Like a mirage in an old cowboy movie, you will see the sign on the east side of the main road as you enter Gonzaga Bay ... "Alfonsina's". That, my friend, is where you want to go when you first hit town. Follow the gravel road towards the Sea of Cortez and turn left before your car gets wet. At the very end of the dirt road you will find the perfect place to lighten your load and drink in the salty air of the Sea of Cortez. Alfonsina's offers indoor and outdoor areas to pull up a chair (go outside!) and become one with the Baja. If there is a more peaceful setting in Baja, Carlos Fiesta has yet to find it. For an even grander view, head for the rooftop deck. Go ahead ... bring your drink with you. Enjoy!
THE BEST OF GONZAGA BAY
It's no secret that ALFONSINA'S offers the best rooms in Gonzaga Bay. The fact that they offer the only rooms in Gonzaga Bay has a lot to do with that. But the spectacular beach in front of the spartan 16 room hotel is one of the prettiest in Baja. And the dinners at the restaurant are always great! The best camping facilities in the Gonzaga Bay area are the palapas at RANCHO GRANDE, on the beach about one mile south of Alphonsina's. The palapas are right on the sand and you can park your airplane, tent or RV right at the water's edge. The best airstrip in Gonzaga Bay is the RANCHO GRANDE east-west strip that runs from the Rancho Grande Market near the main road to the beach. It's a wide, long, hard-packed runway and the perfect alternative when Alfonsina's airstrip is underwater at high tide. Looking for the best place to enjoy a famous Gonzaga Bay sunset? Head for the sun deck above Alfonsina's! The stairs are on the north side of the restaurant and the bar is right downstairs. Bring a camera and keep an eye out for whale sharks in the bay. The best mini-kayak adventure is the trek from the main beach at Gonzaga Bay around the island and over to PAPA FERNANDEZ CAMP. After a stop for a cold drink at the small restaurant at Papa Fernandez' keep on paddling through the back bay and then back through the 'slot' that leads back to the ocean in front of the sand spit by Alfonsina's. Visitors looking for a short boat excursion from Gonzaga Bay will love the calm and crystal clear private coves just 8 miles southeast at PUNTA FINAL. These coves are very protected from the winds and a good place for a picnic or a nap. The best road trip from Gonzaga Bay is the 35 minute drive south to COCO'S CORNER. Coco is a friendly no-legged hermit who loves Baja and lives in a trailer in the middle of the desert. He loves it when visitors stop by! He sells cold soft drinks and cervesa and always has an interesting story to tell. Tell him Carlos Fiesta said 'hello'!
GONZAGA BAY TRAVEL GUIDE
The beaches are a main draw for Gonzaga Bay. They are just plain beautiful. The two large bays here are spectacular in their own right, but when you add the great beaches to the bays, the combination is hard to beat.
Bahia de Gonzaga is the main large bay that faces the ocean. Most of the homes in Gonzaga Bay front the beaches on this bay, as well as Alphonsina's Resort.
Behind the main bay, and to the north, are the waters of the Inner Bay. This large open bay is very well protected from the wind, and is quiet beautiful. At low tide this bay gets somewhat shallow on the inside portions, but is still navigatable in the main areas.
Starting from the north, and working south, the beaches in the Gonzaga Bay area include:
Just a couple of miles north of Gonzaga Bay, north of the rockt point.
The northern most bay, accessible via Papa Fernandez Camp.
The larger southernmost bay, reaching all the way from Alphonsina's to
On the south end of Gonzaga Bay, accessible via a dirt road off of the
Camping is popular for visitors to Gonzaga Bay, more out of necessity than desire. Unless you are one of the 74 lucky souls who owns a home on the beach here, camping is the main way to spend the night (aside from grabbing a room at Alfonsina's).
There are many places along the shore, both north and south of Gonzaga bay, where a Baja traveler can set up camp on open beaches. In addition, there are three areas to camp which offer some degree of services.
