By Jocks Away!
A Scotsman Blogging Latin America
I’ve written before about our reasons to move to La Paz. In short: we wanted somewhere safe, quiet, warm, and by the sea. We wanted a chance to unwind from London: from work, from plotting the move, from our teaching courses.
La Paz looked like the perfect choice, and to be honest, I’m not sure we could have done better. The day we arrived, we checked into our Airbnb, walked down to the malecón, and took a photo by the La Paz sign.
It felt like completing our very own Apollo project.
Houston, the Gringos have landed
But it’s been a couple of months now, and it’s time to move on. So I thought I should put my thoughts in order and give an honest review of the place. This was originally going to be one article about things to do, things we liked and things we didn’t. Turns out there’s a lot to say about La Paz!
So those will follow, and I’ll link them at the end of the post. In the meantime, here’s my list of the Top 10 Things To Do In La Paz.
The Top 10 Things To Do In La Paz, México
1. Stretch Your Legs On The Malecón
I know, I know. It’s in all the guide books and travel blogs. But there’s a reason for that.
La Paz has one of the most beautiful seafronts I’ve ever come across. It’s super-clean, the traffic is calmed, there are sculptures every few hundred yards. The view across the bay and off to the mountains, over the islands… it’s magical.
Just one view from the malecón out over the bay
Add to that the bustling restaurants, the bars, the people watching, the regular community events, music and dancing hosted at the Kiosco… yeah.:
Local schoolchildren marching on parade for Día de la Revolución on the Malecón
Carry on out to the east and you come to Playa El Coromuel, the first of the great beaches along the coast leading up to Balandra and Tecolote. Three and a half miles back west, you end up at the Marea hotel and conference center, not far from El Serpentario.
The malecón is the cultural artery running through the center of the Old Town. Make a point of checking out its pulse. If nothing else, you’ll never run out of opportunities to photograph the sunsets.
Sunset from the malecón, La Paz
2. Enjoy Great Free Public Beaches
Talking of El Coromuel… it’s walking distance (if you’re fit), and for a public beach, it’s clean, quiet, and free from throngs of tourists. We stopped off in the first few days after we arrived, and were just blown away. Maybe I’m used to utilitarian municipal beaches back home. Or beautiful sandy beaches in other hot countries, stuffed with rowdy tourists.
See those heaving masses of drunken tourists? No, me neither. Bliss.
El Coromuel is neither. When it’s not being used by the population for events like the La Paz Beer Festival, it’s just locals kicking back, catching the rays and supping a ballena of beer.
Wenches can also be found on the beach at sunset. Approach with caution ?
Unlike Balandra to the north, there’s nobody here posing for The Perfect Instagram Post™. Take a cue from the Mexicans, and just chill out for a while.
3. Visit El Serpentario
OK, it’s small and a bit creaky around the edges. It could do with a lick of paint and some serious renovation. But El Serpentario is doing good work on a shoestring, and they’re to be applauded for it.
The Serpentario De La Paz is a tiny wildlife sanctuary about a mile from the west end of the Malecón. They’re a non-profit that specializes in conservation, education, and rehabilitation of wildlife. They focus on amphibians and reptiles.
It’s the closest thing La Paz has to a zoo. You can see sea turtles, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, iguanas, a giant tortoise… they even have a petting area where you can feed seeds to free-flying birds, as guinea pigs snuffle around your feet rooting for food.
Well worth the hour and a half it takes to enjoy it.
4. Explore The Anthropological Museum
Or, to give it its full name, El Museo de Antropologia e Historia de Baja California Sur, is an oasis in the desert of public educational facilities in La Paz. There’s the Whale Museum (now defunct), the Arts Museum (closed for renovation at the time of writing), and the Anthropological Museum. As far as I know, that’s pretty much it in La Paz.
Luckily it’s a really well-presented and comprehensive venue. It covers the history of the Baja peninsula from its geological formation, through the prehistoric inhabitants, to the arrival of the Spanish and the subsequent seismic changes in the Mexican way of life.
