4 days in La Paz, Mexico & Whale Shark Diving
It was my first time in La Paz and his second. With that being said, we had 4 days to make the most of our time in the city. The lure for us was whale shark diving and oh my, what an experience it was!
Where’s La Paz? La Paz is a city in the Baja California region of Mexico. It is the capital of Baja California, flanks the Sea of Cortez and is roughly 2 hours north of Cabo San Lucas.
What’s a Whale Shark? A whale shark looks like a creature you would get if you combined a whale and a shark. The body looks like shark but it has a mouth more like a whale (and isn’t interested in humans). But, it’s technically part of the shark family. They have a few hundred very small teeth as well as filter pads in their mouth. They take in gulps of water with tiny food particles and flush out the water, leaving the food on the filter pads for them to digest. The best part is they’re HUGE and docile, upwards of 40 feet long. Being next to a living creature that big is unreal. And, if you watched Finding Dory, Destiny is a whale shark!
La Paz is one of the few places you can find them as they migrate to La Paz every year in the winter months in search of warmer waters. The best time to go is late December through late February although they are there a few months prior and linger a few months after. Opposed to places like the Philippines that also have Whale Shark migration, La Paz has a greater abundance of food all within water that is only 20 feet deep or so. This allows for a lot of slow moving whale sharks that are guzzling up food particles to eat which is easier for people to view the big beasts easily opposed to swim a lot in order to keep up with them. However, it is important to note that because of the dense amount of food, it is also harder to get clear photos with the whale sharks in La Paz (unless you get lucky and have a very clear water day). Most of the photos we took only have part of the whale shark visible with the rest disappearing into the murky nutrient rich water.
To keep costs down, we flew into Cabo San Lucas, rented a car and drove 2 hours north to La Paz. La Paz has it’s own airport but the flights are usually more expensive so we saved a bit of money and wanted our own car anyway so it only cost us 2 hours of our time each direction. It’s good to note that you should have cash on hand (or pesos) as the drive from Cabo to La Paz and back has a toll you’ll need to pay.
We ventured out into the heart of the city the first night for dinner but the food wasn’t as good as another area he tried on his last trip. Granted, we didn’t know where to go and probably missed some great venues. However, our hotel, the Hyatt, was situated in a little touristy area called Costa Baja. For $75 a night we got free wifi, a heated pool, free breakfast, shuttle service to/from the city and very nice, modern rooms. Costa Baja Resort itself is a little gated community just up the way from the Hyatt (a longer walk or a 3 min drive). There are a handful of restaurants in there with indoor and outdoor seating that flank their private harbor. If you’re driving up, just let the gate agents know you’re there for dinner and they’ll let you right in. All the restaurants inside were amazing and despite ordering everything we wanted each night (as we typically only did dinner there and ate a large breakfast earlier in the day), the bill was usually around $40 for both of us including drinks and desserts.
Score Card for La Paz: 6.5/10
- Transportation: 6/10 (without a car you’re bound to very slow public transit or taxi’s. But, the roads are pretty well kept)
- Price: 8/10 (The excursions were negotiable and the value was more than the cost, we ate like kings all for less than what we would spend at home on an entrée)
- Safety: 6/10 (it’s a poor area so theft is plentiful but we didn’t get hassled the same way I did when I was in Cabo so I at least felt safer)
- Food: 7/10 (Lots of great restaurants with authentic dishes)
- Culture: 6/10 (There are a lot of art lining the street but as far as we could tell, very little festivals or the like that take place)
- History: 6/10 (It’s an older city with a bit of history to learn about)
- Excitement: 7/10 (it’s known for fun activities like ATVing, whale shark diving, boating, scuba diving, wind surfing, kite boarding and more)
- Awe Inspiring: 7/10 (the landscape and experience are awe inspiring)
- Technology Equipped: 6/10 (Our resort had wifi but service outside the area was spotty at best — although many restaurants offered free wifi services)
- Female Friendly: 6/10 (Because of the culture and the poverty, as a woman I felt mostly safe during the day (even when venturing into the communities) but wouldn’t want to drive around or walk around by myself at night)
- Solo Travel Recommended: 6/10 (if you like any of the activities listed, you would do well traveling here alone)
- Language Barrier: 7/10 (Most of the staff spoke English as they cater to tourists but in the authentic spots it was harder to understand each other)
Where to go in La Paz:
Downloadable map of where to go in La Paz through Google Maps.
Interesting Facts about La Paz:
- In Mexico, the average worker makes $4.50 USD per day or about 70 pesos. It’s not a lot of money for one person to live off of let alone a family. They make ends meet by living in homes that were passed down from generation to generation along with furniture and vehicles they inherited, eating a lot of low cost staple foods like tortillas and rice (less meats and fish as they are more expensive), and minimal luxuries like electronics and travel.
- La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur and located on the Sea of Cortez
- Hurricane season is August through October and are nearly zero for all other months (although with global warming, this can change). It is highly recommended to get travelers insurance if you’re traveling during those months (especially late September and early October)
- La Paz has been hit by Hurricane Newton in 2016, Odile in 2014 (most intense hurricane to make landfall in La Paz since the satellite area causing over $1.22 billion USD in damages), Paul in 2012 (causing $15.5 million USD in damages), John in 2006 (causing $60.8 million 2006 USD in damages), etc.. This does not include the hurricanes that were reduced to heavy storms when they made landfall.
- La Paz had police vehicles roaming the streets. It was quite a sight and much different from what I was use to in the US. The vehicles had flat backs kind of like a truck but with handle rests where they rested their machine guns. Usually there was a police office in the driver seat, the passenger seat and 2-3 men manning the machine guns in the back.
