It is not a coincidence that La Paz means peace in English. This Mexican city has beautiful beaches with pristine water but is nothing like some of the purpose-built cities in the area. La Paz is peaceful and not overdeveloped with large resorts. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a ton of things to do here.
If you’re a sea-life lover, you really must book an excursion to truly appreciate the big and beautiful creatures in this unspoiled part of the Sea of Cortez. If you’re not, then enjoy La Paz’s gorgeous beaches, locally made handicrafts, and possibly aphrodisiac margaritas with the freshest catch of the day.
The top-rated excursion in La Paz, even the most jaded people can’t stay blasé when just a few feet from a fish the size of a zeppelin. These so-called sharks are not aggressive and can’t even chew, but that doesn’t stop the adrenaline from spiking whenever you’re in the water with them. Especially because, in these waters, it’s likely to be not just one whale shark you’re keeping company, but maybe six or 10. Whale shark season lasts from early winter all the way though late spring here. Book this excursion through your cruise line.
While these creatures are the cuddly and charming Disney characters you might think, they are definitely animated and full of personality. Swimming with them at Isla Espiritu Santo or Los Islotes — both tiny islands off the coast of La Paz — is quite a memorable experience. Not one for small children, though, since the grown males especially can be aggressive, charging humans and perhaps even nipping if you get too close. Todos Santos Eco Adventures does excursions in whale shark season that combine sea lion swimming with whale shark snorkeling.
Connecting its dual identities of land and water, this waterfront promenade is the center of La Paz in-town tourism activity, but nonetheless it is laid-back and uncrowded (especially on Sundays, when most things are closed). Stroll the nearly three-and-a-half miles lined with evocative artwork and with benches, shops and restaurants. The Malecon is mixed with locals and tourists, exercisers and sunset lovers, those who want to move and those who simply want to sit and soak up the extraordinary friendliness and beauty of Baja Sur’s sunny capital. If you’re in a learning mood, stop at the whale museum and the anthropology museum.
Playa Balandra is one of the most gorgeous and top-rated beaches in Mexico. Famous for the oft photographed mushroom-shaped rock miraculously balanced at its edge. This off-the-beaten-path beach seems more like a cove and has few services so cruisers must bring their own water and snacks. The shallow, calm water also makes it a great place to kayak and/or paddleboard.
Many cruise ships have a kayak excursion that incorporates Balandra Bay as a stop. However, you can also rent a paddleboard or book a private lesson with Baja Unexplored.
Artsy, New Age-y Todos Santos has not fully succumbed to hardcore tourism, though change is creeping in as access improves. An hour and a half drive from La Paz is this true, unspoiled beach village. Shared by surfers, artists, fishermen and hippies, Todos Santos is known for its galleries and cafes, old Jesuit mission and mural-painted cultural center. By far the most famous landmark, however, is the real-life Hotel California, said to be the one made famous by the Eagles (it’s hard not to hear the song in your head when there).
Spectacular seafood is the cornerstone of the culinary scene in La Paz. Fresh, simple, with bright flavors and crisp textures — the food here doesn’t need to be pricy to be great. Baja fish tacos are the city’s favorite anytime dish. Locals flock to El Estadio (at the intersection of Prieto and Independencia) for breakfast tacos. Bismark-cito on the Malecon started as a taco cart and now is a lunch landmark that spans a few thousand square feet. Los Laureles, 500 feet from Bizmark-cito, has the best ceviche in town.
Damiana is a local liqueur made from a root of the same name that grows in the region. It is presumed to have unique properties, especially aphrodisiac, and was used in ancient times to increase women’s reproductive functions. The standard way to make a margarita in La Paz is with a splash of damiana liqueur; the locals call it the “Baja twist.” Steinbeck’s in Costa Baja is a great place to sample this and other local spirits. The restaurant has one of the largest tequila collections on the Baja peninsula.
Anyone even passingly familiar with Southwestern style will recognize the handcrafted jewelry of the Baja region, an easy-to-spot style featuring lots of silver and turquoise and beads. Many stores in the cooperative Casa del Artesano (on the Malecon in front of Parque Cuauhtemoc) specialize in it, and it’s really up to the visitor to pick their favorite stall and bargain with the shopkeeper (who is possibly also the artisan) until a deal is struck.
The ornamental meets the spiritual in these distinctive medium-sized art crosses of wood and silver. Best described as Spanish mission revival art, they’re on many walls of inns and restaurants around this area — as well as part of the Southwestern U.S. that has adopted the aesthetic. You’ll find authentically and inexpensively made crosses in the artists’ alley of historic La Paz.
El Coromuel is a great beach for kids with its park-like atmosphere. It offers everything from water slides and soft sand to play in to cool sunsets from the pier and restaurants to grab a bite to eat or a cold drink. With all these services it’s definitely not for those seeking solitude or serenity.
La Paz’s culinary surprise is locally made ice cream, with flavors that include Nutella, rose petals, corn and tequila, among others. There are also ice pops made from local mangos and strawberries, or featuring combos such as cucumber-chile. Look for the polka-dot painted tree trunks on the Malecon. Either way, ice cream or ice pops are always a favorite on hot days, especially when you’re on vacation.