Last Updated on September 15, 2020
Why does La Paz, Mexico belong on your bucket list? With more than 300 days of sunshine annually, the weather is bound to be great. And its location in a protected bay makes for some of the calmest and most beautiful beaches in Mexico – a perfect fit for the city’s name, which means “peace.” But La Paz is also a prime spot on the Sea of Cortez, once referred to by Jacques Cousteau as “the aquarium of the world.” This narrow sea between Mexico’s mainland and the Baja California peninsula is home to an abundance of sea life, including whale sharks, sea lions, dolphins and more than 800 species of fish.
Many of the best things to do in La Paz are thanks to its natural surroundings. In La Paz you can relax on beautiful beaches, sea kayak, scuba dive, sport fish, swim with playful sea lions, and even snorkel with whale sharks. Ready to start planning your trip? With this La Paz Mexico Travel Guide, you’ll find the best things to do in La Paz, where to stay, and tips on the best beaches, tours and restaurants!
La Paz, Mexico Travel Guide
When to visit: The best time to see whale sharks is Oct – Feb; best time for sport fishing Sept – December; high tourist season begins in December
Get there: La Paz Airport (LAP) has limited daily flights from other cities in Mexico; or fly to Los Cabos (SJD) two hours south, and rent a car or take a bus.
What to do: Swim with whale sharks and sea lions, stroll the Malecon seawall, have sunset drinks and chocolate clams overlooking the Bay of La Paz, discover Playa Balandra’s uniquely shallow lagoon.
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Where is La Paz?
The Baja California Peninsula, extending south from the U.S. state of California, is home to two states of Mexico: Baja California and Baja California Sur (referred to by locals as BCS). La Paz is the state capital of BCS and a quiet town with colonial roots. It’s about two hours north by bus or car from Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, the two towns served by Los Cabos Airport (SJD). It’s also about an hour from Todos Santos, another BCS town that belongs on your bucket list!
The Pacific Ocean is on the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula. Its east coast is separated from mainland Mexico by the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Sea of California. This sea has more than 900 islands, 244 of which have UNESCO World Heritage bio-reserve status.
How to get to La Paz
To get to La Paz, catch a connecting flight to La Paz Airport (LAP) from several cities in Mexico. Or take an international flight to Los Cabos (SJD) two hours south. There are many bus departures throughout the day from Los Cabos to La Paz, or you can rent a car at the airport and drive. Getting to La Paz is a scenic drive on the new toll road, Highway 19, with the Pacific Coast on one side and the Sierra de la Laguna mountains on the other.
Check out my advice on renting a car and driving in Mexico, which I’ve done many times, including in Baja California Sur.
Downtown La Paz
The town of La Paz is separated from the sea by a wide boardwalk known as El Malecon. Couples and families stroll along the Malecon in the afternoon and evening, pausing for photos with statues that dot the promenade. You’ll also see kids speed past on rollerblades and scooters, so keep an eye out!
The Malecon also follows the Paseo Alvaro Obregon (street), which is lined on the other side with shops, restaurants and hotels. I stayed along the Malecon when I visited, and liked being able to walk to dinner each night.
There’s parking along the Malecon or on its side streets, or some hotels have parking lots.
The Best Things to Do in La Paz
Visit La Paz Beaches
La Paz has some of the best swimming beaches in Mexico with calm, clear waters. The Malecon has a beachfront, but you’ll find the best beaches for swimming are a few minutes outside of town. Within 10-45 minutes’ ride by bus or car you can reach several that have bars, restaurants, and lounge chairs for rent.
Check the map below for the locations of the best La Paz beaches. If you click on the map pin, it will include the description below.
Playa El Coromuel
El Coromuel is the first beach as you follow the Malecon outside the tourist area of La Paz. This public beach has a free parking area, a restaurant, restroom facilities and shade palapas. El Coromuel is designated as a “blue flag beach,” which is an international recognition for meeting high environmental, safety and quality standards.
Playa La Concha
The best beach close to town is at the La Concha Beach resort. It’s a private beach club, but non-guests can use it by dining at the restaurant or bar. There are also palapas, sun loungers and kayaks available for rent.
The Sea Side Restaurant and bar here is a great place for sunset drinks or dinner overlooking the water!
Playa El Caimancito
El Caimancito Beach is located next to Playa La Concha and is a popular swimming spot for locals. There aren’t any vendors here but you can snorkel. The reef isn’t pristine, though, due to fishing activity and beach use. Parking is available.
