A little history...
The Baja Peninsula has been inhabited for centuries - exactly how many centuries is still a matter of scientific study. Early inhabitants included members of the Cochimie, Guaycura, and Pericue tribes. Cave paintings located throughout the Peninsula have been attributed to even earlier inhabitants.
The city of La Paz
founded on May 3, 1535 by Hernán Cortés, the Spanish explorer, although
he named it Santa Cruz. It became known as La Paz in 1596
was renamed by another Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno.
1720, two Jesuits, Jaime Bravo and Juan de Ugarte, founded a mission
here, Misión de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de La Paz.
In 1830, La Paz was designated capital of the territory of Baja California after Loreto, the first territorial capital, had been severely damaged in a hurricane. The state of Baja California Sur was created on October 8, 1974 and La Paz became its capital.
La Paz has evolved from a small fishing and pearl-harvesting town (John Steinbeck´s The Pearl is based on La Paz) to a major metropolitan area, the largest in the state of Baja California Sur, with a population of approximately 230,000 people. Although tourism is important to the economy of La Paz, and currently there are plans to expand it, the city also has its own non-tourist economy, most notably state government, fishing and aquaculture, universities, and various wholesale and retail businesses.
Sites to see...
Visitors to La Paz, and locals, too, are invariably drawn to the malecón, a walkway running for 5.5 km (about 3 miles) along the Bay of La Paz. It begins at the corner of Marquéz de León and Abasolo (the Papas and Beer Beach Club) at the south end, and runs to Coromuel beach and water park at the north end. Walkers, joggers, and in-line skaters can be found on the malecón during the mornings and evenings when it's cool. In addition to the beautiful natural scenery (watch for jumping fish), along the way you´ll see art (bronze sculptures and artistic designs in the concrete walkway), restaurants, ice cream shops, cafés, hotels, and souvenir shops. There are benches all along the malecón so you can sit and enjoy the sights, and trash and recycling receptacles so you can do your part to keep things beautiful. The malecón is lighted at night so evening strolls are always safe. The Coromuel water park is the newest addition to the malecón and features beach palapas (small open-sided palm shelters - get there early to claim yours!), a fishing pier, and two giant water slides.
Another popular place to visit is the cathedral (catedral) and park (jardín) located on Serdán street, between 5 de Mayo and Independencía. Although the cathedral does not have the grandeur of those in mainland Mexico or Europe, it is a good example of the historic architecture of La Paz. The park in front of the cathedral is a nice place to find a shady bench, relax, and have a cool drink. On some afternoons, Lotería is played in the park. Lotería is a Mexican form of Bingo, using cards with pictures instead of letters and numbers.
La Paz also has several cultural museums (the Anthropology museum on 5 de Mayo street is the best); a weaving factory that is open to the public; and a local pottery workshop, Ibarra, that features very distinctive (and beautiful) works. There are also numerous wonderful restaurants, many with outdoor seating for spectacular views of the sunset.
Just north of La Paz, past the Pichilingue terminal where ferries to Topolobampo and Mázatlan depart and cruise ships dock, are several popular beaches, including Balandra and Tecolote.
Balandra beach surrounds a small, shallow bay that is protected from wind and waves, and features a rock formation shown prominently in many photographs - the La Paz mushroom. Be sure to walk or swim around the rock outcropping to the right of the parking lot. If you stay in the sand near the parking lot you're missing the best part! Balandra is a quiet beach without services that's great for relaxing. If you go walking in the water, be sure to shuffle your feet as stingrays that hide in the sand can inflict painful stings with their sharp tails.
On the other side of the little bay at Balandra is Tecolote beach (tecolote means "owl" in Spanish). Tecolote fronts the Bay of La Paz and receives winds and waves that generally don't occur at Balandra. It is a great beach for long walks and swimming. Because of the increased wave action, stingrays don't tend to congregate here. There are several restaurants along the beach and tour boats that go to Isla Espiritu Santo (tours also depart from the beachfront in La Paz). The day trip to Isla Espiritu Santo, a protected natural area, is not to be missed! You´ll experience incredible views, fascinating geology (an extension of the San Andreas fault runs through the island), snorkeling with reef fish and sea lions, and deserted beaches.
In general, Balandra is more of a winter beach when its protection from wind and waves is desired, and Tecolote is more of a summer beach when cooling breezes are welcomed. There are also many other beaches in the area, many of which can only be reached by driving on dirt or sand roads (high ground-clearance and four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended).
There are a number of useful websites that will help you plan your trip and enjoy your stay in La Paz. We have listed a few of our favorites below.
Roz has developed a wonderful website devoted to La Paz arts, music, and culture. The site lists current and upcoming events, and gives fascinating information on interesting people, places, and things.
An outstanding source of information!
Les Carmona, a.k.a. The Bread Guy, owns the only bakery in La Paz that features European-style breads and pastries. Yes, there are baguettes and éclairs in La Paz - along with lots of other great-tasting bakery goods!
On his site he has reviewed some of La Paz's lesser-known restaurants, some of them very good. A great site for anyone wanting to try more than the tourist restaurants.
A very useful site, with links to just about any information you need for traveling or living in the Baja peninsula.