It’s time for my first travel post and I am so happy to kick off with this beautiful destination: Baja California Sur in Mexico. Two months before I set foot on Mexican ground, I didn’t even have a clue I would end up in this paradise. I had no idea I would go to Mexico and I didn’t even know Baja existed. It must have been destiny that brought me here and I couldn’t be more grateful! Baja is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have seen and on top of that it offers some awesome activities which will make your holiday on this beautiful peninsula unforgettable!
La Paz is Baja California Surs capital city and is situated on the southeast coast of the peninsula. It is a very pleasant city in the sense that it’s clean, quiet and safe. The heart of the city is the “Malécon”, the beach boulevard. Along the boulevard are loads of benches, café and restaurants to sit down, relax and enjoy the view. From the Malécon it is also possible to see some amazing sunsets.
The city itself does not have a lot to offer and is often overlooked by tourists. There are some pretty nice art work spread throughout the city, which are worth a look.
The beaches along the Malécon look clean and are probably safe to swim in, but the most beautiful beaches are unfortunately about 30 minutes away from the city. One of those beaches is Playa Balandra.
Balandra is undoubtedly the most famous beach around and it’s not without reason. If I would try to explain the beach, I would say: crystal clear water, with different shades of blue, surrounded by mountains and hills from where you can get some amazing views over the bay. I tried to take pictures from all the different angles. The first picture was taken from the hill on the right side of the beach. When you get off the bus, you will see a path leading up.
The second picture was taken from the small hill on the left end of the beach.
Obtaining the third picture was a bit more of a strenuous undertaking. I thought it would be easier, but it turned out to be a pretty rough hike. But I got rewarded with an awesome view! In order to get there (from the bus stop at Balandra) you have to walk back, passing the mangroves. At a certain point you will see a road leading up the hill, but unfortunately there is a gate on this way which is marked with a huge sign that says: “No Trespassing”. I was already heading back to Balandra, but I suddenly realized how much energy I had already spent just getting to this gate. Giving up simply was no option. So I decided to just climb up the mountain at some random place. It wasn’t very difficult to climb up, but it was exhausting. There are mainly stones and cacti on the mountains and no shade whatsoever. You constantly have to pay attention not to slide down on the stones or to accidentally hold on to a cactus. When I reached the top, I came back to the road again. I followed this road for some five minutes and finally got rewarded with this magnificent view over Balandra with the Isla Espiritu Santo on the background! If I had known how incredibly strenuous the hike (and especially the heat) would be, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but the view was spectacular!
Balandra generally seems to be a quiet beach, especially during the week. But I was unfortunate enough to be in La Paz during Semana Santa (Easter week). Apparently, Easter is the most important holiday of the year and for some reason the beach is the favorite destination during this week. For this reason, I ended up sharing the beach with hundreds of Mexicans.
If you happen to come in a busy period as well, there are ways to find more quiet beaches. From Tecolote (next beach after Balandra) you can see on your right hand side (turning your back the beach) a way leading up the mountain. If you follow this trail, you will pretty quickly get a view over another beach which is a lot more quiet.
Whatever beach you choose, don’t forget your snorkeling equipment! I have snorkeled from different beaches around Balandra and I was surprised how much there was to see so near to the coast. The beaches are separated by rocks and near to those rocks is where the underwater life is going on!
The moment I heard I was still on time for the whale shark season, I knew I wasn’t going to leave La Paz without giving it a shot! Via my hostel I booked a tour which included swimming with the whale sharks and continuing to the Isla Espiritu Santo to swim with sea lions.
The search for the whale sharks did not take very long. But unfortunately, we were not the only ones wanting to swim with this majestic animal. Fortunately, there are rules with regards to how many people simultaneously can swim around the whale shark, but this also meant that our time in the water was very restricted. The whale shark season was about to end, which meant there were few sharks and still many people. I ended up having only five minutes to marvel at this gigantic animal before I was summoned back onto the boat again. In those five minutes I barely had any time to grasp this huge animal in front of me! Despite the short time, I still enjoyed the experience. But fortunately, the day was not yet over for me and I still had some fun waiting for me at the Isla Espiritu Santo!
La Isla Espiritu Santo
Approximately 1.5 hours later we arrived at our second highlight: a rock inhabited by a colony sea lions. I had little to no expectations, since I had just found out that it was even possible to swim with sea lions. I also had no clue these cute animals were so playful with humans. When the first sea lion started to swim around me and came so close we even touched each other, my heart was about to explode! This was such a special experience, I was completely blown away. Later on I played with another young sea lion and this one liked biting a bit. But no worries, the biting is comparable to the playful biting of puppy and does not hurt.
I could have stayed forever in the water, playing with the sea lions. But unfortunately, I started to get really cold and we had to continue to our next stop: one of the many beautiful beaches of la Isla Espiritu Santo where we stopped to have lunch.
Later I found out the island has several hiking trails. I love hiking and got very excited about this news. Unfortunately, it turned out this was not going to be a very easy mission. Together with a friend from the hostel, we searched for ways to get to the island and spend a night there without having to do a tour again and spend a lot of money. I was told that the fishermen on Tecolote occasionally take people to the island for a cheap price, but we couldn’t find any (maybe due to Easter). We ended up making a deal with the tour operator on Tecolote: we would do the tour and they would drop us off on one of the beaches and pick us up the next day in the afternoon. As you can imagine, I was not sad at all to have to do the tour again, since this included swimming with the sea lions again 🙂
After I had swam with my beloved sea lions again, we decided on staying on the Ensenada El Gallo. There are fixed tents on the beach which belong to a luxury camping where people can spend a luxurious night on this beautiful uninhabited island. Fortunately, it is not a problem to stay on the beach with your own tent and supplies.
