If you are thinking that Tulum and the Riviera Maya are the coolest places in Mexico, you have never been to Baja California, and I am telling you, it’s really time to put it on the map of your dream destinations.
Even Forbes Travel in a recent article has praised its breathtaking views, the abundant sea life, spectacular beaches and the vibrant city of La Paz which is becoming more and more popular for the tribes of travelers in search for adventure, wildlife, and nature.
There are sufficient things to do in La Paz to keep you busy for an entire week, but if you are as curious as me and love to explore, the rest of the Baja Peninsula will not let you down. This is a promise.
I stayed in La Paz for about 2 months house-sitting and exploring the city, and then drove around the south of Baja California and visited the best spots. Here I will share with you what I consider the highlights of this fascinating region.
I stayed in La Paz for about 20 days, house-sitting 2 lovely kittens for 10 days and then staying there in the same house where the owner kindly let me stay as her guest.
A friend would have joined me afterwards to travel around Baja for a week on the road.
Another friend, Maurizio whom I have met while on the road in Mexico would have joined me too and the three of us would have gone on the road trip.
As you can see it’s impossible to travel alone even though you try.
During my house sitting days I had the chance to explore La Paz beside trying to catch up with the blog writing and other random gigs while enjoying my kittens company. I had an amazing time, I have to say. After our tour around Baja, Maurizio and myself ended up staying in La Paz for another 3 weeks, for many different reasons, including Maurizio getting sick twice.
Well, those are inconveniences that you have to take into account when you travel.
This time it was not me though.
I didn’t mind waiting for him since we had decided to move towards the next part of our journey through Mexico together.
Besides I had lots of work to catch up. We rented a small hotel in the city center very close to the Malecon and our favorite coffee’ shops.
Not bad for a forced stay. And that gave me the chance to familiarize more with the city and explore more coffee shops and restaurants, of which I will tell you later on. 🙂
The arrival in La Paz
I arrived in January 27th by ferry from Mazatlan – by Baja Ferry.
The ferry arrived at 7.30 in the morning to La Paz and my new boss, Deborah, the owner of the house I was sitting was there waiting for me. We hit it off immediately while chatting in the car on the way to what would have been my house for a couple of weeks that ended up being 3. While I was looking at the rocky desert by the window fascinated by such a different lunar scenery I knew that I would have had a wonderful time in Baja. I just didn’t know HOW wonderful.
HOW TO GET TO LA PAZ
To get to Baja California you have different options:
to La Paz international airport (LAP) – where you will find flights from other airports in Mexico among which Mexico city and Guadalajara
to San Jose International Airport. (SJD) – about 2-hour distance from La Paz which is an international airport with flights from many different international destinations.
You can check flights availability and rates here
By ferry –
BAJA FERRY is the operating company and you can check time and prices here
From Topolobambo to La Paz and return. This is close to Los Mochis where the famous train El Chepe that takes you through the Barranca del Cobre. It’s an option if you plan to go to the Barranca del Cobre either before la Paz or after. It’s actually a great combination if you have a fair amount of time and wish to combine multiple regions.
They have the option to stay in a room and sleep comfortably in a bed for 1000 extra pesos (about 50 USD).
I wanted to try the adventure and decided to sleep on the chair of the lounge. It was like a movie theatre, very uncomfortable to sleep, but for one night I was ok.
I wasn’ t sure if I was more excited to see the sunrise from the boat or to get to La Paz, which has always been one of my dream destinations, or both.
I didn’t sleep much and went out just in time to see the sunrise: surreal.
The days in La Paz went by too quickly. Although I don’t think it has the charm of other more historical towns such us San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Xalapa, or the white city of Merida and Campeche in the Yucatan peninsula, just to name a couple, however, it does have its charm and I had a wonderful time.
I was living in this huge funny house with the lovely sweet cats and my days went by easy, my time being set by work, exercising and cat cuddling and feeding.
Maurizio decided to tag along in La Paz and we ended up traveling together for the next couple of months. I love to travel alone normally, but Maurizio was a discreet and pleasant company, beside making me laugh a lot and although it took a lot of time from my work, I was happy to have a friend to hang out with every now and then. We loved to look around and eat at the market living like locals. We also have actually interviewed the busiest local restaurant to know all the local dishes. I will soon publish the video.
