Treasures of the Southern Baja
by Lisa Coleman
The 880-mile long Baja Peninsula is divided into two Mexican states – Baja California Norte (north) and Baja California Sur (south). On one side of the Baja is, of course, the Pacific Ocean, and on the other lies the magnificent Sea of Cortez. Until the early 1970’s, the secrets of the southern Baja (Baja Sur) were only known to the heartiest of travelers. But these days Los Cabos is booming and the lesser known destinations like La Paz, Loreto and Mulegé have worked very hard to become recognized as contenders in the Baja market – And they are doing a great job!
La Paz means “peace” in Spanish. It is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur and is the second largest city south of Tijuana on the Baja Peninsula. La Paz has a simple energy and an easy feel. Though framed by beautiful beaches, the city itself is more provincial atmosphere and lacks the occasionally overwhelming hustle and bustle that seems to come with traditional beach resorts. And even though La Paz is surrounded by desert, the town itself is set amidst ancient laurel trees and coconut and date palms.
Fishing and watersports are a given in La Paz, but what you may not know is that it is also arguably the ecotourism capital of North America. Just outside the city itself are countless deserted beaches, calm bays and ecologically pure offshore islands. The region’s complex wildlife, plant life, and geology are truly astonishing. The Sea of Cortez is one of the world’s unique ocean environments, considered by some to be the most biologically rich body of water on earth. More than 850 species of marine life make their home in its temperate waters making it a year-round fishing utopia. In fact, this sea is said to be the greatest fish trap in the Western Hemisphere. Colonies of sea lions, pods of Humpback, Blue, Sperm, Fin and seasonal migrating Gray whales are a very common site.
Just over two hundred miles north of La Paz, Loreto is making a name for itself as a secluded beach resort with ecological attractions and stark desert beauty. In the shadow of the rugged Sierra la Giganta Mountains, the small in scope, almost village-like Loreto can certainly be classified as remote. Nonetheless, its surprisingly complete historic past has made it a point of interest for cultural visitors for years. It was the first capital of the Californias and has become somewhat famous for its well-preserved Jesuit missions. In fact, the town’s official slogan is “300 Years Old and Still Undiscovered.” The downtown area is a mix of shady plazas, small shops, picturesque churches and a hotel or two. The views here are magnificent and the nearby cobalt waters of the Sea of Cortez are calm and clear. The beaches are a bit rocky, but the crystalline waters are ideal for kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and above all, fishing. Helping to put Loreto on the map is also one of Mexico’s finest John McEnroe Tennis Centers, a small marina, and an 18-hole scenic seaside golf course.
And not to be forgotten is the friendly, tiny town of Mulegé (moo-leh-HAY). This tropical oasis can be found about 80 miles north of Loreto and has a population of only about 6,000 residents. Nestled along the southern Baja’s only fresh water river, Mulegé is mostly lush and green year round. There isn’t too much going here, but the location is key for those searching for some really untouched land along the Sea of Cortez. The village sits at the mouth of the Bahia Conception (a national marine preserve), and is a great starting point to discover the pristine waters and deserted coves of stunningly beautiful isolated beaches. The diving is excellent! The southern Baja is truly a treasure worth discovering.