Located on the Baja peninsula, about two hours north of Cabo San Lucas, La Paz is an authentic, colorful city with a name that translates to “the peace.” It enjoys 340 days of sun each year and boasts gorgeous white powdery sands that can even rival some of the most beautiful Caribbean beaches. From outdoor adventures to shopping and dining, these are just a few of the top things to do while you’re in and around La Paz.
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Swim at Balandra Beach
The Bay of Balandra is nestled in the Sea of Cortez, an almost circular bay with calm, crystal clear turquoise waters that are typically only about waist-high, all surrounded by sand dunes and unique rock formations. During low tide you can easily walk through the water from one side to the other. The seabed is a natural habitat for manta rays, which swim harmlessly away as you shuffle through the sand while crossing. Often named among Mexico’s most beautiful beaches, not only are the soft sands strikingly white, the surrounding mangroves are vibrant, and the iconic mushroom rock formation at the edge of the bay provides a postcard-perfect shot as an instantly recognizable symbol of the nearby city of La Paz.
Take a Walk on the Malecon
La Paz is a cosmopolitan city. Here you’ll discover Old World beauty, lively squares and streets lined with coconut palms, old laurel trees and date palms. While it’s often noted as the most “Mexican” city in Baja, it actually has a diverse international crowd too, with not only Spanish often heard, but English, Italian, Portuguese and French. Many of its delights can be found along the Malecon. The picturesque three-mile-long waterfront promenade is a great place for people watching, shopping at boutiques and street vendors, as well as dining and drinking with lots of restaurants, cafes and bars. Just strolling the promenade while checking out the colorful sculptures, created by local, regional and national artists, can make for a fun afternoon. This is also a fabulous place to catch a sunset, so be sure to stick around for a spectacular finale to the day.
Take a Day Trip to Meet the Gray Whales
There are three major lagoons in Baja that are the primary destinations for migrating southbound gray whales: Scammon’s Lagoon, San Ignacio Lagoon, and Magdalena Bay. Magdalena Bay is the closest to La Paz and makes for a fabulous day trip when the whales are here, typically between mid-January and mid-April. The lagoons serve as some of the only nurseries in the world for the gray whale, and has been used for centuries for mating and birthing. The government strictly regulates access to ensure that any human activities do not affect the whales while they’re here, 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, and come up close to the boats so that visitors can touch them. Often times, the mother whales allow their curious babies to spend time with people, occasionally even encouraging the behavior by lifting her calf up for humans to touch. Dolphins, seals, sea turtles, and blue whales may all be spotted here in the wintertime too.
Take a Boat Excursion to Isla Espirito Santo
A boat trip for your bucket list, Isla Espíritu Santo is one of the many islands in the Sea of Cortez named UNESCO World Heritage Bioreserves, but this one may be the best of all for the opportunity of a lifetime: snorkeling among the sea lions and an incredible array of tropical fish. Many of the 800 aquatic species in the Sea of Cortez can be found right here, along with offerings for divers that include multiple huge wrecks, wall dives and vast undersea canyons. The rich, diverse ecosystem supports manta rays, sharks and seven species of whales. There are many different outfitters that can take you out for a day trip from the pier in La Paz, or from Tecolote Beach, about a 30-minute drive away.
Get in the Water with the Whale Sharks
Swimming with the whale sharks is one of the most popular attractions in the Sea of Cortez, with outfitters ready to take passengers out right from the pier in La Paz. This is one of the world’s best places to swim with these magnificent creatures, the largest fish in the ocean. These gentle giants as they’re often called, return to this area every winter and stay through late spring to feed in the rich waters. Getting in the water with them is an unforgettable experience that can be enjoyed through numerous tour operators, like Baja Sur Tours. If you want to snorkel with sea lions and swim with whale sharks, this outfitter offers the opportunity for combined excursions.
Explore the Whale Museum
If you’re interested in whales, don’t miss this museum – Museo de La Ballena or the Whale Museum sits along the Malecon, with a gigantic whale skeleton in front making it hard to miss. It’s the ideal complement to a whale watching excursion. While it’s small, it packs a punch with displays and exhibits related to the theory of the animal’s evolution, order, classification, history of hunting, feeding, distribution, mating and even its influence on rock art.
Magical Todos Santos
Todos Santos is truly a magical town – in fact, it is an officially designated Pueblo Magico, or Magic Town, as aptly named by the Mexican Tourism Secretary a little over a decade ago. Located a little over an hour from La Paz, just off the Pacific coast, it makes a great day trip for exploring the art galleries nestled between old brick colonial buildings, and dining on some of the best Baja cuisine around. The surrounding landscape includes a natural oasis of palms and lush fruit trees that produce papayas, passion fruit, mangoes, avocados and more, while golden, unspoiled beaches that one can often enjoy all to themselves, are just steps away.
Enjoy Solitude on Playa El Saltito
While Balandra Beach is truly a dream, as the word has gotten out about its striking beauty, it can get rather crowded. If you’re looking for a more tranquil experience for enjoying solitude on the sand and in the water, head to El Saltito. Just 45 minutes northeast of downtown La Paz, and you’ll feel as if you’re worlds away from the city. It offers fantastic snorkeling from the rocky points at either end as well as an island nesting sanctuary for seabirds that can be reached by kayak with only about five minutes of paddling.
Sip Margaritas at Mariscos El Molinito
Mariscos El Molinito is located at the northern end of the Malecon, offering beautiful views of the bay and especially colorful sunsets for those that arrive just before dusk. The service is outstanding, and the margaritas are to-die-for. While sipping them as the sun goes down is a must, stick around for dinner and you choose for a lengthy menu that features the local delicacy, chocolate clams, as well as seafood cocktails, oysters and a variety of wild-caught fish. Ask for the catch of the day and you won’t be disappointed.