The grisly discovery of 49 decapitated bodies in northern Mexico understandably populated national headlines last week. But one very important fact gets lost amid the gore and violence: Parts of Mexico are still perfectly safe.
Two weeks ago—the same time that the gruesome discovery was made just outside of San Pedro—I was in La Paz, Mexico. This gem of a city sits on the southern Baja peninsula, a world away from the drug wars unfolding across Mexico’s northern mainland. In La Paz, as well as throughout Baja Sur, crime is exceptionally low; the murder rate for South Baja is 2.58 per 100,000 people, which is lower than Los Angeles (9.6), Detroit (18.1), and Washington D.C. (24), according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
La Paz also defies another common perception of Mexico. Though it’s only two hours from Cabo San Lucas—a realm of time-shares, congested traffic, and towering, all-inclusive resorts—La Paz embraces an island mentality more akin to the Caribbean than Mexico. Clear coastline rims the city of 200,000, with a long boardwalk—or Malacón—that attracts local families who wander up and down the walkway, playing soccer in the sand, watching the setting sun, and embracing the cool breeze that rolls off the Gulf of California. Kayakers and stand-up paddlers ply the mellow waters, while locals and tourists at the waterfront Bismarkcito restaurant dine on fresh ceviche, fish tacos, and the famed chocolate clams, best eaten from the shell with a spray of fresh lime and a dollop of soy and habañero hot sauce.
A dolphin and mermaid statue, one of the many constructed on La Paz's Malacón (Nathan Borchelt)
The colonial city also serves as a gateway to the Sea of Cortez, one of the best spots for sea kayaking, snorkeling, and diving in North America. Hook up with Fun Baja for a day-trip to UNESCO-listed Isla Espiritu Santo. Snorkel with sea lions, check out bird estuaries, and then retire to the fine-sand beach for fish tacos made from whitefish caught that morning. Post-lunch, try sea kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding over waters alive with puffer fish, crabs, and star fish. On the boat ride back, keep an eye out for frolicking dolphins or migrating whales—a massive pod of dolphins congregated around our boat on the ride back, playing in our boat’s wake with the enthusiasm of puppies.
Simply put, the place exceeded my expectation—and served as a solid reminder that the real Mexico exists far beyond the horrors documented by the headlines.
Flights to La Paz from Los Angeles start around $500, departing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Whale-shark season—when the massive animals can be seen just off the Malacón—starts in November.
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