From hot orange sunsets to the glittering turquoise of The Sea of Cortez to sea lions, whale sharks and powder soft sands, La Paz in Mexico is a dream vacation destination. Add in tacos galore, great hotels and the fact that it’s one of the friendliest Mexico beach towns I’ve ever been to, and it’s no surprise the city draws me (and plenty of other tourists) back time and again.
In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about visiting La Paz and planning a vacation there. From getting there and around to the best things to do, the top beaches, where to eat and where to stay, I’ll answer all your travel questions. I’ve also included sections on weather, safety, vaccinations, visas, tours, what to pack and a map of La Paz. Let’s jump in.
Where is La Paz
As you can see from the map above, La Paz is a city located in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. The peninsula is a finger of land that stretches down from San Diego on the west coast of the USA to the most southern tip of Cabo San Lucas. The Baja peninsula is divided into two Mexican states – Baja California Norte (north) and Baja California Sur (south). La Paz is found in Baja California Sur and is, in fact, the capital of Baja California Sur.
To give you a sense of distance, La Paz is 964 miles south of San Diego airport in California and 98 miles north of the popular Mexican tourist resort, Cabos San Lucas in Baja Sur.
Beware, there is another La Paz in Bolivia. Keep this in mind when searching and booking. You don’t want to book for the wrong city and country! Fun fact: La Paz in Mexico is officially called Nuestra Señora de La Paz.
How to get to La Paz
La Paz has an international airport – Manuel Márquez de León International Airport with the airport code LAP. The airport is just a 15 minute drive, 6.4 miles away from the centre of La Paz, meaning its very easy to reach the city by air. However, while La Paz airport is technically international, most of the flights are domestic, within Mexico, and there are no regular, direct flights with the USA, North America or Europe. Therefore, if you want to fly to La Paz, you will almost certainly need to fly via another Mexican city like Tijuana or Mexico City. From the USA west coast, I’d recommend flying from Los Angeles into Tijuana and picking up a connection to La Paz there.
From San Diego, it’s very easy to cross the border by foot. Here’s How To Visit Tijuana from San Diego – Complete Guide.
The most practical option if you’re travelling from North America is to fly to Los Cabo International Aiport (SJD), which has plenty of direct flights from the USA including LA and New York, and also from Canada. From Cabo airport, it’s 2hrs north to La Paz by car.
If you’re visiting from Europe, Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles are likely to have the best prices and connections to La Paz.
Driving to La Paz is very easy – there is a great road, Ruta Una (Route 1) that travels the length of the Baja California peninsula, all the way from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. On Google Maps and GPS you might see it referred to as Carretera Transpeninsular or México 1. You can pick up the route from many towns along the Baja California Road Trip Route. It’s a road trip I’ve done in full and also in part. So, it’s just a case of picking your start and end point. If you’re short on time, it’s a great trip to combine with Cabo San Lucas as the drive is only 2hrs.
The road trip from Tijauna is a lot of fun but you will need at least a week, ideally more, especially if you want to avoid the huge one-way drop-off fee of about $500 that most car rental companies charge. The distance is 937 miles and would take 18 hrs 35 mins non-stop, one way.
I always rent a car in Mexico using Rental Cars. It’s cheaper and avoids the issue of border crossing, which most USA rental companies don’t like.
The first time I arrived in La Paz was by bus and it’s a great option if you’re already travelling within Baja California and either don’t want to drive or are on a budget. The inter-city bus station is in the centre of downtown La Paz and has great connections both north and south of the city. There are two main bus companies that serve La Paz – Autobues Águila and ABC. I’ve travelled with both and liked both equally. They are coach-style buses with comfortable seats and AC. Both have English language websites where you can check the schedule and book your ticket online.
There is more than one arrival point in La Paz. If you want to be in the centre/downtown, select La Paz Malecon. The bus from Cabo San Lucas to La Paz runs daily and takes around 3hrs 30. The bus from Tijuana takes around 25hrs. Pack snacks, entertainment and a jacket. The AC can be fierce.