It takes in the 1810-1821 War of Independence, the Revolution of 1910, all the way through to the incorporation of Baja California Sur as a full State within Mexico in 1974. (Prior to this it was considered a territory).
I’ve seen reviews saying it takes an hour to visit. I guess you can, but if you want to soak up the in-depth explanations and explore the rich exhibits, I’d give it twice that.
All the signs are in Spanish. If your Spanish is as bad as mine, it’s a perfect use case for Google Translate in Camera mode.
5. Sip A Cocktail in Elbuen Bar
What’s that Skippy? Hopping straight from culture to cocktails?
Most guides will already have covered the whale sharks and the sea lions by now (don’t worry, we’ll get there). But honestly – how much can you do in one day?
There comes a time when you need to kick back after a tourist workout, rest your hands on your well-filled belly, and enjoy a cocktail. And I’m going to tell you exactly where to do that.
This is a tiny neighborhood bar two or three blocks off the malecón. The clients are mostly Mexican. They sell good pizza and they sell beer – mainly local, a few artisanal.
So far so good.
But this place stands out for two reasons. First of all, it is a gorgeous little bar, with excellent service.
Dim lights, excellent background music, and OMGodocious cocktails
The second is the cocktails. They are amazing. Pretty cheap (MX$100-$140), tasty, thick and intense. None of your “throw a few shots in a shaker, pour in some orange juice and give it a quick stir with an umbrella” here.
This is the kind of place where the waiter counts out exactly 23 chia seeds, drizzles the liquor with angel tears, and decants it into a gold-filigree crystal glass made by unicorns. (OK, that may have been a little hyperbolic).
Look: these are awesome, cheap cocktails in a super cool and friendly bar. They have a pub dog (Nara) and are dog-friendly. If you drink alcohol and you’re in La Paz, pop in of an evening. Try the Black Russian. You won’t regret it.
BONUS TIP: Round the corner is the Mezcaleria La Miserable. Great service, a few craft beers, a vast range of mezcal and great staff. They do Salsa dancing in the patio on Saturday nights (and maybe others – give them a call).
If you’re peckish, try the smoked chapulines ?
6. Watch The Wildlife With An Escorpion At Harker Board
Harker Board is a bar/restaurant on the malecón, a couple of blocks east of the kiosco. By day they offer stand-up paddleboard hire and tuition; they attract a lot of surf/sea types. They also do good food, including very guzzleable pizza.
They’re an outlet for some of the best artisanal craft beers on the peninsula – mostly produced by the Baja Brewing Company, although they also carry other brands.
Baja Brewing Co. Follow the donkey.
Bring your cards or plenty of dinero, as they don’t come cheap. While you can find Pacífico or Corona for MX$20-25 around town, the good shit here starts at about $75 and runs to about $100.
The only problem is their glasses seem to have holes in the bottom ?
“Barkeep! There’s a problem with my beer! The glass is empty – again!”
Sit on the upstairs deck while staff ferry food and drink between the two buildings in a pulley cart. Or pitch out on the pavement, and watch the kids (and grown-up kids) cruising up and down the boardwalk in their souped-up VW Beetles and kit cars.
After a few Escorpiones, you’ll understand that all human life is here ?
7. Go Hiking In The Desert
La Paz sometimes reminds me of Las Vegas. It shouldn’t really be here. I mean, this many people in the middle of a desert, with few resources and not enough water?
Yet here it is. So why not take advantage of it? There is a number of ways to get out there. If you have a car, you can just head out on your own to one of the walking routes. You can climb Cerro de la Calaverajust by walking to the east end of town. Or you can take a guide or Airbnb experience. There are plenty to choose from.
I’m not used to the desert – I grew up in a council estate in Scotland and lived in London since I was in my late 20s. So for me, it’s really special to be able to get into this environment quickly and pretty cheaply.
