Sierra de La Laguna: A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Last Updated on February 22, 2019 by Janet Frost

In December I had the opportunity to explore the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. I traveled with Tam Warner Minton of Travels with Tam and Red Travel Mexico. Red Travel Mexico is an eco-friendly travel agency based in La Paz. The trip included Scuba diving at the Cabo Pulmo Hope Spot, exploring the Sierra de La Laguna Biosphere Reserve, and enjoying the “sunsational” Playa Balandra. These remote and protected areas were a  welcome alternative to the more popular and glitzy Cabo San Lucas.

Sustainable Tourism, EcoTourism, Agritourism; what does it all mean?

These names have become buzz words across the tourist industry. An altruistic traveler gets lost in the nebulous definitions and details.  Let’s see if we can hone in on helpful specifics.

Ecotourism  Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples… International Union for Conservation of Nature

Agritourism The practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often to participate in farm activities… Websters

Sustainable tourism Tourism that respects both local people and the traveler, cultural heritage and the environment’. It seeks to provide people with an exciting and educational holiday that is also of benefit to the people of the host country…United Nations

These are official definitions but travel and tour agencies can use them indiscriminately. Often ecotourism refers simply to travel in natural areas and leaves out the important emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation. If these vital components are included, ecotourism moves into the realm of sustainable tourism.

While I value responsible travel and supporting the local economy, my favorite opportunities involve actually interacting and learning from the local peoples. After years as a traveler and several volunteering experiences, I am convinced it is developing relationships that makes the most memorable trips.

Biosphere Reserve Sierra de La Laguna

Down the center of the Peninsula runs a chain of mountain ranges. The southernmost range is the isolated Sierra de La Laguna. UNESCO designated this range a Biosphere Reserve in 1994. The range represents dry forests and scrub land on the lower slopes, pine-oak forests at higher elevations, with beautiful oases and waterfalls along the river basins. UNESCO, an arm of the United Nations developed the Biosphere program to advance “Science for Sustainability”.

Sierra de La Laguna
This ranch offers an interactive ecotourism experience.

We headed across Baja backroads to the Rancho Ecologico el Refugio. This tranquil setting about 90 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas, exemplifies sustainable ecotourism. Rogelio Rosas Lopez, the leader of the settlement proudly guided us around his “refuge”.  Lopez is a biologist, botanist, geologist  agriculturist artist and ornithologist. He and his family lived in open air shelters, using all their environmental resources judiciously and lovingly. 

Sierra de La Laguna
Rogelio Rosas Lopez the leader of Rancho El Refugio, on the left and our Red Travel Mexico guide, Christian on the right.

Our Host

Farmer Rogelio showed us his small sustainable fields. We gathered delicate squash flowers for our later meal.  Avocados at various stages of sprouting scattered the property. The soft clinking of bells on cows just out of sight filled the air. Cacao trees burst with coffee berries and jars of honey told of hives somewhere nearby. 

Sierra de La Laguna
One of several small farm plots on the Rancho El Refugio

Botanist Rogelio pointed out indigenous trees and flora. He explained their human uses and importance to the ecosystem.

Sierra de La Laguna
The Ficus Palmeri is a fig, native to the Baja region, with significant drought resistance. The fruit is believed to help with digestive ailments.

Artist Rogelio demonstrated his leatherworking. A small grove served as tannery, workshop and gallery. It was obvious that everything from the cattle was resourcefully put to use. 

Sierra de La Laguna
Rogelio in his leather workshop
Sierra de La Laguna
Tanning of hides
Sierra de La Laguna
Detailed and elegant saddle waiting for finishing touches

Geologist Rogelio took us bouldering along the river bed. We rode small waterfalls like a water slide, and splashed through crystal clear water.  The unique ecosytems were displayed in front of us.  It became apparent what motivated UNESCO to set this region aside for protection.

Our group works their way over the boulders, down to the river basin
Sierra de La Laguna
Bouldering through the Biosphere
Wading down the river basin
Small cascade through the boulders

Sustenance for Sustainable Tourists

Rogelio’s final performance was to serve us lunch. The first act was to teach us how to form tortillas from a ball of dough. Cooking over an open fire, the warm tortillas browned up. The local cheese melted over our freshly harvested squash flowers. Steaming in a massive kettle was their homemade chorizo.  A campfire coffeepot brewed the roasted coffee beans from the cacao trees on our hike. Finally, the golden honey from the nearby hives sweetened the deal.

Chorizo pot

 This was an extraordinary day and opportunity to meet local environmental champions. The love that Rogelio has for every living thing in his refuge is palpable and encouraging. If you get the opportunity to visit the Baja Peninsula, be sure to meet Rogelio and his Rancho Ecológico El Refugio.

For other posts on this trip, see Cabo Pulmo Hope Spot and Hotel Catedral in La Paz.

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