It’s 10 AM and I’m on a small blue boat operating in the Sea of Cortez, just off the coast of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
The water is clear and calm and there is not a single cloud in the sky. Our captain from Tuna Tuna Tours steers the boat towards San Rafaelito, an island with a small colony of sea lions.
You can snorkel with sea lions at La Paz most of the year. Snorkeling or diving with these large animals is handled with care and you must use a licensed supplier. The experience is fun and rewarding as the sea lions seem to enjoy watching you as much as you enjoy watching them.
But right now (June) it’s mating season, so we watch the sea lions from quite a distance from the boat. Some have fun in the water, while others relax in the sun.
French marine biologist Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez “the aquarium of the world” – and it is. This unique ecosystem is home to many whales and over 900 species of fish. In the past I have come here to swim with whale sharks and have seen mother and gray whales in Magdalena Bay.
Hopefully we’ll see more of this marine life when we stop at Balandra Beach, one of Mexico’s best beaches. Balandra is a beautiful bay that consists of several beaches. The white sand and azure water make it a popular destination.
Visitor numbers at Balandra are carefully managed (more info here), so you should plan your visit in advance. I recommend going with a supplier who can take you there by boat.
On the beach, my friend and I put on our snorkel gear and head into the warm water. The surf is gentle and we spend an hour at sea. Then we relax on the beach with a packed lunch that includes ceviche, guacamole and chips, fresh fruit and local beer. It’s the perfect way to spend the day.
VISIT LA PAZ, BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR
The charming town of La Paz is the perfect base for exploring the Sea of Cortez. Home to 250,000 people, La Paz is located directly on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, about two hours north of Cabo San Lucas.
Each destination has its own vibe and the vibe of La Paz is inviting and peaceful. This is not a destination for party animals. There are no big skyscrapers, big hotel chains and big nightclubs. Instead, La Paz is an authentic Mexican city with a laid-back, laid-back charm. It is a favorite destination for Mexicans and tourists who come to enjoy the area’s innovative cuisine, beautiful beaches, warm seas and enviable location on the Sea of Cortez.
BAJA CLUB IN LA PAZ
My base for this week is the Baja Club, a colonial and contemporary hotel in the historic center of La Paz. The mission-style mansion was begun in 1910 and now includes a five-story addition with a rooftop spa and bar.
Large, comfortable rooms and a daily breakfast served in a beautiful open garden ensure a pleasant stay. In the evening my friend and I enjoyed a drink on their rooftop bar overlooking the sea as the sun went down.
The Baja Club overlooks the city’s famous Malecón (promenade) and bay. I take a morning walk on the Malecón, but the promenade is even more popular after dark, when local families and friends come out to enjoy the fresh night air.
The Malecón is approximately 21 kilometers long and features 13 different sculptures that tell the story of the area. I pass whale sculptures, divers and more. The most famous sculpture is a large pearl that reflects the history of the area.
HISTORY OF LA PAZ – a jewel of the past
The La Paz area was once rich in pearls. Hernán Cortés’s expeditions in the 1530s returned with stories of the many pearls used by the natives. This discovery led to centuries of pearl fishing in the area, and by the end of the 20th century, La Paz had become a major producer in the global pearl industry.
However, due to the Second World War, the pearl oysters had disappeared. Today, La Paz is known for other reasons: its thriving city, tourism and the Sea of Cortez, and its exciting culinary scene.
CULINARY EXPERIENCES OF TODOS SANTOS AND PESCADERO
Some destinations only appeal to me for food and La Paz is one of them. Every time I’ve visited the city, I’ve been blown away by the food, from small taco stands to local establishments to high-end restaurants. The local cuisine makes good use of its resources: fresh fish, fresh produce from organic farms and many talented local chefs.
The Todos Santos & Pescadero dining experience is a new culinary extravaganza that showcases all of this. The first three-day festival takes place in June near the small town of Todos Santos and showcases local culinary talent.
I’ve been to many food festivals, but in this one I like cuisine of a higher level. The setting is fantastic – outside overlooking the sea at the El Mirador restaurant – and each chef brings out their best. We taste oysters and clams grilled on the half shell, unique taco creations, carefully prepared desserts and local wines, cocktails and craft beer. The second edition of the Flavors of Todos Santos and Pescadero is scheduled for the summer of 2023.
EAT IN LA PAZ
Eating in La Paz is a joy. Al fresco dining on the terrace is common due to the good weather and often has a sea view. Coming from a landlocked state, I appreciate La Paz’s seafood options, from casual eateries to high-end eateries.
FISH TACO Excursion
One afternoon our friend Ivan, who lives in La Paz, treats us to a wonderful round of fish tacos for lunch. The fish tacos here are next level. The fish is super fresh, perfectly pan fried and fried, and served with corn tortillas. Best of all, there’s a condiment bar in every department featuring salsas, lettuce, kale, tomatoes, onions, and more. I especially like all the spicy mexican spreads to choose from.
Everyone comes up with their own take on classic favorites, and by the end of our taco tour, I’m full, but happy. Other great fish tacos in La Paz include Mr. Fish, Albatroz, and Claros Jr.
The grilled hot dog is cut in half, wrapped in bacon and melted American cheese, and placed on top of a bun (the bun has some sweetness). It’s topped with ground beef, a dollop of mayonnaise, pico del gallo, chopped jalapeno, and sliced avocado. It’s such a hearty dish that I have to sit down to eat it. But one bite and I understand why it’s such a popular street food.
DINNER AT NEM
La Paz has many of the best restaurants to choose from. My friend and I spend the evening at NEMI, an intimate restaurant run by the talented chef Alejandro Villagomez. We have a six course tasting menu paired with excellent local wines. The innovative dishes are fresh, tasty and beautifully presented. The attentive service leaves nothing to be desired and dinner is an unforgettable experience.
THE MISEABLE MEZCALERIA
Satisfied and happy, we go out into the warm evening air for a walk around the city. We end up at La Miseable Mezcaleria, a unique bar with over 60 types of mezcal. I’ve been here before, so I’m happy to see the property’s pet cat still greeting customers. We grab a table on the lovely outdoor terrace and order a flight of mezcal.
LA PAZ, BA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
La Paz is about 2.5 hours north of Cabo San Lucas. You can fly direct to La Paz (LAP) from Phoenix (PHX) or Dallas (DFW) with American Airlines.
Many travelers fly into Cabo San Lucas and take a bus or shuttle to La Paz or rent a car.
TRANSPORT FROM CABO SAN LUCAS TO LA PAZ
Ecobaja Tours offers a shuttle service from La Paz to Cabo at 8:00, 9:00 and 10:00 and from Cabo San Lucas to La Paz at 14:30 and 15:30. On the weekends, they also have an extra 4:30pm shuttle.