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La Paz is is finally coming into its own as a Mexican destination. Surrounded by the Sea of Cortez, La Paz is home to miles of coastline, with dozens of white-sand beaches and warm waters perfect for kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding and swimming. Despite the city’s natural beauty and rich colonial history, it languished in the shadow of Los Cabos for years, as the tourism powerhouse at the tip of the Baja peninsula soaked up all of the attention. Now, the inauguration of a modern highway and a fresh marketing approach is helping La Paz make waves in the industry. With Aeromexico's direct route from Los Angeles, the city is also more accessible than ever for West Coast residents.
In the past, cities such as Paris, New York and London have been favorites among travelers, but a 2013 study conducted by MasterCard's Global Destination Cities Index indicates that modern travelers have taken an exotic turn. A new list of must-see bucket list destinations has emerged for 2014. With its near-perfect weather, pristine beaches and off-the-radar atmosphere, La Paz fits the bill.
From mid-December to late March, visitors can experience the migration of gray whales, which swim approximately 5,000 miles from the Arctic and North Atlantic to mate or give birth in the shallow lagoons of Magdalena Bay. The destination also offers opportunities for whale shark encounters. These gentle, filter-feeding giants weigh in at 79,000 pounds and are the largest fish in the world, some surpassing 40 feet in length.
Scuba divers will want to head out to El Bajo, a popular dive site known for schools of hammerheads, amber jacks, tuna and giant Pacific mantas. Ecotourists can explore Espiritu Santo, a UNESCO-protected gem with 23,800 acres of pristine ecosystems.
During a recent visit, I had the thrill of snorkeling among sea lions in their natural habitat. Swimming in open water, in the sea lions’ domain, was an adrenaline-pumping experience.
While the Sea of Cortez is La Paz’s major draw, the city also offers a variety of dry-land activities. Its century-old buildings are mixed in with a variety of modern shops and restaurants. At the Regional Anthropology and History Museum in the heart of the city, visitors can stroll through fossil and cave painting exhibits that give insight to the daily lives of the La Paz’s earliest dwellers. The “malecon,” or boardwalk, is the social center of the city, where residents come to enjoy a sea breeze and a bit of gossip.
La Paz offers plenty of options for a quick bite or a sophisticated dining experience. Celebrated local chef Cristina Kiewek's newest venture is Nim, situated in downtown La Paz. The restaurant, built inside a historic home with large open spaces and ample natural light, features a variety of international plates, such as New Orleans-style oysters, Vietnamese pho, Mediterranean Carpaccio, Moroccan lamb and regional favorites such as guacamole and Mexican “sopes” — thick, hand-made corn tortillas with meat toppings.
A block away from the malecon, hungry travelers can spot fisherman delivering the catch of the day to El Empanada, a local eatery famous for its “chocolatas,” or chocolate clams, which take their name from their brown-colored shells.