The hidden beauty of La Paz

You don’t have to look too far to appreciate the initial appeal of La Paz – mountain backdrop, sweeping crescent bay and hillside streets climbing up from the beachside malecon.

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Walking the malecon is the best way to orient yourself to La Paz. It runs the length of the historic centre and is lined with benches and palm trees. Amazingly, it is utterly free of touts pestering you about timeshares or boat rides. In fact, since the main road divides the malecon from the shops and restaurants, a stroll along the water lives up to the city’s name – Peace.  People-watching is what it’s all about.

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Maritime-themed sculptures dot the boardwalk – dolphins, mermaids and whales. We had fun watching the little boy to the right in this photo. We walked along with him as he took great joy in running away from his mother, grandmother and auntie – all of them calling him back with zero success.

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The northern part of the malecon is home to a great number of fishing boats – some of them still in use, others obviously retired.

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The southern end of the malecon has tour operators taking boats out to Espiritu Santo – part of a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising hundreds of islands. Snorkelling, diving and kayaking are all part of the tours and swimming with whale sharks is a huge draw.  Our timing was off – on the calm days we were doing other sightseeing and a number of days were simply too windy for the boats to go out safely.  We will try our luck when we stop here on our way back north.

Jacques Cousteau holds his rightful place on the malecon, casting his gaze over the Sea of Cortez, which he called “the world’s aquarium.”

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Even though the temperatures have not been that warm (18-22 degrees),  the sun is still very intense. I’ve given up on vanity  and we’re never without hats and water bottles.

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Most Mexican towns of any size have a cathedral and a plaza that form the centre of town. We parked in front of La Catedral de La Paz and returned to find pilons around our truck; they were attempting to clear space for a wedding. We wanted to watch for a glimpse of the bride, but needed to move out of there.

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We checked out the Saturday market, but were a bit disappointed. We were hoping for a great sprawling Mexican market with chickens and vegetables piled high and electronics and used clothing, but this one was quite small and catering to the gringo market. Vegan pesto, heirloom tomatoes, beach glass jewellery and artisan baking.

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All was not lost – this Italian woman and her son were grilling up sausages, but the real draw for us was the porchetta – a tender pork shoulder we had eaten before in Italy that could make you weep. A toasted bun, tomatoes, red onion, parsley pesto and as you can see from the photo, she didn’t skimp on the porchetta – whoa, so good.

When I commented to her about the number of Italians living in Mexico and why she moved from her home country, her answer was this, “Simple calculus. Italy has a negative birth rate and I wanted a future for myself and my children. My son was four when we moved (he is now mid-20s).” Although the economic advantage of moving to Mexico (for work) isn’t immediately apparent, it seems Italy and Mexico have a lot in common – the importance of family, appreciation for good food, proximity to the sea, rich agriculture and sun. It makes sense.

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Food in La Paz is very good; there is a thriving restaurant scene here. Admittedly, many of the restaurants and cafes are geared to the gringos, but this cafe had a good mix of clientele.

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This cafe, Doce Cuarenta, is a tourist hub. Very good coffee, baking and lunch items.

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We popped into this taco shop, which was mainly populated by Mexicans – usually a good sign. Communal tables, open kitchen, slightly gummy Tupperware containers of salsa, onion, cabbage and pots of salsa of varying degrees of heat.

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And the food – so fresh, so delicious. We had smoked marlin tacos, a “burro” with smoked marlin stuffed into a poblano pepper and topped with cheese, and my favourite – shrimp ceviche on tostado.

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We visited the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History, a small but well-presented history of Baja from prehistory to the 1910 revolution and beyond. All the signs were in Spanish, so we were able to get the gist, but missed the nuance of what we were reading.

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One section was photography devoted to cowboys, and the Mexican’s love of their horses.

I loved these two photos; they each capture essential elements of that life.

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La Paz is far more than the malecon, the restaurants and the tourist attractions. The hidden beauty of La Paz lies in discovering the little treasures that can be found by wandering the streets just back from the beachfront.

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A tile store and adjacent home.

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A sculpture outside a hotel

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Simple and perfect – white walls, red door, elegant sign, wrought iron, potted plants.

