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La Paz, Mexico feels like an off-the-beaten-track destination, but outdoor enthusiasts have been coming to this gorgeous capital city for ages. Situated on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur, La Paz is not only home to Mexico’s most beautiful beaches, but it’s also the perfect jumping point for so many exhilarating adventures.
In just four short days, you can swim with whale sharks and sea lions, soak in hot springs, bathe below waterfalls, surf some Pacific waves, and spend a day at the beach.
This La Paz itinerary is based on my experience road-tripping around Baja California Sur, with La Paz as my home base. La Paz was my last stop on a three-month adventure around Mexico.
I quickly fell in love with the area’s rugged beauty and charm. Though Baja is known to attract a lot of Americans (both tourists and expats), La Paz itself feels so far removed from the craziness of tourist hubs like nearby Cabo San Lucas.
The city is Baja California Sur’s capital and its name means “the peace” in Spanish. Locals call themselves “pazians” (peace people in English) and La Paz certainly exudes peace despite its size. Life is slow, locals are warm, and natural beauty abounds. I hope you enjoy La Paz as much as I did.
Discover this best of the region with this 4-day adventure-packed La Paz itinerary.
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Where is La Paz?
La Paz is the capital city of Baja California Sur and is located on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula about 2.5 hours north of Cabo San Lucas. La Paz is on the Gulf of California side where the water is more calm than the Pacific side.
This La Paz itinerary works perfectly for folks flying into San José del Cabo as it starts and ends with adventures halfway between Cabo and La Paz. It also works if you fly into La Paz or are arriving via car because the day trips are just an hour or two away from La Paz.
Here is a map of the route with all of the points of interest for this 4-day La Paz itinerary.
Got extra time to spare? Consider doing a full Baja road trip – a very popular route for van lifers in the winter. You can drive all thew way down from San Diego to La Paz.
4-Day La Paz Itinerary
You will need a car for days one and four, though you can easily swap those outings for more local adventures.
As always, feel free to adjust this itinerary as much as you’d like. At the end of this guide, I mention some other things to do in La Paz so you can easily add or subtract whatever interests you most!
Day 1: Hot Springs and Waterfalls
Day one adventures take place in the Sierra Laguna mountains near the small town of Santiago, where desert terrain meets crystal-clear mountain streams and piping-hot natural springs.
Conveniently located 1.5 hours from Cabo and 2 hours from La Paz, so you can either stop in Santiago during a drive between Cabo and La Paz or just take a day trip from La Paz.
Many attractions in the Sierra Laguna are on private property, most hikes are not well documented, and phone service is minimal, so it’s important to plan ahead. Also, you’ll want some water shoes or sturdy sandals and bring plenty of water and some on-the-go snacks!
Note: For traveling in Mexico, I recommend the Grayl Ultrapress Purifier water bottle. It allows you to safely purify water from the tap (or from streams), so you can avoid buying and and using so many plastic water bottles.
I recommend splitting your time in Santiago between the Santa Rita Hot Springs and Sol de Mayo Waterfall hike. Both are located on well-established private ranches that are used to welcoming visitors (though few international tourists make it to these spots).
The two ranches are about twenty-five minutes apart, and are both about twenty minutes from the center of Santiago, on a dusty dirt road. You don’t need 4WD to drive on this road but expect some bumps. We drove it in a Toyota Corolla rental car with no issues.
Start at the Santa Rita Hot Springs, located a five-minute walk from the parking lot of Rancho Santa Rita. After paying a small entrance fee to the rancher (bring cash!), head down the pathway, passing the picnic tables.
The hot springs are located across the small bridge. In front of the bridge, you’ll find a refreshingly cool stream. Switch between the hot springs and the cool stream, and make sure to swim up the stream where a small waterfall is located.
Next, head to Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo, where you’ll find the gorgeous Sol de Mayo Waterfall. After you park and pay the entrance fee, the rancher will direct you to the trail. Catch stunning views of the river and waterfall above before walking about 10 minutes down to the base of the falls.
Don’t miss swimming in the calm pools beneath the waterfall and enjoy a snack before heading back to Santiago, then to La Paz. Consider stopping at Los Barriles for a seaside dinner, or hold your appetite and enjoy one of La Paz’s restaurants.
Tip: Some basic Spanish goes a long way in rural Mexico. Though you can certainly explore Santiago and La Paz without speaking Spanish, I recommend memorizing a few basic phrases and terms ahead of time. As always, show respect and gratitude to locals as you explore their private ranches.
Day 2: La Paz’s World-Famous Beaches
No trip to La Paz is complete without a beach day. Most visits to La Paz center around seeing Playa Balandra, which has been called the most beautiful beach in Mexico.
While Balandra Beach is certainly worth visiting, I recommend planning on visiting other La Paz beaches as well, since Balandra can get crowded and has strict opening hours.
As of November 2023, Playa Balandra typically opens from 8am-12pm, closes for an hour, and then opens again from 1pm-5pm. Entry is limited and visitors are required to leave for the one-hour break each day at noon.
Plan to arrive at 8am to ensure entry and make the most of your time. Most La Paz restaurants and coffee shops aren’t open early, so make breakfast at your hotel. Consider also packing a lunch since dining options are very limited around most La Paz beaches.