PAPA FERNANDEZ CAMP
Turn west off the main gravel road at the sign.
Turn west off the main gravel road at the sign, a mile or two past Papa's.
RANCHO GRANDE CAMPGROUND
Take the gravel road off of the main road, at the intersection where the market and new Pemax station intersect.
Fishing can be good in the waters off of Gonzaga Bay. The bay itself offers smaller fish, SO heading out to sea is the preferred direction.
There is a boat launching ramp at Papa Fernandez, through the village to the right. Also, launching near Alphonsina's behind the old airstrip (at high tide), or over the sand (if you've got some help). If you don't have a boat, stop at Alphonsina's and ask around. You might find someone who will take you out for a few hours.
Alfonsina's Hotel has been hosting the Baja wild and weary since 1961 and is the only civilized game in town, if you are looking for a decent roof over your head. Newer rooms with beds offer nice accommodations right on the beach.
The six rooms just north of the restaurant were completed in 1996 and are actually pretty nice, although very basic. Each one features a private bathroom. Three of these face the ocean, the other three face the airstrip and the inner bay.
Ten rooms on the south end of the restaurant were completed in 1998. The five downstairs rooms are huge and the five upstairs rooms offer big balconies with beautiful views of the ocean, back bay, and mountains. What these rooms lack in amenities, nature more than makes up for in spectacular views!
PUNTA FINAL is a collection of 37 homes tucked in at the base of the mountains on the very south end of Gonzaga Bay. This area sports a small natural harbor (fun for snorkeling!), beautiful beaches, and an airstrip that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up when landing! It's a very quiet place and offers no services for the Baja adventurer who may stop by. Punta Final can also be reached by taking a marked dirt road west from the Gonzaga Bay road, between Coco's Corner and Rancho Grande.
GONZAGA BAY ISLAND TOUR
Taking a relaxing sea cruise around the island which separates the two bays is a wonderful way to soak in the natural beauty of Bahia de Gonzaga (or Godzilla Bay, as Tracy Fiesta calls it). It's an easy one hour loop, out around Cactus Point, along the open sea, and then back past Papa Fernandez and through the inner bay.
COCO'S CORNERA wonderful piece of yesterday's Baja is alive and well at Coco's Corner, just south of Gonzaga Bay. Check out our 'Miscellaneous' section at the bottom of this page for a full report!
The pace in Bahia de Gonzaga is very slow, but allows for certain recreational opportunities. It is not the kind of place you want to hear a Wave Runner screaming by on the water at 50 miles per hour, although the calm waters of the bay seem to beg for just such an adventure. Water sports more in tune with the natural environment seem much more enjoyable.
Snorkeling and scuba diving can be enjoyed in the large bay, but the inner bay is just too shallow. Following the rocky coastline from Alphonsina's to Cactus Point (the cactus was removed by a Chubasco in 2001) one will find many places to enjoy. When the water is calm, diving on the outer part of the island is a ton of fun, and the underwater scenery in very interesting.
The waters in and around Gonzaga Bay are absolutely perfect for kayaking. The bays are very well protected from the prevailing winds, allowing for very smooth paddling. Using Alphonsina's as a base camp, excursions around the island or directly to Papa Fernandez Camp for lunch is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. For the serious kayaker who wants to cover some real territory, a trip over to Punta Final and back is a great adventure.
The roads south of Gonzaga Bay offer great offroading. For a short adventure, the dirt road to Punta Final is fun. For a longer trek, heading out towards Coco's corner (a half hour south) and then to the coast is a another good destination. The gravel road heading south from Gonzaga Bay ultimately connects back to the Transpeninsular Highway, south of Catavina.
The two separate bays of Bahia San Luis Gonzaga are excellent places to drop anchor. Both bays offer sandy bottoms. The north bay gets shallow relatively quickly, but offers enough draft to get far enough into the bay to escape the prevailing winds. The south bay has sufficient depth all the way in, and also offers a couple of inside coves for even greater wind protection. The coastline from here to Bahia de los Angeles offers few protected moorings.