Although La Paz is a very touristic city and I had the feeling that the majority of its inhabitant were from US (nothing wrong with that but I just didn’t feel like I was in Mexico some times), however you can it still find a local feeling, especially when you hang out in the markets.
The biggest one is Mercado Bravo in calle Bravo (of course) where I used to go every morning for my healthy freshly made natural juice but you can find all sorts of local restaurants where you can taste the autochthonous cuisine. It’s not fancy but it tastes good and it’s part of the culture. As you saw in the video I even found a vegan option even though it’s very limited and when I told the restaurant hosts that I didn’t eat meat nor cheese she looked at me as if I was coming from Mars. And they started to laugh! That was funny.
The other market is smaller and called Madero, this is also where all the urban busses pass by to go to every direction.
On a Saturday and Tuesday, by the main plaza, in calle Francisco Madero you will find an organic market selling different kind of veggies and some food stall, freshly made bread and some other organic products.
Another thing I appreciated the beautiful multicolored graffiti and the lovely artfully made coffee shops, my favorite place to work from.
However, the highlight of La Paz is the stunning sunsets that you can easily watch from the malecón. Every day is a new multicolored show to remind you how powerful and generous nature is and you can’t help but admire its magic. Walking by the water is a daily appointment that you cannot miss, and you never get tired of it.
Lots of people running, skating or just strolling, enjoying the views of their family.
In the next chapter, I will tell you all the things that you can do from La Paz.
In the first period of my stay there as a housesitter, I enjoyed biking around the city while when I stayed in La Paz after my road trip I lived in the city center in a small hotel.
Although I didn’t have my bike anymore I loved to become familiar with the town. I went to check out some hotels so that I could give you some tips on that and I stayed in every coffee shops that u met also to be able to talk about it.
The vegan community is not so strong I guess as there is not one vegan restaurant but I was happy to see that some cafes had a couple of vegan dishes to offer.
Let’s move to the next chapter to know more 😉
WHAT TO DO FROM LA PAZ
Among the many things to do in La paz, the beaches are always on top of the list. All the beaches of La Paz are in the same direction moving north leaving the sea on your right.
This is the most beautiful and breathtaking beach and the farthest. There are no bars or restaurants there; so make sure you bring water and something to eat with you.
If you decide to stay for the sunset you are going to have a beautiful show in the sky. There are basically 2 bays in Balandra. One on the left with beach chairs and umbrellas as well as kayak and paddleboard equipment to rent at a reasonable price, and one on the right more deserted and without facilities.
The water has an easy access, like a natural swimming pool. The majority of the time the tide is even too low and if you like to swim you will need to walk further away from the shore.
You can access to the other beach on the right either via water or by hiking a little hill. I would suggest you to make an effort and go for a little hike as the view is amazing. You can climb on your flip-flop although you will be more comfortable in your gym shoes.
If you go on Saturdays or Sundays keep in mind that it’s going to be very busy. To really enjoy it fully, try to go early in the morning.
How to get to Balandra beach?
You can either jump on the bus leaving from the autobus station on the Malecon or get a taxi, of course, if you didn’t rent a car (which I would recommend).
If you have a car, just drive along the Malecon all straight up north, leaving the see on your right side and you will literally bump into it.
It’s a very tiny beach but worth a visit. You can find a restaurant and bar but you can also bring your own food and drinks. They also rent a “Palapa” to get shade from the sun, chairs and a small table, for 250 pesos for the entire day. It’s another option from Balandra if that one gets too busy.
This one is very close to Balandra but on the right side of the road. The beach is great but not sandy and it’s normally noisy and busy. The beautiful view of the turquoise sea is interrupted by a sort of shacks where people gather and drink finding shades from the sun.
It is a resort town at about 1-hour of a beautiful drive from La Paz. The road is just surreal, among cactus and limestones rocks.
La Ventana is a tiny laid-back town, paradise for kite surfers because it’s always windy. We just went to explore for the sake of curiosity and although we are not surfers we really appreciated the views of the colored kites in the sky and with surfers flipping over the water. You can find a huge camping ground, some villa rentals or small hotels and a few bars and restaurants. You cannot miss anything out as everything is along one road only. The beach is worth visiting even if you are not a kite surfer if you like peace and quiet.
There are 2 main tours you can do from La Paz and they are by boat. If you love being in the water those are for you.
It’s a one day boat tour – 1 1/2 ride in the beautiful bay in the see of Cortes to the island of Espíritus Santo so popular for its funny inhabitants, playful sea lions that would swim with you and bite your fins or your go pro. The time you spend with them is short but totally worth it.
You will need to wear the life jacket for security reasons as you are entering a marine park. If you go in winter from October through April it is advisable to wear a wetsuit since the water gets quite cold at that time. Those are not included in the tour price but are always available for rent at 150 pesos with the tour providers. The tour costs from 800 to 1100 pesos depending on the tour company. The tour leaves from La Paz around 12 pm and ends around 5.30/6.00 pm. You will stop at a nice deserted beach to have your lunch which is included and it is normally based on ceviche and crackers, sandwiches and some fruit.
Swim with whale sharks
This tour is seasonal for obvious reasons, as these gentle giants of the sea are in the area only in winter until the end of March-April. The tour lasts about 1h 30 minutes as it takes only 15 minutes to reach the whale shark zone. The boat captain will know where to go and look for them and when he finds them he will move along their way in order for you to be able to swim with them more times.
If you have never done it and you love the sea life it’s an incredible experience that you should try once in a lifetime. The cost goes from 800 to 1000 pesos depending on the tour company.
This is one of the only 2 places where you can swim with the whale sharks in Mexico. The other one is in from the Riviera Maya as they swim between Holbox island and Isla Mujeres and they are also seasonal. You can check out how and when to swim with whale sharks in the Riviera Maya on this post.
Hiking to Cerro de las Calaveras
Located just outside the city center on the the road La Paz- Pichilingue, it is called Cerro de La Calavera, which means hill of skulls, for the peculiar rock formations that has been moulded and eroded with time by wind and water, some of them forming skull-like sculptures as you can see in the picture below. It has become a sort of geological monument of the city.
There are many legends about this place one of which says that during the Spanish invasion, the crew of a boat that disembarked here was affected by the flue. Some died there and were buried in on that hill.
It is now is home to morning routines of fit locals who come here to train and curious tourists who come to admire amazing sunsets and sunrises although the sunsets have more of an impact as the sun dip in the water right in front of your eyes.
I went with a local friend in the morning and enjoyed the hike and views not only of the sunrise but also of the typical vegetation, among cactuses and typical desert plants, very different from what I am used to in the Caribbean.
Hiking tours in Baja California Sur
Just so you know, there are a number of hiking trails in Baja California Sur which I didn’t do for some reasons. If you are a hiker you should definitely check out with some local travel agent. I am sorry I cannot be of much help on this.
WHERE TO BOOK YOUR TOURS?
There are different companies that run boat tours and to be really honest they are all professional and have more or less the same program. Also, you will find vendors situate in the Malecon whose tours are cheaper and absolutely reliable and professional as well.
It is not really necessary to book in advance unless you wish to book a special trip or organize a sailing experience for a few days. If so, or if you wish to book in advance for whatever reason here is a link to a booking site that may come handy.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND
The best thing to do is to rent a car. You can get it directly at the airport or in the city or you can also pre-book it here. I have used this website to compare different prices and I had a great experience. I rented the one with full insurance without a deductible, to be on the safe side. It’s much easier to move around by car and super safe. Roads are very well marked and well paved, except for some remote areas. By car, you can conveniently reach the beaches and explore the city. Especially if you wish to go to San Ignacio or any other spot for Whale Watching you should definitely rent a car.
However, if you prefer to move around by public transportation it is also possible although it takes a little patience.
The local line is called Aguila and these are the schedules. They travel around La Paz to the beaches, but they don’t go to la Ventana apparently. For that, you need to get a car or hitch hacking.
Busses will also take you to Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas, San Jose al Cabo, El Triunfo, Cabo Pulmo and Loreto. They also go all the way to the most northern city of Tijuana.
You can check on this site for their schedule, although if you are in La Paz, it would be better to check directly with the office, located on the Malecon.
To move around La Paz, public transportation is very efficient. Although there is not a precise schedule you can pretty much ask at the bus stop wherever you are and bus driver can help you out.
From Mercado Madero there are many bus going different directions.
From Airport to town the only transportations available are:
- car rental
WHERE TO STAY IN LA PAZ
EL ANGEL AZUL HACIENDA
This is probably the place where I would stay if I had to go back to La Paz. The cozy property is structured like an old hacienda with an internal patio and big wooden windows and doors. The elegant mexican style decoration make it a soothing place where you will feel like home. You also have a spacious and fully equipped shared kitchen where you can cook your own meals if you don’t feel like going out. Restaurants and bars are located at a walking distance as the property is right in the heart of the vibrant city.
