• La Paz colourful sign La Paz Mexico

    You are here, in colourful La Paz, Mexico. This sign can be found on La Paz's Malecon, or seaside promenade. (Photo: Jenn Chan/Canadian Geographic)

I recently had an opportunity to explore La Paz, Mexico. This charming town on the Sea of Cortez, on Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, has a friendly, mellow vibe and plenty of opportunities to experience authentic Mexican culture, picture-perfect beaches and breathtaking natural scenery. La Paz is an easy day trip from the glitzy resort area of Cabo San Lucas, but here are three reasons to extend your visit by at least a couple of days. 

The incredible biodiversity of Isla Espíritu Santo 

Rock formations bird cliffs at Isla Espiritu Santo, La Paz, Mexico

The towering cliffs of Isla Espíritu Santo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located north of La Paz. (Photo: Jenn Chan/Canadian Geographic)

Espíritu Santo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising six islands north of La Paz and accessible by a short boat ride. Here, I was able to snorkel with sea lions in the clear waters of the Sea of Cortez. I swam alongside juvenile sea lions and watched them play as the adults lazily sunbathed on nearby rocks. A fun fact I learned is that sea lions mark their territorial boundaries by blowing bubbles.

I also encountered whale sharks. I have always assumed that swimming with sharks is basically asking for trouble, but these gentle giants feed on zooplankton, and their “teeth” are akin to little toothbrush bristles, which they use to filter their food out of the water. A few times I found myself floating directly above a huge whale shark — definitely an experience for the books. 

The locals take stewardship of their native marine animals, as well as their land-based flora and coral reefs, very seriously, making Espíritu Santo a breathtaking place to explore the biodiversity of the Baja California Peninsula. 

Sunbathing beauties - sea lions at Isla Espiritu Santo Mexico

Sunbathing beauties at Isla Espiritu Santo. (Photo: Jenn Chan/Canadian Geographic)

The pristine beauty of Balandra Beach 

playa Balandra la paz

Balandra Bay and its famous beach. (Photo: Jenn Chan/Canadian Geographic)

Sometimes called "Mexico's most beautiful beach," Balandra Beach was once earmarked for resort development, but a decade ago, a group of locals banded together and successfully petitioned the state government to designate Balandra Bay a Natural Protected Area. And thank goodness, because Balandra lives up to its reputation in every way. The sand is so fluffy and white, it makes me think of walking in flour. Locals and tourists alike can be found kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on the calm, shallow waters, or posing for photos with the Hongo de Balandra (Balandra "mushroom"), a strange rock formation shaped by erosion. You can also take a short hike up to a lookout for an incredible view of the bay. 

hiking at playa balandra mexico

Hiking at Balandra Beach. (Photo: Jenn Chan/Canadian Geographic)

The food

steinbecks catch of the day

The catch of the day at Steinbeck's in La Paz, named for the American author, who spent time exploring the Baja California coast in the 1930s and 40s. (Photo: Jenn Chan/Canadian Geographic)

Of course, we cannot forget about the food. During my visit to La Paz, I checked out a few downtown eateries known for their authentic Mexican cuisine. At Mariscos Bismarkcito, I dined on botanero campechano, a selection of raw seafood, including snails, scallops, oysters and shrimps. At Steinbeck’s — named for the iconic American author, who spent time exploring the Baja California coast in the 1930s and 40s — I tried the chocolate clam chowder. The specialty at La Casita is the cactus quesadilla, which is based on a recipe passed down from chef-owner Sergio Rivera’s grandmother. 

No visit to Mexico would be complete without trying some tacos, which I did at Asadero Rancho Viejo. That said, in La Paz, it's not tacos that are the favourite street food but rather hot dogs fully loaded with bacon and other condiments, which may include pico de gallo, mayonnaise, chili, and guacamole. You can often find locals getting into heated arguments about what should be on a hot dog and where they can find the best hot dogs in town.