Six easy daytime excursions within a few hours’ drive from La Paz.
When you are an ex-pat living full-time in Mexico, you are bound to get a lot of questions from your friends and family. One question we hear a lot from people who are curious about our Baja lifestyle is some version of: “Don’t you get bored after a while?” Or, put another way, “Is there enough to do there to keep you busy?”
One of the many things we love about living in La Paz, BCS, is that it is a good-sized city with plenty to offer in terms of local sights and activities. While many of these have been limited due to the COVID pandemic, it’s still possible (for now) to get outside and explore much of what this great place has to offer, as long as you take the proper precautions. That means wearing your mask in any public place (it is now required everywhere outside your home), practice social distancing, and be respectful of the people you do encounter who are trying to make a living during these difficult times.
With those guidelines in mind, following are six easy day trips within a couple hours’ drive or less from La Paz. With COVID restrictions in mind, we’ve limited our suggestions to trips and places that operate with COVID restrictions in mind, meaning mask requirements and social distancing precautions are in place.
Whale Watching in Puerto Chale, San Carlos or Lopez Mateo
Have you ever petted a baby whale? Believe it or not, you can do it here in Baja. From December through March, the whales come south to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific side of the peninsula to raise their calves. When the calves reach a certain age, the mama whales start bringing them up to the boats to socialize with humans! We’re not sure why the whales are so friendly here; we like to think they are just embracing the welcoming spirit of Baja.
While whale watching destinations like Guerrero Negro and San Ignacio are more popular, they are a full day’s drive from La Paz, requiring an overnight stay to see whales. Some tours even require a two or three night stay, making for an expensive weekend. Closer to home, we have several options that only require a 2-3 hour drive and are much less expensive, including:
- Puerto Chale: The closest of the three options to La Paz, Puerto Chale is a tiny fishing village that has recently been developing some new facilities and attracting a few more tour companies to its shores. It’s a no-frills location, and there are no hotels or restaurants here, but it is reachable in just a 2 hours’ drive, making it an easy day trip from La Paz.
- San Carlos: About one hour further north from Puerto Chale is San Carlos, another small fishing town and home to several whale watching tour operators. If you do decide on a multi-day tour, San Carlos is the largest of the three locations, with several small hotels and restaurants in town. We stayed in one of the cabanas at Mar y Arena right on the beach and loved it.
- Adolfo Lopez Mateos: the most popular launching point of the three, Lopez Mateos has a central port where several tour companies are based that can take you out to see the whales. It’s the furthest north of the three, so if you are making a day trip, plan to leave early in the morning to arrive in plenty of time to see the whales and get back before dark.
February and March are the best months to go, when there are plenty of whales to be seen, and the babies are old enough for the mothers to start bringing them up to the boats. When we did this trip in 2019, we booked our tour with the small family owned tour operator Magdalena Bay Whales, in San Carlos, and had a great experience.
Flying High in La Ventana and El Sargento
Only a thirty-minute drive from La Paz, the town of La Ventana and the neighboring community of El Sargento offer an easy day trip and a varied playground for outdoor enthusiasts. In the winter, there is a steady, strong wind across the bay, making La Ventana a favorite spot for kiteboarders and wind surfers. In recent years, La Ventana was home to the Lord of the Winds kite boarding championships. Several kiteboarding schools are located in town and on the beach, ready to teach beginners how to get started or to help more experienced practitioners brush up on their skills. If you’re a little intimidated by the thought of kiteboarding, just watching from the beautiful beach is entertainment enough.
Looking for something a little less challenging to do? In the late spring and summer, the wind dies down and the water gets warm and calm, making La Ventana a great spot for paddleboarding and kayaking. The beaches of El Sargento also offer excellent snorkeling, much of it right offshore. Just wade in with your mask and fins, and start swimming, snorkeling doesn’t get any easier than this. Don’t be fooled by how easy it is, though, the ocean floor here is covered with rocks and coral, and you’ll spot dozens of varieties of colorful fish, sea urchins and even octopus, all just a few yards from the beach. Too chilly to snorkel? Drive just north of La Ventana and El Sargento to Playa Agua Caliente to soak in the natural hot springs.
Other activities abound in La Ventana, including mountain biking through the surrounding desert trails, scuba diving and deep sea fishing. Or, you can rent a panga and go on a tour to Cerralvo Island, the southernmost island in the Sea of Cortez. On the far side of the island, there is even a spot where you can see giant manta rays.
Mining Museum in El Triunfo
About an hour’s drive from La Paz, El Triunfo is a tiny mining town that is well worth a day trip. Stop in at Café El Triunfo for the amazing coffee and pastries, and be sure to take home a loaf of the excellent house made bread. The café also offers lunch in a beautiful outdoor courtyard patio in back of the coffee shop.
