The New York Times ranked La Paz 18th out of 52 places they recommended to visit in 2020. The Times said, “Unlike many of Mexico’s better-known beach towns, the La Paz area has resisted large-scale resort-style development and remained comparatively unknown to outsiders. Decades ago, local environmentalists pushed for the creation of what eventually became the expansive UNESCO Marine World Heritage protected area, a designation that aimed to preserve the coast and offshore areas, home to such rich biodiversity that the Sea of Cortez is known as the ‘Aquarium of the World.'”
Neither tourists nor the few thousand expats that live in La Paz overwhelm the city with their presence, although you can hear many different languages spoken on the streets.
Perhaps more influential is the large student population associated with the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, as this is one of the prime locations in Mexico to study marine biology.
The main attraction by far is the water, especially the biodiversity in the bay and the Sea of Cortez. The main activities in La Paz revolve around the sea, often with a boat involved. The bay serves as a port for sport fishing, scuba diving, local tours, whale watching, kayaking, sailing and sunset cruises. One of the most popular boat excursions is to Espiritu Santo Island, popular for snorkeling and as an abandoned pearl works. Whale watching season is between January and March when whales calve in the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez.
La Paz is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur, but it is not a hectic town, nor overrun with tourism like neighboring Los Cabos. La Paz has developed in its own way, in fits and starts. There is a centuries old plaza with colonial-era architecture, and some tourism infrastructure mostly built last century. But neither dominates.
Despite beautiful sunsets, the orientation of the city is decidedly east, towards the Sea of Cortez. It lies on a bay of the same name, which is nearly closed off by the El Mogote Peninsula.
Much of the area’s marine treasures are accessible from its 5 km-long-promenade, commonly called the Malecón. It is home to many of the city’s restaurants, shopping, tourist attractions and more. This part of the city comes alive at night, especially in the hotter months. The local cuisine is focused on seafood, such as fish tacos, scallop and octopus cocktails, stuffed chocolata clams and stingray machaca, many of which are flavored with local herbs such as damiana, which also flavors the local sugar cane liquor of the same name.
La Paz offers outdoor activities on both land and sea with mountains for camping, horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking. There are two golf courses in the area as well. Water sports include kayaking, kiteboarding, scuba diving, free diving and snorkeling and fishing. It has been named one of the 10 best sites to practice scuba diving in the world, and you can swim with whale sharks and sea lions.
The area’s archeological treasures are its cave paintings, found mostly in the mountains. Its Spanish heritage is reflected in its Plaza Constitución and cathedral established in 1729 by the Jesuits as a mission. The former state house is now a library and the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History is dedicated to the human and natural history of the Baja Peninsula, along with a botanical garden.
The main location for souvenir and specialty shopping is the Malecón. Established in 1958, Ibarra’s pottery is well-known in all of southern Baja. English language books can be found at Allende Books at 21 de Agosto near Sears. U.S. chains such as Sears, Office Depot and Wal Mart are also located in La Paz.