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Mexico’s Baja California Sur is home to the shining star that is Los Cabos, but just a two two-hour drive and a million miles away from this swanky bustle lies the city of La Paz, a perfect getaway for those yearning for the “Old Baja” days of yesteryear.

La Paz
Historic Center of La Paz. (Photo by Fitupaz)

While most assuredly a beachside city, La Paz differs from what most would consider a traditional Mexican beach resort. For starters, no sprawling all-inclusive hotels or actual “tourist zones.” On the contrary, this is a place of unique boutique resorts, locally owned shops and galleries, and gourmet restaurants that are frequented as much by locals as visitors. Then there are the extraordinary landscapes—think desert meets the sea. As Ivan Felix, manager of the Tour and Travel Department of the La Paz Tourism Board, sees it, “La Paz is for travelers, for those expecting real and authentic experiences.”  There is, he says, something for everyone.

Selling Point: The Great Outdoors

Sailboat at Balandra Beach. (Photo by FITUPAZ)

Curving around a sheltered bay on the Sea of Cortez, La Paz takes full advantage of its surroundings. “If I had to give you just one word [to describe the destination], it would have to be ‘nature,’ because La Paz is definitely about its natural protected area and its beaches,” says Felix. For first-timers, he points to the tours to Espiritu Santo Island. Having experienced this tour myself, I’d say it’s truly unforgettable. The island itself is a mere 45 minutes from any of the marinas in town. On the way to this pristine beach, we hopped into the water with a pod of false orcas, swam with curious sea lions, boated past a massive colony of blue-footed boobies near beautiful Balandra Beach and caught sight of too many sea turtles to count—and that’s not even mentioning all the sea life we encountered while snorkeling.

Gray whales in Puerto Chale. (Photo by FITUPAZ)

This is just one of the many extraordinary experiences this seaside town offers. For example: “We also have experiences with whale sharks,” says Felix, something that, he adds, you might think is only available in Australia, Thailand or other exotic—and far-flung—places. “This is what I meant when I said La Paz is for everyone: even if you’re not a good swimmer, here you can jump on a boat and 15 minutes later you’re seeing your first whale shark (in season).” In other words, you don’t have to be in the water to see this magnificent creature, much less catch a 14-hour flight and boat for five hours to the middle of nowhere. Of note: Your guides in these waters are, more often than not, marine biologists, “so it’s not just getting into the water with a big fish, it’s learning all about them.”

New on the outdoor circuit is the addition of La Paz to The Moorings’ luxury charters aboard sailing and power catamarans. Bookings for charters beginning in December are now open.

Selling Point: Gastronomy

Appetizer, Nemi Restaurante.

“Keep in mind we’re located between two important bodies of water: the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific,” says Felix. That means seafood is king. La Paz is home to a surprising number of restaurants, and award-winning chefs helm several. Case in point, Nemi, recognized as one of the best restaurants in Mexico and the brainchild of Mexico City Chef Alejandro Villagomez, who was chef de cuisine at the acclaimed Pujol restaurant as well as the three-Michelin starred El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. Local produce and products are transformed into works of art in his tasting menu, which changes weekly. At Hambrusia, you can dig into exquisite Mexican small plates with a gourmet Asian twist, served with craft beer and handcrafted cocktails. At La Tuna, the beachside vibe created by chef-owner Oliver Murillo Sepulveda equals signature cocktails and freshly caught seafood with an Asian twist.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Felix points out that the restaurateurs have come together to create an association to promote local gastronomy, holding events in different locations throughout the year.

Of course, local coffee shops, taco stands, panaderías (bakeries) and more are plentiful. A can’t-miss: Docecuarenta, where you can enjoy a cup of their brand of coffee, eat off the sustainably sourced menu and take home a bag (or two) to enjoy post-visit.

