The city of La Paz has many things to do and see but we all feel the need to “get out of town” from time to time. I recommend the following destinations because they’re all easy day trips by car (or boat!) and you’ll find many places along the way to enjoy lunch and experience our dessert, mountain and seaside vistas. Please see the accompanying map for reference.
Todos Santos (50 miles south of La Paz on Highways 1 & 19) is a charming Pueblo Magico (magic town) located about half way between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. Follow Highway 1 out of town but bear right at the “Y” south of San Pedro. (The sign indicates that Cabo San Lucas is in both directions – be sure you take the right-hand exit.) Your drive to Todos Santos will take you diagonally across the peninsula, from the placid Sea of Cortez to the much wilder (and colder) Pacific Ocean.
At the turn of the century, Todos Santos was the site of a major sugar cane industry but today it’s home to many art galleries, gift shops and seasonal expats. In the downtown area you will find Hotel California and several other excellent places to enjoy lunch or a beverage.
Just south of Todos Santos is the small community of Pescadero, which is also the surfing capitol of Baja California Sur. In Pescadero, don’t miss Baja Beans, a right turn at the OXXO store. The owners import and roast some of the best coffee around!
El Triunfo and San Antonio (31 miles south and east of La Paz on Highway 1) Follow Highway 1 out of town but bear leftat the “Y” south of San Pedro. (The sign indicates that Cabo San Lucas is in both directions – be sure you take the left-hand exit) The road will take you up into the northern end of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains. This area has an interesting history that dates back to the mid-1800s when gold and silver were discovered. By the turn of the century, it was the financial and cultural center of the region, with more than 10,000 permanent residents! The mines closed in 1926 and most people left. Today the population is less than 500 but El Triunfo is gaining popularity as a tourist attraction by sponsoring weekend events. Two notable attractions are the piano museum and the old smelter smokestacks. The taller stack, reaching 35 meters (115 feet) into the sky, was designed by Gustav Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.
San Bartolo and Los Barriles (60 miles south and east of La Paz on Highway 1) San Bartolo is a small mountain community of about 800 people on Highway 1, 20 miles past San Antonio. Thanks to an abundance of fruit trees this village has become known for its home-made candies, which are available at roadside stands along the highway. If you plan to explore San Bartolo, watch for signs to the “city center” as it’s off the main highway. The road between San Antonio and San Bartolo includes some windy, mountain driving, so please be careful! Also watch for the many topes (speed bumps) once you reach San Bartolo.
Los Barriles is a seaside community popular with expats and it’s part of a larger area known as the East Cape. Wind sports and sportfishing are popular activities and there are a number of excellent restaurants in town. As with San Bartolo, the main part of Los Barriles is off the highway a few blocks, where you’ll also find a long, white beach that runs the length of town.
La Ventana and El Sargento (24 miles east of La Paz on Luis Donaldo Colosio Boulevard, which becomes Highway 286 and then 5 miles north on Corredor Isla Cerralvo) are neighboring villages on the shores of the Sea of Cortez that have become so popular with wind sports enthusiasts that the area has earned the nickname “Hood River South.” In the spring, the long beach is filled with wind surfers and kite boarders and major tournaments feature races between the beach and nearby Cerralvo Island. Bring a jacket, because the wind really blows in this part of BCS.
The Bay of Dreams (37 miles east on Luis Donaldo Colosio Boulevard, which becomes Highway 286) is where you’ll end up if you miss the turn-off to La Ventana. Also known as Bahia de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead), this is where the gold and silver ore were taken to be loaded onto ships during the mining boom in El Triunfo. Today, it’s the site of a residential development, a public restaurant and some great snorkeling spots. Also in the area is the fully automated Punta Arena Airstrip, with a paved runway, and a large evaporation facility for extracting salt from sea water. Ask locals for directions to reach these.
Isla Espiritu Santo (only accessible by boat) is a large, uninhabited island located in the mouth of the Bay of La Paz, about 17 nautical miles from downtown. The island has an area of 31 square miles (12th largest in Mexico) and is an important eco-tourism destination. It was declared part of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve in 1995 and it’s the only known habitat of the black jackrabbit. Sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities around the island and day trips can be arranged through the many tour operators along the Malecón in downtown La Paz. For an all-day experience, that often includes snorkeling with the sea lions and lunch on one of the many pristine island beaches, contact Fun Baja Tours (www.funbaja.com).