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Thinking about visiting Baja, Mexico? You’re in for a treat! The world’s longest peninsula offers sunny skies, clear azure waters, and picture-perfect beaches. Nature lovers are spoiled for choice with the region’s long list of things to do, including visiting protected lagoons where grey whales come each year to mate and give birth. You’ll also discover natural hot springs, fantastic surfing, snorkeling and diving, colorful towns, friendly locals and so much more.
Many people are under the impression that they’ve got to visit the Caribbean side of Mexico to find gorgeous beaches, but the reality is, you’ll not only find many magnificent stretches of sugary sand beaches in Baja, but they’re typically less crowded too. One of the most famous is Bahia Concepcion, which begins just south of the town of Mulege and stretches for just over 20 miles. The dramatic scenery of the area offers the ultimate photo opportunities, with the bay in various brilliant shades of blue, as well as the chance for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. Just some of the marine life you might encounter in these tranquil warm waters include pufferfish, angelfish, green and brown moray eels, sweet lips, turtles, sea lions, manta rays, octopus and whales. For those that want to spend as much time here as they can, there are beachside campgrounds scattered along the coast just below Mulege.
Isla Espiritu Santo
Offering one of the most unforgettable experiences on the Baja Peninsula, Isla Espíritu Santo is one of the many islands in the Sea of Cortez that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Bioreserves. However, it may be the best of all when it comes to the opportunity to snorkel among tropical fish and even swim with sea lions. It’s a veritable playground for divers, with many of the 800 aquatic species in the Sea of Cortez found right here. There are a number of massive wrecks, wall dives and vast undersea canyons which support a rich, diverse ecosystem that houses manta rays, sharks and seven species of whales. It’s also ideal for simply strolling the length of countless unspoiled beaches. Multiple operators out of La Paz host day trips to the island, which is located just north of the city.
Just an hour’s drive from Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific coast, Todos Santos has been named a Pueblo Magico, or magical town, for its importance as a cultural landmark. As soon as you take a glimpse of this underrated destination in Mexico, you’ll understand why. It’s one of the most charming towns in Baja with its quirky mix of New Age spiritualists, surfers, fishermen, and artists. In recent years, it’s become a focal point for the arts and crafts of the region, with many artists opening up galleries and making their homes there. It offers a world-class foodie scene too, yet it’s somehow managed to escape the rampant tourism of other Baja towns. A unique, artsy desert oasis, somewhat reminiscent of Taos, New Mexico 20 years ago, Todos Santos is nestled among ancient orchards of mango and palm and boasts spectacular views of powdery white sands and the expanse of the glistening Pacific. Whale watching, beachcombing, surfing, fishing, and horseback riding are just a few of the many outdoor adventures possible just seconds away from the happening historic downtown area.
Laguna de San Ignacio
The Laguna de San Ignacio, or San Ignacio Lagoon, is part of the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino. It’s one of the only nurseries on the planet for the gray whale and has been used for centuries for mating and birthing. The government strictly regulates access to the lagoon to ensure that any human activities do not affect the whales while they’re here between mid-January and mid-April, before embarking on their annual migration to Alaska and back. Referred to as “friendlies” by tourists, many of the whales actually seek out human contact in the lagoons, coming alongside and surfing near boats so that visitors can touch them. Some of the mother whales even allow their curious babies to spend time with tourists – and, occasionally, a mom will even encourage the behavior by lifting her calf up for humans to touch. The few locals that live around the lagoon have changed their vocations from fishing and hunting to protecting the local biosphere. Dolphins, seals, turtles, and blue whales can all be spotted here in the wintertime.
Cosmopolitan La Paz is a wonderful blend of laid-back, Old World beauty and hip chicness. Visitors will find a provincial Mexico town atmosphere along with idyllic beaches, lively squares, and city streets that are nestled between coconut palms, old laurel trees, and date palms. It’s surprisingly international too, in fact, you’re as likely to hear Italian, Portuguese or French, as English or Spanish, yet it’s also considered the most “Mexican” city on the peninsula. The top hotels in La Paz make a great base for taking day trips to Cabo Pulmo, Isla Espirito Santo and Todos Santos, and it also hosts a beachside esplanade, lots of fantastic eateries serving up delicious, fresh seafood, and an array of funky stores.
Santiago is a small Baja Sur pueblo located just 35 miles from San Jose del Cabo, best known for its easy access to the hot springs, Aguas Calientes, Fox Canyon (Canon de la Zorra) and Rancho Ecological Sol de Mayo. The latter is popular for its trail that takes visitors to a freshwater pool fed by a 30-foot-high waterfall that’s ideal for a refreshing dip. The surrounding landscape is filled with fruit orchards, colorful agricultural farms and swaying palm trees that supply palm leaves for making palapa roofs throughout the Cape region. The town itself hosts a small museum with interesting exhibits like colonial artifacts and local fossils, as well as the Santiago Zoo, housing a variety of animals endemic to the region.
La Ventana is a picturesque fishing village renowned for its magnificent bay as well as its strong winter winds that attract kite surfers. Located about 35 minutes southeast of La Paz on the Sea of Cortez, it boasts gorgeous views of the Sierras, the bay and Isla Cerralvo, also known as Jacques Cousteau Island due to the many visits the famed oceanographer made here. Cousteau called the region the world’s aquarium for its incredible abundance of marine life. The stark contrast of the arid desert landscape against the intense blue of the sea is absolutely amazing. Just a few of the activities available here in addition to kite surfing include snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and fishing, as well as lounging on the beach.
One of Baja’s oldest settlements, Loreto is a small mountain town along the Sea of Cortez in the Sierra de la Giganta. It offers a more authentic Mexican feel with its colorful traditions and rich heritage as well as easy access to beautiful beaches, bays and uninhabited islands that were perfectly designed for snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, sailing and simply soaking up the sun. There are all sorts of cozy nooks and stretches of sand to enjoy along the bays for relaxing. On land, there’s mountain biking, rappelling and golfing, and in town, you’ll find an abundance of colonial splendor and Mexican legend while wandering the winding streets, or exploring caves and admiring the prehistoric cave paintings.
The Bay of Balandra looks out into the Sea of Cortez and is almost completely circular. As it’s surrounded by sand dunes, the sea is even calmer here than in the rest of the gulf, while the brilliant turquoise waters reach just above waist level throughout much of it, making it possible to cross the considerable distance from one side to the other. The seabed is a natural habitat for manta rays, which swim harmlessly away as you kick up sand while crossing. One of the most stunning beach areas arguably to be found anywhere on Earth, not only are the sands strikingly white, the surrounding mangroves are incredibly vibrant, and the bay’s iconic mushroom rock formation is an instantly recognizable symbol of the nearby city of La Paz.