Hooked on Baja

Clients who want something more from a Baja California experience than the modern resorts and clubs of Cabo San Lucas should visit La Paz. The state capital is located on a huge bay on the east coast of Baja, about a two-hour drive from Cabo. It is an excellent launching point for fishing, sailing and diving expeditions to the Sea of Cortes, the aquatic paradise that inspired John Steinbeck and Jacques Cousteau.

By: Kevin Brass

Clients who want something more from a Baja California experience than the modern resorts and clubs of Cabo San Lucas should visit La Paz.

The state capital is located on a huge bay on the east coast of Baja, about a two-hour drive from Cabo. It is an excellent launching point for fishing, sailing and diving expeditions to the Sea of Cortes, the aquatic paradise that inspired John Steinbeck and Jacques Cousteau.

Several stark desert islands off the coast provide bountiful coves of blue-green water, surrounded by some of the most barren landscape south of Death Valley.

English and Dutch pirates once operated around La Paz, raiding Spanish galleons laden with treasures from the Orient. Hundreds of years later La Paz was one of the world’s top, pearl-producing regions, until the oysters disappeared in the 1940s, the victim of either over-harvesting or a mysterious disease.

Later, in the 1950s, La Paz was a favorite getaway for such Hollywood celebrities as John Wayne and Bing Crosby, who went on fishing expeditions in the Sea of Cortes.

La Paz is not for everyone, especially clients looking for wide sandy beaches. The beaches around the city tend to be dirty and crowded. Clients who go to Mexico for all-inclusive resorts, Planet Hollywood and handy McDonalds will be disappointed in La Paz. Golfing fanatics will be downright shocked there are no golf courses in La Paz.

See Lions

But the spectacular bay of La Paz and the Sea of Cortes are ripe for adventure. Half-day snorkeling trips, led by Baja Quest, head to Los Islotes, a small cropping of rock that serves as a home to a loud, playful colony of sea lions. You can snorkel in the warm water while the curious sea lions check you out, diving to the bottom and shooting toward you, just to see if you’ll react. On the way back, the groups stop in a small cove on Isla Espiritu Santo, a 14-mile deserted island. There are several coves, each an oasis in the desert heat. Longer snorkeling and diving excursions visit Isla San Jose, where visitors can romp through a forest of the world’s biggest cactuses. Overnight visitors often park their boats at Isla San Francisco, just north of La Paz, where rugged cliffs protect a horseshoe-shaped bay, blocking the winds of the Sea of Cortes.

Call Baja Quest at 011-52-612-123-5320. Web site: www.bajaquest.com.mx.

Baja Expeditions Inc. also arranges a variety of excursions. For example, a three-night dive package stops at Los Islotes, Santo and Cerralvo Island, where giant mantas accompany divers. The cost is $1,075 per person, including hotel rooms.

Call 858-581-3311. Web site: www.bajaex.com.

Perhaps the best way to explore the islands is by sailboat. Moorings Inc. (800-535-7289; www. moorings. com) runs charters, including bareboats, out of La Paz.

Where to Stay

La Casa Mexicana, a bed and breakfast located a block off the malecon, is one of the newer additions to La Paz. Its five guest rooms, most with bay views, rent for $65 to $85 a night. La Casa Mexicana pays 10% commission on undiscounted rooms.

Web site: www.lapace nalapaz.com.

La Concha Beach Resorts and Condos is the only real resort property close to the center of town. The condo suites offer great views and a separate pool. Be aware that the hotel can be loud and crowded. The complex includes a dive shop and a restaurant. Rates range from $95 to $260 per night for a three-bedroom condo.

Call 800-999-2252.

Web site: www.laconcha. com.

La Posada de Engelbert, a collection of rooms and casitas owned by crooner Engelbert Humperdink, is located in a quiet neighborhood on the south end of the bay about 15 minutes out of town. John Wayne used to stay at La Posada, where rooms have old Mexico charm stone floors, hardwood furniture, wrought-iron fixtures and fireplaces.

The property includes a pool, a restaurant and a beachside palapa bar.

Rates range from $65 for a room to $95 for a casita with a patio.

Web site: www.laposada engelbert.com.

Web site: www.vivala paz.com for general information on La Paz. n

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