Why You Should Travel to La Paz, Mexico
Baja California Sur’s capital, La Paz, is a great city for tourists to visit. Whatever your travel style is, La Paz has you covered. If you want to stay at a resort and golf, look no further. If you’d rather stay in the city center and experience local life of the city when venturing out, stop here! While the Los Cabos area is popular with most travelers, we’re happier in less crowded destinations like La Paz. It still gets its fair share of tourists, including day trippers from Los Cabos, but it doesn’t have quite as many built up hotels as Cabo. Though not as quiet as Los Barriles, it feels laid back while still having everything you need including amazing restaurants, nice hotels, and plenty of activities (many of which revolve around the gorgeous Sea of Cortez – aptly named “The World’s Aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau).
Where to Stay:
We booked our stay at Hotel Catedral for its location and elegance. It’s set directly across the street from La Paz’s historical cathedral and is only a 5 minute walk down to the Malecón (esplanade). There are plenty of cafés, shops, and great restaurants all walkable from the hotel. There is a free breakfast buffet across from the lobby, free Wi-Fi (all around the hotel) and a free parking garage below ground. The rooftop pool was where we spent most of our time at the hotel. It has a small bar and incredible views of the city, mountains, La Paz Bay, and the historical cathedral across the street. Pairing all of this with rates of under $100 USD a night, we were hard pressed to find a better option that suited us.
What to Do:
La Paz Whale Shark Tour
This is hands down the coolest thing we’ve done in our travels so far. With the Sea of Cortez offering such a perfect environment for aquatic life, it’s only natural that whale sharks inhabit these beautiful waters. We made sure to make La Paz one of our stops when planning our trip to Baja California Sur just to have this opportunity. We also made sure to book this tour in advance so we wouldn’t miss out. The whale shark tour season opens mid to late October and closes in February.
Choosing SunRider Tours, we walked down to their office located on the Malecón across from the pier. We arrived there at 7 a.m. to meet our guide and hear a quick orientation for the 2-3 hour tour. There is also a tax for the tour of about $35-$40 MXN ($1-$2 USD) per person which we paid before departing. Once our small group of 5 and our guide was ready, we crossed the street to catch our boat at the pier. From there we headed toward the bay opening but had to wait about 30 minutes before we could leave the bay and enter the protected area. The 36 square mile protected waters just outside of the bay are regulated to minimize the impact of the tours on the whale sharks.
Once it was our group’s turn to enter the protected area, we all stood excitedly at the bow to try and spot whale sharks. Luckily, after about 5-10 minutes we found one and the captain positioned us near its path. We then jumped in the water wearing our snorkeling gear and (required) life vests to swim over to our first gentle giant. I was not prepared for the majesty and beauty of seeing the worlds largest fish in person. Swimming with the shark was incredible! It was slowly wandering along opening and closing its huge maw to collect food from clouds of krill. We sometimes got too close because the whale shark would suddenly decide to turn in our direction to follow the food it was after. Everyone in the group had to scramble out of the way at least once and we all laughed about it on the boat.
When our guide noticed us getting tired or the shark started swimming too fast, he’d have us all get back on the boat for a short rest. The sharks swim deceivingly fast and it can be a little tiring trying to keep up after awhile. The boat captain would then move us back into a better position to intercept the whale shark and we’d jump back in. We swam with about 3 or 4 whale sharks that ranged in size of about 13ft-18ft in length. After our boat’s time limit in the protected waters was reached we headed back to land. If there is one tour you do in La Paz, make it this one!
The Malecón of La Paz
One of the highlights of La Paz for tourists and locals alike is the Malecón (esplanade) which stretches for 5.5 kilometers (about 3.5 miles) along the Bay of La Paz, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. There are ocean themed sculptures by local artists dotted all along the walkway which also has a bike lane beside it. Across the street are many restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops facing the bay. It’s a great place to have a drink or get a bite to eat, especially during sunset. The Malecón is great for people watching especially on weekend evenings when locals are out enjoying the cooler weather playing Frisbee, dancing, or strolling along the waterfront.
