No trip to La Paz is complete without a visit to the nearby islands. Teeming with marinelife, the islands of La Paz make for an excellent boating day trip for those who want to snorkel, dive, or just enjoy the turquoise island bays with white sand beaches.
The most popular island to visit, located about 15 miles off the coast of La Paz, is Isla Espíritu Santo. It’s considered by many to be the most beautiful island in the Sea of Cortez and boasts dozens of bays with white sand beaches and waters full of marinelife. The island was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 and a National Park in 2007.
Most travelers experience Isla Espíritu Santo on a boat day trip from La Paz. These boat trips focus on diving and snorkeling in the waters around the island because of the rich marinelife that lives around the rock and coral reefs. There are almost a dozen snorkel/dive sites in the way of natural reefs or sunken boats surrounding the island. Visitors will have a chance to see and swim with sea lions, orca, dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles, and blue or humpback whales. Any tour company in La Paz will be able to arrange a trip to the island for you.
Isla Espíritu Santo isn’t inhabited, but tent camping is permitted. This is the only way to spend any substantial amount of time exploring the island since the boat trips stop only briefly to allow some swimming and snorkeling. Camping gives visitors the unique experience of exploring the island and waters by day and enjoying stargazing at night. There are 10 designated hiking paths on the island that are great for getting out in the terrain and encountering mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. Because the islands are protected, camping on your own requires getting a US$4 permit in advance from the SEMARNAT office (Ocampo 1045, tel. 011-52-612-123-9300). Some tour companies (Fun Baja is one of them) can arrange for multiday camping trips on the island. Todos Santos Eco Adventures has a new seasonal glamping spot, Camp Cecil (open Nov.-Apr.), that offers the only accommodations on the island.
Connected to Isla Espíritu Santo by a narrow sandbar, Isla Partida is a much smaller island, but still has beautiful bays, beaches, dive sites, hiking, and camping opportunities. There are small fishing camps at either end of the island, but otherwise the island in uninhabited. You’ll need to bring in your own drinking water and provisions. Just like Isla Espíritu Santo, camping here requires getting a permit in advance from SEMARNAT.
At the northern tip of Isla Partida and Espíritu Santo is Los Islotes where a large colony of hundreds of sea lions resides. Friendly interaction with the sea lions is highly likely, and these islets are a popular stop on the island day trips for snorkelers and divers who want to get in the water with the sea lions. Boat trips to Los Islotes are allowed year round, but swimming, snorkeling, and diving are only allowed September through May. June-August is mating season for the sea lions so getting in the water is prohibited in these months. During this time, it’s still possible to get in the water with the sea lions in surrounding areas such as San Rafaelito, an islet home to another sea lion colony.
To get to Isla Espíritu Santo, visitors can arrange for an organized day trip from La Paz, or there are pangas that leave from Playa El Tecolote and take travelers for about US$60 per person. Tours generally pick up clients in the morning, and fees include snorkel or dive equipment, the national park entrance fee, drinks for the day, and lunch.