City of Pearls: The Beauties of La Paz
Summer is the slow season in Baja California Sur for a reason: it’s really hot. But those willing to brave the heat – air-conditioning and the cooling waters of the Sea of Cortez are never far away – will be amply rewarded with discounted hotel and activities rates, plus avoid the high-season crowds at area beaches and restaurants. There’s another added benefit: you’re likely to have a more authentic experience of local culture, particularly if you eschew touristy hot-spots like Cabo San Lucas – where the vendors and barkers are ever-present – in favor of more traditional vacation spots.
La Paz, the state capital, is a great choice. The scenery is every bit as spectacular as that in Los Cabos, the water-based activities choices are even greater – the proximity of Isla Espiritu Santo offers opportunities for world-class kayaking adventures, and ferry service is available for side trips to the mainland – and there is less emphasis on luxury developments (so far, anyway) and high-end wining and dining. Even the best and most scenically situated accommodations are affordable, and the cultural scene – specifically museums and theater offerings – offers many more options than you’ll find in Los Cabos.
Or you could just rent a car and spend a week making the coastal loop, with stops at Todos Santos, Los Cabos, Cabo Pulmo and Los Barriles. But La Paz is certainly the best base for seasoned, budget-conscious travelers.
There are tons of reasonably priced hotels in La Paz, two of which – Seven Crown and Hotel Perla (612-122-0777) enjoy prime locations along the malecon. Seven Crown offers the most modern conveniences, while Hotel Perla is a more traditional stop, with a nice restaurant, La Terraza, and a nightclub called La Cabaña that pulls in big crowds on Saturday nights.
Posada LunaSol is not quite so central, although it’s certainly within walking distance of the malecon, and within a couple of blocks of two popular marinas. It’s a favorite of return visitors and those traveling with pets, and the onsite activities company, Mar y Aventuras, is notable for its excellent snorkeling and kayaking excursions. Posada LunaSol is also around the corner from local burger joint nonpareil, Bandido’s Grill (612-128-8338), which cooks up tasty bacon and egg-topped burgers on a grill wedged under the hood of a bisected pick-up truck.
Hotel Arte Museo Yeneka (612-125-4688) also lays on the local color. It’s just off the main plaza, and features a courtyard “museum” chockablock with four generations of family heirlooms and found objects. Rates are negotiable, and continental breakfasts and evening tequila shots are complimentary.
All four hotels offer that most vitally important of summer amenities: great air-conditioning.
Drinking and Dining
One of the true joys of visiting La Paz is the city’s surfeit of great budget-friendly restaurants, many of which look out across the malecon to the bay. Bismark-cito (612-128-9900) is one of the most popular afternoon drinking and dining spots. The taco menu offers affordable seafood options, and the chile and tamarindo stick garnished micheladas are as good as you’ll find anywhere in Baja California Sur. If you want to splurge on dinner, they also offer excellent steak and lobster options.
For those wandering the downtown area, the go-to spot for creative yet traditional Mexican cuisine is El Tupe (612-158-9524), which offers 6 and 12 course meals nightly. For cheap eats, try Tacos Hermanos Gonzalez (612-120-5074). This long-time local’s favorite now sets us shop at Calles Madero and Degollado, with sidewalk service on a host of seafood style tacos and specialty dishes.
Looking for a bite to eat late night? Stop by Ranch Viejo (612-128-4647), which serves Mexican specialties dishes like pozole and tacos de arrachera 24 hours a day. Of course if you’re up that late, there’s a good chance you’ve been partying at Las Varitas (612-125-2025). The downtown nightspot is open until 5 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, with drink specials and live Mexican music across a variety of styles (ranchera, banda, norteña, etc.).
La Paz is famous for its malecon, the seaside promenade that runs for close to three miles along the bay. It’s in many ways the center of the local social scene: joggers, families, cyclists crowd the promenade during late afternoon, while cars move slowly along the neighboring boulevard, Alvaro Obregon, and diners enjoy cocktails and fresh local seafood at restaurants across the street. It’s the perfect place to watch the local sunsets, which are routinely spectacular.
Rental cars are the best means of getting to some of the area’s premier beaches – including Pichilingue, Balandra, and El Tecolote – all of which are north of the city, beyond the ferry terminal at Pichilingue. Kayaks and snorkeling equipment may be rented at all three, but the best facilities and amenities are found at El Tecolote, the farthest north. Palapa Azul (612-105-5508) is the go to pit-stop at El Tecolote, and the perfect place to enjoy Coronas and Pacificos, or chocolate clams and marlin en escabeche. For sheer natural beauty, however, Balandra reigns supreme.
La Paz excels at many of the same water activities as Los Cabos: world-class fishing, snorkeling, and diving are all readily available (whale watching season runs Dec. – Apr.). La Paz has some added options however, including the opportunity to swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish (Sept. – Feb., and occasionally much later), and unforgettable kayaking trips around Isla Espiritu Santo.
The Cortez Club is one of the top local water activities companies, with snorkeling trips to see the sea lion colony at Los Islotes, kayaking explorations of Isla Espiritu Santo, and fishing charters available through their Mosquito Fleet. Summer is a great time to try your luck with the wahoo, tuna, dorado, and marlin populations; one more reason (if any more were needed) to visit Baja during its “slow” season.
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Images courtesy of Hotel Posada LunaSol, Palapa Azul Restaurant and Bar, and The Cortez Club.
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