Bring a good sun hat, a packable beach towel, and potentially a pair of shoes to walk in. At Playa Balandra you can hike up the cliffs to see the bay from above, rent kayaks to explore the coves and mangroves, hike to nearby Playa El Tecolote, and walk to the famous “mushroom rock”.
After spending the morning at Balandra, head to another nearby beach to enjoy lunch, lounge on the shore, and wade in the calm, shallow water. My personal recommendation is Playa El Tesoro, a stunning beach between downtown La Paz and Balandra with a chill, local vibe, and a beach bar/restaurant.
After a few cervezas or margaritas, head back to town for dinner and a sunset walk along the La Paz Malecon (waterfront boardwalk).
Tip: If you don’t have a car, you can get to Playa Balandra via bus, DiDi, Uber, but be sure to figure out your return trip ahead of time. You can also book a tour which includes hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling.
Get on the Water
Day 3: Swimming with Whale Sharks and a Sunset Hike
If you visit La Paz between October and April, you’ll have the opportunity to swim with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is facilitated by local ecotourism companies and strictly regulated by the local government.
Be sure to book a whale shark boat tour with a reputable company ahead of time since the amount of people and boats is limited each day.
If you visit outside of whale shark season or prefer to swim with a different marine species, you can go on a boat tour to Isla Espiritu Santo, which includes snorkeling with sea lions. Just be aware that you can not jump in the water with the sea lions during their breeding season, July through August.
In addition, some tour companies offer combo tours that include swimming with whale sharks and sea lions in one day!
Most tours include lunch and return to La Paz in the early afternoon. Make sure to pack some reef-safe sunscreen, and I also recommend wearing a rashgaurd while you’re snorkeling to keep the sun off your back.
Grab an early dinner and an hour before sunset, head to the Estación de Servicio Repsol gas station, just a few minutes north of downtown La Paz. The gas station is essentially the trailhead for the Cerro de la Calavera hike.
There are several routes to the gorgeous Cerro de la Calavera viewpoint, which overlooks the city and bay. The most direct route is what locals recommended to me, and it takes less than twenty minutes one way. However, another route recorded on AllTrails is 3.8 miles roundtrip.
Whatever route you choose, sure you have close-toed trails shoes and water. A headlamp (or phone flashlight) can also be helpful for the hike back down. Once you reach the top, be sure to watch the sunset and snap a few photos.
Day 4: Exploring La Paz and Todos Santos
Spend your last morning in La Paz exploring the city. Some of the best things to do in La Paz Centro include:
- Learn about the indigenous tribes of Baja California at the Museum of Anthropology and History
- Visit the Whale Museum
- Check out Mexican folk art in the Museum of Art Baja California Sur (free)
- Chill on the La Paz Malecon beach
- Search for the city’s gorgeous murals and street art
- Wander through the Velasco Garden and the main square of La Paz
Whenever you’re ready, jump in the car and drive just over one hour to the Pacific surf town of Todos Santos. If you’re flying out of Los Cabos International Airport, pack all of your luggage in the car since Todos Santos is on the way back to Cabo. Otherwise, treat it as a day trip.
Grab lunch at Alma y Many’s before exploring the colorful streets of Todos Santos. Be sure to walk a few blocks away to the Hotel California, which may or may not have inspired the famous Eagles song.
Wander through the nearby Cielito Lindo Market, which features local artisans. Stop in local boutiques and surf shops, and get a peek at the gorgeous Iglesia Mision Todos Santos and main square.
Next, head twenty minutes down the road to Cerritos Beach, which is known as one of the best surf spots in Baja. The surf at Cerritos is typically suitable for beginner surfers and surfboards can be rented right on the beach.
If you don’t surf, just relax on the beach, grab a drink from the bar stall, and walk along the miles-long sandy shoreline.
On your way back to Todos Santos, be sure to stop at 5 Tacos and a Beer for tacos… and beer! From there, you can head back to either La Paz or Cabo.
Best La Paz, Mexico Hotels
Since each day on this La Paz itinerary is packed full of activities, you won’t spend too much time at your hotel. But if you’re trying to figure out where to stay in La Paz, here are my recommendations:
- Hotel Posada Luna Sol: This budget-friendly hotel is located just steps from the beach in La Paz’s commercial zone.
- Hotel & Suites El Moro: One of the highest-rated hotels in La Paz, Hotel & Suites El Moro features a water view, a gorgeous pool, and decent prices.
- Orchid House Baja: In the chance you’re looking for a little luxury, don’t miss Orchid House, a gorgeous beachfront boutique hotel in La Paz.
Additional Things to Do in La Paz, Mexico
If you have extra time or want to swap out certain activities, there are plenty of other things to do in and around La Paz. Here are some other recommendations:
- Go sandboarding at the Mogote Sand Dunes
- Take a day trip to La Ventana, a rustic beach town famous for windsurfing and its hot springs beach. Their Thursday Farmer’s Market is amazing!
- Rent a kayak at the La Paz Malecón
- Go horseback riding through the desert at a local ranch
- Go on a long-distance kayak trip
- Take a day trip to Cabo Pulmo, one of the best scuba diving and snorkeling destinations in Baja
Get prepared for your trip with these travel tips
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Well, there it is! Once-in-a-lifetime experiences, gorgeous beaches, charming towns, and fun activities all tucked into one 4-day La Paz itinerary. Enjoy this beautiful part of Mexico and be sure to respect local communities and clean up after yourself wherever you go!
You can find more of Annie’s work over at Your Friend the Nomad