“Welcome to the place where desert meets ocean.” That’s what your tour guides will tell you when you arrive in La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur, and it’s the truth. From the white sands on the beach, you can see the clear, blue-green water of the Sea of Cortez in front of you and the tall arms of Cardon cacti behind you – hopefully with margarita in hand. It’s a larger, more relaxed version of Los Cabos down the coast, with fetching colonial architecture and a prolific food scene.
Nestled on the mouth of its eponymous bay, in one of the narrowest sections of the Baja peninsula, La Paz is well-positioned as a starting point for short excursions to the Pacific and to other towns on the Sea of Cortez.
Gray Whale Watching
Migrating whales travel thousands of miles to the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean from December to April. La Paz is a nationally protected area, and the water temperature is perfect for breeding and birthing. In-season excursions are arranged daily from La Paz to Magdalena Bay by MAAR Experiences (maarexp.com; inquire for pricing), in which you pile into a boat and spend two hours watching massive gray whales pop out of the water and practically pose for selfies.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, reaching up to 40 feet long and weighing more than 20 tons. Don’t let the word “shark” scare you off – these docile animals present no threat for humans, and thrive from October to May in the Bay of La Paz, just a 30-minute boat ride from downtown. Book a trip with MAAR Experiences (maarexp.com, $85 per person) to free swim with the giant.
Whales and Rugs in Todos Santos
Hop in your car for a day trip to the trendy Pacific beach town of Todos Santos where you can find not only in-season whale sightings, but rugs dyed and made by hand in the shops dotting the road. The natural dyes can come from dead bugs crushed and mixed with different solvents like baking soda and water to create vibrant reds, blues and purples. The colors are then woven into thread, which is used to weave the rugs. While they don’t offer classes per se, they will let you try it for yourself if you ask.
Where to Stay
The sprawling The Costabaja Resort & Spa is located on the edge of the water on the Baja California Peninsula in its own marina. The views are outstanding, the spa is tops and the restaurant at the bottom of the resort, Mosaic, delivers a magical four-course meal, each dish perfectly paired with wine, beer, cocktails or tequila. Speaking of tequila, Costabaja has an impressive collection of more than 100 varieties. costabajaresort.com
If you’re looking for a spot closer to the heart of the city, try out Hotel Catedral La Paz, a beautiful hotel in the historic district of the city just a short walk to the beach. hotelcatedral.mx
La Paz Wildlife
You might go to La Paz for the weather, biodiversity and open skies, which is what birds come for, too. For the fowl-friendly traveler, try a bird-watching tour with Tours By Locals (toursbylocals.com).
More than just the rival a cappella group from Glee, warblers, or various passeriformes, are a group of small, colorful and vocal birds.
This diverse order of medium-large birds, which includes about 350 species, is known for long legs.
These birds are considered the largest family of birds (more than 400 species) and are known for their bright colors and long and lean proportions.
High season: November-April. Temperatures are in the low 80s.
Low Season: July-September, when the rainy season brings huge deals.
Instagram will never be the same once the world discovers Balandra Beach, a peaceful beach that’s beloved by locals. Depending on the tide, waters can stay only ankle deep for almost a mile, making it a perfect photo opportunity. Hot tip: Do the “stingray shuffle” by shifting your feet while you walk so you don’t accidently step on tiny jellyfish.
How to Get There
American Airlines offers direct flights from Phoenix into Los Cabos Airport. From there, it’s a two-hour drive north to La Paz. Rental cars recommended.
4 Must-Visit Restaurants
1. La Casita Tapas + Wine Bar
Sushi, inspired cocktails and dishes that take full advantage of fresh daily catches distinguish this restaurant in Todos Santos, which also boasts its own private vegetable garden, presenting a farm-to-table experience in a picturesque year-round indoor/outdoor setting. lacasitatapaswinebar.com
2. Asadero Rancho Viejo
This locally adored spot truly shows off the full range of what a taco can do. Simple tortillas are served with a variety of fillings, from pork to corn to smashed potatoes. From there, you can pile your taco high with a colorful array of garnishes including radishes, pickled onions and limes. Gral Manuel Márquez de León 228, Zona Comercial
3. Sorstis Restaurante
This is quite possibly the best restaurant in La Paz, both for ambiance and culinary cachet. It serves primarily Mediterranean fare, and for the full experience, you can’t miss the jamón Ibérico shaved tableside. Pair it with a bottle of local wine and your taste buds will thank you. Your wallet might not – it’s one of the world’s most expensive meats. Revolución 385, Col. Centro
4. La Garita Del Chipla
En route to La Paz from Los Cabos Airport, grab a quick lunch at this mom-and-pop joint, where they serve satisfying margaritas and empanadas bubbling at the seams from the fryer. Located off Highway 1.52-612-123-4566