Guadalupe Island or Isla Guadalupe is a volcanic island located 241 km (150 mi) off the west coast of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. According to Seacology's website, Guadalupe Island is a biosphere reserve. Anyone visiting the island must obtain a permit from the Mexican government to visit the biosphere reserve.
Guadalupe is part of Ensenada, a subdivision of the state of Baja California. In 2010, the island had a population of 213 people, but this is believed to have fallen below 150 by 2015.
Guadalupe has a rugged landscape with numerous shield volcanoes. The island measures 35 km (22 mi) north-south and up to 9.5 km (5.9 mi) east-west, with a total area of 244 km2 (94 sq mi).
The southern part of the island is barren, but there are fertile plateaus and trees in the northern part. The coast generally consists of rocky bluffs with detached rocks fronting some of them.
There are also some islets off the coast of Guadalupe Island, such as Islote Afuera and Islote Adentro.
Guadalupe Island was a major destination for Russian and American fur hunters seeking the Guadalupe fur seal in the 18th and 19th centuries, until they were nearly extinct by 1844. The northern elephant seal was also hunted for the oil in its blubber, but managed to survive and the seals remain today.
Goats were brought to the island in the 19th century by European whalers and sealers for provisions when stopping over. Their numbers fluctuated over the years, peaking at 100,000 and falling to about 20,000 before they were eradicated in 2007.
The island has been a nature conservancy area since 1928, making it one of the oldest reserves in Mexico.
The island has two major climate zones: a very arid, semi-hot climate between 0–800 m (0–2,625 ft) elevation, with mean annual temperature between 18–22 °C (64–72 °F) and a very arid, temperate climate above 800 m (2,600 ft) elevation with temperatures over 22 °C (72 °F) in the hottest month of the year.
The weather station is at a low elevation, and temperatures may be more than 6 °C (10 °F) colder at the higher elevations of the island.
Most precipitation occurs over the winter months with strong influence of northwestern winds and cyclones.
Rainfall averages 133 mm (5.2 in) near sea level at the south end but appears to be much more at the higher northern end.
With about 50 buildings, Campo Oeste ("West Camp") is by far the largest settlement on the island. It is a fishing community which is connected by a dirt road to the rest of the island. Additional temporary fishing camps are Campo Norte ("North Camp", four buildings), Campo Lima (Campo Corrals) (one building) and Arroyitos (four buildings). An abandoned fishing community, Campo Este ("East Camp"), sits near a cove on the eastern shore.
At the southern tip, on Melpómene Cove, there is a weather station staffed by a detachment from the Mexican Ministry of the Navy. The site is called Campamento Sur ("South Encampment"). Campo Bosque was established in the cypress forest in the north and houses members of a cooperative farming society which removes goats from the island and sells them in the State of Sonora. Campo Pista is located at the small airport, near the center of the island.
Flora and fauna
Guadalupe shares the California chaparral and woodlands ecoregion with the Channel Islands of California in the United States, but the island was at one time practically denuded of all plants higher than a few centimeters by up to 100,000 feral goats. The goats were a continuing a problem, and their destruction of vegetation caused desertification on the island. Much of this was prevented with goat fence installation, and the island is recovering.
The goat population was completely eradicated by 2007 by the Island Ecology and Conservation Group NGO, and the vegetation has started to recover. Measures have also been taken to control the populations of wild cats and dogs, which has been of benefit to the island's birds.
Many island or marine species that reside on or near Guadalupe also frequent the Channel Islands, and vice versa. In stark contrast to the rampant extinction of terrestrial life that happened at the same time, Guadalupe has been the last refuge for the northern elephant seal and the Guadalupe fur seal since the 1890s. The island has been a pinniped sanctuary since 1975, creating a large pinniped population - therefore, Guadalupe is now one of the best spots in the world for sightings of the great white shark.
This is one of the most challenging places to reach on Earth.
However, there are options for getting to the island. The first is to get there on your own, with a boat or a plane. The other is to take the Guadalupe Sharks tour, but this tour does not go on the main island.
- 1 Airport Isla Guadalupe (ICAO code MMGD). It has a 1,200 m (3,900 ft) long runway for private planes. There is no airport terminal or air traffic control, and multiple planes have crashed near the runway since it is not completely flat. Also, there is no hangar at the runway or really anywhere to park the plane once it has landed.
There are three dirt roads from the airport to the other parts of the island, and unless you want to start your vacation walking several miles on a desert island, you'll need to arrange for a vehicle to be there to pick you up. This will need to be arranged privately with one of the locals before the trip, since there are no car rentals either at the runway or in any other part of the island.
It is 18 hours by boat from Ensenada, over deep water in areas where communication for help is impossible, so make sure you have a decent boat before setting off on such an expedition. Nearer to the island, watch out for great white sharks!
Fees and permits
A permit issued by the Mexican Government may be required to land on the island, check the current situation before making travel plans.
There is no entry system at Guadalupe for those who go straight to the island from other countries, so it would be best to go into Baja California (Ensenada) first, and then go to Guadalupe, rather than starting the expedition to Guadalupe from San Diego or Los Angeles in the United States.
