La Paz (Photo:Barna Tanko/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Susan Jaques
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of La Paz

La Paz, meaning peace, is a tranquil Mexican town where the cactus-studded desert abruptly meets the sea in eye-popping fashion. Located on a large bay on the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California), La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur, an arid peninsula extending some 800 miles south of the U.S. border. It's famous for its pastel neocolonial homes, beautifully updated waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, fiery sunsets and abundant marine life.

About La Paz


Pro

La Paz has become a hot spot for ecotourism; museums and a cultural center add to the diversity

Con

If enjoying the plethora of marine life with a dive, beware of jellyfish

Bottom Line

This cultural hub offers a more authentic provincial experience than other Mexican ports


Find a Cruise to the Mexican Riviera



Once a simple spot for sport fishing (John Wayne and Bing Crosby were frequent visitors), La Paz has evolved into something of a hot spot for ecotourism. Its proximity to the gray whale winter breeding grounds in Magdalena Bay, pristine islands of the Sea of Cortez and Sierra de la Laguna mountains attracts whale watchers, kayakers, hikers, birders and scuba divers.

Still, exploration and adventure are nothing new to La Paz. Nearly five centuries ago, Hernan Cortes arrived there, followed by Jesuit missionaries. English and Dutch pirates raided treasure-filled Spanish galleons trapped in the La Paz Bay. In the early 19th-century, La Paz became the capital of Baja after a hurricane wiped out Loreto. The city prospered as a pearl center until the 1930s, when local oyster beds were destroyed by disease.

While nearby Cabo San Lucas attracts hordes of tourists, La Paz still offers an authentic provincial experience, although in recent years beachfront condos have been springing up at the north end of town. Of all Baja's cities, La Paz draws most heavily from the traditions of mainland Mexico. Many pacenos (locals) are descended from mainlanders who came in the 19th and 20th centuries to escape political upheaval.

Today, this university town has a large cultural center that features a theater for dance and music performances, plus whale and anthropology museums. The biggest annual holiday is the pre-Lent Carnaval, a six-day party with parades, costumes, music, dancing and fireworks. In early May, Cortes' 1535 landing is reenacted during the Fiesta de la Paz. In mid-November, the Baja 1000 off-road racers roar into town at the end of their dusty, 1,000-mile race.

Where You're Docked

Azamara Club Cruises, Holland America and Princess dock 10 miles (about 30 minutes' drive) north of town at the cruise ship terminal at Pichilingue, near the mainland ferry terminal. The smaller ships of Un-Cruise Adventures dock in town, within easy walking distance to attractions.

Good to Know

La Paz is surrounded by turquoise waters teeming with exciting marine life, so swimming, snorkeling and diving with sea lions and whale sharks rate as top attractions. Anyone planning to go in the water should be aware of the chance of encountering jellyfish or getting a warning bite from a sea lion. Always follow the lead of your dive guide, wear protective gear (a wetsuit) and check out your underwater companions carefully.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The official currency is the peso. Check www.xe.com and www.oanda.com for current rates. Most restaurants, shops and hotels accept credit cards and U.S. dollars. Be aware, if you pay cash, the exchange rate may not be the best, and you will probably receive your change in pesos. It pays to carry small bills.

The best place for banks, ATMs and currency-exchange houses (casas de cambio) is on Calle 16 de Septiembre near the seaside walkway known as the malecon. Banks exchange currency from 9 a.m. to noon Monday to Friday. Most exchange houses such as Tony Money Exchange (Calle 16 de Septiembre) are open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. If you need to change dollars for pesos on Sunday, large hotels are your best bet.

Language

Mexico's official language is Spanish. English is widely spoken.

Shopping

Cultured black pearls from the Sea of Cortez were once called the queen of gems and the gem of queens. The pearl farm Perlas del Mar de Cortez is today's sole producer.