Baja California, where the desert famously meets the ocean, is other-worldly, and but the prices are just as breathtaking as the scenery. I’m currently living and working in Colima, one of the cheapest states in the whole country, so touching down in La Paz, Baja California Sur, was a bit of a shock.
I met Juley, (doing the same placement as I am but in Cancun), in Guadalajara, for our flight into La Paz. The plane was only three seats across and I couldn’t even stand up straight in it, so you felt every jolt, not ideal for Juley who’s a bit of a nervous flyer. Our first shock came when we tried to find out about transport into the city. No local buses are allowed into the airport so your only option is a taxi, which set us back 350 MXN for the two of us. Considering in Colima I might pay around 90 MXN for a journey of the same length, it was painful.
Luckily, this was my first foray into Couchsurfing, so at least we weren’t spending huge amounts on accommodation. We were staying with the lovely Cristian, who some friends of mine had stayed with the week before and had given the seal of approval. He was great company, as were his flatmates, and we felt incredibly comfortable there. He’s a couch-surfing ambassador and has hosted hundreds of people over the years, so if you’re heading to La Paz, let me know and I’ll put you in touch!
There isn’t much to see in La Paz itself, so a couple of hours was enough to check out the market and have a wander along the Malecon (boardwalk or promenade as we Brits call it). After watching the sunset over the water we were treated to a Christmas brass band concert in front of the Christmas tree, bizarrely juxtaposed with the palm trees that flanked it.
The next day was to be our only full day in La Paz. The friends that had visited the week before had bargained hard and got the price of a day trip out to Espiritu Santo Island down to 600 MXN. We’d been told in the tourist information office that we’d be looking at at least 1200. We gave ‘Capitan Boa’ a ring, and were picked up in La Paz the next morning. There were only 6 of us on the trip and our boat was pretty pint-sized, but we were quite happy to forgo luxury for the sake of saving 600 pesos.
Our first stop was the northern tip, home to a huge colony of sea lions. I’d been told we could swim with them, but I didn’t actually believe it until I was handed a snorkel and pointed towards a small cave. We swam in and perched right in front of us on a rock was a young sea lion. Incredulous, I climbed onto the rock next to him, and he looked curiously at me and didn’t bat an eyelid when I stroked him. He even rolled over onto his back to give us a chance to scratch his belly, and reached up and gave me a whiskery kiss. With just the six of us in there, there was plenty of space for him to escape and he didn’t seem to be showing any signs of stress. Another sea lion played with us in the entrance to the cave, dancing around us in the water when we dived down.
Iknow, I know. Half of you are probably thinking that my eco-tourist credentials just went flying out the window. Thinking about it afterwards, I’m aware that getting so close to wild animals like this probably isn’t particularly responsible, and the poor things didn’t ask to be turned into a circus act. Whilst the sea lion didn’t seem stressed by the presence of our small group (I took rolling over as a pretty good sign) I was concerned when I saw that another group of at least a dozen people went in after us, as there definitely wasn’t enough space in that small cave for all those people. They were also slapping sun cream on before getting in the water (and swimming straight into a dark cave where they were really going to need the protection), and I winced at the thought of what that was doing to the sea lion’s eyes. Despite the amazing experience of getting so close to a wild sea lion, I wouldn’t repeat it.
Exhausted, we failed to get out and check out La Paz’s nightlife, but crashed, ready to head down to Cabo San Lucas the following morning. As our next Couchsurfing host wouldn’t finish work till 6, we caught a bus to the small town of Todos Santos, left our bags behind the desk at the bus terminal and wandered around the village. It’s a charming town full of shops selling handicrafts, but brace yourself for the restaurant prices. A few hours later we caught the bus on to Cabo San Lucas.
This is when we discovered that, with couch surfing, you never know quite what you’re getting. Angel’s house was on the outskirts of town in a closed development, meaning we couldn’t just stroll in and out and were reliant on him and his car. As it was the run up to Christmas he had very little time to show us around, so we were a little restricted for the few days we were there We ended up spending an inordinate amount of time waiting around for him at bus stations and couldn’t go out in the evenings, so we missed out on the Cabos’ famous nightlife, although our wallets thanked us for it.
The next day we took a glass-bottomed boat tour (100MXN each) from Playa El Medano. This takes you out to the famous Arch, where the Pacific Ocean marries with the Sea of Cortez.They drop you at Lover’s beach for an hour or so where you can go for a swim and wander over the hump to the Pacific side, an idyllic, golden beach with dramatic waves.
Back at Medano, we wandered around the entire marina until we reached the smaller beach on the far side, gawking at the fancy shopping centre and overpriced restaurants. After a rest we wandered all the way back, as we’d spotted some cheap tacos at the place we’d been dropped off (next to the car park at Medano), and we weren’t prepared to pay the marina or beach-front prices. We made the days of a few Mexican gentlemen who were taking the weight off their feet with a beer and couldn’t believe a pair of ‘gueritas’ like us had found the local’s spot.
On our last full day in Baja we headed for Cerritos, about an hour up the coast from Cabo San Lucas and the perfect surf beach for beginners. It’s about 100 each way on the bus (leaving from the Aguila terminal), and takes just under an hour. For 200MXN each we rented soft boards for a few hours and played around in the white water finding our surfing legs in preparation for our few days on the beaches of Sayulita, our next stop.
The next day, after catching a bus to San Jose del Cabo and spending a few hours window shopping in the art galleries and gawking at the huge resorts down on the beach, we headed for the airport, catching another 3-seat-wide plane back to Mazatlan on the Mexican mainland from an airport the size of a postage stamp.
Needless to say, although Baja was a wonderful experience, I won’t be going back in a hurry, until I have the money to enjoy the amazing water sports they have to offer. I realise I sound like a spoilt brat, but the real beauty of this place is under the sea, and you need to get yourself on a diving trip to see it, which was a little out of our price range, poor interns that we are. If you do have the dollars, you won’t regret a visit to Baja California, famous for being home to some of the world’s best diving. Though the landscape is stunning and unique (and if you have the chance to go grab it with both hands) the dominance of tourism means it doesn’t feel quite like the Mexico I’ve come to love.
Have you been to Baja California, and what did you think of it? Are there any budget activities you’d recommend?