5. La Paz

Swim, kayak or pad­dle board your way around white-sand beaches and rocky coast­lines

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Baja California -

THE SUN IS DIP­PING LOW in the sky over Ba­lan­dra Beach, 17 miles north of La Paz, but the groups of friends and fam­i­lies who’ve come to while away a Sun­day af­ter­noon by the sea are de­ter­mined to eke out ev­ery last mo­ment of the day’s heat. As the tide comes in, two men lift their plas­tic pic­nic ta­ble up out of an­kle-deep water and carry it to shore, a half-drunk bot­tle of rum still bal­anced on it pre­car­i­ously. Fur­ther up the beach, a group of teenage ac­ro­bats from Ti­juana are tak­ing it in turns to throw each other, pirou­et­ting high into the air, un­til in­evitably – per­haps the re­sult of too many cervezas – they miss their catch. The fallen gym­nast just laughs it off, rolling over in the soft, white sand. Amer­i­can pop mu­sic pumps from an un­seen stereo. Kayaks of green and orange re­turn to the bay, easy to spot against the turquoise sea. As sun­set ap­proaches the sky becomes a mirac­u­lous shade of red. Even the clouds ap­pear to have been dyed pink, like can­dyfloss. Fam­i­lies take it in turns to traipse to the far end of the bay to take the oblig­a­tory self­ies in front of Ba­lan­dra’s sig­na­ture mush­room rock. As they clam­ber back up the dusty brown slopes dot­ted with cardón cac­tuses to where they’ve left their cars, it is easy to see why peo­ple are drawn here from across Mex­ico, at­tracted by the white sand and the warm azure water. A cracked tile sign near some gov­ern­ment-built sun­shades de­clares that they were ‘He­cho con Sol­i­dari­dad’ – ‘Made with sol­i­dar­ity.’ It’s a beach that wel­comes all with open arms. By con­trast, out at sea lie some more exclusive beaches. Espíritu Santo, a 31-square-mile is­land in the Sea of Cortez ringed by man­groves and vol­canic rock for­ma­tions, was de­clared a Unesco Bio­sphere Re­serve in 1995 and the num­ber of visi­tors there are care­fully lim­ited. It is of­fi­cially un­in­hab­ited, although at cer­tain times of the year it is pos­si­ble to stay overnight on the is­land at Camp Ce­cil, a se­ries of sa­fari tents set up with real beds and fur­ni­ture on the long stretch of La Bo­nanza Beach. Live-in chefs Gio­vanni and Ivan serve up ex­cel­lent Baja Med fare, and can or­gan­ise ev­ery­thing from kayak­ing and snorkelling to bird watch­ing and na­ture hikes. Espíritu Santo is an hour by mo­tor­boat from La Paz, and it’s com­mon to see schools of dol­phins play­ing in the boat’s wake. For the more ad­ven­tur­ous, it’s also pos­si­ble to reach the is­land by kayak or

Ba­lan­dra Beach, on the Baja Sur Penin­sula in La Paz, look­ing to­wards the small is­land of Espíritu Santo in the dis­tance 56 Lonely Planet Trav­eller

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