Swim, kayak or paddleboard your way around the white-sand beaches and rocky coastlines of LA PAZ.
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-empty bottle of rum still balanced on it precariously.
Farther up the beach, a group of teenage acrobats from Tijuana are taking turns throwing each other, pirouetting high into the air, until inevitably – perhaps the result of too many cervezas – they miss their catch. The fallen gymnast 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 cotton candy. Families take turns traipsing to the far end of the bay to snap 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 is 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 organize everything from kayaking and snorkeling 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 stand-up paddleboard. The next day in La Paz, on the long stretch of beach in front of the city’s Malecón, paddleboard instructor Sergio García, of Harker Board Co., is giving enthusiastic lessons to the uninitiated. A former professional basketball player from Chihuahua, he moved to La Paz seven years ago, drawn like many others by the relaxed beach lifestyle.
“I first visited La Paz when I was 16,” he says, keeping a watchful eye on his students out in the bay. “I knew it was a beautiful place, so I always thought I’d like to come back and make my life here. It’s a small town growing up quickly. You have a good quality of life here, better than in the other states of Mexico. It’s a really peaceful place, tranquil and calm.”
García learned to paddleboard when he moved here, and now the sport has taken over his life.
“In my free time I paddleboard as well!” he says with a laugh. “La Paz is a perfect place for standup paddleboarding because you have warm water all the time. Sometimes there is wind and sometimes you have waves, so it’s good for beginners and for experts.” He tosses his board into the water and clambers on, then with long strokes paddles swiftly out into the bay. Like life itself in this place where the desert meets the sea, he makes it look easy.