We’d always heard that La Paz is a fun destination in Baja California, Mexico. After all, this village at the edge of the Sea of Cortez takes full advantage of its oceanfront location. A boating, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing mecca, La Paz flew under the radar for years as other destinations in Mexico enjoyed widespread popularity. Now La Paz has come into its own as a sought-after vacation spot for adventurous travelers. Plus it is one of the few places in the world you can swim with gentle and harmless whale sharks! We had to check out why La Paz is Baja California’s waterfront playground.
It’s not like this popularity happened overnight. For years now we’ve been hearing good things about La Paz. Like its smaller and quieter neighbor to the north, Loreto, La Paz offers many riches. These special attributes are gleaned directly from its position on the sandy white beaches of the Sea of Cortez.
Visitors to La Paz can swim with whale sharks, snorkel with sea lions, go whale watching, diving, kite surfing, deep sea fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, golfing… the list goes on and on.
But what makes La Paz Baja California’s waterfront playground? Read on for a few reasons we learned from our recent trip to explore La Paz and its surrounds.
Baja California’s Waterfront Playground
One of the big reasons La Paz is considered Baja California’s waterfront playground is its position on the Sea of Cortez. This calm body of water is located between the Baja peninsula and the mainland of Mexico. It spans 130 miles across and 868 miles long. Los Cabos is located at the location where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, at the tip of Baja California. The Sea of Cortez’s warm and inviting waters bring an annual migration of whales from the Pacific Northwest. They travel all the way down to mate and give birth here.
In addition to the whales, the Sea of Cortez is home to nearly 1,000 species of fish and sea mammals and another 5,000 species of marine invertebrates. It is one of Earth’s most biologically diverse locations. In fact, many parts are protected including a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I guess marine explorer Jacques Cousteau called it “The World’s Aquarium” for good reason.
Why Visit La Paz?
Not only is La Paz Baja California’s waterfront playground, it is also a charming Mexican village. Residents are friendly and welcoming to visitors, and the downtown area is rich with history, tradition, and modern conveniences. La Paz is the capital city of the state of Baja California Sur, and has the largest population with some 250,000 residents. Because of its unique position along the protected waters inside the Bay of La Paz, the city has served as a working port and fishing destination for centuries.
For vacationing North Americans, the La Paz International Airport is easily served by multiple airlines from flights within Mexico and coming in from the US. We flew here from Tijuana on Volaris Airlines, coming across the border from the US via the CBX Cross Border Xpress bridge. (See here for more information about CBX and the experience of using their services.)
As a successful fishing village, La Paz serves up an incredible array of delicious seafood. Restaurants up and down the coastline boast everything from shrimp tacos to elaborate baked whole fish presented tableside. With so many visitors from America and beyond, the town has plenty of dining options that are not seafood too. More on that below.
A Long List of Activities in La Paz
It may be enough to visit La Paz and sip margaritas from your reclined lounge chair. There are plenty of resorts that can cater to every whim, and guests never need to leave their comfy poolside perch. Still, when staying at Baja California’s waterfront playground, visitors quickly learn there are plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Swimming With Whale Sharks
This is one of those bucket list experiences that so many travelers crave. Adventurous visitors can take a boat tour out of La Paz harbor to visit migrating whale sharks. During the winter months of December – March, whale sharks visit the Sea of Cortez. Specifically located in the waters off the coast of La Paz, these whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea. A slow-moving, harmless shark that filter-feeds on plankton, the whale shark has no teeth with which to bite anything – or anyone. That’s why swimming with them is a safe activity. That is, if you can shake the fear of being in the water with a 30- or 60-foot fish.
Unfortunately we were not able to have this experience on our visit, as the weather was not permitting good conditions. Everyone we know that has been on this excursion raves about it. We will most definitely be going back so we can have our own adventure with the whale sharks.
There are several reputable tour companies operating boat excursions to view the whale sharks. You can find a list of operators on the La Paz tourism website.
Snorkeling with Dolphins and Sea Lions
Another reason why we call La Paz Baja California’s waterfront playground? The warm waters of La Paz present many opportunities to splash around with friendly and curious sea life. If sticking close to shore is preferred, most of the resorts have equipment rentals available for guests at a nominal charge. Since the Bay of La Paz is protected from ocean surf, the waters are calm like a lake. Even small children can be accompanied by an adult and enjoy seeing fish and other sea life near the shore.
For those wanting a bigger experience, tour boats lead excursions outside the Bay to outer islands. Isla Espíritu Santo, Isla Partida, and Los Islotes are all easily reached by panga. The boats depart from the main docks in downtown La Paz, and tours can be arranged in advance.
