By Jennifer Kramer
As the capital of Baja California Sur, La Paz is a city that seemingly has it all. With culture and history to see, beaches to enjoy, and islands to explore by land and sea, there’s plenty for visitors to discover. Locals refer to La Paz as a large city with an authentic small-town Mexican feel, which is an accurate description for this city that just celebrated its 482nd anniversary earlier this month.
The region is a hot spot for fishing and water sports such as paddle boarding, diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez “the aquarium of the world,” and nowhere is that more apparent than around La Paz. Manta rays, whales, sea lions, tropical fish, dolphin and whale shark delight those who come in search of marine life. Anglers flock to the area for the roosterfish, marlin, wahoo, dorado, and tuna.
Travelers can take boat tours out around the islands where they can snorkel with sea lions, swim with whale sharks, or enjoy deserted beaches. There are also a number of famous beaches accessible by car from downtown La Paz—Playa El Tecolote and Playa Balandra being the most beautiful and popular, with white sand and clear turquoise waters. Or spend the afternoon in town strolling along the malecón, visiting museums, or shopping for artisanal goods.
Head out to some of La Paz’s beautiful beaches. Playa Balandra is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches on the peninsula—a protected bay beach with stunning turquoise waters set against white sand beaches. There are a few palapas for shade, but no restaurants or services. You can buy some snacks and rent kayaks by the hour. Go early in the day to snag one of the palapas and to enjoy the beach in peace before the crowds come in the afternoon. Swimming is also better in the morning as the tide lowers in the afternoon and the water in the entire bay becomes awkwardly shallow. Located just past Playa Balandra, Playa El Tecolote has the same white sands and clear waters, but has a few more services, including restaurants. At Palapa Azul restaurant patrons enjoy chocolate clams, ceviche, and buckets of beers, while sitting on the beach enjoying views of the Sea of Cortez and nearby Isla Espíritu Santu.
Stroll along the malecón, the boardwalk that stretches along the bay in the heart of downtown La Paz. Palm trees line the wide sidewalk and palapas dot the beach along this picturesque stretch. Ornate ironwork benches painted white provide lovely places to sit and people watch while enjoying a paleta from La Fuente on a warm day. Don’t miss the copper statues denoting whales, pearls, dolphin, and other representations of La Paz life. On the other side of the street are restaurants, bars, and shops that take advantage of the Sea of Cortez views and lively location. A white two-story gazebo is the focus of Plaza Malecón, which is considered the heart of the malecón.
Walk up Ave Independencía to the quiet Plaza de la Constitución where you’ll find an interesting fountain that’s a replica of mushroom rock at Playa Balandra. Along the plaza is the Catedral de La Paz. Grab fish tacos nearby at the locally famous Tacos El Estadio (corner of Independencia and Guillermo Prieto), which has been serving up fish and shrimp tacos since 1979. If you’re in the mood for shopping, Casa Parra Galería sells beautiful Mexican artisans or visit Ibarra’s Pottery where you can watch artists making pottery on site.
For a nice dinner in La Paz, there’s no better place than Tres Vírgenes. Enjoy your steak or seafood dish with a bottle of Baja wine from Valle de Guadalupe. Call in advance to make a reservation.
Take the day to experience what the Sea of Cortez has to offer. One of the most popular trips from La Paz is a boat trip out to Isla Espiritu Santo and the sea lion colony at Los Islotes. There are a number of operators who run the trip such as Fun Baja. These boat trips focus on swimming and snorkeling in the waters around the island, because of the rich marine life that lives around the rock and coral reefs. Visitors will have a chance at seeing and swimming with sea lions, orca, dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles, and blue or humpback whales.
Travelers with other specific interests may want to take any other number of trips or charters that La Paz offers; sport fishing, scuba diving, kayaking, or swimming with whale sharks.
La Paz is one of the few cities in Baja with a vibrant nightlife scene. Cheap beer specials and live bands attract a young clientele at places like El Parnazo or Clandestino. Those looking for a more subdued vibe may enjoy the craft beers at BeerBox or some mescal at Mezcaleria La Miserable.
Star off your day with breakfast at Maria California where you can order traditional dishes like poblanos in cream sauce, chilaquiles, and huitlacoche omelets. Then spend the morning checking out one of La Paz’s museums. The Museo de la Ballena (Whale Museum) is recently remodeled and has a complete skeleton of a gray whale as well as exhibits with history, artifacts, videos, and art related to whales. Or try the Museo Regional de Antropología e Historia (Regional Anthropology and History Musem). The museum features exhibits about the history of the area, displays of Baja California cave paintings and pictographs, historic photographs, fossils dating back to 60 million years, and a botanical garden. Kids may enjoy the Serpentario (serpentarium) with lizards, snakes, turtles, reptiles, and fish are all on display for viewers to see and hold.
Get out of town for a mini adventure to check out the quaint mining town of El Triunfo, about an hour south of La Paz. Walk around the old mine to see the 35-meter tall “La Romana” smokestack (rumored to have been designed by Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel tower fame). Then follow the path lined by the white rocks to head up to the mirador lookout, where you’ll get a beautiful view of the town and the surrounding mountains
After you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a wood-oven pizza at Caffé El Triunfo or head to Bar El Minero, a chic bar that resides in a building that is over 120 years old and once housed the laboratory for the mines. Sit in the beautifully remodeled indoor space or in the expansive outdoor area and enjoy craft beer served on tap, and a few tapas. Be aware that El Triunfo is a small town where everything closes up around 5 or 6pm and operates seasonally (shut down for the hot months of late summer).
Enjoy dinner along the malecón where you can take in the Sea of Cortez views and enjoy some seafood and a margarita. Bismark-cito has plenty of seafood dishes on the menu, or try Tailhunter, a popular gringo spot.
WHERE TO STAY:
La Paz’s newest hotel is a 72-room modern and affordable hotel in the heart of downtown La Paz with a rooftop pool.
El Ángel Azul
A historic inn in downtown La Paz, with a great location and Mexican charm.
This large hotel is located outside of town on the beach with an infinity-edge pool, restaurants, and spa services on the property.
Also out near the beaches, featuring Moorish architecture and large rooms. (Discover Baja members receive a 15% discount)
Travelers flying from other parts of Mexico can fly directly to La Paz’s Manuel Marquez de Leon International Airport (LAP). San Diegans can fly directly to La Paz from Tijuana using the new CBX, Cross Border Xpress. Those looking to fly directly to the area from the U.S. or Canada can fly into the Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) and drive the two hours up to la Paz.
La Paz is one of two spots on the peninsula (the other being Santa Rosalía) where you can travel by ferry from Mainland Mexico. Ferries travel from Topolobampo or Mazatlán to La Paz on a regular basis.
Those who drive down to La Paz should budget about three days to make the drive from San Diego.