There are several dirt roads on the island. The main dirt road goes along the top plateau, and other minor dirt roads branch off to the towns. The main road intersection is at the southwest end of the runway, where three roads intersect.
The southbound road at this junction begins along a flat plateau, and begins to twist as it reaches a mountainous, volcanic region. Around here it begins to descend the Guadalupean slopes, somewhat following the contour lines and going through mountain passes. As it becomes nearly level with the ridge to the west, it begins to follow a more obvious downhill grade, winding around several miniature volcanoes. It eventually follows the path of a minor creek, before turning and following the western cliff until it reaches Camp Sur.
The westbound road follows the plateau to the west until the plateau begins to evolve into a cliff, and zigzags begin. It then follows a creek southwest until it reaches Campo Oeste. Here it divides into two roads, one going along the physically higher end of town and one going along the shoreline at the lower end of the town.
The northbound road steadily climbs the volcanic northern half of the island, eventually reaching an elevation of more than 4,000 ft (1,200 m). At the top, a cliff is visible on the right, which leads towards the ocean, and on the left the first woodlands are seen. The dirt road from here follows the cliff until it reaches Campo Bosque, where it begins to descend the cliff. It goes down the cliff sections at a time until it reaches a major canyon within the cliff itself. The canyon, however, becomes extremely steep, and the dirt road begins to zigzag down a steep ridge in the cliff until it reaches a beach, where Northeast Anchorage is located.
Apart from town roads, these are the only proper roads on the island.
The challenge with navigating in this fashion is the size of the island, and its rugged terrain. Except for hiking, this method of transport is only reasonable within communities; there are often several miles of dirt road between the communities.
The roads that are mentioned above are on rugged terrain, to add to the problems. Just getting from one town to the next may require a 2,000-foot climb or a 4,000-foot drop.
Of course, one could venture off the dirt roads. However, do "look before you leap". There are numerous volcanoes, cliffs, and mountain slopes, so one must be extremely careful about walking in certain areas, especially the higher parts of the island in the north. Even the far south, though, there are hundred-foot cliffs, so sticking to roads is how you will want to travel, since they do not go straight down the cliffs, but zigzag down easier slopes.
As Guadalupe Island is not yet a major tourist attraction, there are no footpaths or hiking trails in the park. However, the dirt roads are much like wide footpaths, and traffic on the roads is not busy, so it should not be a problem walking along the dirt roads.
There are, however, some slight traces of paths off the dirt roads. One of these clearly branches off the main dirt road near the pine woodland, and follows scattered trees and chaparral until it crosses a gully and peters out in a shrubland to the west of the woodland. Yet another path, even farther north, branches off at Campo Bosque (where some cars are located) and divides at a small woodland. Another path leads from here to the north, running parallel with the main northbound dirt road.
This would seem to be a good way to get around the island with your own craft. Campamento Sur, Campo Oeste, and Northeast Anchorage are all on the coast, but whether they are reachable is another question. Northeast Anchorage does not have any harbor or marina, Campo Oeste has just a boat slip, and there is no proper harbor at Camp Sur. Campo Bosque, of course, is not on the coast.
From mapping services, Campo Oeste appears to be the best place, since it has a semi-decent boat ramp.
Camp Sur also has a boat ramp, although it only works well at high tide.
Of course, besides the act of getting there, the main point of all that effort to get to the island is to look around. All of the island is dramatic, and you can really do sightseeing anywhere on Guadalupe Island. The sights on the island consist of some wildlife, particularly on the shorelines and in the upper parts of the island; the great rocky cliffs that go around most of the island; the oceans around the island; and everything on the top of the island.
There are some interesting attractions on Guadalupe and on some other islets just off the coast.
- Airport (Runway). Poorly constructed runway in the center of the island where a plane crashed several years ago.
- 1 Campamento Sur (South Camp). Small camp on the southern end of the island.
- 2 Campo Bosque (Forest Camp). It was established as a temporary camp in 1999 in the cypress forest in the north. The camp houses members of a cooperative farming society which removes goats from the island and sells them in the State of Sonora, with permission of Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources and the support of the Secretariat of the Navy.
- 3 Campo Oeste. The main settlement with about 200 people, Oeste is a small community of abalone and lobster fishermen, on the western coast. It is on the north side of West Anchorage, a bay that provides protection from the strong winds and swells that whip the islands during winter. Generators provide electricity, and a desalination plant provides fresh water. The 30 families of a fishing cooperative live here ten months of the year .
- 4 Northeast Anchorage. A group of abandoned buildings near a canyon in the north of the island.
Two high and prominent islets are within 3 km (1.9 mi) of the southwestern end of the island, separated from one another by a gap called Tuna Alley:
- 5 Islote Adentro (Inner Islet, also El Toro). Another barren islet, located near Roca del Skip and Church Rock.
