If you think travel to Mexico is not for you, visit La Paz, Mexico. La Paz has everything that’s great about Mexico. The food is delicious, the seafood is plentiful, the culture is present, and the nature is mind-blowing. La Paz is safe and clean, and it’s a place where real people live and enjoy life, rather than a place where there are more tourists than locals. There are also some pretty amazing things to do in La Paz, like swimming with whale sharks, snorkeling with sea lions, kayaking along one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, waking up to exotic birds soaring in the air and dolphins swimming in the water, and throwing down oysters, chocolate clams, and lobster.
Swim with Whale Sharks
The primary reason we chose La Paz, Mexico as our vacation destination was because one of the most popular things to do in La Paz is swim with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest fish on earth and during La Paz’s whale shark season, October through April, they can be found along the El Mogote peninsula (also the location of the Paraiso del Mar Resort where we stayed) feeding on plankton. Whale Sharks can be as long as 40 feet and weigh over 20 tons. They have enormous mouths, but no teeth, and are filter feeders.
As the boat cut through the water, our guide stood at the bow of the boat, Superman-style, searching for whale sharks. We were in La Paz near the end of whale shark season, so I began to worry we might not find one. But we did eventually come upon one, which we shared with a couple other boats.
Snorkel with Sea Lions
Another fun thing to do in La Paz Mexico is snorkel with sea lions. The Cortez Club offers a combo of their whale shark and sea lion trips, so we decided to do both.
La Paz has two main breeding colonies of sea lions. The larger one is at the northern tip of Espiritu Santo Island, which is where we snorkeled and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we also visited the second one at the San Rafaelito Lighthouse.
The sea lions are friendly to humans and may come to play. They are attracted by bright colors and bubbles. The Cortez Club also offers scuba diving trips to Espiritu Santo Island, and we had some scuba divers gliding in the water below us, but the sea lions seem to prefer snorkelers. If you hold your arm out, they’ll come and bump your fist, but don’t wiggle your fingers or they might nibble at them. They also see bubbles as encouragement to play.
Sea lions aren’t the only animals we saw on The Cortez Club’s sea lion snorkeling trip. We also saw a small pod of dolphins and we visited the breeding ground for the Magnificent Frigate, a huge almost Jurassic looking bird with a forked tail that can fly for two months straight without touching down on land or water. Another remarkable sight was that of manta rays flying out of the water from all directions.
Kayak along Balandra Beach to Mushroom Rock
They say that unless you’ve seen Mushroom Rock, you haven’t been to La Paz. Mushroom Rock, or Hongo de Balandra, is the symbol of La Paz. It is found at the end of Balandra Beach, perhaps the most beautiful beach in Mexico. The sand is white, the water is turquoise, and the small protected lagoon is so shallow you can walk to the other side without the water hitting your knees.
During our sea lion snorkeling trip we passed Balandra Beach and our guide mentioned there was a mangrove forest which could be reached by kayak. When we arrived at Balandra Beach, I was excited to see that there were kayaks and paddle boards available to rent. It was a bit breezy for paddle boarding, so I rented a kayak for 90 minutes and kayaked to Mushroom Rock and back into the mangroves. It is such an unusual sight to see mangroves, and then 10 feet away cactus growing along the shore near blue waters.
We were pleasantly surprised by how pristinely clean Balandra Beach was. We were also surprised by the lack of the hard sell, which was true for all of La Paz. We’re used to visiting Mexican destinations where we are constantly being approached to buy something and no isn’t accepted as an answer. There were items for sale in the parking lot, but the sellers weren’t harassing beach-goers in any way. The group renting kayaks were sitting at a table waiting for people to come to them. A man came up to me asking if I wanted empanadas and when I said no, he simply walked on to the next person on the beach, at which point I realized a kind of did want an empanada. It was such a different experience, I forgot to try to barter on the rental price for the kayak, but the girl told me to take it out for an hour and a half instead of the hour she had originally quoted.
Explore La Paz and Walk the Malecón
The main sites of La Paz’s zona central can be visited on a short walking tour starting at the Misión de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de La Paz Airapí. La Paz’s mission was established in 1720. It was the seventh California mission, but it wasn’t very successful, so it was abandoned in 1748 and the inhabitants of the mission moved south to Todos Santos. Across the street from the mission is a small garden square, Jardin Velasco.
A few blocks down the hill, towards the water, is the Museo de la Ballena, a museum dedicated to whales. The entrance fee includes a private guide.