- There are a lot of stray dogs walking around, most are friendly
- Despite all the sun, the majority of La Paz is currently run on dirty diesel. There is too large of an upfront cost for the residents to put solar on their homes (especially when considering they make just $4.50 a day on average). However, on the utility side they just installed one of the largest solar arrays in Mexico which should help provide a renewable energy source for the locals.
Pro Tips for Traveling to La Paz:
- Cache a map if you’re doing a drive from Cabo to La Paz as service is spotty & you don’t want to get lost or run out of fuel
- Workers do not make much in Mexico, treat them with respect and tip often as to help them make ends meet
- When driving, look out for potholes
- Most excursion vendors accepted USD as well as pesos and the conversion rate sounded fair
- The hotel had the best rates for excursions, you could sign up early or the day of (as long as they had spots left) — greatly less expensive than online prices
Experience Highlights in La Paz:
Whale Shark Diving Private Tour With Cortez Club
Description: They provided wet suits, snorkel masks and flippers for us, there was a driver a guide and the two of us. It took them about 30 minutes to find the whale sharks then we went in and swam with them until we needed a break, got back in the boat, found them again, went back in and repeated. You can’t touch the whale sharks and they want you to keep a good distance from them (for their safety) but they often change directions and you find yourself face to face with them as they breeze past you. We were lucky and had 6 whale sharks out feeding with us that day and one looked to be around 40 feet in length. The guides go in the water with you and are there in case you panic. If you are a weak swimmer, claustrophobic or think you may panic I suggest you go with a smaller group so the guide can assist you as necessary.
Cost: $99 per person
Hours: 8am – sunset but best hours are in the morning and early afternoon
Duration: 2.5 hours
Notes: We went on a guided trip that was just the two of us and the guides. If you don’t mind a larger crowd, you can go on a group whale shark diving tour and find rates closer to $45USD per person.
Isla del Espiritu Santo with Sea Lion diving with Alonson Tours
Description: This was a group tour with 2 tour guides (1 driver that only spoke Spanish and a designated guide that spoke pretty good English) that provided a boat to take us to the Isla del Espiritu, a ceviche lunch, stops, and snorkeling with the sea lions. Unfortunately, the weather was extremely windy and the water was choppy. What normally is a 30 min boat ride turned into a turbulent 90 min boat ride to reach the island at which time we were told we had to adjust the schedule because the water was too rough to make it to the spot where the sea lions were at. Our adjusted itinerary once we arrived at the island included snorkeling at a nearby reef where we saw lots of different fish and star fish, turtle sightings, bird watch, a beach stop where we had lunch provided by the captain, then a trek back where we stopped at a tiny island where the ‘rejected’ sea lions go and at which time we were allowed to swim and snorkel with them.
Cost: $36 per person
Hours: 10am departure from the hotel to the harbor
Duration: 5 hours
Notes: It was unfortunate that the weather turned from the day prior, it was much more chilly out and the boat ride to the island due to the wind was unpleasant. However, it was well worth the money and a great way to experience more of the rich biodiversity from fish to birds and more. We suggest taking your own snorkel mask if you have one (although they do provide you one along with a wet suit if you want). Also be sure to bring towels, wardrobe appropriate for the weather, sunglasses and a water bottle! They were nice enough to drop us off at our hotels harbor, too!
Cost for traveling to La Paz: $1282 for 2 people for 4 nights / 5 days
- $270 Round Trip flight from SFO to Cabo San Lucas x 2
- $99 Whale Shark Diving x 2
- $300 Hotel for 4 nights/5 days
- $104 car rental for 4 nights/5 days
- $36 Isla del Espiritu Santo cruise, snorkel and swim with sea lions x 2
- $240 Meals and snacks
- $98 gas and tolls
Itinerary for 5 days in La Paz from Cabo
- 12:30am SFO to LAX to SJD (San Jose del Cabo)
- 7pm grab dinner at a wing stop
- 9pm make it to the hotel and relax
- 8am have breakfast at the hotel
- 10am check out the local solar installation as well as the destruction from the previous hurricane
- 1pm grab a traditional mexican lunch
- 2pm tour more of the city by car
- 6:30pm head back to the hotel
- 7:30pm have dinner in Costa Baja resort
- 9pm try out our snorkel gear in the hotel’s heated pool to prep for whale shark diving the next day
- 8am have breakfast at the hotel
- 9:30 am leave for the harbor to go whale shark diving
- 10am get suited up, situated and head out to see the whale sharks
- 11:45am back in the harbor and driving back to the hotel
- noon hanging out in the pool at the hotel
- 1pm venture into the city by car checking out the promenade, art on the promenade, neighborhoods and he taught me to drive stick. Got ample photos / videos and drone shots of authentic La Paz
- 6:30pm head back to the hotel after catching the sunset
- 7pm get ready for dinner
- 7:30pm head out to dinner in Costa Baja
- 9:30pm head back to the hotel and head to bed
- 8am have breakfast
- 10am catch the shuttle to the harbor for the Isla del Espiritu Santo cruise + snorkel + swim with sea lions
- 5pm make it back to the hotel and hop in the heated pool to warm up!
- 6pm take a nap and review photos/videos from that day and the day prior
- 8pm head out to dinner in Costa Baja with friends we met there the night prior
- 10pm head back to the hotel and head to bed
- 8am have breakfast and pack
- 9:30am hit the road toward San Jose Del Cabo (Cabo San Lucas)
- 1:32pm SJD to SFO
- It’s a great city to go to especially if you’re looking for something a little more sleepy than Cabo. They don’t have the hagglers, you can walk most places without feeling threatened and it’s really easy to keep your costs down but still take part in amazing excursions.