Selling Point: Boutique Accommodations

Hotel Baja Club. (Photo by Cesar Bejar)

Hotels in this oasis of laurel trees, coconut, and date palms tend towards the small and locally owned, including some charming boutique properties. “We have been growing drastically over the past few years, and new brands are considering La Paz as a destination for their properties,” shares Felix. But he makes it very clear the destination is looking for something other than massive tourism, keeping the number of rooms per hotel to an average of 100. During my visit, I stayed at Baja Club, part of Grupo Habita, a perfect example of this trend. Located right on the Malecon, or boardwalk (which, it must be said, is the heart of the city), Baja Club is a restored colonial-style villa from the early 20th century with only 32 guestrooms and a delicious restaurant tucked away in its central patio.

Lobby, Hotel indigo La Paz Puerta Cortes.

New to La Paz is Hotel Indigo La Paz Puerta Cortes, from InterContinental Hotels Group. At 115 rooms, it’s one of the largest properties in the area. It immerses your clients in the destination with its sense of place and stunning views of the bay, not to mention premium amenities (including a beach club), a spa, outdoor infinity and lap pool, two on-site restaurant concepts, access to one of the top golf courses in the Baja Peninsula and more.

Pool, Hotel Perla.

Continuing the white-linen-bare-feet luxury trend is Hotel Perla, debuting later this year after a $10 million investment by Hamak Hotels in the iconic Hotel La Perla, originally opened in the 1940s. With only 90 rooms, the developer keeps its Art Deco style while upgrading and updating, adding a gym, infinity pool, a restaurant in what was once a nightclub and even a small commercial area to promote local art. Still to come: Chablé Sea of Cortez, a 50-suite luxury enclave spread out over 700,000 sq. ft. of desert.

On a budget but still looking for something unique and chic? Book your clients at Hotel Catedral La Paz, which is just five years old and Felix points out is one of the best hotels in town. With its rooftop pool and bar with a view of the bay, sleek lines, gourmet restaurant and, of course, La Paz’s signature hospitality, it’s an excellent choice for clients who want to be within walking distance of the malecón, the Cathedral and other historic monuments.

Selling Point: Location

La Paz has its own international airport (LAP) with direct flights from major U.S. cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver and Seattle. However, Felix notes the town is only two hours away by a well-maintained, four-lane highway from the Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) in San Jose del Cabo, one of Mexico’s best-connected international airports. And for him, the drive is just the start of your vacation: “You land in Los Cabos, you rent your car and start driving, and you’re not in La Paz yet, but you’re already experiencing nature,” he says. Since the highway follows the coastline, “you can see humpback whales jumping in the Pacific—don’t think of those two hours as something tedious…consider it part of your agenda! There’s so much to see, small towns you can stop in for lunch, buy candies, and get empanadas…” In other words, your vacation starts the minute you hit the road.

Rancho Corazon, Todos Santos. (Photo by Lydia Gregory)

This also means road trips are a breeze using La Paz as your base, including visits to the Pueblo Mágico of Todos Santos, a funky little town of cafés, tempting galleries, artisan shops, trendy boutiques and its own share of gourmet restaurants and lovely boutique hotels. Here, you’ll find restaurants like Jazamango, a farm-to-table concept owned by Chef Javier Plasencia, internationally acclaimed for his culinary prowess and restaurants in Tijuana, and hotels like the Kimpton Mas Olas Resort and Spa, which opened in April of this year operated by Highgate. It was 103 guestrooms and 12 oceanfront villas spread out across 27 buildings, inspired by Mexico’s pueblos. Onsite, the Kahal restaurant is Chef Sandro Falbo’s signature spot, offering dishes inspired by local products, craft cocktails and specialty wines. And don’t get us started on the beaches!

Do your clients prefer not to drive? That’s not a problem: Felix points out that there are myriad DMCs ready to ferry your clients from Cabo to La Paz so everyone in the family can see the whales (in season, of course).

Selling Point: La Paz Tourism Board

This brings us to a big selling point for you, the travel advisor: the La Paz Tourism Board. The entity participates in travel trade shows throughout the year (look for them at Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas), and Felix stresses the importance of FAM trips. “The travel agent is an important player in this game because they are the ones who are always promoting and inviting people and they have reach,” he says.

For more information, visit golapaz.com.