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Less perfect, but still interesting – more typically Mexican.  Great colours.

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The elegant Teatro Juarez

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A street view to the sea

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The travelling minstrels. Sooner or later, you will be serenaded by a singer with guitar, a mariachi band, or three old fellows who have played together for years. Levels of talent vary greatly and often they are largely ignored, but it’s fun and there are always extra pesos to drop in the hat.

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We stumbled upon this little park, tucked in off the street, with shady spots for picnics and a beautiful sculpture fountain. La Paz has a number of intriguing tiny parks – you just need to keep your eyes peeled.

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We talked to this family from Tijuana who were playing chess together. They told us they had driven straight from the border in 20 hours – obviously ignoring the often-repeated driving-in-Mexico mantra – “never drive at night.” Dad appeared to be winning.

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We drove out to Tecolote Beach, about a half hour outside La Paz, to see if the beach would be suitable for our trailer. Beach camping in Baja is incredible and in many cases is free, but not all beaches are accessible if you’re hauling a trailer or driving a big RV.

As it turned out, Tecolote Beach is completely appropriate, but can be quite windy. Since the weather for the next few days is calling for high winds, we will give it a try on our way back.

There is no water nor sani dump at Tecolote, but there are a couple of restaurants there, and a tour boat that goes out to Espiritu Santo. We drove out and took note of a couple of soft, sandy areas to avoid, but definitely will try and make it back. Very mellow, gorgeous swimming and snorkelling and nothing but starry nights and the sound of waves.

The backdrop to the beach at Tecolote:

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The beach:

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We’ve driven over some isolated mountain roads, some impressive potholes and topes, and endured that epic Hwy. 5 misadventure. So far, so good, but it is a common sight to see cars pulled off to one side, the hood up and a jack in place. Mexico has provided for highway mishaps in the form of angels – the Green Angels. This band of roadside saviours patrol Mexico’s highways and secondary roads to provide aid to motorists who have popped a tire, run out of gas, or otherwise broken down. Their services are free. We saw them a lot when we drove through mainland Mexico, but until now, never in Baja.  This off-duty Angel was at Tecolote Beach, enjoying the view.

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With such desirable beach camping and endless boondocking opportunities, you will see every imaginable form of RV in Baja – from rooftop tents to this beast. We arrived back at our campground a couple of days ago to discover this staggering vehicle, imported from Germany and clearly, the king of the road. We were not the only ones taking photos.

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It is far more likely you will encounter a varation of this old RV – a gentle version of transport that might have been right at home in what seems to be Baja’s heyday – the 70s.

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We’re spending a quiet New Year’s Eve, safely off the road and tucked into our campground for the night.

Tomorrow we will be in Todos Santos, about an hour away on the Pacific side, where we’ll hang out for a few days.

We wish you all nothing but good things for 2019 – good health, comfort, love, friendship and if it is at all possible – La Paz – peace.

23 thoughts on “The hidden beauty of La Paz

  1. Di King December 31, 2018 / 1:31 pm

    Happy New Years to you both, and many happy adventures in 2019!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind December 31, 2018 / 2:20 pm

      Happy New Year to you and your family. With any luck we may be your way in 2019, and will see you then.

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  2. Nancy Huot December 31, 2018 / 1:37 pm

    Happy New Year to you also. May your travels excite you and keep you safe

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    • leavingourselvesbehind December 31, 2018 / 2:23 pm

      Nancy, how great to hear from you. I hope you survived the power outage and are all set to bring in the New Year with the lights on. All the best to you – we’ll see you in the spring.

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  3. ANNE Katz December 31, 2018 / 2:22 pm

    1Happy New Year

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 1, 2019 / 7:13 am

      Happy New Year to you, Lorne and the whole family. Just a few more weeks and you’re off on your own adventures. Love to you all.

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  4. righteousbruin9 December 31, 2018 / 3:06 pm

    That is my kind of exploration-hit the back streets and see things one would never see on a guided tour. Happy 2019!

