Last Updated on December 9, 2023

Although it’s the capital of the state of Baja California Sur and home to nearly 200,000 people, La Paz, Mexico is slow-paced and relaxed. The colorful city is the gateway to the Sea of Cortez, where the desert melts into the sea, arguably creating the most beautiful body of water in the world.

For many years, it was a jumping-off point for Cabo San Lucas beach resorts two hours south. That is until visitors learned of the vibrant promenade, old-world beauty, magical bays, and protected waters teeming with whales, whale sharks, sea lions, and a host of other sea life.

I first discovered La Paz on a day trip from Los Cabos. I soon realized there’s much more to explore here than I imagined. And you guessed it—I had to come back for more. If you get the chance to visit La Paz, do it. 

Here are 10 places to explore and discover in this unforgettable piece of Baja paradise.

1. Stroll the Malecón

Coastal Mexican cities love their waterfront promenade or malecón. La Paz’s malecón is not only picturesque, but also considered the city’s highlight, pulsing with an exciting vibe. Stretching for 3.5 miles, the walkable malecón encompasses beaches, a pier, skiffs, and sailboats resting at anchor, stunning views, and fascinating sculptures by local artists.

One of the most beautiful art pieces here is a statue commemorating the spirit of La Paz, the city that inspired John Steinbeck’s famous novel The Pearl.

2. Kayak at Belandra Bay

Beautiful beach and waters off La Paz, Mexico.
© Noreen Kompanik

Without a doubt, the most picturesque and secretive Baja Peninsula beach has to be Belandra Bay. While only 20 minutes outside the heart of the city, it feels a world away.

Surrounded by massive rock formations, Belandra’s waters are pristine, shallow, warm, and inviting. Known as the Laguna de la Colores (lagoon of the colors), the bay sports six highly-delineated shades of blue and turquoise that dazzle the eyes and make for great photos.

Thatch-roofed palapas (stands) line a spit of sand along the beachline, and the calm waters are perfect for swimming and kayaking. A short, but fairly steep hike to the top of a nearby hill provides sweeping vistas of the colorful waters and the surrounding mountains.

3. Swim with Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks in La Paz
Whale Sharks in La Paz. © Noreen Kompanik

Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez “the aquarium of the world,” and within its protected waters you’ll find whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world. From October to April, visitors can swim alongside these slow-moving, docile plankton eaters. The experience is unforgettable. Whale sharks grow up to 36 feet long and weigh up to 20 tons, but there’s nothing frightening about the gentle giants.

Ecologically-responsible tours also include a visit to the largest sea lion colony in the Sea of Cortez. The fun, friendly, and fascinating creatures playfully interact with divers and snorkelers.   

4. Explore Espiritu Santo Island National Park

Espiritu Santo Island off La Paz, Mexico.
© Noreen Kompanik

Just a few miles from La Paz, Espiritu Santo Island is another Baja paradise with volcanic rock formations, white sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters. This is the perfect place to snorkel through coral reefs teeming with colorful fish and marine life. 

Day trips from the La Paz marina are available on vessels ranging from small local pangas to world-class yachts. Along the way to the island on my boat tour, I spotted dolphins, sea turtles, whales, mobula rays, and a variety of seabirds.

Espiritu Santo’s preserve was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007. Home to 32 species of reptiles and 98 species of birds, this diverse island and its surrounding waters are a must-visit when in La Paz.

5. Whale Watch in Magdalena Bay 

From January through March, the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez are abundant with migrating whales; the whales travel 20,000 miles from the Bering Sea to reach the warm waters of La Paz.

The Baja Peninsula is a premier spot for whale watching. Several companies offer tours that allow riders to get up-close-and-personal with these denizens of the deep.

Gray whales are the most commonly seen, but other whales frequenting the area include blue whales, the largest mammals in the world, humpback whales, and pilot whales. Humpback whales arrive in February and remain through June while pilot whales visit from October through February.

6. Explore La Paz by Horseback

Horseback riding on the beach in La Paz, Mexico.
© Noreen Kompanik

Several local ranches offer guided trail tours that take riders along the ocean, past fishing villages and camps, and through desert canyons. 

My horseback adventure with Rancho El Cajon was fantastic. Horses are matched to each rider’s skill level. The free-range animals are well-trained, savvy, and sure-footed, and the three-hour ride was one of the most picturesque, relaxing, and interesting horseback experiences I’ve had.

7. Museum of Anthropology and History

One of the best ways to discover the fascinating history of Baja California is to visit the Museo de Antropologia e Historia. Located in the heart of the city, the museum features well-researched exhibits covering La Paz and Baja Sur’s history.

Visitors journey through time from the Paleolithic era to the Spanish missions and colonization, focusing on the impact on La Paz’s original inhabitants.

8. La Paz Cathedral    

La Paz, Mexico cathedral
© Noreen Kompanik

No matter where I travel, I love visiting local churches because they reflect the fascinating architecture, history, and culture of their inhabitants.

Catedral de Nuestra Senora de La Paz (Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace) is a magnificent church located in the city center of La Paz. Originally founded by Jesuit Missionaries in the 18th century, the current cathedral was built in the second half of the 19th century.

The exterior is a sober neoclassical design with a simple facade and two towers. The interior is a different story, with impressive marble floors, stunning stained-glass windows, and beautiful baroque altarpieces from the 18th century.  

9. Dine on Mexican Seafood

Fresh fish straight off the boats comes directly to local restaurants. That is how it works in La Paz. One of my favorite places to dine is Mariscos El Cayuco.

Located directly across from the marina and renowned for its seafood, the family-owned and -operated eatery has the most tantalizing dishes. Dishes range from ceviche and shrimp to lobster. Their fish tacos are reputedly the best in La Paz (and I would agree).

Add in delicious margaritas, a colorful umbrella-covered patio, and top-notch service by the owner himself, and it is foodie heaven not to be missed.

10. Check Out the Street Art

La Paz is home to vibrantly-colored street art. Over 80 hand-painted murals are scattered throughout the city, created by artists from all over Mexico. 

Much of the art can be found in the few blocks surrounding the malecón. The themed murals represent the history and culture of the region. They depict blue whales, ocean conservation efforts, bay fisherman, desert rancheros, and renditions of cave paintings created by the native inhabitants.

Well on its way to becoming the adventure capital of Baja, La Paz is blessed with many natural wonders, including an abundance of sea life. 

Author

  • Noreen Kompanik

    Noreen Kompanik is a retired registered nurse, legal nurse consultant and military spouse turned travel writer. She launched her travel writing career in 2014 and has over 1,000 published articles in a variety of digital and print publications.