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The brilliant sun shines down on the turquoise waters of the bay. The smell of fresh sea salt engulfs the air, and the wind whips its way between the palm trees lined across the boardwalk.
The city of La Paz, Mexico feels alive, constantly being revived by the ocean’s breath, as it encases this little city by the sea. I stroll down the boardwalk, searching for a local café, listening to the bustle of the morning commute. I’m entranced by the city I now call home.
Baja Peninsula is one of the most heavily traveled locations in North America. The southern state of the peninsula (Baja California Sur) welcomed nearly four million visitors in 2019 (According to State Officials)
Mega-resorts of Cabo San Lucas attract travelers from all over the globe, destined to spend a few days lounging on the beach or dancing the night away in the local clubs.
Beach hotels, adventure hotspots, and ex-pat living communities have sprouted all across the peninsula. The state of Baja California Sur is almost entirely reliant on the tourism industry for its economy.
It’s no wonder, in places like Cabo San Lucas or San Jose Del Cabo, English is not spoken out of place. Travel a little north to the capital, and it’s a bit of a different story.
La Paz, Mexico: A City By the Sea
The capital of Baja California Sur, La Paz Mexico is located on the eastern shoreline of the Baja Peninsula, pressed up against the lively waters of the Gulf of California.
The city carries a population of roughly 250,000 individuals, a significant increase from the tourist-filled Cabo San Lucas, but still far down the list in terms of large Mexican cities.
La Paz is a different sort of atmosphere compared to its southern counterparts. Many individuals from mainland Mexico describe the desert oasis as a “town” or a “small city” compared to the mega-centers of Mexico City or Tijuana.
It is also a much different taste, centered on an eco-tourism economy and complemented by a diversity of history and culture. Furthermore, La Paz has increased immensely since the early 2000s. Primarily due to its booming eco-tourism industry and its status as one of Mexico’s cleanest and safest cities, it’s now one of the peninsula’s most intriguing places to visit.
La Paz has a rich history centered on the industries of mining, fishing, and pearl harvest. The presence of pearls in the Bay of La Paz was a source of exploitation in the region for many years in the 1500s.
The Bay was known as a hotspot for pearls, so much so that it became the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s The Pearl (after he visited in the 1930s).
An abundance of pearls was the reason the town was so valuable to the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s, drawing Hernan Cortes to establish a community himself (the community failed, and he returned to Spain after some time).
Another beautiful thing about La Paz is its connection to the ocean. The town is a meeting place for biologists, researchers, divers, and ocean-loving backpackers from all over the world.
The city has welcomed the likes of famous marine biologists Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle. The bay is constantly filled with mega-yachts of eclectic tech CEOs, and there is a consistent flow of nationals from the mainland. All in one place, to be by the sea.
La Paz and Eco-Tourism
Eco-Tourism is considered to be the driving force in the economy of La Paz. It seems every café, bar, or dive shop is filled with individuals thriving from the ocean-based economy.
As a connoisseur of several activities myself, I can personally state it’s one of the best parts of La Paz. There is a freedom that comes over the mind when you spend days kayaking through the illustrious mangroves of the bay. Or hiking through the desert landscapes to find secluded ocean views.
Activities of the town range from swimming with whale sharks to snorkeling with sea lions. Additionally, you can spend a few nights camping in the untouched coves of Espiritu Santo, a National Park that resides just off the city’s coast.
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La Paz is located on the south end of a significant set of islands, all protected under the Mexican government. These islands draw in sail boaters and adventurers from every corner of the globe. They make great stopover destinations for anyone attempting to circumnavigate the Gulf of California.
Science in the Bay of La Paz
The other defining piece of La Paz is its place as an epicenter of science. La Paz is to marine biology, what Silicon Valley is to tech startups.
It attracts researchers from all corners of the globe, stationed in the seaside city, studying everything from coral reefs to hammerhead sharks. The universities of CICIMAR and CIDMAR are scientific institutions that fund projects that assess, analyze, and record data from the astounding variety of species that inhabit the gulf.
There is a growing number of conservation organizations in the bay, working to protect sea turtles (Blue Turtle Sustainable), sharks (Pelagios Kakunja), or stingrays (Mobula Conservation Project).
As a conservationist myself, I can say it’s humbling to sit down at a café, order an americano, and the person next to you is writing a grant to fund their conservation research.
