We first arrived in La Paz on our Beneteau Idylle Marathon in late 2009. The town and the very large anchorage off El Magote sand barrier peninsula (referred to as the Magote by cruisers), were quiet and peaceful. Finding a spot in a marina was easy and anchorages in the nearby islands were uncrowded and scenically spectacular. We kept our boat there for almost ten years before leaving for the South Pacific in early 2019.
Cruisers often get stuck in La Paz and we understand why. Those who have been there for a long time also speak of the “La Paz bungee cord”, which brings cruisers back to La Paz after they have sailed away for short or long periods of time. We met many of those people, including other Canadians, who had either circumnavigated or sailed to New Zealand, and who, when thinking about where they should move their boat at the conclusion of their long-distance long-term cruising, chose La Paz.
La Paz offers the tranquility of a medium-sized Mexican town with modest prices, great food, very nice friendly people, and access to everything that a cruiser might need. This includes marinas, boat yards with haul out and storage facilities, chandleries, marine technicians, mechanics and convenient access to the amazing cruising available in the Sea of Cortez. Getting to La Paz by air is easy because of its proximity to the airport in San Jose del Cabo. The latter serves Cabo San Lucas, a mega-tourist resort that generates a huge number of flight options from nearly anywhere in North America. Several flights per day from Vancouver are possible, including non-stop options via WestJet and Air Canada. But La Paz was a peaceful haven compared to Cabo San Lucas, which most boaters refer to as “a zoo”.
In 2009, tourism in La Paz was primarily domestic and focused on the marine environment. In Cabo, jet ski and quad bike tours exemplified the motorized focus of tourism in both land and sea environments. In La Paz, swimming with the whale sharks was a big draw, along with SCUBA diving and snorkeling – both are quieter and less impactful activities. The nighttime draw in Cabo was very loud bars, including those that surrounded the marina, while in La Paz, quiet dining on the Malecon or nearby was popular.
The bungee cord brought us back to La Paz in 2022 and we were surprised by the changes that we saw in the town and on the water. Tourism remains mostly domestic, but volume has increased significantly. The Malecon is now lined with bars, and the one or two tour boats for snorkeling, or swimming with sea lions or whale sharks, are now a steady stream of pangas going out to the islands for much of the day and every day. The marinas are chockablock full and it is nearly impossible to secure long term moorage or even short-term transient moorage. The Magote is a very large anchorage located close to the downtown core of La Paz but with some tricky currents and sandbars; it is now jammed with an incredible number of anchored boats.
Worse yet, nearby anchorages in the islands fill up on weekends with mega yachts, each of which exercises their mega sound system until the early morning hours. Around noon the jet skis are deployed and compete with the sound systems that apparently need to be turned up so that everyone can hear the music.
So what happened to La Paz? Perhaps several things. Tourism continues to grow everywhere, and the number of people keen to experience an alternative to the industrial-scale tourism in Cabo San Lucas are choosing La Paz instead. The number of international tourists enjoying La Paz has increased significantly, as has the amount of domestic tourists. Higher numbers bring increased diversity of interests – the quantity of bars and restaurants catering to diverse interests has expanded with the number of tourists.
Costs have also increased. Land-based accommodation costs have skyrocketed as has the price of a marina slip. We are paying three times what we paid for our slip in 2009 and about double what we were paying in that marina in 2019 when we left for the South Pacific. The cost now is about three times what we would pay for a 40’ slip in the Vancouver Rowing Club.
Some of the marinas are full of charter boats that were moved to Mexico when the Caribbean shut down to charter boating during the Pandemic. Catamarans are apparently the big draw in the charter fleet and each of them takes up two slips. We are in Marina Costa Baja, an excellent marina, where in the past there was a small cruising community of boats that is now reduced to a handful. The space has been taken up by charter boats – particularly cats, day-trip adventure boats supporting marine tourism, and a large fleet of sport fishers. These clients seem to be preferred to cruisers because they don’t ask for much. We were told we had to leave at the end of our initial 6-month contract that we signed in March of 2022. We were super lucky that the excellent manager of the marina did some juggling and found us a new spot, jammed into a slip next to a large and very beamy sport fisher – and the 10% discount for a 6-month moorage contract is no longer available because the waiting list to get into the marina is so long.
Lastly, the number of digital nomads living on boats has increased, along with young families who have discovered that living on a boat in Mexico is wonderful. Some are able to work from their boat and others are on a kind of sabbatical from the daily grind back home. We met a young couple from the Vancouver area, expecting their first child, who had arranged for a mid-wife to visit their boat at anchor when the time came. All went well.
The Sea of Cortez in and around La Paz remains as beautiful and enjoyable as ever. Nearby anchorages during the week are great and the essence of La Paz remains wonderful – but the bungee cord may no longer be fully operational.