Wandering the cobblestone streets of this tiny town, you’ll find yourself snapping pictures of the colorful, quaint architecture, and the 47-meter-high smokestack, constructed in 1890 for El Progreso Mining Company. While you’re there, you can visit the Museo Ruta de Plata, the Silver Route Museum, dedicated to preserving the rich mining history of the area. El Triunfo was once the most populated town in Baja California Sur, home to around 10,000 miners. Today its population hovers around 300 residents.
If you visit El Triunfo on a Sunday, be sure to plan a stop for lunch at El Minero, where they serve up a huge cast iron pot of paella on the courtyard patio on Sunday afternoons. The restaurant also offers a variety of house-made sausages, as well as a selection of other delicious dishes.
Have a bit more time? Book a stay at the Cabañas El Triunfo, which offer several activities to its guests including horseback riding, zip lining, and ATV and hiking outings. Visit https://www.cabanaseltriunfo.com/ for details.
Beach Day and Pickleball in Los Barriles
Beyond El Triunfo, about another hour’s drive ( about two hours from La Paz) is Los Barriles, a popular beach town located on Las Palmas Bay. Like La Ventana, the winter winds make this a popular spot for kiteboarding and windsurfing, as well as deep sea fishing.
Not in the mood to battle the waves? The town offers long stretches of empty beaches where you can soak up the sun and swim. In town, you can rent ATVs to explore the surrounding desert.
For La Paz residents, one of the best reasons to make the trip to Los Barriles is El Toro y La Luna, a popular store where locals in the know go to shop for handmade Mexican furniture and home décor. The prices are excellent compared to similar items in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, and they deliver (for a flat fee) to La Paz.
Are you a pickleball fan? You’ll find likeminded friends at Tres Palapas Pickleball, which has ten courts as well as an on-site café and rooftop bar. Afterward, have lunch at one of the many restaurants in town, or drive out to El Gecko Beach Club to enjoy a margarita and fresh ceviche, shrimp tacos and more, overlooking the beach.
Turtle Hatchling Release in Todos Santos
Probably the most well-known of the Baja California Sur small towns, Todos Santos has grown rapidly over the last decade, welcoming curious tourists up from Cabo San Lucas as well as from La Paz and other BCS towns. Founded as a mission in 1724, Todos Santos is one of Baja California Sur’s pueblo magicos, a designation created by Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism for small towns throughout the country that offer “magical” experiences to visitors.
The Pacific ocean here is not swimmable due to strong currents and rough waves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself at the beach. Visit Las Tunas beach in the wintertime and you’ll likely spot plenty of humpback whales frolicking just offshore. Stay until sunset, and you can participate in a baby turtle hatchling release, hosted by the non-profit organization Tortugueros Las Playitas. Visit the organization’s Facebook page https://web.facebook.com/Tortugueros-Las-Playitas-AC-151443508229601/ for updates on when turtles will be released.
Surfing in El Pescadero and El Cerritos
El Cerritos beach near the town of El Pescadero is a popular surfing spot.
Another 15 minutes down the highway, south of Todos Santos, is the town of El Pescadero. Just beyond that is El Cerritos beach, one of the only swimmable beaches on the Pacific side of the peninsula. The beach is a popular spot when the temperatures heat up in La Paz in the summer time, as it tends to be 5-10 degrees cooler here. It’s also a popular surfing spot, with waves that are perfect for beginners and pros alike. For a more relaxing time, get a massage or take surfing lessons from one of the beach vendors. Afterward, hop on over to the nearby Blanket Factory on Highway 1 for handmade Mexican blankets at reasonable prices.
After a morning at the beach, you can stop for tacos at Barracuda Cantina or watch a football game at Shaka’s Delicious Wood Cantina. Both are open air spots with outdoor seating. Or, for a special treat, head to Hortaliza Hierbabuena, a farm to table restaurant set in the middle of lush gardens, with a field of basil just across the street. Hierbabuena offers delicious, organic food at much more reasonable prices than its pricier cousins (such as Flora Farms in San Jose del Cabo), with dishes featuring salads picked fresh out of the garden, organic chicken, fish, grilled vegetables, pizzas and more. If you’re not the one driving, try one of the creative cocktails, like the Dusty Dog, featuring fresh-picked herbs. You can also order the restaurant’s delicious food to go.
Your Turn to Explore
La Paz is a wonderful city to live in and a destination in its own right, offering the infrastructure and amenities of a larger city to its residents, combined with the laid-back feel of Baja California Sur. While the city offers residents and visitors alike plenty to do, its location within a few hours’ drive to many of the surrounding towns makes it an especially great place to live. If you’re looking to get outdoors and get some (socially distanced) fresh air, get in your car and explore, you will be amazed at what you find!