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.
Port of La Paz
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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.
Top La Paz Itineraries
Star Legend7 Night Mexico CruiseSan Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Puerto VallartaNow
Amsterdam17-day Panama Canal HolidaySan Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Manzanillo, Huatulco, Puerto Quetzal , Corinto, Puntarenas , Cartagena , Fort LauderdaleNow
Star Princess10 Night Mexican Riviera CruiseLos Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Puerto Vallarta, Los AngelesNow
Maasdam31-day South Pacific Crossing Hawaii & Mexico CollectorTahiti , Huahine, Bora Bora, Bora Bora, Maui, Hilo, Kona, Honolulu, Kauai, San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, San DiegoNow
Golden Princess10 Night Mexican Riviera CruiseLos Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Puerto Vallarta, Los AngelesNow
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.
Strolling from the in-town Port of La Paz along the three-mile-long Malecon Alvaro Obregon is a local tradition. The tiled seaside walkway is dotted with sculptures of marine animals and offers great bay views, as well as shops, cafes and restaurants. One block away is the Centro Cultural La Paz, housed in the restored 1910 city hall. Inside are a bookshop and Baja-themed exhibits (open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily). Three blocks inland is the city's main square, Plaza Constitucion, also called Plaza Jardin Velasco, with its tile-roofed gazebo and 1865 cathedral. The adjacent Centro de Artes Populares showcases art and photography (open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).
At the Pichilingue dock, a craft market is set up on cruise ship days. There are no other facilities.
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.
On Foot: With its streets radiating from the waterfront in a classic grid, La Paz is best explored on foot.
By Bus: Cruise lines such as Azamara offer complimentary shuttle buses from the Pichilingue cruise pier to town. Public buses leave daily at set departure times from the pier to Terminal Turistica on the malecon. Some buses stopping at the pier continue to the beaches at Tecolote and Balandra. Be sure to check the return schedule because buses can show up as infrequently as one every two to three hours.
By Taxi: Cab fare from the cruise ship terminal to downtown runs about $20. To visit beaches north and south of the city, either take a cab (La Paz taxis don't have meters, so agree on the fare upfront) or rent a car.
By Car: Most major car rental chains have offices along the malecon.
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.
Mexico's official language is Spanish. English is widely spoken.
Food and Drink
One of the highlights of a day in La Paz is sampling the local cuisine, especially anything fresh from the sea, plus the homemade ice cream from La Fuente. Affordable restaurants outnumber chains, and tasty meals can be widely found throughout the downtown area.
La Terraza pairs Mexican and Italian dishes with great alfresco people watching. (Paseo Obregon and Calle La Paz at Hotel Perla; open noon to 10:30 p.m. daily)
El Bismarkcito has been serving fresh fish tacos and seafood with a view since starting out as a food truck in the 1960s. (Paseo Alvaro Obregon)
La Fonda de los Brisenos serves large portions of home-style Mexican dishes at reasonable prices. (Revolucion and Bravo; open 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily)
Mariscos El Carrito serves fresh seafood dishes. (Corner of Paseo Obregon and Morelos; open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily)
Las Tres Virgenes prepares Baja cuisine with a Mediterranean touch. Try the venison tostadas and rose petal quesadillas. (Madera and Constitucion Hidalgo; lunch from 1 to 4:45 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday)
Los Magueyes dishes up Mexican favorites (Avenida de Allende No. 512 e; open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday)
Il Rustico serves pizza and tasty Italian treats in a garden setting. (Calle Revolucion N 1930; closed Tuesdays, winter hours are 5 to 11 p.m. weekdays, 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday, summer hours from 6 to 11 p.m.)
Palermo's Ristorante serves wood-fired pizza and mesquite-grilled steaks. Their international wine list is extensive. (Paseo Obregon and Hidalgo; open noon to 11 p.m daily)
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.
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