The Malecón is La Paz’s waterfront walkway that is enjoyed by locals both day and night. During the day the residents of La Paz can be seen walking, jogging, running, biking, and walking their dogs.
At night the Malecón fills up with folks taking an evening stroll or dining at one of the many waterfront restaurants. The Malecón offers three miles of sea and sunset views dotted with 12 bronze sculptures along the way.
Stay at Paraiso del Mar Resort
Paraiso del Mar Resort is not a hotel. Rather, it is a resort of privately owned condominiums and casitas, some of which are offered as vacation rentals. Our La Paz vacation rental was booked through CasaGo, which manages approximately 20 properties at Paraiso del Mar Resort.
Because Paraiso del Mar Resort is at the tip of El Mogote peninsula, it feels like it is on its own little island. It is a beautiful property with a golf course, a pool, and a pool bar that serves food. There are kayaks and paddle boards which are free for residents and renters to use, and there are miles of secluded beach to stroll along. We didn’t see any whale sharks from our condo, though it is possible to encounter them while kayaking or paddle boarding, but we did see some dolphins from our patio.
We also saw many exotic birds, including the Magnificent Frigates which seemed to enjoy soaring over the property like kites when the wind picks up. The resort, and all of La Paz, is a bird-lover’s paradise. Birders will want to visit the Birds of the Mogote website to see the birds they can expect to spot.
We stayed in one of CasaGo’s best units, A102, a two-bedroom, three-bathroom, ground-floor unit with a patio and gorgeous views of the property and the Sea of Cortez. The unit also has a full kitchen and a laundry room. The kitchen was equipped with everything one would need to cook any meal they wanted, and we were happy to find an unopened multi-gallon water jug to provide us with drinking water for our entire stay. There were some additional nice touches like DVDs, guidebooks, and bug spray.
The one concern I had about staying at Paraiso del Mar Resort is that it is on El Mogote peninsula, which means it is really only reachable by boat, which sounded like it could be inconvenient. The HOA provides a shuttle boat to and from the Marina Cortez which runs every half hour throughout the day. This turned out to be quite convenient.
The vacation rentals are about a mile away from the shuttle boat dock, but you can either call for the shuttle van to drive you to the dock, or you can ride one of the resort’s free bicycles. We ended up biking to the dock whenever we were headed out, but taking the shuttle van when we returned.
Most of the people we met at the resort were owners. They were all super friendly and welcoming. We enjoyed Paraiso del Mar Resort’s laidback, relaxing vibe and were happy that the pool and bar weren’t a huge party scene. While La Paz felt like a very safe town, anyone concerned about safety will feel even safer at Paraiso del Mar Resort.
Road Trip to Todos Santos
Just 50 miles south of La Paz is another unique Mexican town sometimes referred to as “Pueblo Magico” or “Magical Town.” Founded in 1733, Todos Santos is filled with picturesque colonial architecture which is being preserved and converted into hotels, art galleries, and restaurants.
Many visitors come to Todos Santos to see the legendary Hotel California. While you will hear verses of the Eagles’ Hotel California drifting out of many a doorway in this area of Baja, the song was not in any way inspired by the Hotel California in Todos Santos.
In addition to the architecture, Todos Santos has historic sites like the Mission of Santa Rosa de Todos Santos, built in 1733 to support the mission in La Paz.
But, what will take the most time of a day trip to Todos Santos is visiting the plethora of artist studios, galleries, and shops.
Todos Santos has another art form for visitors, the art of good food as envisioned by Javier Plascencia. Mexican Chef Javier Plascencia is well known in Tijuana, San Diego, and the Valle de Guadalupe. Now he has a restaurant in Todos Santos, Jazamango Restaurante.
Jazamango serves Plascencia’s unique spin on Baja cuisine using local products and organic ingredients, including those that come from the gardens that surround the restaurant. The menu changes depending on what’s fresh, but it can include items like octopus with beets, heirloom tomato, burrata and strawberry salad, and, of course, chocolate clams.
While Jazamango does serve dessert, we chose to save our dessert appetites for a frozen treat from Paleteria y Neveria La Paloma. This fun find serves homemade ice creams of many flavors, including some unusual ones like avocado, basil, corn, and the like. My palate was delighted by a scoop of berry and cheese.
Side Trip to El Triunfo
Midway between La Paz and Todos Santos is El Triunfo. Silver and gold were discovered nearby in 1862 and El Triunfo became a mining town and the largest city in Baja California Sur with over 10,000 miners.
