Golf course near La Paz's Costa Baja Resort Marina.
Brand new buildings rise out of the desert in La Paz.
Future development plans are marked in the desert hills.
A mega waterslide.
Old and new: a renovated schooner cruises past a
brand new golf course.
Boats of all sizes enjoy La Paz harbor.
Marina de La Paz.
The La Paz malecón.
Inviting park benches line the malecón.
Humpback whale breaching.
Evocative statues enliven the malecón.
Dressy trash cans.
A turtle statue gives a mural a
Musical sea shells.
The malecón is a great place to sit a spell.
Carlos Slim's super yacht drops in for a few days.
The Mexican Navy kicks off the Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations in dress whites.
Mexican Navy ships behind us.
Embroidered and knitted items for sale.
Manual orange juicers in a kitchen shop.
Katty took our measurements and made fantastic
lycra snorkeling suits for us.
The La Paz eddy?
Lagoon entrance at Puerto Balandra.
Cardón cactus greet us.
A sunflower starfish (the
camera's flash made a bright
spot in the center).
Happy afternoons in the cockpit.
Sunset in Puerto Balandra.
La Paz & Puerto Balandra, Baja California, Mexico
Mid-April, 2011 - After a few quiet days in Ensenada de
Los Muertos at the tip of the Baja peninsula we felt
sufficiently recovered from visiting Mazatlan and crossing
the Sea to make our way into another big city: La Paz.
Coupled with Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, La Paz
makes the third urban leg of the triangle joining the Sea
of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean (see Mexico Maps).
The beautiful marinas in each of these cities often keep cruisers
tied to the docks for weeks, as the deliciously comfortable resort
lifestyle makes it hard to untie the lines and move on. We had
been told repeatedly before we left for Mexico, "Don't spend too
long in Puerto Vallarta like we did," or "We got stuck in Mazatlan
way too long," or "We were trapped in the 'La Paz eddy' and ran
out of time." Staying out in the anchorages instead of the marinas
throughout our Mexico cruise has kept us mobile, and we planned
a brief visit to La Paz.
As we approached La Paz, motoring down the several mile long
entrance channel, the area seemed bursting with the thrill of new
resorts going up. A brilliant green golf course defied the brown
desert surroundings while stunning glass plated multi-story
buildings rose from the hills. Behind a huge unfinished building,
markings on the hillside revealed how the land will be carved up
for future development. It all pointed to a town flush with hopes
of hosting well-heeled tourists for many years to come.
A massive water slide made our jaws drop, and we could hear
the screams of the kids on one of the slides.
It was nearing the start of
"Semana Santa," or the
Holy Week surrounding
Easter that is Mexico's
major vacation week, and
boats of all shapes and
sizes were heading out of
the channel into the island
playground that is just
beyond the city's limits.
Marina de La Paz has
space at their dinghy dock
for boats that anchor in the bay. They
are also home to Club Cruceros, a
cruising club that offers a ready-made
community of knowledgeable fellow
cruisers for visiting sailors, complete
with morning coffee hour gatherings
and a very large book exchange.
The heart of La Paz is the malecón, or
seaside boardwalk, that extends for
several miles along the bay. This is a
wonderful place for both leisurely
strolls and energetic jogs. The
malecón is dotted with inviting
white wrought iron park benches
and charming sculptures.
A deep love of the sea and a
little bit of whimsy fill each statue,
reminiscent of San Diego's
Urban Trees. Even the trash
cans are dressed up as sea
A huge mural of
the undersea world of the Sea of Cortez incorporates a
sculpture of sea turtles in an intriguing way, and we
found a band of shells strumming instruments a little
Despite being a
bustling city, you can't
help but slow down
along the malecón and take a breather while looking out at
the many cruising boats anchored in the harbor.
During our stay we had lots of things
on our "to do" list, and we scurried
around town gathering provisions both for the dinner table and the boat. This was the first
city where we had found a chandlery, Lopez Marine, that not only had all of the items we
needed but was run by a Canadian ex-pat who understood both our language and our
boat's fussy needs. We had struck out at boat-oriented stores in Manzanillo, Puerto
Vallarta and Mazatlan before this, so we were thrilled to stock up on all the items we had
neglected to bring with us from San Diego.
We also discovered we were definitely in Baja and not on the mainland anymore as we
shopped for the galley and stopped at street-side vendors for snacks. We had searched
high and low for fish tacos and grilled beef tacos on our travels on the southern mainland,
always coming up empty. Flour tortillas are nonexistent on menus south of Puerto Vallarta
and aren't available for purchase save for one brand in the supermarkets. Now we rejoiced in $1.50 grilled beef tacos with all
the fixings, we scarfed a few fish tacos, and grabbed a variety of brands of flour tortillas for the galley.
The richest guy in the world, Mexican communications
tycoon Carlos Slim, also seems to like La Paz. His
megayacht was in port getting a little window washing
during our stay.
We woke up the day before Good Friday to find the
Mexican Navy in celebration behind us.
Several small Navy ships were anchored just off our stern, flags
flying. A whole group of Sailors lined up on shore looking very
sharp in their dress whites.
La Paz is an older town, and it has hilly, narrow streets that give it a different, cozier kind of
feeling than other Mexican coastal cities we've visited. As in the US where so many towns
are beginning to look alike with matching big box stores, Mexico's chains and street vendors
give many of their towns a similar appearance. Familiar Mexican businesses like Coppel,
Elektra, Comex, Soriana, Comercial Mexicana, Bancomer, TelCel and Banamex show up in
every city, often accompanied by American counterparts like Walmart, Home Depot, KFC,
Office Max, Subway, McDonalds and others.
But the streets of La Paz go up and down,
rather than being wide and flat, and many
seem to be one-way. Even the street vendors
here seemed to be offering slightly different
wares, including one who was selling
embroidered and knitted goods.
We got a tip from friends that a seamstress in
town makes custom fitted snorkeling suits.
With long sleeves and long legs, these lycra
outfits offer a little bit of warmth
and a lot of abrasion protection.
We visited Katty's house for a
fitting and three days later had
two wonderful new body
suits for less than the
price of a bikini back
As we made our way
back to the boat one
day, a small school of
fish was swarming in
circles under our
Were they caught
in that infamous La
Paz eddy too?
Hmm... maybe it
was time to leave.
The anchorages in the first 100 miles north of La Paz are considered to be
some of the best in the Sea of Cortez. We wanted to visit every one, so
we started at Bahía San Gabriel at the southern end of Isla Espiritu Santo.
This pretty bay had us each sighing "ahhhh" all afternoon once the hook
was down. A noisy frigate bird nesting colony filled the trees along one
part of the shore, and the long white sand beach begged to be walked.
"Tomorrow..." we both said simultaneously, envisioning a quiet kayak ride
to shore and a slow walk-swim-walk together along the water's edge.
From the perfect stillness of the cockpit we watched the sun set in spectacular colors, anticipating a quiet night. So we were
quite surprised when the boat began to roll mysteriously. An ominous, low roar gradually filled the air around the boat.
Suddenly the wind began to pick up, sending us into the cabin to get out of the cold and then bringing us back on deck in
alarm as it quickly accelerated over 20 knots. The boat began to buck and roll, and we watched in awe as the one other boat
in the anchorage, a 65' Swiss flagged yacht, pitched wildly in the growing maelstrom. We struggled to keep our footing as we
scrambled down below again. What the heck?
For 15 straight hours the boat jerked violently and the wind bellowed and whistled through the rigging. We were wide awake
throughout the night, our only comfort being the knowledge that the seven people on the other boat were wide awake too. By
morning we had read every book on board about the La Paz Coromuel winds. Good grief. Who woulda thunk that a heavenly
little tropical anchorage could transform into a nightmarish haunted house and roller coaster ride so fast? Well, we learned
that it happens every night in the late spring and summer within 40 miles of La Paz. The word "Coromuel" is the Spanish
pronunciation of the name of British privateer Samuel Cromwell.
This odd, all night phenomenon of absolutely vicious south/southwest winds is caused by hot desert air rising from Baja's
southern tip near La Paz and sucking in the cold Pacific air across the low lands without any mountains to slow it down. By
11:00 each morning the show is over and the winds vanish, replacing the word "nightmarish" with the word "idyllic" in the
description of every southwest-facing anchorage in the area. With great optimism, many travel guides dismiss this horror as
"a cool evening breeze," which it may be if you are on a protected patio somewhere.
So the trick in spring and summer near La Paz is to stay only in
those anchorages that have south to southwest protection. We
found such a spot at Puerto Balandra.
Tucking up under the towering cliffs
to the south, we spent three stunning
days gazing at the white sand
beaches and jade green water, smug
in the knowledge that when the
ferocious winds came at night we would be completely
protected from the huge waves and modestly protected from
the howling wind.
It had been 16 months since we had spent any time in the
Sonoran desert, and it felt wonderful to be back again. The tall
cárdon cactus, close relatives of our beloved Arizona saguaro
cactus, seemed to reach their arms out to us in a big wave
"hello." In the distance we heard the familiar chortle of a cactus
wren. Our sinuses got all crackly again and every towel on the
boat dried out in an hour or so.
Slathered in sunscreen once more, we explored the pristine
beaches by foot and with mask and snorkel. We spotted a
sunflower starfish under the still, clear water. From the boat we
could hear the happy voices of kids playing on one of the white
beaches a mile away while the sun baked our bodies. It
reminded us both of our childhood days -- on Michigan lakes for
Mark and on New England beaches for me.
We hung out in the cockpit every
afternoon, and Mark got inspired to strum a few tunes.
This bay is a perfect weekend getaway for folks in La Paz. After
a few days of blissful vacation we zipped back into the city for
some final provisions before hitting the remote and largely
uninhabited islands to the north in the Sea of Cortez where our
first discoveries were Isla Partida's Ensenada Grande and then
Find La Paz and Puerto Balandra on Mexico Maps.