Honestly, if I could get around just by boat and train, I’d be a very happy traveller. And so it’s probably no surprise that I have also taken the ferry to La Paz from Los Mochis (ferry terminal at Topolobampo) on the mainland of Mexico. I caught the ferry (run by Baja Ferries) after taking the Copper Canyon Train from Chihuahua. There is also a route from Mazatlan to La Paz. The ferry port in La Paz is located in Pichilingue, around 20 minutes by taxi from La Paz downtown. There is also a bus. The ferry takes 7hrs and usually runs overnight. You can book a berth or a sleeper seat. Either way, set your alarm because the sunset is the perfect welcome to La Paz.
I have full details here: How To Take the Baja Ferry from Topolobampo to La Paz in Mexico. You might also like: Best Things To Do in the Copper Canyon.
Do you need a car in La Paz?
It’s not essential to have a car in La Paz. I travelled there once with a rental car and once without. Downtown La Paz is completely walkable. If you don’t have a car, there are taxis, Uber and tours to help you explore. More details on all of these options below.
How to travel around
The simplest way to explore is by car and it’s easiest to hire a car at the airport. Since a lot of the most beautiful beaches are outside downtown La Paz, you’ll need some sort of transport to visit. If you don’t want to hire a car, there are alternative options below. I use Rental Cars to book in advance. That way I have time to choose any insurances I need without a sales person trying to confuse me into an expensive upsell.
Some of the best things to do in La Paz require a tour, like swimming with whale sharks or sea lions. If you plan your tours well, you can get by without a car in La Paz, just using Uber/Taxis to fill in any sightseeing gaps. I have tour recommendations below.
By taxi or Uber
Uber and taxis are relatively cheap in La Paz, and definitely cheaper than local taxis. So, if you don’t want to drive, you can easily take day trips by taxi or ride share. There is a local alternative to Uber, called DIDI, which is even cheaper still. I’d recommend getting yourself set up with the relevant apps before you arrive or as soon as you arrive. I have cell, SIM and data suggestions below.
There are local public buses that will take you to some of the out of town beaches like Balandra, Pichilingue and Tecolote. They tend to run hourly but may not be as reliable as you’re used to. The best advice is to check locally for departure times. Then, when you get to your destination, ask the bus driver for times and directions to get back.
By foot (in downtown)
Most of La Paz is very walkable and the main sights within downtown are best reached by foot, to avoid the chore of finding parking. One thing to be aware of, the city can get very hot, especially in the summer months. I walked to a bar, just 30 minutes away, for a sunset beer and I felt like I’d crawled through the Mexican desert. Upshot: Wear sunscreen and pack a hat and water even for a short trip. Shops make a great browsing stop for some free AC!
How to get from the airport to downtown
Like many airports around the world, Uber and DIDI are not legally welcome so you either have to haul yourself and your luggage to a pick-up spot, or pay the eye-watering taxi prices. Personally, I’m growing a bit grey of hair to be haggling so I tend to pay the $20 taxi fare (chalking it up as the cost of travel). It is pricey for a 15 minute ride but it’s easy and reliable. There is no public transportation from the airport.
Best things to do in La Paz
There are so many great things to do in La Paz, and not just the beaches. I’ve written a full guide to the Best Things To Do in La Paz, Mexico. Here is a small taster of the top attractions and activities. I’ve dedicated a separate section below to the best beaches (because it deserves its own list).
- Swim with Sea Lions
- Swim with whale sharks
- Go whale watching from Cabo (I have also done this in Maui in Hawaii, and it was just as spectacular)
- See the sunset from the Malecon
- Visit the many museums and colonial buildings
- Spot the sea-themed sculptures dotted around the city
- Balandra beach (Playa Balandra)
- Pichilingue Beach
- Tecolete Beach (Playa el Tecolete)
What to do in Downtown La Paz
Known as centro, or downtown La Paz or the Malecon, after the long sea-front walkway, downtown has a lot going on. The area is packed with colonial buildings, bars, restaurants and cafes. There are museums and, of course, the small beach lined with bars ready and waiting for those special sunset moments. Most of the best beaches are outside downtown but there is plenty to occupy you within the city. At night, downtown is bustling with families and vacationers and has a wonderful, safe, relaxing vibe.
