Puerto San Carlos

pop 3600

Sometimes windy and dusty, other times shrouded in fog, Puerto San Carlos has a faraway coastal feel and is home to superb whale-watching. Although cetacean spotting is a staple of the tourist economy, San Carlos's deepwater port - the major outlet for much of the produce grown on the Llano de Magdalena - is the town's real breadwinner. Unlike Puerto López Mateos, San Carlos has a very good selection of lodgings. Nearby beaches are fine for camping, clamming and fishing.

ORIENTATION & INFORMATION

All Puerto San Carlos' streets are named for Mexican port cities. Gasoline and diesel are available at the Pemex station. There's an internet café (cnr Puerto La Paz & Puerto Benito Juárez;

per hr US$2) near the parque central (central plaza). Puerto San Carlos lacks a tourist office but has a post office, long-distance telephone service and an IMSS clinic.

WHALE-WATCHING

From mid-January through March, local pangueros take up to six passengers to view friendly whales in Bahía Magdalena for about US$70 per hour per boat. The minimum time for a good trip is about 2% hours. Some people come for the day from Loreto or La Paz (both about 2% hours away by car) or even fly in from Cabo San Lucas, but early morning is the best time to see whales.

Among the local operators are Ulysturs (% 1360017) and Mar y Arena (% 136-0076; [email protected] hotmail.com), on the right as you enter town. Most hotels can arrange tours as well.

SLEEPING & EATING

San Carlos has some surprisingly good hotels, but be sure to make reservations during whale-watching season. Prices quoted here are for whale-watching season and usually drop for the rest of the year. The following are all in town and easy to find.

RV Park Nancy (% 136-0195; campsites US$5) Offers nine small, shadeless tent sites.

Motel Las Brisas (% 136-0498; Puerto Madero; s/d US$12/15; ®) Well-worn but friendly and perfectly fine for the price.

Hotel Alcatraz (% 136-0017; [email protected] .net.mx; Calle Puerto La Paz; s/d US$32/41) A large patio filled with plants, tables and chairs makes this the most relaxing place in town. Rooms are spacious and have TVs, and the gracious owner is full of information and sets up whale-watching tours for guests. The Alcatraz' shady Restaurant Bar El Patio (mains US$5 to US$12) is arguably the best in town.

Hotel Brennan (% 136-0288; www.hotelbrennan.com .mx; s/d US$36/45) This extremely well-kept hotel is another great choice, with modern, immaculate, tile-floor rooms, spotless bathrooms and friendly owners.

Molly's Suites (% 136-0131; [email protected] .mx; Puerto La Paz; s/d US$45/54) Molly's is owned by the same family that owns Hotel Brennan and offers equally pleasant rooms.

Mariscos Los Arcos (% 136-0347; Puerto La Paz 170; mains US$4-12) This little brickfront restaurant has a big bar and excellent shrimp tacos and seafood soup.

GETTING THERE & AWAY

Pueto San Carlos lies about 58km (36 miles) west of Ciudad Constitución. Based in a small house on Puerto Morelos, Autotransportes Aguila (% 136-0453) offers daily buses to Ciudad Constitución (US$4.50, one hour) and La Paz (US$22, four hours).

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