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  5. Margaret Gilmour December 31, 2018 / 4:18 pm

    Happy New Year, Ginny and Stephen! As always, I’m loving your photos and commentary…so enlightening. All the best for you in 2019, safe travels. xo Margy

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 1, 2019 / 7:16 am

      Thanks Margy – all the best to you, Chris and your family. Your Christmas in Victoria looked lovely, and I’m guessing the lights stayed on for New Year’s Eve – a good way to kick off 2019.

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  6. Alison and Steve December 31, 2018 / 4:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your many adventures, filled with vivid descriptions and colourful photos. As always, we’re travelling along with you in our imaginations. Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2019.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 1, 2019 / 7:29 am

      Thanks Alison and Steve, and wishing you both another year filled with continued travels and adventures.

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  7. Shelley and Tom December 31, 2018 / 6:00 pm

    Hi Ginny and Steve,
    What a pleasure to follow your road trip, up to and including this lovely spot, while we were on our own road trip through the north and south islands of New Zealand. Culturally so different and equally beautiful. I can fully appreciate the creativity and diligence it takes to be fully immersed in your experiences and to keep regularly posting – something I would not be able to do. It’s fantastic! All our best wishes for your continuing travels and everything else the year brings to you.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 1, 2019 / 7:44 am

      How nice to hear from you! I look forward to hearing about your trip – New Zealand is a place we would dearly love to visit.

      I think of you and Tom and the rest of our Spanish conversation group often as I continue to spin my wheels with my poor Spanish!

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  8. Joan Fisher January 1, 2019 / 11:21 am

    It seems I’m always leaving the Same ole comment! Gorgeous pictures! It’s true though! All of your posts have given me an entirely new perspective on Mexico and travelling there. Not a drug dealer in sight!

    Happy New Year and all the best in the new year. Joan

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 2, 2019 / 3:46 pm

      The drug dealers come to Baja for holidays, so they’re as chilled out as the rest of us. Honestly, we have not felt one second of discomfort or unease here – Mexicans are unfailingly friendly, helpful and lovely people.
      I am more nervous in any big North American city at night then I am in any part of Mexico.

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  9. Garry Davey January 1, 2019 / 11:19 pm

    Wow, what a great looking place La Paz is, so colourful, great beaches, and that amazing blue Baja sky. I”m looking forward to seeing your pics of Todos Santos, I was there about 20 years ago or so, and really enjoyed it’s simplicity, stayed at a B&B run by a Canadian woman from Mayne Island, who toured us into the mountains where we met some amazing people living so close to the land. It was just beginning to be of interest to gringos and on the verge of development, so I’m curious to see what it’s like now. Enjoy your stay there, and again Happy New Year!! 🙂

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 2, 2019 / 4:10 pm

      Garry, we just drove past Todos Santos this afternoon – we’re beach camping just south of town, and are looking forward to being there tomorrow. Our next door neighbours (Ron and Nancy from Gabriola) hadn’t been there in years either and they were amazed at the changes. Lots to tell you in the next post.
      Happy New Year to you and Donna!

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  10. Ann January 2, 2019 / 9:04 am

    Happy New Year Ginny and Steve.

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  11. Heather Scott January 2, 2019 / 7:48 pm

    La Paz really does look like a beautiful place to visit. Your shots of the malecon remind me of the malecon in Puerto Vallarta. I could sit on a bench all day and watch the people stroll by and it doesn’t cost you anything! May the New Year bring many more adventures your way.

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  12. jon snipper January 5, 2019 / 2:58 pm

    A belated Feliz Nuevo Año from central Canada. Hope that 2019 continues to be as enjoyable and exciting as 2018 was for you both. Will continue to follow your insightful commentary and great accompanying photos. You are the perfect couple to take in Mexico for all it’s worth and reflect back for us your pleasure and appreciation of that rich and varied culture.

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  13. linda ogle January 5, 2019 / 3:41 pm

    Happy New Year -as Jon says you are able to shine a light on all that is interesting and lovely about Mexico [ I know he wishes i could do the same!]. it was fun to see a comment from you, Tom and Shelley, travelling through new Zealand. Will look forward to hearing about that -a place i would love to spend time in
    Happy travels -a highlight of 2019 for me will be when we can get together with you all on Gabriola.

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