Playa El Tesoro
El Tesoro Beach is located in a protected bay surrounded by hills. It’s a public beach with parking, palapas and restaurants, as well as kayaks and paddleboards available for rent.
Playa Pichilingue is located near the port and has a parking area, restaurants, palapas and kayaks available for rent. You can also snorkel from the beach.
About 18 miles (29 km) from La Paz, at the end of the paved road from La Paz, you’ll reach Playas Balandra and Tecolote.
Playa Balandra has been referred to as the most beautiful beach in Mexico. Once slated for resort development, it was saved by local citizens and activist groups who wanted to preserve its unspoiled landscape. Thanks to their efforts, it’s now a natural protected area.
You won’t find big waves at Playa Balandra. Due to its protected location in a shallow lagoon, it’s perfect for beach walks, wading and playing in the sand. You can walk and walk, and the water will never reach higher than your waist!
Balandra is a great location to hike for a view overlooking the bay, especially at sunset. There’s also a famous rock formation known as El Hongo (the mushroom).
Services are limited here because of Playa Balanda’s protected status. Bring cash and change for the eco toilets and snack truck, or bring a cooler for your day.
Playa Tecolote is the last beach along the beach road from La Paz. It has the same blue water as Balandra, but a little stronger waves. You can rent kayaks and other water sports equipment here and walk for what seems like miles along the beach. There’s also several restaurants where you can have beers and seafood right on the beach.
Swimming with Whale Sharks in La Paz
La Paz, Mexico might be the best place in the world to swim with whale sharks. They migrate to the bay here from October to March, so excursions are just a short trip from shore. But most importantly, La Paz has made efforts to regulate tourism of this kind and make their animal encounters sustainable.
Whale sharks aren’t whales, but are rather the largest species of fish. The “whale” part of their name refers to their massive size: when full grown, they can be 18-33 feet in length!
In La Paz, the number of whale shark tour boats in the bay are limited. Monitor boats also check the operators to ensure their guests are interacting responsibly with the animals. There is a limit on the number of snorkelers permitted to observe any one animal to four, plus a guide must also be in the water. We all received instruction on the distance to keep from the sharks (at least 3m from the tail, and 2m from the side of the animal).
Many half-day snorkeling excursions leave from the La Paz pier known as Muelle Fiscal. You can find operators here offering tours each morning, but it’s better to book ahead of time with a reputable company. I went with Red Travel Mexico and our guide Dani was a marine biologist, so she was able to provide a lot of information about research and conservation efforts in La Paz.
I had thought that I would be scared of the sharks, but I jumped right in when it was my turn! Whale sharks are filter feeders, which means that they eat by straining food like plankton from the water. But still, their size was awe-inspiring, even though I knew they’re harmless.
Best Thing to Do in La Paz: Day Trip to Isla Espiritu Santo
Near La Paz is the protected UNESCO biosphere reserve named Isla Espiritu Santo. It’s technically an archipelago, and the northernmost island is home to a colony of sea lions! The surrounding reefs are a great spot for snorkeling, and many tours here include a picnic lunch on a secluded beach.
I took an awesome day trip with Red Travel Mexico to Isla Espiritu Santo. When we arrived at the Las Islotes colony, some of the juvenile sea lions started bobbing up and down in the water near our boat to get a look at us. The tour operators don’t feed them, but the sea lions are so curious and playful that the females and juveniles get very interested when people visit!
You can watch the colony from the boat, or get in the water to snorkel and some of the juveniles will swim around to say hi. This is definitely a bucket-list experience.
A day trip to Isla Espiritu Santo is the #1 best thing to do when visiting La Paz. I had thought that I would love swimming with whale sharks more. But the sea lions were so playful, and the beautiful islands of Espiritu Santo were so pristine, that this was my favorite part of visiting Baja California Sur.
I recommend Red Travel Mexico, which you can book by contacting them directly. For online booking with immediate confirmation, check out other reputable companies with great reviews: Punta Baja Tours, or for a private group tour Baja Expeditions. If you’re a diver, X Dive Mexico offers scuba diving excursions.
*This excursion doesn’t run from June 1 – September 1 during baby sea lion season.
La Paz Restaurants
La Paz is a seaside town, so of course you can get fresh local seafood at restaurants throughout the city. Be sure to try the chocolate clams – named for their color, not their taste! For fresh seafood in a lovely courtyard setting, try Nim, or Sorstis for a Mediterranean flair. Il Rustico has great pizza and Italian. Oliva al Mare has a nice view for sunset, since it’s on the 2nd story over looking the Malecon at the Posada de Las Flores hotel (where I stayed).
