The opportunity to snorkel in a natural habitat for sea lions is unique to La Paz. // © 2013 La Paz Tourism
La Paz had been floundering in a chicken or the egg situation — which comes first, the additional flights or the increase in hotel rooms? Fortunately, La Paz tourism got a boost when Aeromexico inaugurated weekly direct flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The destination is now on track, welcoming new hotels and the flight in tandem.
“We’re not looking to capture the all-inclusive market or mass-market tourism,” said Luis Palacios Larranaga, director general of the Baja California Sur Tourism Board. “When we lost the La Paz Alaska flight, we expected our numbers to dip, but this did not really happen. We found that people were flying into Los Cabos and driving up to La Paz.”
La Paz is about a two-hour drive from Los Cabos. The drive is made even more appealing by the small town of Todos Santos, which is situated at the halfway point between Los Cabos and La Paz. Todos Santos, considered one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos, or Magical Towns, makes an excellent stop for lunch and a bit of high-quality handicraft shopping.
I made my first visit to La Paz as a passenger on the inaugural Aeromexico flight last month. Up until my visit, my reading of guidebooks always mentioned La Paz as being a colonial city. I envisioned it to be a pocket-size Oaxaca by the sea. On arrival I learned that this second-hand perception was not even close to accurate. While there are a few colonial-era buildings still standing, including a cathedral built in 1835, La Paz is actually a modern city with a relaxed ambience, chiefly because of its three-mile long malecon, where locals stroll, play with their kids, catch up on gossip or do what appears to be the preferred La Paz method of meditation — sitting on a bench and staring quietly out to sea.
In my opinion, La Paz’s major selling point is Espiritu Santo, an island easily accessed via tour operators such as Grupo Fun Baja. Espiritu Santo has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its diverse marine ecosystems and offers the unique experience of snorkeling among sea lions in a natural setting, with the creatures swimming only a few feet away.
Other notable features of La Paz are its stunning desert and mountain scenery, the championship golf course at CostaBaja Resort & Spa, numerous high-quality restaurants and the city’s general feeling of safety.
“You see Carlos Slim — the second richest man in the world — walking on the malecon in his flip-flops,” noted Larranaga.
The newest hotel to open in La Paz is the 24-room La Posada Boutique Hotel & Beach Club. Openings scheduled later in 2013 include the 88-room Zar Hotel, the 120-room City Express Palmira and the 130-room The One Hotel. The highly anticipated 151-room Hyatt Place La Paz is scheduled to open in 2014.
“La Paz is a hidden gem,” said Sandy Rodley, travel counselor at Via Verde Travel, who was also on the inaugural flight. “I was truly impressed by the destination. Having only seen one hotel [CostaBaja Resort & Spa] and experiencing one sightseeing adventure [Espirtu Santo], I can still say I’ve seen enough to give me reason to send clients to La Paz. I don’t think La Paz is for everyone, but it’s perfect for those looking for a quiet and authentic vacation. The best part is that it’s an easy and quick flight from Los Angeles.”
Aeromexico will operate the new LAX/La Paz route using the 99-seat Embraer 190 aircraft. On Thursdays and Sundays, flight number 2167 will depart Los Angeles at 2:20 p.m. and arrive in La Paz at 5:44 p.m. Also on Thursdays and Sundays, flight number 2166 will depart La Paz at 11:51 a.m. and arrive in Los Angeles at 1:20 p.m.