By Barbara Barton Sloane
Postcard from Baja, Mexico
“Ferocious with life,” is what John Steinbeck said of it; Jacques Cousteau called it the “Galapagos of North America.” Both were captivated by the Sea of Cortes and on a recent visit, so was I.
Just south of California lies Baja, California, Mexico and its capital, La Paz. UNESCO has declared this unrushed and uncrowded inland sea area a World Heritage Site, calling it one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on earth.
In fact, the Sea’s wildlife-rich waters and islands are home to both plants and animals found nowhere else, including giant lizards, sea turtles, boobies, sharks, mantas, sea lions and many species of whales.
But for now, let’s start above ground with the city of La Paz.
The Hidden Gem of La Paz
This city is one of the most scenic, accessible, and safe (yes, safe!) destinations in North America, and while many visitors head straight to Cabo San Lucas, the real hidden gem is La Paz.
Founded in 1535, it is a delightfully relaxed city on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, with miles of beautiful bay front and a long malecon (waterfront walkway); its name translates to “the peace,” relating beautifully to the subdued ambience of the place.
Crime statistics here are low and the pace is leisurely. All business shuts down between the hours of 2pm and 4pm.
Not touristy, La Paz thus enjoys a lower cost of living. It is, however, a choice place for ex-pats who come from all over the world to live here year-round. With little rain and 340 sun-shiny days a year, its appeal is obvious. The New York Times has, in fact, named this destination one of the world’s “Top Ten Places to Retire.”
Where to Stay in La Paz
Just 10 minutes from downtown La Paz is the CostaBaja Resort & Spa, a 5-star, 115-room property that overlooks a white sand beach and a 250-slip marina; just north of the hotel lies Isla Espiritu Santo, home of an extraordinary marine reserve and sport fishing site.
The guest rooms include private, furnished balconies with views of the marina, surrounding mountains and the Sea of Cortez. There’s a palm-fringed pool, an adjacent kids’ pool, and a fitness center with a roof-top lap pool, as well.
In addition to a fine Gary Player Signature Golf Course, its restaurant, Steinbeck’s, takes its name from the prize-winning author who penned the book, “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” from his 6-week boat expedition in 1940.
Weddings celebrated here overlooking the sea can be dream-like and the CostaBaja wedding staff is dedicated to fulfilling that dream. Icing on the cake: guests of the Resort have exclusive use of a private beach club, the Cortez Club–elegance personified.
I particularly enjoyed the Club’s unique in-pool cooling loungers and a sugar-white sand beach that goes on forever – very cool indeed.
The next night I decided to sample Steinbeck’s wine-tasting dinner with some unique and memorable dishes: a roasted beet salad and a savory black bean and shrimp soup, each dish accompanied by a variety of wines – all Mexican, all superb; the Casa Madero Cabernet was a standout.
Exploring the Sea
For my last day I knew I could not leave before spending time on the water experiencing the sea and its startling marine life. To help me do just that the Club has a 5-star dive center offering a wide range of aquatic activities including scuba diving, sport fishing, and whale watching.
I was thrilled when I learned I’d have the chance to see whale sharks, the largest known living fish species that can grow up to 66 feet and weigh 30+ tons.
My two guides, Jose and Javier, said that if I was lucky I’d have the chance to swim with up to a dozen of these mammoth beasts. For once I was happy to be unlucky, quite content to peer over the edge of the boat and watch them swimming about–but not with me!
We visited a sea lion colony and on the way saw a sight I’ll never forget, a humpback whale breaching, flying skyward, almost completely out of the water, spinning airborne and then plunging back into the sea.
My good guides and I, all with cameras in hand, failed to capture the shot. But, hey, we saw this phenomenal sight. What more can you ask?
This wondrous whale quite effectively brought my Sea of Cortez venture to a colossal close, but just for now. CostaBaja and the Sea of Cortes, I’ll be back!
If You Go
La Paz Tourism
CostaBaja Resort & Spa
The Cortez Club