Arriving at the bus station in downtown La Paz, I am immediately smitten. The station is right on the malecón (waterfront,) with big floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the calm turquoise bay. Just a two hour bus ride, and I have gone from the Chaos of Cabo back to the Bliss of Baja. My love affair is back on again.
I have a couple of hotels picked out from my Moon Guide. Experience has proven so far that prices are lower than what is actually listed in the guidebook, which is typically not the case. So I decide to stop by the Hotel Mediterranean, but at 900 pesos per night, it is out of my price range. So I keep walking.
Soon I come to my second choice, Pension Baja Paradise, only a block up from the malecón. I am unsure of the conditions, as the outside looks like a thatched hut perched oddly on a residential street. I ask to have a look around, when I see a box of empty extra-large Indio and Modelo beer bottles in the communal kitchen, so my first thought is “Oh, dear, this is Backpacker Party Central.” But my backpack is weighing heavier due to the heat, so pay for one night anyway. My fears are assuaged however, as I soon realize I am the only one in the place, save for all the chirping birds in the courtyard. It is one of those places where you don’t expect anything to work, i.e. AC, wifi, in-room fridge, hot water, comfortable bed, but when it all does, it’s a delightful surprise.
My first night here, I stroll along the 3 mile paved malecón soaking in what La Paz is known for, it’s glorious sunsets. Before I know it, I am paying for another night at Pension Baja Paradise. And another. And another.
Nightly strolls to watch the sunset find me surrounded by locals, lovers, skateboarders, roller bladers, bicyclers, musicians, all with a “happy vibe.” The waterfront is lined with open air restaurants offering dinner straight from the sea. They all point toward the nightly show in the western sky. The air is warm and smells of the salty sea, but the surrounding desert keeps humidity low. The only “crowds” I encounter are at the local ice cream shop, La Fuente, where the homemade “waffle bowls” are worth the wait.
La Paz is one of those places that still feels like Mexico, yet is supported with enough creature comforts that one can still get a taste of “home.” There are farmers markets offering fresh baked breads and organic produce, and a few hip coffee shops that are what a Starbucks most undoubtedly was once, and still wishes it could be.
Though La Paz is Baja’s second largest city, you would never know it by the quaint charm of the downtown area. If you must, a Walmart and Home Depot are just far enough away from the downtown area to be “out of sight, out of mind.” And the small, easy to navigate airport makes it possible to get out of town quickly with ease. Or you can hop on a ferry to reach mainland Mexico, either to Mazatlan or Los Mochis, the southern terminus for El Chepe, the Copper Canyon train. It has all the infrastructure to support tourism, yet the giant cruise ships are cordoned off in a harbor 20 kms out of town.
But the thing I love most about La Paz is the “sailor vibe.” The Sea of Cortez is a sailor’s haven, and I have longed to sail it for years. In fact, I had my sailing pals back east convinced to do a charter back in 2012, just before Moorings closed their base in La Paz unexpectedly. Blanketed on both ends by marinas filled with beautiful yachts is all it takes for me to long to be at the helm again. As I am walking the malecón during a scarlet sunset night, I hear myself saying “I am coming back here one day….on a sailboat.” I could swear I heard a voice replying “Why yes, Suzanne….yes you are!”
“Some quality there is in the whole Gulf that trips a trigger of recognition so that in fantastic and exotic scenery one finds oneself nodding and saying inwardly, ‘Yes, I know.’” ~ John Steinbeck