The town acts as a research station, a community of science and progress, and a place for the future of some of conservation’s finest work.
A Perfect Location
Yet another wonderful thing about La Paz is its location. Located ninety minutes north of the Cabos (San Jose and San Lucas), the city is a perfect spot to be considered off the beaten path.
La Paz also provides easy access to other local hotspots like La Ventana, El Triunfo, or Todos Santos. Plus it boasts various beaches on the outer parts of town, with pristine waters, sandy shorelines, and a considerably less influx of people.
There is a beach on the northern tip of the La Paz peninsula (not Baja Peninsula) called Tecolote. This spot offers wide-open views of Espiritu Santo and the channel that leads into the Gulf of California.
Tecolote beach has open locations where any vehicle with a little bit of grit and determination can pull right up onto the water (be careful with cars with no off-road capabilities).
Also, on the way to Tecolote, you will pass the pristine Bay of Balandra. This bay is a marine protected area, scattered with mangroves, full of wondrous creatures (lots of turtles), and always teeming with charter boats.
The Culture of La Paz
La Paz, Mexico is also an epicenter of culture. Due to the mining and pearl extraction practices of the past, the city has been developed under the influence of a wide variety of cultures.
Cuisine in La Paz includes anything from Italian fare to delectable street tacos. You can also hear any language walking down the boardwalk, from Russian to Spanish.
The culture, removed enough from the glamour of Cabo, San Lucas, feels more faithful to Mexico.
I have been serenaded by musicians in markets, practiced Spanish with strangers at the bar, and become a local patron of several cafes (try WeFit, Doce Cuarenta, or Capuchino).
It is a humble town, full of good people with a quiet bustle of life. La Paz attracts backpackers, sailboaters, kite surfers, divers, and artists from all over the globe and the people of La Paz are exceptionally welcoming.
They are open to hearing any story you have to tell and always willing to accommodate those who visit their home.
As I finish up my coffee, ask for the check, and pack up my laptop, I take a moment to appreciate this beautiful place. I have only been living in La Paz for a mere five months, but it has captivated my heart.
This capital town by the sea is a must-visit for anyone who makes their way to the deserts of Baja California Sur.
Quick Tips for Visiting La Paz, Mexico
- Practice Spanish. There are many English speakers in La Paz, Mexico but not on the same level as Cancun or Cabo. I would practice beforehand with language learning apps. On the language app Babbel, you can learn Spanish up to any level with lesson plans that fit to your schedule. Check out their language options and deals here. Without learning the language you can try bring a translation app, or meet up with a local guide when touring the city.
- The summer months are hot. The temperatures in the summer get well into the triple digits. The best times to come to La Paz are late fall/early winter. The late fall is the best season for whale shark tours as well.
- Meet with an eco-tourism company. There are many companies here doing unique tours in the area. Meet with companies like Planeta Libre Expeditions or TOSEA for special tours involving local fisheries, island tours, or whale watching.
- There is an airport in La Paz, Mexico but it services primarily domestic flights. There are a few flights offered from Phoenix or Austin, but they only recently were added. Most flights go through Mexico City as a connection from other places north of Mexico.
Book This Trip
Ready to explore the adventure haven and artisan town of La Paz, Mexico? Then start planning with insider knowledge on the best beaches, local restaurant favorites, hotel or VRBO options and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
When you are ready to book your journey to Mexico, check out CheapOair for their exclusive flight deals and car rentals. Protect your trip from flight cancellations, lost luggage and unexpected sickness with TravelGuard.
Author Bio: Keegan Sentner is a freelance writer, photographer, conservationist, and explorer. He aims to pair the art of storytelling with the world of conservation, travel, adventure, and culture. Keegan graduated Biology from Colorado State University. He has worked in wildlife management, conservation, and science communication. Keegan is currently partnering with local magazines and a sea turtle conservation organization in Baja California Sur. He also takes on several freelance projects in eco-tourism, travel, adventure sports, and conservation. Follow his work at KeeganSentner.com or on Instagram @keegan_senter.
After reading this article, I have added La Paz on my travel bucket list.
La Paz is amazing! If you enjoy sea life, check out these articles on adventures in the Sea of Cortez near La Paz. Have a wonderful trip!