Swim, kayak or pad­dle­board your way around the white-sand beaches and rocky coast­lines of LA PAZ.

Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Great Escape -

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.

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