Popular La Paz Shore Excursions
The island rookery of Los Islotes is home to a colony of sea lions accustomed to divers and snorkelers. If you're not already smitten watching these charismatic pinnipeds sunbathe, nurse and fight for prime real estate, you will be after joining them for a swim. Juvenile sea lions will somersault beside you and blow bubbles in your face. The only things to watch out for are the adult males (up to 600 pounds) and the many other snorkelers in the water.
Swimming with whale sharks is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. These amazing bus-size plankton eaters are the largest fish on the planet, reaching 65 feet in length. The Cortez Club, a watersports outfitter, has pangas to take you out where whale sharks traditionally gather in the bay. If you would rather look than swim, you can stay aboard the open fishing boat and be awed by one or more of these gentle giants. The small boat ride can be rough. If you are prone to seasickness, take appropriate precautions.
La Fuente is a small ice cream shop on the malecon with legendary appeal. Look for the tree out front that's painted white with colorful polka dots. Ice cream aficionados line up for homemade treats in usual and not so usual flavors. Try the tequila with almond or elote (corn). Also delicious are fruit paletas or popsicles in exotic flavors like pitahaya (from the cactus; deep purple with seeds). (Alvaro Obregon and Ocampo; open 9 a.m. to midnight daily)
The whale museum Museo de la Ballena is noted for its collection of gigantic whale bones in the garden. (Navarro at Altamirano; open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday)
Todos Santos is an artsy town on the Pacific coast, about an hour's drive from La Paz. It boasts more than a dozen art galleries, casual outdoor cafes and the renowned Hotel California. Though it's not the hotel made famous by the Eagles, you'll hear their song playing in nearby shops. You won't be able to get the tune out of your head when you leave.
At Artesania Cuauhtemoc, visitors can watch weavers at their looms, spinning cotton from the Santo Domingo Valley into rugs, blankets, wall hangings and clothing. (Calle Abasolo 3315) Also, artisans create colorful, hand-painted ceramics at Ibarra's Pottery. They sell ready-made dishwasher and microwave-safe items, or you can have your pottery custom-made. (Guillermo Prieto 625; open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday)
La Ventana and Los Barriles, about 45 minutes and an hour south of La Paz, respectively, rank as world-class windsurfing destinations, with winds of 20 to 30 mph and curving shorelines. Lessons, even for beginners, are available mid-November to March.
The farther you move away from town either north or south, the nicer the beaches.
Best for Families: Playa Balandra, 3.5 miles north of Pichilingue, is a series of shallow bays with white-sand beaches and snorkeling at the south end. It's open to the public, with no fees. The city council declared it an environmentally protected area in 2008.You'll recognize the beach by the often photographed Mushroom Rock balancing precariously atop a thin spire. Measuring about 12 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter at its top, the 18-ton icon has been righted several times over the years.
Best for an Active Day: Playa El Tecolote, a few miles north of Balandra, is a long wide, white-sand beach facing the lovely island of Espiritu Santo. You can swim anywhere in the roped off area along the beach. You can also rent beach chairs, umbrellas, fishing tackle, kayaks and paddleboards. The beach (free to the public) has pay showers and free public palapas for shade. Two restaurants, El Tecolote and Palapa Azul, offer seafood, cold drinks and boat tours. Note: It can get windy here.
Best for a Stroll: El Mogote, a seven-mile peninsula facing La Paz and separated from it by the Canal de La Paz, features five miles of sandy waterfront. Once an out-of-the-way escape, resort and condo development has changed its look from unspoiled to manicured. There is also a golf course. While most of the beach is public (no fees), resorts are starting to offer private areas, and sections of these golden sands are turtle sanctuaries. The beach is about a 40-minute drive from La Paz.