Hotel La Posada & Beach La Paz
Situated at 1 minute walk from the beach in La Paz and at 3 km from the city center, this beautiful contemporary property features also an outdoor pool for those who whis to enjoy tranquillity of the hotel, a gym and a spa with a temazcal sauna and beauty treatments. All the stylish suites have ocean views with private balcony or terrace. The hotel rates includes breakfast.
HOTEL LA CATEDRAL
The hotel Catedral is located right in the heart of the city by the main plaza and at a walking distance to the Malecon, coffee’ shops and restaurant.
The rooms are essential but elegant. The highlight of this property is definitely the rooftop from which you can enjoy the views of the city and the horizon while laying in the comfortable cushions sipping your drink.
HOTEL POSADA LAS FLORES
This boutique hotel is an icon in La Paz. The interior decorations merge the coloured Mexican style with the elegant italian taste. The result is a cozy little place offering tranquillity and peace in the middle La Paz. At a walking distance from restaurants, shops and beach.
WHERE TO EAT IN LA PAZ
To be really honest I haven’t tried all the fancy restaurants in the city since I have always been working from cafes and eating salads and sandwiches for 3 weeks. However, I made quite a bit of local friends and this is what they suggested me:
It’s an Italian restaurant, which offers a Mediterranean cuisine, very fancy and has vegan options
I have tried Nim, for a quick soup. I enjoyed the internal garden and the fancy decorations. They have a very varied menu and a few vegan options, but basic. It’s closed on Mondays.
It’s first on tripadvisor! I guess it’s quite all right 😉
Las tres Virgenes
I liked the internal court and the majestic old fashioned entrance. They have a vast menu with vegan options but they specialize in meat.
It’s one of the most popular together with Nim. It’s a very elegant restaurant with an international menu.
Italian restaurant looks good in the reviews. The menu is a mix of Italian cuisine and local flavour.
For tacos and seafood, you can try Los Laureles on the Malecon. My friends went there twice in three days as they were so impressed. It’s a very basic restaurant, nothing fancy but apparently very good.
El Mezquite grill
This is a great local option both for meat lovers and vegans. I had an amazing salad with juicy grilled portobello mushrooms and my friend had his freshly made hamburger. Also a great service indeed.
COFFE SHOPS IN LA PAZ
So, if you are following me for a while you might have realized that I am a fan of coffee-shops from where I love to write my blog and work online. Unfortunately in La Paz wifi is terrible everywhere, I have tried a few spots but it’s all the same.
However, except for the WIFI quality, here is a list of coffee-shops that I have loved the most
This was my favorite overall, for the very warm and cozy ambiance and great pastry. Even though I am trying to eat vegan and healthy I had to give up a few times and commit the sin and never regretted it. The pastry is to die for. Also, the sandwiches, although a little too tiny, were really good and they made it vegan for me. The coffee is their specialty as they have different varieties of organic coffee from many different areas of Mexico. So all is local. Besides, among all the places this is where WIFI is less terrible 😉
I was there almost every day with my laptop for many hours and even though I wasn’t a big consumer I have never felt uncomfortable or being pressured to go or order, as sometimes it happens in many places. Therefore I feel like I should to mention it.
The place is great, cozy and well designed. I loved especially the internal garden. They have many dishes also suitable for vegan and vegetarian. Lots of pastry choices, soups salad and smoothies. The vibes were great and I felt also comfortable to stay there all day working. The big issue of this place is that WI-FI which is the worse ever. And it seems they cannot do anything about that. It was disappointing to have to leave the place in the middle of a productive day, just because it just didn’t work.
It’s a tiny place with great vegan options and the wifi is working quite well most of the times. The only problem I had was that I wasn’t feeling very comfortable as I was being asked if I wanted something all the time. I felt like I wasn’t welcomed to stay so long. It’s true that they didn’t have many tables but I have never seen it full. But maybe that was just me and my perception.
It’s a super tiny place and I only went there one time because they made vegan pastry, which was delicious. They don’t have it every day, though.
The place is really nice but I have never gone to sit and work, just a couple of times for coffee and I really enjoyed it. They have vegan options too and my sandwich was hummus and veggies was extremely delicious. The vegan chai latte as well. The waiters are also super nice. They also sell roasted coffee and delicious wheat bread.