Since we had first done the tour, we arrived late at the beach. So, the first day we only relaxed at the beach and swam. The next morning we woke up to explore the hiking trails. Hiking up was pretty easy (unlike hiking down!) and we quickly started to get a beautiful view over the beach and the surrounding bays.
When we saw the bay on the left hand side, our jaws dropped. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful view I had seen in my life. I won’t even try to describe what I saw, it was indescribably beautiful. Not even the pictures can reflect the beauty of this spectacle of nature.
The bay on the other side was a little bit less impressive compared to the first one, but still really pretty.
I could have walked forever, but after we had a full view over both bays, we decided to hike back and enjoy a bit more of the beach. As usual, the time passed by far too quickly. It almost felt like we had only spent three hours on the beach by the time the boat came to pick us up again. Yet, at the same time it felt like we had spent there a lifetime.
Outside of La Paz
Baja California Sur is a peninsula with wonderful natural sights of which many are only to be reached by car. Unfortunately, I don’t have my drivers license yet, otherwise I would have definitely rented a car to visit the Bahía de Concepción. This is a bay in the north and it seems to be extremely beautiful.
But fortune was on my side and I got invited by my couchsurfing host to go camping with her and her friends. Of course, I gratefully accepted this offer. I spent an amazing weekend with my new friends and got the opportunity to see more of the peninsula than only the beaches.
Our first stop were the hot springs in Santa Rita. We arrived in the evening and as the air cools off significantly in the evenings, this was the perfect time to jump into the water. The warm water had an incredibly soothing effect on my body, which made me slide into a deep sleep later that night.
When I woke up the next day and I could finally see my surroundings by daylight, I was pleasantly surprised! The area was beautiful, surrounded by several (cold) water sources. This cold water was very welcome in the Mexican daytime heat, since the hot springs are a little bit less delightful with an air temperature of 30 degrees. There is a part, just below the hot springs, where the warm water runs into the cold water. I ended spending my day lying in this lukewarm spot, enjoying the tranquility and nature.
Sol de Mayo
The second night we camped at Sol de Mayo, about an hour from Santa Rita. Here the main attraction is a waterfall in the midst of a mountainous area.
Personally, I was not that impressed by the waterfall. It was definitely a beautiful sight, but after seeing the hot springs, I was just not that fascinated. Fortunately, one of the guys got the idea to walk to the top of the waterfall, which seemed to be possible. This seemed like an excellent plan to me, especially because the place was starting to fill up. We were there the weekend before Semana Santa and as I had mentioned, this is the time of the year Mexicans start to explore their own country.
When we arrived at the top of the waterfall we got rewarded with a beautiful view. Between the mountains flows a river which crystal clear water. Due to the rocks, this river is divided in several small pools.
Besides the natural beauty, we also got rewarded with solitude and tranquility. There was no soul up there and consequently we got to enjoy our own private paradise.
As I had mentioned earlier, Baja California Sur is generally a very quiet, clean and safe place. It is even considered to be the safest place in Mexico. Unfortunately, this safety has its price tag: Baja is also considered to be Mexico’s most expensive place. There are few hostels in La Paz (as far as I know only two) and you pay double price compared to the other hostels in Mexico (300 pesos versus 150).
In order to save some money, I almost exclusively cooked by myself in the hostel. Therefore, I have little to say about the local food. The only food I got to know and love is the Mexican ceviche which is often offered during the tours. The ceviche is made of fish and shellfish, marinated in citrus juice mixed with tomatoes, onions, green bell pepper and cilantro. I generally don’t like fish that much, but this combination is heavenly!
Fortunately, I got to enjoy more of the local people than I got to enjoy the local cuisine. Despite the fact that Baja California Sur is pretty modern and westernized, the people did not loose their hospitality and friendliness! On several occasions, I have been flabbergasted by the kindness of the people. My couchsurfing host and her friends, for example, surprised me a lot by spontaneously inviting me to come camping with them, even though they hadn’t even seen me by that point. They integrated me in their group of close friends and they never made me feel like an outsider.
To mention another example, let me tell you about the night on the island. We ended up befriending the staff of the luxury camp that evening. It turned out they didn’t have any guest that night for the first time in 1.5 months. But instead of taking rest, they decided to come up to our tents and to start a conversation. After a short while, they spontaneously invited us for dinner. Completely surprised, we gratefully accepted the offer and ended up having an awesome evening accompanied by fresh fish, good wine, engaging conversation and a lot of fun!
I could mentioned many more examples of the Mexican hospitality, but I guess I will have to make an end to this post. As you can imagine, I had an unforgettable time in Baja California Sur! If you love nature as much as I do, I can strongly recommend visiting this wonderful place. It may be expensive, but believe me: Every single peso spend there is worth it! I am also sure I will come back one day with a drivers licence, a tent and some company to explore more of this beautiful peninsula. To be continued!