Cabo? Sure. But Not That Cabo.

La Paz

Aug 15, 2001
Outside Magazine

The capital of Baja California Sur, La Paz straddles a sheltered bay dominated by the dark mass of Espiritu Santo Island. The lure here is diving, specifically among a host of the world's largest underwater inhabitants. But whether or not you plan to go deep, it makes good sense to spend a day or two exploring this slow, laid-back city of 180,000, picking up supplies for your travels to the south, and even pedaling the coastline on a rented mountain bike.
Instead of spreading out along the water, La Paz itself extends miles inland on progressively funkier dirt roads bordered by neatly painted stucco and cement-block homes. It has some charming hotels, a handful of discos, and adequate restaurants, including the perfectly passable Sushi Express and Tequila's Bar & Grill, a great open-air cantina with pool tables and more than 200 varieties of the namesake hooch. While tourism drives the economy these days, time-share hawkers are blissfully absent. The locals, known as Pace±os, display a generous hospitality rarely encountered in resorts, a trait generally attributed to environmental difficulties--ferocious heat, scarce fresh water, and occasional hurricane-force winds--which have historically demanded that both neighbors and strangers be assisted.

Conditions offshore aren't nearly so tough, as evidenced by the crowds of pelagic fish and mammals that swing by La Paz Bay every year to snack on clouds of plankton: vast schools of yellowfin and yellowtail, manta rays with 20-foot wingspans, and just about every whale species that frequents the eastern Pacific, from minkes to sperms to blues. "In ten years of professional diving, the only time I've been stunned was when I turned around and saw a 30-foot humpback coming toward me," says James Curtis, divemaster at La Paz's Cortez Club. "I didn't breathe for about half a minute. It came within ten feet of me, and the surge of it passing lifted me backward. It just looked at me and went on."
Even fans like Curtis admit that it requires a bit of patience to motor out to many of the 45 local dive sites, which are scattered from 45 minutes to two hours away. Farthest afield is the internationally known Marisla Seamount, where hammerhead sharks school 100 feet down. The 28-mile boat ride north takes half a day, making live-aboard charters a more comfortable option.

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