When my partner and I were trying to decide where we wanted to travel to after our sailing season was over, we made a list of priorities. First on the list was, of course, nice weather. We live in Seattle WA, which is essentially overcast and 40 degrees most of the year. There’s a reason we want to escape it in the wintertime. Next priority was that we wanted a place with plenty of opportunity to observe marine life. Whether this was scuba diving, snorkeling, whale watching, etc. We like to spend the majority of our time in or on the water. Lastly, we needed something affordable. In past winters we spent our time in Hawaii which was not the most budget friendly option. After doing our research and consulting with our friends who are sailors and have traveled all over the world, we decided on La Paz, Mexico.
La Paz exceeded our expectations and checked every box on our priorities list. There’s a reason Jacques Cousteau named The Gulf of California “The aquarium of the world”. The diversity of marine life is endless and viewing it is incredibly accessible.
Our first water activity was swimming with whale sharks. Talk about starting the trip off on a high note. La Paz is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks. The boat ride to the sanctuary was less than 20 min from downtown La Paz. When we got there, there were a few boats but not an overwhelming amount. There’s only a certain amount of boats allowed in the sanctuary at one time and boat captains have to have permits and check in with authorities the day before. The guide gave us our briefing and jumped in the water to begin looking for the planet’s largest fish. Once he found one he’d yell “JUMP! JUMP! JUMP!”. This was our queue to jump in the water as fast we could to see the whale shark. The visibility was about 12-15ft, and even though we were in very shallow water, we could not see the bottom. We dipped our heads in with our snorkel and masks and waited. All of the sudden, a massive, graceful and slow moving whale shark glides beside us. It literally takes your breath away being within feet from an animal so gigantic. After the whale shark passes by we get back in the boat and look for more. Our last whale shark sighting was our favorite. This one was feeding right at the surface, and we got to hang out with it for about ten minutes. When it sucked water through it’s gaping mouth, you can feel the pressure pull you near it. It was incredible. We will never forget sharing the water with these gentle giants.
My partner and I are both scuba divers. We book dives at every possible destination. When we heard that La Paz was a short boat ride away from one of the world’s largest sea lion colonies, we knew we had to go. We booked our dives through Dive in La Paz located right in the downtown area. The boat ride to Los Islotes took about 1.5 hours and we ended up choosing a very blustery day. Almost every charter boat in La Paz is a panga. They are very economical but not the most comfortable for longer transport in rough weather. Once we arrived at Los Islotes we could hardly hear our dive master speak over the barks and roars of the sea lions. There were groups of snorkelers with juvenile sea lions porpoising in circles around them. It was magical. I was so excited to get in the water with these puppies of the sea. Within minutes of descending there were two curious sea lions playing with us. They were so agile underwater, swimming directly at us and then turning away at the last possible second. They blew bubbles at us, and chewed on our fins. One sea lion pup actually came up to me and gnawed on my fingers. They played just like puppies. This experience was so much fun that we ended up visiting the island again, this time snorkeling. The interactions with the sea lions were debatably even better than when we were diving.
The owner of the dive shop I work for in Seattle advised us that if we were going to La Paz, we had to check out Cabo Pulmo. Cabo Pulmo is about a 3 hour drive from La Paz, and it is a scuba diver’s paradise. It’s a tiny little town that seems like it is solely dedicated to marine conservation and scuba diving. Cabo Pulmo is a protected area where fishing isn’t allowed and scuba diving is highly monitored. It is incredibly meaningful being surrounded by so many people who share the same passion with you. The sheer quantity of fish we observed on our dives was unimaginable. I couldn’t even count the amount of species I saw. Once we surfaced from our first dive we looked up to see dolphins frolicking in the waves and humpbacks surfacing in the distance. Our second dive was one of my favorite dives I’ve ever done. We were surrounded by a school of hundreds of Jacks. They swam in circles around us. Sometimes the school was so dense, it would block the sunshine from the surface as if they were a large cloud. Suddenly, the two dolphins we saw at the surface break through the school of Jacks. They graced us with their presence briefly and left me screaming with glee underwater. That was my first time being in the water with bottlenose dolphins and it’s an experience I will never forget.
We spent a full month in La Paz visiting the beaches and eating the local food. We visited the grey whale breeding ground in Magdalena bay and captured video of them swimming under our boat. We drove to a little artsy town called Todos Santos and visited the nearby beaches in Cerritos. We watched hundreds of kite surfers in La Ventana. The days were never dull as we packed in activity after activity. Baja California Sur quickly became one of our favorite places we have ever visited.