La Paz is a large city (160,000 population) and the capital of the state of Baja California Sur. Generally speaking, La Paz is not a tourist city. There are many hotels varying from resortish to very simple. The tourists who visit La Paz do so, for the most part, for the fishing and diving in the nearby islands.
While La Paz has a lovely waterfront with a beach running along it, the best swimming beaches are north of town and not where the hotels are located - with the exception of the La Concha, located about three miles north of the city center.
The city is quite old (450+ years since the first settlement) and some of the downtown areas are delightful. The "Malecón" is a sidewalk which follows the waterfront for several miles, and offers a wonderful place to walk in the evenings (most evenings have beautiful sunsets in La Paz - due to the clouds which are present most of the year and the fact that you look across the bay to the main peninsula mountains off to the west). On Sunday evenings the Malecón may be jammed with mostly young people participating in the "promenade." Lots of places to eat.
There are lovely beaches some distance north of the city and accessible by good roads. Except on weekends they are generally deserted.
La Paz is served by several airlines: AeroMexico, AeroCalifornia, Alaska and Mexicana. Service from the U.S. is as follows:AeroMexico: Los Angeles <--> Tijuana <--> La Paz Note: This route replaces a direct flight between Los Angeles and La Paz which was discontinued in 1993. It involves changing planes in Tijuana. (August 1994: $225(incl. tax) LA-->La Paz.) AeroMexico: Tucson <--> Guaymas <--> La Paz AeroCalifornia / American Airlines: Los Angeles <--> La Paz and Los Angeles <--> Hermosillo <--> La Paz Tucson <--> Hermosillo <--> La Paz Toll-free Phone U.S. & Canada: 1-800-AERO-CAL (1-800-237-6225) ( December '98: LAX-LAP Round-trip = $260US ) ( May '00: In the last few months the price has more than doubled! One-way was $275US plus $33US in various taxes, and no food was served on the late flight. :-( ) Alaska Airlines: Seattle <--> Los Angeles <--> La Paz Tuesday and Saturday flights Toll-free Phone U.S. & Canada: 1-800-ALASKA-AIR (1-800-252-7522) Mexico: 95-800-ALASKA-AIR (95-800-252-7522)
Service from within Mexico includes:AeroMexico: Tijuana <--> La Paz (and to/from mainland cities) AeroCalifornia: Tijuana <--> La Paz (and to/from mainland cities) Mexicana: Various mainland cities <--> La Paz
There are many airlines serving the "Los Cabos" airport near San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. This airport is about 100 miles from La Paz, and there may be van service. There is certainly frequent bus service between San José/San Lucas and La Paz.
I now keep a travel trailer in La Paz on a permanent basis, but before that I had stayed in most of the major hotels in town. A favorite is the "Los Arcos" which is located right on the Malecón at the south edge of the downtown area. At the least, the "Los Pelicanos" bar on the second floor is a favorite place to watch the sunset. The restaurant is also excellent. The price of a room for two should be around $65/night.
If trying to save $, I used to stay at the Hotel Gardenias, located two blocks away from the waterfront about 3/4 mile north of the Los Arcos. The rooms used to be $20-25/night for two.
Between the downtown area and the northern limits of the city is the Hotel Palmira. The setting is lovely, but it is one of the few hotels I have not stayed at.
Some distance north of town is the "La Concha" (formerly the El Presidente). This hotel is on the waterfront and marks the northern end of the "Malecón" sidewalk. An excellent restaurant is located in the hotel.
At the south end of town there are two hotels: the "Gran Baja" (a 13 story landmark - closed as of November '94) and the "La Posada" (now called "La Posada de Engelbert", after the new owner). Both are on the water - of the two, La Posada is the nicer. It is in a lovely setting of palm trees and a large beach. They sometimes have music on the outdoor patio in the evenings. Since I live just 1/4 mile north of there on the beach, I sometimes walk down to the La Posada to sit on the beach and listen to the music.
There are many fine restaurants in town, although some of them may be hard to find. For a celebration dinner I usually go to either the Los Arcos dining room or to Las Brisas (on the Malecón about one mile north of the Los Arcos). The only thing I would caution against is eating at the street vendors. There are a few exceptions to this, but you have to have been around awhile in a Mexican city to find out which ones are safe (many locals are said to have worm problems brought on by indiscriminate cart dining).
Since 1989 an "IVA" tax has been imposed nationally on many goods and services in Mexico. This tax ("impuesto") is currently 10%-12% in Baja California and the border areas (and 15% in mainland Mexico). It is particularly applied to those items and services the tourist is apt to encounter. Be aware that this tax will often be added to the basic price quoted - in a few cases the tax may be built-in to the price. In the grocery store it will not be so evident (most basic food items are not taxed), but when those grocery items are prepared and sold in a restaurant, along comes the tax!. The days of Mexico being a "bargain" are past, although occasional abrupt changes in the valuation of the peso may change that situation for a short time.
Note (March 2001): The IVA in Baja California has now been raised to 15%.
During the summer months (July-October) the clear days can be quite hot during the middle of the day. The main solution to this source of discomfort is shade. Since the air is usually dry on such days, it will be relatively cool in any shaded area. If it is rainy or quite cloudy, the air will be humid and shade will not help. But these days will not be quite as hot. This is the land of the siesta and it makes a lot of sense. During the heat of mid-day, the locals take it easy in the shade. In the evening, when it is quite pleasant, the crowds appear at the shops, restaurants and supermarkets.
The basic equation to remember is that of the four S's:Summer + Satisfaction = Shade + Siesta
The July-October time period is the "rainy season" in southern Baja California - some years there may be a great deal of rain and in others practically no precipitation at all. The only real concern here centers on the hurricanes which move from the southern part of Mexico (Pacific side) into the Sea of Cortez. La Paz does not often get hit with one, but every ten years or so a major hurricane will move through. Each year there may be one or more "near misses" (strong winds and possible heavy rain).
One source of weather information is via the "gringo grapevine" - Channel 22 on the marine VHF bands (157.100MHz). Each morning (except Sunday) at 8:00AM local time, the "boaters net" discusses weather, arrivals, departures, local problems, etc.. This requires a marine VHF radio - one is available for public use outside the office at Marina de La Paz (on the waterfront next to the Naval base at the southern end of the Malecón). Most "boaters" keep up with any potential changes in the weather and would be happy to pass that info on (there are also many land-based "boaters" in La Paz who also keep up with the boaters net). A second source of weather info is via the "ham nets" covering this part of Mexico - again, boaters are a good source for this reporting.
One of the great features of La Paz during the spring and summer is the Coromuel wind. It is because of this that La Paz is one of the most favored summer places in Baja California Sur. In the afternoons, around 4:30-5:00PM, a strong wind will suddenly spring up from the south. In some cases it will blow for most of the night. The condition is localized to the La Paz region.
Note: On the Infrequently Asked Questions Page there is a question regarding the origin of the term Coromuel wind. The answer is taken from a manuscript by the late Homer Aschmann of the University of California, Riverside.
If you have time, a nice drive on a clear day is to take the road on the west side of the bay which goes up to the company town of San Juan de la Costa. The road branches off from Route 1 as it heads west and north out of the La Paz area. If you have the AAA map of Baja California, you will find this road on the map. Beyond San Juan the road turns to gravel and goes as far as San Evaristo. The town of San Juan is owned and operated by RofoMex - a company mining phosphates in that area. If you go up there and decide to continue on the gravel road, you will shortly come upon a gate and (possibly) a company guard. If necessary, fill out the sheet on the guards clipboard (name, license #, destination, where you are staying), and he will let you through to use the company roads for several miles along the bay. A common destination to claim is Punta Coyote (San Evaristo is quite far). Also, in March, it is possible to spot blue whales near the shore along the road to San Juan - this is their season in La Paz Bay.
Puerto Balandra (about 15 miles north of the city) is one of the nicest of the beach areas. It is reached via the road to the ferry terminal at Pichilingue, and then by about 5 miles of newly paved road to the north. The bay has seven sandy beaches around it with some rocky areas between. In these rocky areas the snorkeling is fair. The swimming and wading is always great.
If you take the road further north past Balandra, it continues on to "Tecolote," a lovely beach on the north side of the La Paz peninsula. Here the swimming is more exposed to the gulf. This is the weekend beach destination for many residents of La Paz.
There is also good snorkeling and swimming on the gulf side of the La Paz peninsula. The easiest area to reach is Bahia de los Muertos. Other areas to the north of Muertos are perhaps better, but are hard to reach with an ordinary car. Look on the map for Mexican Route 286 which cuts off to the southeast from the Cabo road out of La Paz. This road goes over the mountains to Los Planes and is a beautiful drive. Several miles past Los Planes the road turns to good gravel and continues on to Punta Arena (fancy hotel - closed as of summer '93) and Bahia de los Muertos (one of my favorite places around La Paz).
While crossing the mountains to Los Planes, on the La Paz side, a sign to "Presa Buena Mujer" will be seen on the left (north) side. By following the dirt road about one mile you will arrive at a gate through which you may crawl to walk on to the Good Woman Dam, about 1/4 mile beyond. It is a fun visit and can be reached by ordinary sedans. Take a flashlight if you wish to explore the corridors which cut through the heart of the dam (a few bats ("murcielagos") may be encountered).
In early 1999 the lake behind the dam was quite extensive - having been filled by heavy rains during the summer of '98. While I did not visit the dam itself on that visit, it was suggested that the doors to the corridors through the dam may have been closed.
Todos Santos: A nice little town on the Pacific side of the peninsula - home to a growing colony of Americans (northern variety). I have heard that the "motel" in town is a nice place to stay. This is also where the "Hotel California" is located - a place made famous by associating themselves with the Eagles song of the same name (rooms are about $40US per night). The "Santa Monica" restaurant has very good food in a simple setting. There is an Italian restaurant in town which, I have been told, is very expensive - I don't recall the name.
Just south of the town is a road off to the coast with a sign indicating "Punta Lobos." It's not far out to the beach and a rocky point. The beach at Punta Lobos is where the local fishermen keep their pangas on the beach - it is worth driving out to the beach just to watch the "lancheros" (panga drivers) run their boats up on the beach at full speed in order to get them up as high as possible.
South of "Pescadero" (a few miles south of Todos Santos) are a number of very long, mostly deserted beaches. A great place for a picnic. Watch for dirt roads which seem to head off towards the ocean.
The "loop trip" La Paz -> Todos Santos -> Cabo San Lucas -> San José del Cabo -> Los Barriles -> La Paz is an excellent (long) day trip. This is especially good if you are not familiar with "Cabo" (San Lucas) and wish to see a genuine resort town. San José is somewhat less resortish and has a lovely city center. There are many restaurants to be found in both San Lucas and San José.
The entire Baja peninsula is a desert, and the southern end is in the "dry tropics." One advantage of this is that, except for the cities, the area is sparsely settled. There are no communities up in the mountains polluting the water sources, and hence, the water is good. I don't know of anyone who has had problems with the local water in Baja California - especially at the southern end (further north, there are several places with salty water, e.g., San Quintin and Guerrero Negro). This is unlike the "wet tropics" in mainland Mexico where there are often pollution sources upstream and the water has "bugs" our bodies have trouble dealing with.