- 6 Islote Afuera (Outer Islet, also Islote Zapato). The most distant island, steep with almost vertical walls above and below water
Elsewhere, the other islets are very small and close to the shore, all less than 1 km (0.62 mi) away:
- 7 Islote Bernal. 1.1-ha (2.7-acre) islet about a mile south of a major landslide and a couple miles south of Campo Oeste.
- 8 Islote Negro. 8.8-ha (22-acre) islet off the west coast of Guadalupe Island about a mile north of Camp Sur.
There are five other islets, which are all less than 1 hectare (2.5 acres).
Besides the populated places and islets, Guadalupe features a chain of high volcanic mountain ridges. There are some major peaks on these ridges, which are listed below:
- 9 Mount Augusta. This is the highest point on the island. It is not really a large mountain, just a high point on the eastern cliff of Guadalupe. Mount Augusta is 1,298 m (4,259 ft) above sea level.
- 10 El Picacho. At an elevation of 975 meters (3,199 ft), El Picacho is the highest point on the southern side of the island. It is on a desert ridge which sits above Campo Oeste.
There are also some unattractive volcanoes in the south, which have no vegetation on them and vary from white to gray and red in color. Only one of these are named, which actually in the east of the island:
- 11 Red Cinder Cone. Red-topped volcano on the eastern side of the island.
On Guadalupe Island, there are no major events, and any exploration is self-guided unless a local is interested in showing you around the island. Hiking is the main thing to do on the island, along with fishing.
For fishing, the best locations are in the towns, where there is a shoreline. Much of the coastline of the island has high cliffs, making any beach or shoreline activity impossible. The best beaches are at Campo Oeste and Northeast Anchorage, with a small beach at Camp Sur; however, all these beaches are a mile or less in practical length.
There are some boat tours which go towards Guadalupe Island, starting from either Alta or Baja California. They will journey for several days looking for sharks around Guadalupe, but will not go on the island itself. This is by far the easiest way to see Guadalupe Island, but you will not get the same experience as one would who was on the island.
(They begin in other places, but go to the Guadalupe Island region)
- Great White Sharks of Guadalupe (Begins in Ensenada), ☏ . They do 5- or 6-day voyages to Guadalupe Island in late-summer.
There are no restaurants on Guadalupe Island. Most of the locals live not far above subsistence level, and food is obtained through fishing at Campo Oeste. There used to be a lobster camp on the east of the island.
When you go to the island, bring enough food with you to last the trip.
For water, a desalinization plant has been bought for Guadalupe. The desalinization plant can supply thousands of gallons of water a day. The deal is that a marine reserve will be created as well as this plant, and no fishing can be done in the reserve. The location of this reserve is unknown.
Also, a lake is located near the runway, a few hundred feet from the westbound road. The lake is about a 100 ft (30 m) long and nearly 100 feet wide.
You should also bring a supply of water, in case there is not enough water at the desalinization plant or the spring.
There are no stores on Guadalupe Island — at least, no stores with connection to the rest of the world. In a place that lives primarily at subsistence level, operating a proper store would be extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible.
Do not go to the island with the intention of buying material; instead, bring any necessary items to the island with you.
For proper lodging, you will have to rely on getting a room from one of the residents. They generally have small huts and the communities are densely populated, so this could be a challenge.
Another option would be to camp on the island. Of course, tents would have to be brought with you to the island.
The best camping locations are most likely near villages, although there is very limited flat ground, even near villages, especially at Campo Oeste. A flatter location is on the plateau near the runway, although this is several miles by road from the coast, at an elevation of 610 m (2,000 ft).
There are few flat locations in the north, where cliffs are on both sides of a narrow strip of flatter ground. The Campo Bosque area is flatter, although the inhabitants may not want people camping in the area since it is the ecological center of the island where the pine forests grow.
Camping on the Northeast Anchorage is basically limited to the small beach, which may be perfect until high tide.
The temperatures are fairly reasonable for camping, except for winter, when it can get to freezing temperature at the weather station.
Be extremely careful about exploring the top of the island; cliffs are scattered around the peaks of the island, and it would not be challenging for a tourist to start exploring a woodland or rocky outcrop, and not realize how close they are to a 2,000-foot cliff. The immediate dangers of this situation need not be explained.
Also be careful about going in small boats, swimming, or diving in the Pacific Ocean. Great white sharks are known for being numerous here - videos and pictures on the Great White Shark Tour website show someone in an underwater cage, surrounded by sharks. This is a good reason not to swim in the area, even though the locals go diving in the area.
It's extremely hard to get in touch with anyone on Guadalupe Island, at least from outside.
Once on the island, there are no newspapers or radios or even official websites. Since nearly all the islanders live in the same community, there is really little need for such communication.
- Ensenada – the base point for tourist expeditions to the Guadalupe area, it is the third-largest city in Baja California
- Guerrero Negro – town of 13,000 people in Baja California Sur, located near a large lagoon with a lighthouse and numerous whales
- Isla de Cedros – a desert island much like Guadalupe, except that it is near the coast of Baja California Sur
- El Rosario – town on the Baja California coast northeast of Guadalupe Island