Mexico / Baja California  / Breakpoints / La Paz
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Monday, October 23, 2017

La Paz

A more beautiful site can hardly be imagined – the white buildings of La Paz, lining a wide sweeping bay in the Gulf of California, contrast sharply with the blue of the sea.

The capital of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur lies at the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna which rise to high mountains behind the town. It is only 125 miles (200 km) to go to the tourist places in the South, but many visitors prefer to stay in La Paz, because it has quite a lot of attractions – just as can be expected of a capital of 180,000 inhabitants. For example, a nearly perfect climate with much sunshine, which allows day temperatures of more than 20 °C (c. 70 °F) even in January; in July, however, the thermometer rises to almost 40 °C (c. 105 °F). The sunsets in La Paz are legendary and can best be enjoyed on the magnificent, palm-shaded waterfront promenade. This street, the so-called Malecón, is the secret main street. It is lined by the most beautiful hotels and restaurants, the local population comes here to meet, this is the way of processions on carnival or religious feasts. The yachts at anchor in the wide bay provide the adequate background.

The town itself has been laid out in strict accordance with the Spanish colonial pattern, i.e., a checkerboard with squares of some 325 ft (100 m) of lateral length. On one of these squares, the Plaza Constitución, the cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Paz has been built. It replaced the former mission church in 1861. Like most towns of Baja California, La Paz originated as a mission; it was founded in 1720, but abandoned after only 29 years because of a rebellion of the Indians.

Spaniards had already been at the place two centuries earlier: Hernando Cortés himself, the conqueror of the Aztec empire, came here in 1535 to investigate into reports of pearls that had been seen with the indigenous population. But the expected treasures turned out to be an illusion, and the attempt of settlement failed because of the remoteness of the place and supply problems.

Modern La Paz was founded in 1811 as a settlement of some Mexicans and became the capital of Spanish California after the destruction of Loreto in 1829. The town remained fairly unimportant, though, until in 1973 the transpeninsular highway was completed and linked La Paz to the road traffic system. In the same year, the southern part of the peninsula was promoted to statehood as Baja California Sur (BCS) and La Paz was again given the title of “capital”.

The traffic brought the tourists. Although US celebrities had discovered the region as a holiday destination in the 1950‘s already, only the MEX-1 and in particular the international airport of La Paz opened the doors for more visitors. The concourse is nonetheless limited. For bathing, the beaches of the Cape region are much more popular; the beaches of La Paz are outside the town and better suited for walks or the observation of marine birds.

The effect of the town on the visitor is rather due to its special charm and the fact that it is a good starting-point for excursions, e.g. to the offshore island of Espíritu Santo. The island can be reached by boat or kayak; its attractions are large colonies of sea lions and the endemic antilope jackrabbit. Likewise very near are the former mining town of El Triunfo and the granite mountains of the Sierra de la Laguna. And if you want to see more of Mexico, you can leave Baja California by Baja Ferries; the ferry port of Pichilingue north of La Paz is connected to the Mexican mainland. The crossing to the port of Topolobampo in Sinaloa state takes only 5 hours.

And last, but not least: the sea. Divers find some of the best diving places of the whole Baja near La Paz. Big fish such as hammerheads, whale sharks or mantas can nearly always be seen.

The pleasant shade under the coconut palms and laurel trees, the fragrance of acacias, rosewood and royal poincianas in spring and the ever-blowing light breeze, the coromuel, give the town a pleasant lightness. La Paz, a modern, prosperous university town and famous for its picturesque sunsets.