Whale Watching Outings
Don’t know about you, but we’ve been on whale watching excursions a number of times and have never seen one single whale. Well, our bad luck streak was broken on this trip! Grey whales migrate to the warm waters off the coast of Baja California to mate and bear their young. Swimming into the inlets and bays along the coastline gives them protection from rougher seas and large boats. When the weather starts to warm up north, they swim back to the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and as far as the Bering Sea. Best viewing times in the areas near La Paz are from December through April.
We enjoyed an amazing day-long excursion to see these gentle giants, departing from our resort after breakfast. A driver picked us up for the 2.5 hour drive to Puerto Chale on the Pacific Ocean side of Baja. Our guide was a certified marine biologist who really knew her stuff. Her expertise made the trip so much more interesting and enjoyable, because she explained what we were seeing. Even the boat captain of our little panga was an expert on these beautiful creatures.
As the boat took us from the dock into the bay, whales immediately started appearing around us. They were as curious about us as we were about them! The kids were out of their minds with excitement, and so were we. Several of the whales demonstrated a behavior called spyhopping, where they pop their heads straight up out of the water to see what’s going on. Others were so docile that they swam very close to the boat to say hello. We even got to see babies!
For more information, visit Maar Experiences.
Side Trip to Todos Santos
On the day we had originally planned to swim with the whale sharks, the waters were too rough for that excursion. Instead we had an amazing and relaxing day on the beach in Todos Santos, which is about 40 minutes drive west of La Paz. This little town is nestled into a natural oasis in the middle of arid Baja, and is full of greenery, palm trees and tropical foliage. Downtown itself has been rediscovered and offers a collection of cool boutique hotels, world-class restaurants, shops, galleries and more. The vibe here is bohemian-chic, and it reminded us of Tulum before that town was overrun with bougie tourists.
During the day, we lounged on the daybeds and warm white sands at El Faro Beach Club. This spot is pretty incredible. When we arrived and walked down to the water’s edge, we were literally the only people visible on this mile of pristine beach. Even when a few others arrived at the club, it felt very private and uncrowded. Here we enjoyed hibiscus margaritas, crunchy battered shrimp tacos, spicy guacamole, and hours of bliss. For those who prefer a swimming pool, El Faro has that too. And a great restaurant and bar. And a spa with a list of enticing massage options and other treatments. The girls even experienced horseback riding on the beach, which made them soooo happy.
Dinner in Todos Santos
When it was time for dinner, we changed out of our swimsuits and headed back into town to dine at a magical spot inside the tropical oasis. Rancho Corazon is a unique wonderland of shady palms, a heated infinity pool, day club, animal sanctuary and an amazing restaurant called Dūm. When we arrived, fire pits had been lit, candles glowed and a live band played a samba beat that romanced us all. The gastronomy here is superb – I’d match it against some of the best I’ve had in all of Mexico.
Dining on the Malecon
Back in La Paz, the lively downtown area offers its own collection of amazing restaurants. Of course we had to try them out as we walked along the Malecon. (Malecon translates roughly to waterfront esplanade. In La Paz, it’s a walkway spanning the coastline for many blocks along the bayfront.)
A family favorite was the dockside restaurant called Anzuelo Cocina del Mar. Featuring fresh-caught seafood brought into the docks by fisherman that day, the kitchen at Anzuelo did a great job pleasing all palates. A delicious sweet/tart margarita with a tajin-dusted rim started the meal off right. From there, we sampled just about every taco on the menu – from beef to pork to shrimp and more. Check out Anzuelo here. For sure, La Paz is Baja California’s waterfront playground – day or night.
Beach Resort with Ocean Views
All this enjoyment took place from our home base in La Paz – the gorgeous Puerta Cortes Resort. There are actually three hotels on this resort property, and we enjoyed our gigantic suite at Vistamar. This property offers condos and villas with full kitchens, luxurious living room, bedroom, bathroom and spacious patio with ocean views. It was so comfortable here that it was hard to leave in the morning to sight see. But, it was sure nice to come back to our rooms after an active day and just relax in these beautiful surroundings.
There is something to be said for luxury resorts in Mexico – they really know how to do it right. The architecture was interesting, interiors well-appointed, golf course pristine, and beach club perfectly clean and comfortable. Because Vistamar is perched on a hill overlooking the Sea of Cortes, the staff here is available to shuttle guests down to the beach club, lobby, restaurants and shops. We took advantage of these rides an embarrassing number of times, but made sure to tip the nice drivers for their troubles.