Don’t miss trying some local ice cream and homemade popsicles (nieves y paletas) in tropical flavors at La Fuente right at the end of the pier. (Look for the polka dot paint on the shop and trees!) You pay in cash at the register first, then take your receipt to the counter to choose your flavors. Be sure to get two dips so you can try different flavors, and eat it watching the activity along the Malecon. (Then go back for a popsicle for the walk to your hotel. It’s that good!)
Where To Stay in La Paz
Some people prefer to stay at a beach resort when visiting La Paz, but I enjoyed staying along the Malecon so that we could walk to different restaurants in the evening. We had a car, but it was nice to be able to stroll along the Malecon and stop for ice cream on the way back.
If you stay at a resort, make sure that you get to Playa Balandra since it’s the most beautiful beach in Baja California!
Recommended La Paz Beach Resorts
Costa Baja Resort is one of the best places to stay in La Paz. The resort has a golf course, marina, pool, spa, fitness center, on-site restaurants, pool bar, and private beach. It’s located between the downtown area and beaches and has stunning desert, beach and mountain views. They also offer a shuttle into town on request. Check out Costa Baja Resort prices and room availability for your dates on Booking.com.
Puerta Cortes Residences: Vistamar These are luxury condos in a complex at the same marina as Costa Baja. Some of the rooms include a golf cart to get to the beach club, shop and restaurants in the marina. Check out Vistamar prices and room availability on Booking.com.
Hotel La Concha Beach Resort is a budget beachfront La Paz resort with rooms starting around $50/night. Their beach and pool are private, although daily guests can use it by eating at the restaurants or pool bar. Their waterfront bar is a great place for sunset drinks! Check out Hotel La Concha Beach Resort prices and availability on Booking.com.
Recommended Downtown Hotels in La Paz
Casa Esterito is a friendly hostel great for long-term or budget stays. It located two blocks from the Malecon, towards the end of town as you head to the La Paz beaches. Check out Hostel Casa Esterito rates and availability.
Hotel Catedral La Paz is a few blocks from the Malecon right next to – you guessed it – the La Paz Cathedral. This is one of the best places to stay in La Paz, with great reviews for just about everything! (Friendly service, location, rooms, breakfast, rooftop pool and sundeck!) If it’s available for your dates, you should book it – check out the rates here.
Posada de Las Flores is where I stayed, and I loved its location on the quieter end of town. My mom is still talking about the amazing breakfast at the restaurant, which was also great for dinner or drinks with a view for sunset overlooking the Malecon. There’s a rooftop sun deck for lounging but no pool. Check out Posada de Las Flores rates here.
Casa Al Mar This hotel is a block from the bus terminal in La Paz. And if you’re traveling with family, it’s great because it offers two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes. They also have a really good on-site restaurant. Check rates and availability for Casa Al Mar on Booking.com.
More Things to Do in La Paz, Mexico Downtown
The small downtown area of La Paz includes a few shops like Casa Parra Gallery for Mexican folk art and handicrafts, Caktu Souvenirs for gifts and t-shirts, and Allende Books. Or you can check out the Mercado Madero if you’re looking for a local market experience.
Many blogs tell you to visit the Whale Museum, but sadly it’s closed! Instead check out the regional museum of Anthropology and History of Baja California Sur and the Cathedral of La Paz which dates to the second half of the 19th century.
Day Trip to Todos Santos
For more shopping and dining, check out the quaint beach town of Todos Santos about an hour from La Paz. Or better yet, extend your trip with a few days there! Check out my best tips for visiting Todos Santos here.
Getting Around La Paz
There are buses that run roughly every hour from the Terminal Turistica to a bus station in Pichilingue, then on to Playa Balandra. Be sure to check the last departure time back from Balandra.
Alternately, Uber is available in La Paz, but keep in mind it might be difficult to find one back to the city after dark. There are also taxis that line up in the parking lot at Balandra at the end of the day.
La Paz Weather
La Paz has a desert climate, with little rain, and averages more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Its short rainy season peaks in August and early September, while the driest season is March through June.
Ready to Visit La Paz?
While La Paz isn’t as popular of a Baja California destination as Cabo, it lives up to its name as a peaceful beach town with so many great things to do. Whether you’re looking to experience La Paz’s calm waters, sport fishing, whale sharks, sea lions or the pristine Isla Espiritu Santo, it’s an amazing vacation destination that belongs on your bucket list.