- Snorkelling adventure with sea lions at Espiritu Santo – accompanied by marine biologist guides
- Whales watching tour from Cabo – you have two times to choose from, allowing you to time to drive 2 hrs south to Cabo.
- Whale Shark Swim Tour in La Paz – travel on a catamaran to swim with the largest fish in the world.
- City Tour & Beaches Tour from la Paz – take a guided tour of downtown and visit Balandra and Tecolote beaches.
- Sand Boarding at La Paz Dunes – at sunset, sandboard down the 100 feet El Mogote Dunes with sea views as you board.
How to swim with whale sharks
Swimming with whale sharks is a magical experience. I first did it from Isla Holbox in Yucatan on the east coast of Mexico and I highly recommend adding it to your list. They arrive in the bay of La Paz each year but it is seasonal and you will need a tour – the guides know where to find the whale sharks and will make sure you comply with the conservation rules. I suggest this whale shark tour.
Whale shark season
Be aware, swimming with whale sharks is seasonal. The internet will give you mixed results on the official ‘season’ and it can wander a little depending on the year. Tours will typically sell from October through to May. However, at the beginning and end, the chances of seeing whale sharks is reduced. December to March are the true peak months.
How to go whale watching
Jacques Cousteau was right when he referred to the Sea of Cortez as “the world’s aquarium”. As well as swimming with whale sharks, you can go whale watching off the coast of Baja Sur. Once a year, gray whales migrate down from Alaska to the warmer waters around Baja Sur. If you’re there at the right time, it’s a staggering sight, seeing whales breaching out of the water. Again, you’ll need to take a tour and, a bit annoyingly, they all leave from Cabo, 2hrs south of La Paz. That’s not so much of an issue so long as you have a Rental Car. I suggest this: Whale Watching Tour from Cabo.
Whale watching season
As with whale sharks, whale watching is seasonal. And, again, the internet will give you a broad window of when you can see whales – typically between November and April. However, January to March are the absolute best months to whale watch from La Paz.
How to swim with sea lions
You can read my full article here: How To Swim With Sea Lions in Mexico – Baja California. I recommend this Sea Lion tour.
Sea lion season
The sea lions live in the Sea of Cortez around Isla Espiritu Santo so they are there year round, unlike the whales and whale sharks. And if you go online, you can book a tour to swim with (or see) the sea lions year round. However, be aware that it is prohibited to swimming with sea lions during breeding season, which takes places between 1 June and 31 August. Sadly, these rules don’t appear to be strictly followed by the tour companies. I confess, I got this wrong – stupidly assuming the tour companies would follow the local rules. Learn from my mistake, be a responsible tourist and plan your sea lion swim between September and May.
Visiting La Paz on a Baja California road trip
La Paz is a real highlight in Baja California and is a vacation destination all on its own. However, if you’ve long held the dream to take a road trip through Baja California, you should absolutely spend some time staying in La Paz. Nearby, you should also add Todos Santos and Los Cabos to your itinerary. I have written a full guide here: Ultimate Baja California Road Trip Guide with Things To Do, Map & Tips.
Hotels in La Paz generally fall into two categories – hotels within downtown and larger, chain or resort hotels located a little further out. There are also a few cheap, locally run guest houses and hostels if you’re visiting on a budget. Here are my recommended hotels.
- Hyatt Place – a beautiful spot in the marina for a trusted brand that gets great reviews.
- Costa Baja Resort & Spa – if you’d prefer a resort-style stay right on the sea front, this 5-star resort has a private beach.