The icon of El Triunfo is the 35-meter tall smokestack which was designed by Gustav Eiffel (of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty).
El Triunfo is now a sleepy town with only a few hundred inhabitants. El Triunfo is worth a quick stop to see Eiffel’s smokestack and the restored colonial buildings.
Stop for a Cup of Coffee at Baja Beans
When reading about Todos Santos, I saw mention of the famous Todos Santos beans or Baja beans. At first, I assumed the reference was to a local bean recipe I had to try, but I soon discovered these were actually coffee beans. Baja Beans Coffee serves the best coffee in town made from the organic coffee beans grown in Mexico’s Veracruz Mountains, which are roasted in small batches onsite at the shop in Pescadero, just south of Todos Santos. The coffee was so delicious, we ended up buying a bag which they kindly ground for us so we could have coffee the rest of our mornings in our La Paz vacation rental. We just had coffee, but Baja Beans also serves breakfast. On Sundays, the coffee shop hosts a Farmer’s Market.
Surf or Relax at Cerritos Beach
A popular beach near Todos Santos is Playa Los Cerritos, reachable at the end of a long dirt road. If you want to surf, there are stands dotting the beach renting surfboards and offering surf lessons. If you want to relax, there are massage tables and masseuses ready and willing to provide an outdoor massage with an ocean view.
Eat all the Food
Of course, Mexican food is delicious, and adding a proliferation of seafood makes it out of this world. La Paz has many great restaurants to choose from, most with food at affordable prices.
A very convenient restaurant for guests of Paraiso del Mar Resort is Anzuelo Cocina del Mar because of its location at the Marina Cortez, right next to the pier where the boat shuttle picks up and drops off. The restaurant juts out over the water and has views from every angle. What’s more, it has unique seafood dishes on the menu including baked chocolate clams with cheese, shrimp, and octopus mixed in.
For dining along the Malecón, we chose Bismark, a casual seafood restaurant serving whole fish, fish tacos, seafood stuffed peppers, chocolate clams, lobster, and more since 1968.
One of our favorite finds in La Paz was a restaurant we found on Google Maps. Restaurante La Esquina del Chef is halfway between the mission and the Malecón and is open for breakfast and lunch. The restaurant is a casual spot with seating between two buildings which they have artfully decorated and painted to feel like a cozy outdoor patio. Lunch is a set menu of the soup of the day, sweet iced tea, a choice of three proteins and three sauces that can be interchangeable, and a dessert. The sauces are flavorful and inventive. For example, I had the pechuga con crema de zarzamora, chicken with a blackberry cream sauce served on a bed of pasta and salad on the side. And all of this is 85 pesos ($4) per person. The daily menu is published on Facebook.
NIM Restaurante is one of La Paz’s fine dining restaurants. Menu items are made with fresh ingredients and many have international influences. Sorstis Restaurante is another fine dining restaurant serving Mediterranean food. Asadero Rancho Viejo is popular for traditional Mexican food.
Golf the Paraiso del Mar Golf Club
The Paraiso del Mar Resort has its own golf course on the peninsula, the Paraiso del Mar Golf Club. The Paraiso Del Mar Golf Club has the feel of a private club. It is surrounded by water and each tee has a completely different look from the last. With 18 holes at just over 7,000 yards, it’s challenging in the best way; you can be a little off-target but still have a chance at a decent score. The fairways were in fantastic condition. The greens were well framed as most were a bit elevated, and there was a gentle breeze all day. Birds were feeding from the water features found on nearly every hole and there were many little critters running about. For resort guests, getting to the golf course is easy as you can take one of the resort bikes for a short ride to the course or call for the shuttle. Golfing the Paraiso del Mar Golf Club is the perfect morning pastime if you have an early afternoon flight home.
How to Get to and Around La Paz
We flew to La Paz with Volaris, which offers a short non-stop flight from Tijuana. Volaris also offers flights from U.S. cities in California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and others. If your local airport doesn’t have an easy flight to La Paz, another option is to fly into the Los Cabos airport and drive two hours north up to La Paz.
A Note about Safety
One of the most common questions we get when we talk about visiting a Mexican destination is, “Is it safe?” La Paz felt very safe to us. Paraiso del Mar Resort felt extra safe since the only easy way to reach it is on a shuttle boat. But the La Paz zona central also felt safe. We never felt uneasy when walking around at night, and there was a local police and Federales presence. We were also told that it was very safe to leave our rental car parked on the street along the Malecón at night.