La Paz and Isla Esperitu Santo highlight stark desert beauty and plentiful sea life.
Around the corner and about 150 miles up from the flashy Cabo San Lucas lies tranquil La Paz, capitol of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. With a population of 250,000, La Paz is an eclectic blend of old world Mexico and contemporary yachting destination that serves as a jumping off point for charter and cruising boats exploring the Sea of Cortez.
La Paz maintains its small town ambiance and old Mexican charm while hosting multiple marinas where yachtie culture permeates everything. Most West Coast cruisers find themselves here after their 800 mile jump down from California, taking in the desert beauty, mostly hospitable weather, and the Sea of Cortez so full of life that it was called the ‘aquarium of the Pacific’ by explorer Jacques Cousteau.
The city center offers dozens of fantastic restaurants from the touristy to the sublime. A scenic boardwalk runs along the edge of the harbor with cafes, nightclubs, dive shops, art galleries, souvenir emporiums and museums. Marina Costa Baja, just outside of town, is a very posh boating destination with new slips, several restaurants, a pool and full yacht services. It also hosts The Moorings that offer both power and sailing catamarans for bareboat and crewed charter. Marina Costa Baja’s position offers the shortest and straightest shot out to the local islands, offering access to cruising grounds like few other in the world.
The main destination for a one week charter centers on the isles of Esperitu Santo and Partida, which lie just across the San Lorenzo channel about 15 to 27 miles north of La Paz. These two islands, separated literally by a spit of sand, offer a dozen dramatic coves or caletas on the west, or lee side—perfect for sailing, kayaking, hiking, swimming, diving and camping. During the twelve mile crossing to theses isles of cruising paradise, it is not unusual to see breaching whales, pods of dolphins and even jumping rays—all before breakfast.
Espiritu Santo, which was designated as a protected area in 1978, is an ecologically significant island. Its ecosystem is largely undisturbed and the most diverse in the region. California sea lions and more than 500 species of tropical fish swim in these waters, along with twelve species of whales and the elusive whale sharks that come to these waters to feed and to breed.
The best time for whale sightings is from March to June, which coincidentally offers some of the best weather as well. The Sea of Cortez is arid which means it’s sunny, warm and mostly dry. December through February bring cooler temps in the 50s and 60s and the summer months reach into the oppressive 90s. Spring and fall are the best bet for a comfortable charter and lots of sea life.
Caleta Partida separates the two islands and offers a large anchorage. The waters are so clear you can practically see your anchor in 10 to 25 feet and the giant cacti, some centuries old, pose for photographers as if on cue. A vivid and usually cloudless blue sky forms the backdrop for the red desert earth, and contrasting craggy rocks result in dramatic vistas in every direction.
Both islands are uninhabited, but a small fishing station in Partida Cove invites a bit of exploration and a walk along a long white sand beach. Farther north is Ensenada Grande, a cove with three fingers and good anchoring up against sheer cliffs. You’re very likely to encounter eco tour outfitters on the beach where meals are cooked for patrons in a pseudo glamping (glamour camping) style.
On a weeklong charter, it’s easy to explore four or five coves and still have time on either end for margaritas and shopping in La Paz. And if you're lucky, you’ll also get to talk to some salty old cruisers who came to town and never left.