For emergencies and general information, Alphonsina's often monitors the Marine Band on Channel "22".
Looking for a sailing adventure without getting wet? Buy a book.
Culninary options are not Gonzaga Bay's strong suit. As a matter of fact, if you arrive in town much past nine in the evening, you are probably going to go to bed hungry, unless you stashed a few Power Bars or bananas in your bag before you left San Felipe.
There are two places in the Gonzaga Bay area to eat a good meal, and a third one on the way.
Right in the middle of the village.
Facing the beach, next to the rooms.
PUNTA BUFEO RESTAURANT
Located approximately 3 miles north of Gonzaga Bay.
GONZAGA BAY RESTAURANT
Next to the Gonzaga Bay / Rancho Grande campground.
A nice stone building right on the water.
A small market has been built near the main gravel road near the ice plant. This is a good place (actually it's the only place!) to buy ice, beer, and other basic necessities. The selection is limited, but sufficient.
RANCHO GRANDE MARKET
Open from 7:00 a.m. to 9 p.m. Located on the west side of the road, this small market sells oil, toilet paper, film, tampons, shampoo, cold drinks, water, canned goods, bread, snacks, and an excellent selection of tequila!
A telephone is available for $1.50 per minute, but it usually only works in the morning when the atmosphere is just right.
The main gravel road brings most Baja travelers to Gonzaga Bay. The airstrips bring in the rest. There is no bus service, no taxis, and no commercial airlines. Lack of easy access is the one element that has helped Gonzaga Bay maintain it's tranquillity.
Got G.P.S.? These days, pilots, boaters, and even ground-based folks like to know exactly where they are going. For those that want to know where Alphonsina's in Gonzaga bay is, here you go:
29 DEGREES 48.0 North - 114 DEGREES 23.9 West (Elevation 10 feet).
Until the new PEMEX station is opened (manana), gasoline options are limited. Follow the signs off the main highway towards the beach.
Gas is sometimes available from large drums, but it's not inexpensive.
RANCHO GRANDE STORE
On the west side of the main highway, west the airport runway.
About 22 miles south of Gonzaga Bay, on the main gravel road, sits a mirage that has pleased many a Baja traveler! Coco's Corner is a great place to stop the vehicle, get out and stretch, drink in the dry Baja air and buy a cold beer or soda.
Coco, an ex-crop duster (amoung other varied professions!) is a neat guy and an excellent host! He is part Mexican, part American, and part Alian. He recently lost his other leg so now he has a tough time getting around. But he is a survivor. His warm hospitality and witty humor are always welcome, here in the middle of nowhere. His collection of trailers are decorated very uniquely, and look a lot like the village of Puertecitos, only on a much smaller scale!
Coco is particularly proud that his little piece of paradise can be seen from space! With the hundreds of crushed aluminum cans dangling from Coco's trees, it's no surprise that this place can be seen from several satellites! Coco's Corner is a great place to unload your excess change and pesos for one of the few Baja residents-drifters who actually has a job. Well, if you call that a job! Stop by for a cold beer or soda, and sign his guest book!
Gonzaga Bay offers three different real estate locations for the Baja aficianado looking for a piece of paradise. The largest of the three areas includes the 70 homes located on the long sand peninsula just south of Alphonsina's Restaurant. Buy the trailer, lease the land. The view from these homes is simply spectacular.
Just north of Alphonsinas, across the inner bay, lies the random collection of homes at Papa Fernandez camp. About two dozen homes dot the terrain here, all within a few steps of the beautiful bay.
Punta Final is the furthest south residential area in Gonzaga Bay, located south west across the large bay about 10 miles. About 30 lucky people call Punta Final home.
There are about 20 homes right on the beach, and a couple dozen more just back from the beach. The airstrip makes flying in and out of Punta Final easy, and the dirt road which connects to the Gonzaga Bay road is usually in good condition.