Swimming with Whale Sharks, La Paz, Mexico

La Paz, Mexico is a Water Wonderland

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When my ferry arrived in La Paz, Mexico a couple of weeks ago, I had only an hour or so to check out the town before boarding the bus that would take me across Baja California to Todos Santos. I walked along the Malecon and snapped a few photos; it seemed like a nice enough little town but I wasn’t turning cartwheels over it. Fortunately, during my stay at Rancho Pescadero I met Danny the bartender, born and raised in La Paz, who convinced me to spend a few days there. Danny was so right.

Although La Paz enjoys modest tourism, it is not overrun with tourists and expats. The downtown streets are filled with locals doing their daily shopping, attending church, chatting in the town square. People are extremely friendly and everyone seems to be smiling; I even found a fantastic, extremely affordable Mexican restaurant in La Paz. But the real beauty of La Paz starts where the land meets the sea.

Exquisite Corralito Beach on Espiritu Santu Island

Water so pure it looks otherworldly

Gorgeous Balandra Bay is a picture perfect swath of powdery white sand beach backed by purple and ochre cliffs, with water so excruciatingly turquoise it is hard to believe the color is real. Beyond Balandra is Espiritu Santo Island, a nature preserve with dozens of pristine deserted beaches, coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, and sea lions that are so friendly they will swim right up to your snorkel mask. The Sea of Cortez off the coast of La Paz is also one of the few places in the world where snorkelers and divers can swim beside enormous but gentle whale sharks as they scoop up plankton and krill with their giant mouths.

Giant whale shark comes up right beside the boat

I visited this water wonderland with Carey Dive Center, an excellent tour/dive operation that has designed a day trip that combines all of these activities and more. Words are simply not sufficient to describe the stunning scenery and wildlife in and around Balandra Bay and Espiritu Santo Island, so I put together the following brief video.

I’ve much enjoyed my time in Baja California, but it’s time to head back across the Sea of Cortes to Barrancas del Cobre – Mexico’s Copper Canyon – a remote area in the state of Chihuahua that encompasses the deepest canyon in North America. Copper Canyon is home to the reclusive Tarahumara Indians chronicled in the book, “Born to Run,” and I hope to spend time with Tarahumara during my visit. Tomorrow evening I board the ferry back across the Sea of Cortez, this time to Topolobampo, and bus through Los Mochis to El Fuerte, where I’ll spend a few days before boarding the famous El Chepe train through the canyon.

24 Comments on “La Paz, Mexico is a Water Wonderland

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  2. I first went there about 4 years ago- shocked by the beauty of the spectacular ocean and indeed one of Mexico’s best kept secrets- just don’t tell anyone about it! we want to leave it unspoiled..

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  4. This is beautiful! I love the sea! I would like to visit this place some day!

  5. Great! My wife and I both have children graduating this spring, and it looks like they both have a solid plan and living arrangements. Our initial goal was to be liquidated by then, and have a boat purchased already! Haha, we may be living on it, so lets hope our estate does well! Look for us in Marina de La Paz in 2011! My uncle will run the sportfishing aspect, and Sara and I are aiming for a much larger vessel that we can offer day and starlight cruises from. I hope to incorporate some of my culinary experience, and offer above deck gourmet dining, while doing a large sightseeing loop near Stone Island and the Harbor in Mazatlan at night. What a wild fantasy! Lets hope all goes as planned!

  6. Great Stuff Barbara. Last spring my wife and I visited an Aunt and Uncle that retired down there. We have since been contemplating the liquidation of all of our belongings and heading down. My uncle is moving forward setting up a charter service, and we have a chance to become partner/operators with him.
    I am glad I stumbled across your blog, as it has been a few months since we were there, and the beauty of the place had begun to fade from memory. Now that I am here at your site, I am inspired anew! Thank You so much, and the best of luck in your travels!

    (I can attest to the waters!Absolutely breathtaking!)

    • Hi Barry: So glad you enjoyed my post. I, too, was enamored with Mexico as I traveled around for four months this spring and summer. It is such an intriguing, gorgeous country. Best of luck with your plans to move there; I am also thinking about spending winters there.