The scenery is astonishing. The wildlife is superb – I’ve seen dozens of species of bird, spiders, rabbits, even a rattlesnake – at uncomfortably close quarters. To me, it feels for all the world like living in a John Wayne movie.
Just remember – hat, sunscreen, solid boots and plenty of water!
8. Explore The Incredible Marine Life
The Sea of Cortes is one of the richest and diverse marine environments in the world. Whales, sharks, dolphins, sea lions, and countless species of fish are just begging to be explored.
If you’re a diver, skip down to point 10. For the rest of us, I’ll suggest two particular ways to get up close and personal with the residents of the ocean.
If you’re around during the Whale Shark season – roughly October to March – book a tour and go see them. These incredibly beautiful and serene creatures are the largest fish in the world, growing up to around 18m (!) although the average is nearer to 12m. They’re placid filter feeders and completely non-aggressive.
Gentle giants. Image from Wikipedia; sadly, visibility was terrible when we went
You must go on a tour as the sharks are protected, and numbers are restricted. That’s why you’re going to pay MX$1500 or more. For this, you’ll get transport out into the bay, flotation device, and loan of snorkel/fins. It’s an amazing experience.
The other must-see is to take a trip out to Los Islotes, at the tip of the Isla Espirito Santo. This protected marine reserve is home to a colony of 200+ sea lions. You can dive there if you’re certified, but the regular tours take you out snorkeling with them.
I wanted to put a photo of them in the water, but they’re really hard to snap as they move so fast. Who knew!
Mrs. Wench is a qualified diver; here’s a clip from one of her dives:
With or without a scuba tank, this is an amazing experience, one of the best I had in La Paz. Again, prices start at about MX$1300 / US$68 / GBP£53. Some of the price goes towards protecting the area and the wildlife, if that helps soften the blow.
9. Explore The Food – Eat The Best Tacos Of Your Life?
I’m vegetarian and an avowed non-foodie, so I’m not your go-to guy when it comes to restaurant reviews. Capuchino just off the malecón does nice vegan/veggie stuff; there are a couple of similar places but I never got round to trying them out.
Besides – La Paz is justifiably famous for seafood. You’re on the ocean – obviously! Try Bismarkcito on the seafront. It’s not cheap but I’m reliably informed that the food is tasty and fresh.
Street food is everywhere. If you want Mrs. Wench’s personal recommendation for the best tacos in town, read her review. Also, make a point of trying out the La Paz Special Hot Dog – you can find them all over:
La Paz Special Hot Dog. Apparently this is a Thing.
Apparently, hot dog sausages started shipping here in bulk in the 1970s. Mexicans being Mexicans, they took the US standard and applied their own twist. It’s lost on me, but apparently, they’re “amazing and you totally need to try them.”
10. Follow In Jacques Cousteau’s Fin-Strokes
It’s not surprising that La Paz is an amazing destination for divers. The incredible marine diversity I talk about above makes it a Mecca for the wetsuit crowds. Jacques Cousteau described the Sea of Cortes as “the aquarium of the world”. If you’re here and you’re a diver, you’ve got to get in the water. You’ll see whales, dolphins, sharks, manta rays and turtles, not to mention the ever-adorable sea lions:
Man v Sealion. Sealion wins
There are several reputable dive shops in town. A paceña diver friend recommends Cortes Club, but after some research Mrs. Wench – an experienced diver – went with Dive in La Paz, based close to the malecón. They get excellent reviews and are less pricey than the rest at US$160 for a two-tank dive and lunch, less if you buy a package. (This is not a cheap place to dive, but the sites, all at least an hour’s boat ride away, are worth it).
Her experience with the multilingual team, headed by a French-Mexican couple, was excellent. They are professional, safe, have a good kit and are extremely friendly and helpful. On her first dive in beautiful, clear, warm waters, she encountered sea lions, a giant turtle and a pod of frolicking dolphins on the way back. If you’re a diver, you have to dive here. But leave it until at least May or June if you are fond of warmer waters and good visibility
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