10 Things to Do in La Paz: Mexico’s Undiscovered Gem

There’s more to Mexico than Cancun, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta—and sometimes it’s the under-the-radar locales that offer the most spectacular experiences. La Paz, located in the southern portion of the Baja California Peninsula, has everything you'd want in a sunny getaway. Here’s what you can do in Mexico’s best-kept secret.

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Things to do in La Paz
Photo: Javier Garcia/Shutterstock

Why Choose La Paz, Mexico?

There’s no doubt that Mexico offers something for everyone: scenic landscapes, breathtaking marine life, fascinating history, and a world-class food and drink scene. But would you believe there’s one city in this perennial holiday hot spot that offers all of the above and is relatively unknown? Welcome to La Paz. Located two hours north of Los Cabos, the capital city of Baja California Sur in northwest Mexico could very well be the country’s most underrated destination. La Paz is home to about 245,000 residents—including a large expat community—and offers a plethora of outdoor activities for travellers seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures. Whether you’re planning a weekend stop from Los Cabos or coming in direct via Mexico City, give this list of the best things to do in La Paz top priority.

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The Day of the Dead celebrations in La Paz, Mexico
Photo: Robert Liwanag/Reader’s Digest

Celebrate the Day of the Dead

Every year from October 31 to November 2, Mexico explodes with music, art, dance and partying as people across the country pay tribute to deceased family members. In La Paz, Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebrations mostly take place in the historic city centre. Expect an abundance of marigold flowers, altars adorned with old photographs of the dearly departed, live music, costume contests, and women dressed as La Calavera Catrina: a Mexican folklore figure brought to life via skull face paintings and ornate dresses and hats. Mexico’s Day of the Dead may sound like a tourist spectacle, but La Paz’s smaller-scale festivities make it easier for travellers to party without getting lost in the action—before you know it, you’ll be celebrating death like a local, too.

Here are more gorgeous photos of the Day of the Dead celebrations.

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Sea lions in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Photo: Leonardo Gonzalez/Shutterstock

Snorkel with Sea Lions

Renowned explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau once described Mexico’s Sea of Cortez as “the aquarium of the world,” and he couldn’t be more spot on. A trip to La Paz isn’t complete without a swim with the region’s sea lions. Book a half-day excursion with local tour operator The Cortez Club to the waters of Los Islotes—a 90-minute boat ride from the mainland on the southern end of the Sea of Cortez. Sea lions measure six to eight feet in length, but anxious snorkellers need not worry: they’re generally friendly and curious mammals.

Travel tip: The Cortez Club doesn’t have an action photographer onboard, so be sure to pack an underwater camera to capture your sea lion adventure!

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Whale shark in La Paz, Mexico
Photo: Leonardo Gonzalez/Shutterstock

Swim with Whale Sharks

Think you’re brave enough to swim right beside a five-tonne creature? If the answer is yes, then swimming with whale sharks is a must-add to your bucket list. Despite their intimidating name, whales sharks are neither whales nor sharks, but fish—the largest fish in the world, in fact. The whale sharks that feed in the waters around La Paz measure 25 to 30 feet in length, but don’t worry: these gentle giants only eat krill and plankton, and aren’t considered dangerous. Because whale sharks are endangered, the Mexican government highly regulates its whale tours, which run from October 1 to April 30. Book a half-hour swim with The Cortez Club and see these magnificent beasts up close!

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La Miserable Mezcaleria
Photo: Instagram.com/LaMiserableMezcaleria

Enjoy a Mezcal Tasting

For a fun night out, be sure to stop by La Miserable: a two-room bar dedicated to all things mezcal. The distilled spirit is harvested from the agave plant and cooked inside earthen pits lined with lava rocks—during your tasting session, you’ll learn that tequila is a type of mezcal the same way bourbon and scotch are types of whiskey. La Miserable also features chic Instagram-worthy décor—think vintage photographs, retro paintings and weird memorabilia—and quirky local snacks like fried crickets. New to mezcal? Try a few sips of Rey Campero Espadin: a fruity mezcal with smokey tones.

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Mangrove forest in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Photo: Baja Desconocida

Paddle Through a Mangrove Forest

Located 25 kilometres north of downtown La Paz is Balandra Beach, a protected cove that’s home to small mountains, rock formations and 22.5 hectares of mangroves. With coil-like roots that make the trees appear to be floating above the water, Balandra’s mangrove forest is one of the best-preserved in the world. Book a four-hour stand-up paddleboarding tour with Baja Desconocida, which starts from Balandra Beach, moves through a narrow mangrove lagoon, and finishes at a secluded beach. Are you a newcomer to paddleboarding? Not only are the waters incredibly shallow, but the extra-wide boards provided by Baja Desconocida are practically self-balancing. Don’t worry about getting your electronics wet either: your tour guides are also your official photographers!

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Sorstis Restaurante
Photo: Sorstis Restaurante

Eat Mediterranean Under the Night Sky

Housed in a white building that resembles a classic Italian villa (complete with a stunning open-air courtyard), Sorstis is one of the most popular restaurants in La Paz—and with good reason. Its menu is predominantly Mediterranean and its wine selection Mexican. Carnivores will drool over Sorstis’ cured ham from Salamanca, Spain, which is carved table side.

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Waterfront of La Paz, Mexico (Malecon)
Photo: Desmochicco/Shutterstock

Stroll Along the Waterfront

Like many of the world’s most beautiful cities, La Paz has done an amazing job showcasing its spectacular waterfront. After an excursion-filled morning and before a night on the town, make sure to take a relaxed stroll along the malecón (Spanish for “pier”). Stretching five kilometres from the Marina de la Paz to Playa Coromuel, the malecón boasts an array of cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as stunning sunset views. One of the most famous spots on the malecón is a giant mirrored pearl sculpture—a nod to La Paz’s history as a major pearl producer, which John Steinbeck immortalized in his 1947 novella, The Pearl.

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Big Sur Cafe in La Paz, Mexico
Photo: Robert Liwanag/Reader’s Digest

Take in the Gorgeous Street Art

If the art on the malecón strikes your fancy, take a walking tour of the downtown core and check out the city’s colourful murals (like the one above, painted across the exterior of Big Sur Café Orgánico). In recent years, the government of La Paz has been employing local artists to decorate the walls of its city, and the results are downright gorgeous.

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NIM Restaurante
Photo: Instagram.com/NimRestaurante

Go Local at a Fusion Restaurant

La Paz may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of cutting-edge cuisine, but one visit to Nim Restaurant is enough to convince you otherwise. Located in the heart of the city’s historic centre and operated by chef Cristina Kiewek, every dish on Nim’s menu is made with locally-sourced ingredients. Having trained in Asia before settling in La Paz, Kiewek’s eastern influences shine through in dishes like seared tuna (with sesame crust and local vegetables) and her decidedly Mexican take on Vietnamese pho (above).

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Isla Espiritu Santo, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Photo: Robert Liwanag/Reader’s Digest

Behold Isla Espíritu Santo

Twenty-five kilometres off the coast of La Paz lies Isla Espíritu Santo, widely regarded as the most beautiful island in the Sea of Cortez. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, this uninhabited island boasts pristine stretches of white sand and crystal-clear waters. Designed hiking paths are available, as well as overnight camping, which requires a permit from the city clerk’s office. Visitors can book a day tour with a local operator.

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