  7. Barbara, you’ve written about one of my secret desires – to snorkel with the whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. Your water photos are beautiful.

    • Thanks Donna – they were intimidating at first, but turned out to be the gentlest of creatures.

  8. That is some beautiful water! Now that I’ve seen this post, I’m going to add “swim with whale sharks” to my to do list.

  9. Hi Barbara, love reading your blog – particularly enjoyed the Baja posts, and getting into the continued, mainland adventures.

    Wonder if you can dispense some advice, given your recent experiences? My fiancé and I are travelling there in 2 weeks’ time (as part of a bigger, four month adventure) – we’re getting a bus from San Diego. There has been so much news about trouble in the region. You alluded to some of this when you described being stopped frequently en route to Copper Canyon. Has the news media exaggerated this? Is the La Paz area – and getting theren from San Diego overland – 100% safe for (humble, respectful) tourists, in your opinion?

    On a lighter note, do you know whether La Paz is the best base for the area (we want to avoid resorts and Spring Break party areas) and whether you can surf there in addition to the scuba/whale shark snorkelling?

    Any tips welcomed and appreciated!

    • Hi Scott: In my opinion, the news is WAY overblown. I could get into the politics of it, but I’ll just say that there are thousands of U.S. citizens living and traveling in Mexico without fear. Are there murders here? Of course. Are there murders in the U.S. Of course. Bad things can happen anywhere, and I feel just as safe in Mexico as I do in the U.S. – maybe even more so. It certainly was unsettling to be stopped 5 times on a bus ride between Mazatlan and Los Mochis, but I also recognize that this area is being targeted by the police because it it a route utilized by drug traffickers, who are moving drugs into the U.S. (think about that for a moment). A case could even be made that travel here is safer because of the police efforts. Having said all that, I traveled all over the southern portion of Baja without even a hint of police searches – it’s a much sleepier, slower paced part of the country (you’ll probably have a stop at the border). But even if you are stopped other places, they are not looking for U.S. travelers. As I said in my post, only once during the 5 searches did they even acknowledge that I existed.

      I absolutely would recommend La Paz as an authentic, Mexican town with friendly people. It definitely does not have a resort feel. I am not quite sure if it has much sprig break traffic, but from your question, I highly recommend that you stay as far away from Cabo San Lucas as possible. It’s resort city, and loaded with drunken spring breakers every year. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much surf on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja. For that, you need to go to the Pacific side. You could go to La Paz and bus over to Todos Santos, a nice little artsy village about 1.5 hours away. Lots of U.S.and Canadian expats here, nice hotels, good surf. Or, if y our budget allows, try Rancho Pescadero Resort. Excellent surf here – 15 minutes south of Todos Santos in the sleepy village of Pescadero. I wrote a post about it as well. Happy trails.

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  11. I love all that sun and sea and sand – and seeing the whale sharks to top it all – I agree that less touristy, local towns do have hidden charms – everyone has more time to make the visitor welcome

    • Sherry: Absolutely, no tinkering with the color. Just beautiful.

    • Hi Ruben. No flicker account. Guess it’s the only social account I don’t have. But when I get back from this trip I’ll be uploading to SmugMug.

  12. You know as I read about Mexico destinations lately, La Paz just continues and continues to come up as a popular destination. I’ll say though that I also find it interesting that there’s a restaurant in my town called La Paz. Looks like you’re having a blast Barbara. Love the photos!

    • Hey Spence: Mexico keeps getting better and better. I’m deep in the bowels of Copper Canyon at the moment, in the tiny village of Urique, staying at a spectacular hostel for $10 per night. Cost for food? Nothing. Thy have a huge organic garden and fruit trees and guests are free to pick whatever they need. This is the deepest canyon in N. America and the scenery is astounding. Trekking to the next village tomorrow to visit the Tarahumara Indians. Thanks for stopping keeping an eye on my progress!

  13. Stunning looking location. One of my dreams is to see the whale sharks – these gentle giants of the sea. There is a location in western Asutralia where you can snorkle with them but to have them come up nxt to your boat must have been a special experience.

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