With blonde beaches, a lively town centre, plenty of culture and an underwater wonderland at its doorstep, the city of La Paz, Mexico is the perfect place to satisfy everyone from adrenaline junkies to sun seekers.
Located on the peninsula of Baja California Sur, the city is only a two-hour drive from Los Cabos International Airport, yet far enough off the beaten path to escape the crowds that typically descend on other Mexican hot spots like Cancun and Cabo.
From bucket list-worthy festivals to unforgettable outdoor excursions, here are the best things to do in La Paz.
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Whale shark tours
There are few things more thrilling and awe-inspiring than coming face to face with a whale shark, and La Paz is one of the few places in the world to experience it.
Holding bragging rights as the world’s largest fish, these gentle giants reach lengths of up to 17 metres and weigh more than 30 tons. However, they’re totally harmless since they feed exclusively on plankton and small fish, making them easy to spot even from above the water’s surface as they bob their heads up to feed.
On a tour from La Paz, it’s a quick 20 minute boat ride from the marina into the protected area where the juvenile whale sharks live from October to March.
En route, guests get outfitted in gear and briefed on the dos and don’ts of whale shark snorkeling, with the key takeaway being to avoid actually touching the fish at all costs (sometimes easier said than done, when something the size of a semi truck is coming straight at you). The captain and guide then work together to maneuver the boat into the best possible position near the fish for guests to jump in, and that’s when the fun begins!
Typically, each small group gets a few minutes in the water per turn, and will kick their fins furiously through the water in an effort to catch up with the surprisingly fast creatures to view them up close. The effort pays off when the majestic animals are just an arm’s length away and their impressive size is on full display, making an encounter with a whale shark guaranteed to leave hearts racing. Book La Paz whale shark tours: Book now
Sea of Cortez cruises to Isla Espiritu Santo
Billed by famed explorer Jacques Cousteau as the “Aquarium of the World,” La Paz is the gateway to Isla Espiritu Santo, which is one of the world’s most abundant ecosystems.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sea of Cortez is about 25 kilometres by boat from La Paz, and those exploring on a day trip will sail past white sand beaches and red desert limestone cliff sides en route to the protected islands.
There are plenty of adventures to be had in the crystal clear waters, including catamaran tours, kayaking, swimming in inlets like Corolito or Candalera Bay, and even glamping on otherwise deserted beaches. A highlight for most day-trippers is swimming with the colony of California sea lions that inhabits Los Islotes, and it’s also possible to spot turtles, dolphins and manta rays in the area.
WATCH: Swimming with sea lions in Isla Espiritu Santo
La Paz city tour
The historic centre can be explored in just a couple of hours on foot, which is why La Paz walking tours are deservedly popular.
Book a guided excursion with a local company for some insider knowledge, or venture out on your own through the compact quarter starting at the famous La Paz Malecon.
The picturesque, five kilometre long walkway hugs the waterfront, and is lined with plenty of fantastic restaurants, bars and shops. Those travelling with little ones will want to make a beeline for the pirate ship-inspired playground on the beach, while art lovers can admire the Malecon’s marine-themed sculptures like the shell statue honouring the city’s deep roots in the pearl industry.
Be sure to time a visit for sunset, and enjoy enchanting views as vibrant pink and orange hues frame the palm-fringed boardwalk.
Other notable spots nearby include the towering Catedral de La Paz, the historical city hall and Teatro Juarez, home of the Centro Cultural La Paz which houses history and art exhibits.
On the surrounding streets, it’s impossible to miss the huge, colourful murals which breathe life into the otherwise quiet laneways.
Relax on the best La Paz beaches
The Baja California Sur beaches are world famous, and one of the best is found just a quick drive from La Paz: Playa Balandra.
This picturesque bay has a handful of white sand beaches, a salt water lagoon, swirling sandbars, dunes and capricious rock formations, making it a sun-seekers paradise.
When the water is calm in October and November, rent a paddleboard or book a tour through a local operator like Baja Desconocida to SUP through the thick mangroves, then enjoy fresh ceviche right on the beach.
Closer to town, El Coromuel is just five minutes outside the city limits making it an easy beach break. Thatched umbrellas scattered along the sand are the perfect place to hunker down with a good book, and kids love the adjoining waterslide park.
Sample Mexico’s famous bevy by indulging in a mezcal tasting at La Miserable, a cozy mezcaleria just a couple blocks from the waterfront. Featuring quirky decor, a resident cat and more types of the tequila-like booze than you knew existed, there’s no better way to end a day of La Paz sightseeing than by tucking into a flight of the smoky liquor.
Just be sure to have a designated driver in place to get back to your hotel–this stuff packs a punch!
Bonus: Attend Dia de los Muertos
If you time your trip to La Paz just right, you’ll be able to take part in what’s considered a bucket list item for many people: celebrating the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
The festival happens every year from October 31 to November 2, and sees Mexicans create shrines dedicated to loved ones who have passed by placing their photo on an altar and surrounding it with items that remind them of the deceased. There are also nightly celebrations, including the one in La Paz where a plaza is transformed into a sea of altars, food stalls, and a main stage with live music.
Don’t miss the beauty pageant-like parade of ‘Catrinas’, where contestants outfitted in incredible skeleton costumes complete with over the top hats and even stilts compete for the best-dressed title.
The top La Paz, Mexico hotels:
Hyatt Place La Paz: This well-priced property is right on the marina a few minute’s drive from downtown, which makes it perfect for yacht watching and boat trips (tours to swim with the whale sharks leave from next door). Guests can enjoy the outdoor pool, complimentary breakfast and great views of the Sea of Cortez. Click here to book
Hotel Catedral La Paz: This historic property in the heart of the town centre has beautifully restored with sleek, modern touches like the sleek rooftop pool and lounge area. Just a few blocks from the Malecon, there are plenty of landmarks worth exploring within walking distance including a beautiful cathedral across the street. Click here to book
Hotel HBlue: This hotel is a great value for travellers, offering a rooftop hotel and lounge, comfortable modern rooms, and a complimentary breakfast at budget prices. Guests also love its location just a four block walk from the waterfront. Click here to book
Globe Guide explored Baja California Sur as a guest of the La Paz Tourism Board. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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