Turquoise waves lapping on sugar-sand beaches, colorful colonial cities, mouth-watering – and sometime eye-watering – food, and friendly, warm locals. These are the imagines that used to come to mind when planning a vacation to Mexico.
But the reputation of mainland Mexico’s troubled border cities has unfairly impacted tourism in the majority of peaceful Mexico vacation spots. One spot that refutes Mexico’s image challenge is the Baja California Sur peninsula, just below California, which is one of the most diverse, fun-packed, and safest vacation spots to be found.
La Paz is located in the southeast Baja peninsula. Unlike Cabo San Lucas, its more familiar and rowdy neighbor to the south, La Paz, an authentic and colorful Mexican small town whose name translates “the Peace,” is just that. Friendly tranquility abounds and even the U.S. Government cites no security concerns or advisory for La Paz in its 2012 travel update.
Boasting 340 days of sunshine a year, La Paz has beaches as beautiful as the Caribbean and a dessert climate that keeps the days warm and dry, the nights cool. Water-based activities abound. La Paz rests lazily on the brilliant blue-green waters of the Sea of Cortez, deemed “the world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau because of the abundance and variety of sea life cushioned within its depths.
A short boat ride is available to Espiritu Santo Island where you can go diving, snorkeling, and swimming with sea lions and shark whales. Boating, kayaking and paddle boarding are available throughout La Paz. For those who prefer to just chill out and catch some rays, the crystal aqua waters on the mainland beaches are hard to beat.
The malécon – the boardwalk by the beach – is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Mexico. People stroll along the malécon safety any time of day or night, but especially to view the stunning sunsets. The malécon bustles daily with both tourists and residents enjoying its variety of restaurants and small shops, viewing the sculptures along the way or simply enjoy an afternoon of rollerblading along the paved pathway.
Cuisine in La Paz is simply delectable! Grab a daily-caught fish taco from many of the roadside vendors, a lunch of octopus and chocolate clams with a cold michalada on the malécon, fresh guacamole and cricket appetizers with a margarita at Trés Virgenes, or dine on sublime tapas like shrimp ceviche and duck tacos at Trocadero’s. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and be prepared to be impressed by the fresh ingredients and unexpected combinations of flavors and textures.
La Paz has been quietly expanding and upgrading its accommodations. Located right on the Sea of Cortez, CostaBaja Resort and Spa enjoys the distinction of being the only 5-star resort in La Paz. The resort property encompasses a beach club, marina, spa, Gary Player golf course, palapas strewn beach, infinity pool and a selection of restaurants. CostaBaja does a fine job of tempting its guests to never leave the premises.
Photo credit: CostaBaja Resort
Located just an hour south of San Diego are the white sandy beaches of Rosarito, a friendly and laid-back beach town.
When staying in Rosarito, there simply is no place better to stay than the historic and charming Rosarito Beach Hotel. This reasonably-priced gem is in a class all its own. Upon entering the foyer, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a magical world of days gone by. This resort was made popular mid-century as a retreat that catered to Mexican presidents, international royalty, and Hollywood stars, and the little beach town grew around it. Most rooms have an ocean view, and you’ll find dining, lounges, a Mexican floorshow and spa on the property.
Photo credit: Baja Tourism
Activities in Rosarito Beach include walking along the quarter-mile pier, world-class surfing, paddle boarding, horseback riding on the beach or a variety of shopping venues including arts and craft galleries along Popotla Boulevard and the open air markets of Mercado de Artesanias where you can bargain for locally-made pottery, souvenirs and jewelry. There is a local theatre guild and events like blues festival are often booked on the beach.
Photo credit: Doug Stead
Puerto Nuevo, 10 miles south of Rosarito is a must-do on any Rosarito itinerary. This small fishing village began in the 1950’s as a small stand near a Newport cigarette billboard (Newport translates to Puerto Nuevo in Spanish). The billboard is long gone but more than 30 restaurants and shops now dot what has become one of the most famous lobster destinations, claiming to serve more lobsters in this town than anyplace in the world. One restaurant, Puerto Nuevo II is owned by one of the founding families of this famous lobster village, Rosa Maria Plascencia and her husband Enrique. The lobster preparation here is a science, done to perfect texture, drenched in butter and served with homemade tortillas whose heavenly aroma permeates the restaurant.
Go to Baja. It is beautiful, enticing, and exciting. And above all, it is safe.
If you go: