Do you know that feeling when you're at home on your couch, petting your dog with the tv blathering in the background as you're chest deep in a series of degrading memes aimed at teen pop stars? How often does a notification pop up with an email inviting you to spend a week, all expenses paid, in a tropical paradise? Ya, so that happened to me a few weeks ago... It has happened before, but each time is special. You know like a snowflake or your first time with a fella?
Have you ever heard of La Paz? No? I hadn't either. Owing, in part I'd assume, to its seclusion and exclusivity. 2 hours north of Cabo San Lucas on the other worldly Baja California Peninsula you'll find her. If your public school hasn't failed you (geographically speaking) picture Mexico and imagine the large peninsula that dominates its western seaboard and that's Baja California. If you think the Americans didn't want this thing when the American and Spanish beef was popping off? Come on... They have sun all year round, palm trees, golden beaches, fish, gold, camels and elephants; the place is legitimate!
One of the first things you'll notice about La Paz is how friendly the locals are and unlike some other Mexican tourist destinations there won't be anyone coming up to you to sell their knick knacks, or their paddy wacks, and the vibe on the street is very mellow. There aren't any commercial chains like Walmart, Mcdonalds so, accordingly, there are fewer slack jaws in Yankees caps who look like candidates for My 600 Life. And shouts out to TLC for their quality reality TV. Please send a cheque. This and the tranquility of the resort really drove home that La Paz is very peaceful and a great place to tune out the world, take in the culture and just really relax.
Over the next few days our gracious hosts at the La Paz Tourism board whisked us away to explore the more adventurous side of the city. La Paz is known for its beautiful, protected nature preserves and the magnificent, no stupendous, Isla Espíritu Santo! Rightfully designated a UNESCO Heritage Site it comprises 6 islands each more beautiful than the last and each with its own cloak of mysticism and wonder!
So now picture you're on the bow of a great ship navigating the translucent blue waters beside this chain of islands so spectacular that an organization whose only mission in life is to identify, catalogue and strive to preserve all the wonderful places on this vast Earth has tapped it as one of those. All of a sudden you hear the whine of the engine turn into a whimper and then a whisper as you pull into a bay and are told to start putting on your snorkel gear because you're going to be diving with giant, prehistoric animals who weigh a ton and have gigantic fangs. Did I mention you're in their territory where they're capable of navigating 3D space and moving their humongous bodies at neck breaking speeds? The Sea of Cortez boasts some of the most beautiful water, but was this to be where I died? I look like a fish, maybe? Maybe the snorkel looks like a tail and they could make a mistake and bite my face off, right? Well they didn't and it turned out to be one of the most breathtaking moments I’ve experienced while snorkeling. Maybe in life... Being so close to death and yielding to a giant and trusting he'll leave you in peace is so freeing. We swam alongside their children and babies and it was absolutely mesmerizing to watch them move and play around with each other. Girthier cousins were content to lazily sunbathing and sleep on the nearby rocks. Male Sea Lions are known to be territorial and protective of their young and they stay perched high on the rocks to mark their territory. Snorkelling and exploring Isla Espíritu Santo is a must, and we did that with Baja Adventure Co. Fun fact: sea lions mark their boundaries by blowing bubbles :)
But wait, that’s not all! We also had the opportunity to snorkel with Whale Sharks, yes Whale Sharks! As we all jumped into the murky waters we almost immediately swam right into one. These mammals are about 6-13 meters long and have relatively poor eyesight. There were a few times when I was right above a gigantic whale shark swimming right under me. I don’t know about you, but my general thoughts of swimming with sharks basically leads to death. However, these whale sharks are absolutely harmless. Their “teeth” are basically little bristles off a tooth brush which they will use to filter out tiny fishes and shrimps from water sucked into their mouths to eat. If they accidentally had an apple in their mouths they would actually choke and die. Snorkelling with whale sharks was definitely one for the books!
I was very amazed and impressed with local efforts to protect biological marine animals, including Sea Lions, Sea Turtles, and Whales, as well as their natural lands and corals. Another region we got to explore was Balandra Beach, another naturally protected area. The government wanted to develop hotels around the area but local residents banned together to stop it. I’m so glad they were able to protect Balandra as it is absolutely beautiful! The sand is so fluffy, and it reminded me of walking in flour. I can do sand angels all day long there! There is also a short hike up to a lookout where you can gaze down at the beautiful beach with various shade of blue in the waters. You will often see locals and tourists kayak or stand-up paddle board through the Mangrove Lagoon, and onwards to the Heart of Balandra.
Of course, we cannot forget about the food. We went to a couple of local well known spots around Downtown La Paz. Some of the more unique and authentic dishes I had were: Botanero Campechano (selection of raw seafood, like snails, scallops, oysters, shrimps) from Bismark-cito; Chocolate Clam Chowder from Steinbeck’s; Cactus Quesadilla from La Casita (recipe passed down from Sergio’s grandmother); and of course Tacos from Rancho Viego. Tacos are usually the most popular food in other Mexican cities, however in La Paz it’s Hate (pronounced Ha-Tay) that is the favourite. Hate is essentially a hot dog with bacon and a bunch of different condiments which may include flag sauce, mayo, chili, guacamole, etc. You can often find locals getting into heated arguments about what should be in a Hate and where they can get the best Hate in town.
La Paz is a city you’d want to visit if you want the authentic Mexico experience, where you can engross yourself in their culture, surrender yourself with natural beauty, and experience pure tranquility.