Balandra Bay and Tecolote Beach
Two of the most beautiful beaches Baja California Sur has to offer are close to La Paz. Only about a 30 minute drive from the commercial zone in La Paz, its worth it to venture away from the city to visit them (not to mention the scenery along the way is gorgeous). Balandra Bay has several small beaches and mangroves surrounding it with some only accessible by kayak or a small boat. You should get to Balandra early if you want to snag one of the free palm leaf thatched umbrellas because the beach fills up fast. We got there around 10:15 a.m. and there were only a couple left. Since neither of us really like crowds, we rented a two-person kayak ($300 MXN or about $15 USD per hour) and made our way across the bay to an empty white sand beach which took us about 20 minutes. We spent about an hour and a half hanging out and exploring the rocky reefs nearby before returning the kayak and exploring the bay on foot. The popular “Mushroom Rock” can be found around the corner to the right from Balandra Beach and can be reached by swimming or walking along the rocky ledge (water shoes recommended).
After getting our pictures with the famous Mushroom Rock, we slowly made our way back to our car. Less than a five minute drive later, we arrived at the 2 kilometer (1.3 mile) long Tecolote Beach. This picturesque white sand beach has plenty of space, calm waters and an amazing view of Isla Espiritu Santo. Near the center of the beach where its more crowded, there is a restaurant and a tour company with water equipment rentals (kayaks, jet skis, paddle boards). We decided to eat lunch there and we obviously had to pick a table right on the sand. Once we finished our meal, we walked along the beach, in the water, toward the rocky cliffs (watch out for little sting rays). Once we made it to the cliffs where few people trekked, we went for a swim, explored the rocky reefs, and enjoyed the rest of our beach day.
Sport Fishing in La Paz
La Paz is a great location to charter a fishing boat from. It’s one of the more expensive activities, but if you love to fish you can’t pass up doing it on the Sea of Cortez. There are so many varieties of fish to reel in that you are pretty much guaranteed to not return empty-handed. We chartered a 24 foot panga from Tailhunter International Sportfishing for $500 USD. The owner, Jonathan, asked us if we wanted to catch a lot of smaller fish or hunt down some trophy size catches. Hoping for a full day of fun, we chose to try for a lot of smaller fish.
Taking off from the main pier on the Malecón we left the Bay of La Paz before sunrise and headed past Tecolote Beach to fish near the shore. As soon as we arrived at the fishing grounds and cast our first line, we almost immediately hooked our first fish (Bonito). After that we both hooked dorado (mahi mahi) at the same time! Mine got away by jumping out of the water and thrashing, but Sam was able to fight hers all the way into the boat. The rest of the day we caught tons of needlefish (which we threw back), a couple sea bass and a couple snapper. When we got back to the pier our captain took care of the fish for us and we headed to the Tailhunter office/restaurant to check in with Jonathan. He asked us if we wanted the fish cleaned and packaged up or if we were planning on having dinner at the restaurant. Since we didn’t plan on taking any fish home back to Los Angeles, we decided to have the restaurant cook up our catch from the day. With such fresh fish, its no surprise our dorado fish tacos and sea bass ceviche were the best we’ve ever had!
Espiritu Santo Island
Another main attraction of the La Paz area is Isla Espiritu Santo. There are many companies offering tours to and around the island. We didn’t have enough time in La Paz to take one of these tours, but the next time we’re in La Paz we’ll definitely have it on our itinerary. The draw of the island comes from the beautiful rock formations and pristine white sand beaches that offer great snorkeling. The real stars of the island are the sea lions that everyone comes to observe and snorkel with. With both of us being nature loving adventurers, we can’t wait to go back to La Paz to visit this island.
Where to Eat:
A good lunch or dinner spot with a second floor balcony overlooking the Malecón and Bay of La Paz. Good food in good portions for cheap.($-$$)
Great seafood restaurant for lunch or dinner. The front of the restaurant is completely open to the Malecón with tables on the sidewalk as well. ($$-$$$)
Awesome rustic dinner restaurant. Couryard seating with a woodfire grill and oven. Good for seafood, steaks, pasta, and pizza. ($$-$$$)
Perfect spot for lunch literally on the beach. Mostly seafood menu. ($-$$$)
Delicious Italian restaurant with peaceful outdoor seating. ($$-$$$)
Good restaurant on the Malecón with 3 floors of seating for views of the sunset. Menu has a mix of Mexican, Hawaiian, and American dishes. Will cook your catch of the day. ($-$$$)
Visit La Paz!
Even if you stay in the Los Cabos area, you should include La Paz in your itinerary. Even though its on the smaller side compared to Cabo, there is still plenty to do and explore. Let us know in the comments which you prefer and why. If you’re planning a trip to Baja California Sur, be sure to check out our Tips for a Baja Road Trip post. Thanks for stopping by and happy travels!