If, like me, you’ve hit the threshold for all things Tulum and Cancun, listen up.
Because it’s time to get back to Mexico’s beach town roots. And that means putting the Baja Peninsula on your radar. And more specifically, the southern part of it: Baja Sur.
And I’m not talking about Los Cabos, another one of those places that so easily rolls off the tip of Angelenos tongues. I’m talking about La Paz. The tiny beach town that sits about two hours north of Los Cabos, on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula.
Because this is a place that has been drawing travelers in the know for years – from the likes of Jacques Cousteau who once called the Sea of Cortez ‘the aquarium of the world’ to John Steinbeck, who once joined a research expedition there and subsequently penned The Log from the Sea of Cortez – to the less famous, but equally as curious, like myself.
But what exactly makes this part of Mexico so special? So different from the places getting much more buzz right now from tourists and ‘where to go in 2019’ lists across the web?
Well, this is a place for travelers. Not tourists.
Travelers who are curious about the ocean. Travelers who want to get a real sense of a place, and not just stay confined to the comforts of their mega all-inclusive resort.
Travelers who want to learn more about the 900-some fish species or the more than 5,000 species of macro-invertebrates found in the sea here.
Travelers who want to witness for themselves the humpback whales, California gray whales, killer whales, manta rays, Humboldt squids and leatherback sea turtles, along with the blue whales, the world’s largest animal, that all make their way through here during their respective migratory seasons.
And not to mention the fin whales and sperm whales that can always be found here, this is their permanent home after all.
And if that doesn’t make you, John, sitting behind a computer screen at your work desk right now, buying time before the clock strikes 5:00 curious to discover a different side of Mexico, then I don’t know what will.
Because if there’s one place in Mexico to head right now – it’s the Baja Peninsula. And here’s where to start your explorations when you go, John.
Snorkel with whale sharks right off the coast or head out to Isla Espíritu Santo to swim with sea lions and end your day at – what I’d argue – is one of, if not, the prettiest beaches in the world.
From October through April juvenile whale sharks head to the Sea of Cortez to feed in the plankton-rich waters here. And it’s a sight to see.
And, in fact, it’s one you can see. Up close. Very, very up close. Because this is where you can snorkel with these gentle giants, as they’re so affectionately known.
And while their mouths can reach an intimidating five-foot span, and they’ve been known to reach lengths of more than 40 feet, these filter-feeding fish, who are technically sharks, are as harmless as it gets.
And once you’re on a boat out in search of them, all it takes is a quick “there,” and before you know it, you’re throwing on your fins, mask and snorkel – you’re already in your wetsuit – and you’re in the water without a second to even think twice about swimming a shark.
And it’s incredible. Listening to these guys gurgle on plankton, paying no attention to you as they simply float, wagging their massive tail fins from side to side – it’s one of those rare experiences that exceeds expectations.
January and February are the best time to go.
And once you’ve had your fill of swimming with the sharks in the bay, you’ll want to make the almost two-hour boat trip out to Isla Espíritu Santo, where you’ll get to swim with creatures of another kind – sea lions. Because this is where the famous sea lion colony, where you can find hundreds of curious sea lions ready to play with and swim all around you, calls home. (Tour operators like Tuna Tuna Tours are the easiest way to cross both of these items off your list.)
But really, it’s Ensenada Grande beach, with its pink cliffs beautifully contrasting against the spectacularly vibrant blue water, that’s what makes getting out to Isla Espíritu Santo so incredible. And a beach, which, I’d argue, is even more beautiful than Balandra Beach, which is the beach that gets all the attention in the area (and in truth, probably why I prefer Ensenada Grande instead).
This isn’t your typical diving destination – this is where you dive with the big guys – hammerheads, giant manta rays and you never know when you might spot an orca whale.
There are destinations where you dive just to dive, and then there’s the Sea of Cortez, where you dive because there’s some really, really cool stuff out there just waiting to be discovered.
I’m talking hammerheads. I’m talking giant manta rays. I’m talking the chance to see an orca. Yes, an orca.
So, whether you’ve decided to head way out to El Bajo, the underwater mountain range that’s become famous for being home to schools of hammerhead sharks, or you’ve set your sights on La Reina, where you can soar among the pods of giant manta rays – who have just happened to have returned to the area after disappearing for many years – heading out to these dive sites is always worth the adventure. (And the very, very long boat trip.)
And if a day trip or two out to these sites doesn’t sound like enough to keep you occupied, you can always jump on a live aboard.
And the stuff on land is worth exploring too – from the fresh seafood to the Damiana, there’s no shortage of ways to stay occupied in this relaxed little beach paradise.
You can’t go to Mexico without a taste of Mexican food. You’re not a monster.
And now that I’ve successfully talked about the sea for 1,004 words – I think you know exactly what you’re supposed to eat here.
Start at Biskmarcito for lunch. Sit on the patio and people watch as people make their way up and down the Malecón – La Paz’s beautiful waterfront walkway. You can never go wrong ordering whatever they have fresh in that day, especially the aquachile de camarón, which is basically shrimp cooked in chili and lime.
And head to the trendy NIM for dinner, where you should always opt to sit out on the back patio, and where you can never go wrong ordering the ‘pesca del día,’ the fish of the day, obviously.
But, you’re in Mexico and there’s nothing better than some no-frills tacos, of course. Which means you should head to Mc-Fisher, which is a little more off the beaten path, but where the taco selection includes marlin, swordfish and even manta ray. And Mariscos El Toro Güero, where the price is right and where you won’t regret an order of the ceviche tostada or the mahi-mahi tacos.
But, at the end of a long day swimming whale sharks and exploring underwater mountain ranges, there’s really no better (or more local way) than to sit back and relax with a glass of Damiana, neat. But be careful, the herb liqueur doubles as an aphrodisiac, which just may solidify your love for your new favorite part of Mexico.
Follow Breanna as she travels her way through some of the world’s most remote destinations in search of her next adventure.