- Hotel Cathedral – one of the best hotels with a perfect spot in the centre of La Paz. Great roof-terrace views.
- Hotel Lorimar – just a block from the sea, this is a great budget choice for under $60 a night.
- Hostel Casa Esterito – La Paz isn’t teaming with backpackers but there are enough to merit a few hostels. Casa Esterito is both cheap and has a perfect location.
Where to eat
The food in La Paz is so good. Not only is it more authentic than you might find in the big resort towns like Cancun and Cabo, there is a focus on local fish and seafood. There’s also an impressive range of international foods, too. You really could go to La Paz just to swim, eat and sleep. These are some of my favourite places to eat.
- Superburro – if you want a big plate for a low price, this is chain is popular with the locals.
- Rancho Viejo – this is my favourite place – traditional Mexican food at good price with sea views.
- La Fonda – best breakfast – I suggest the set breakfast menu including eggs, tortillas, salsa, fruit and coffee, situated in a beautiful courtyard.
- Frida Cafe – as well as coffee, you can find local food and alcohol (great since this cafe is also open late).
- Street food sushi – surprising, sushi is really popular in Mexico. I found a street food cart where they prepared the sushi fresh (from an ice box). I found it near La Copa Cocina. Otherwise, Sushi Zone is a good alternative.
- Tailhunter restaurant – if you want to start ‘easy’ with Americanised Mexican food. Also great for sunset drinks with ocean views on the 3rd floor.
- Fuego y Leña – pizza in Mexico is pretty darn good (says the person who has been to Naples) and this is one of the most popular spots to try it.
Don’t forget to taste some local wine. There are excellent wineries in Ensenada in Baja California.
When is the best time to visit
First of all, La Paz is a sunshine dream, with around 300 days of sunshine a year and long hours of sunshine each day, so it’s almost always a good time to visit. However, the absolutely best time to visit depends on what activities you plan to do. For a beach vacation, you want to visit during the summer season, June to August. For the best wildlife spotting, visit in Winter, between December and February.
When is peak season?
Peak season is during summer time, in the months of June to August. As well as international visitors, La Paz is very busy with Mexican families on vacation. But don’t worry, it’s not like the mega-resorts so it won’t be too busy.
When is the hottest time of year?
It can get blazingly hot in the peak of summer, in July and August. Temperatures reach around 91°F (33°C) and don’t cool much at night – expect evening heat of around 81°F. The sea temperatures will be perfect for swimming and you’re going to see zero rain, making it a perfect time for a beach trip. Just don’t plan anything too active, like hiking, and make sure you have AC in your room.
When is the rainy season?
La Paz sees very little rain generally speaking. So, although it does have a ‘rainy season’, which is usually in September, it’s nothing compared to being somewhere like England during the rainy season. You might get the some rain bursts during August, but they’re quick and a great relief from the heat.
When is it coldest weather?
Winter, from December to February is typically the coldest time of year. Temperatures go as low as 63°F (17°C) in January and February, with highs around 72°F (22°C). Just pack a light layer for the evening and appreciate that it’s still a heap warmer than most cities in the northern hemisphere. Be aware, the sea is pretty chilly this time of year if you plan on swimming. For more Weather details.
Best time of year for wildlife
If you want to hit the trifecta of swimming with whale sharks, sea lions and whale watching, aim to visit La Paz in winter. January, February and March are the best months to see all three.
As a reminder, the wildlife seasons are:
- Swimming with whale sharks – October to May, with peak sightings between December to March
- Whale watching – November and April, with peak sightings between January to March
- Swimming with Sea Lions – September to May.
What to pack
I have written some complete packing guides here:
- The Only FREE Printable Packing List You Need
- 21 Long Haul Flight Essentials: What to Take In Your Carry On Bag
- How to Travel Light: 25 Quick Swaps for Packing Light
- What is the Best Mosquito Repellent?
Items I especially recommend for visiting La Paz:
- Travel Binoculars – essential if you’re whale watching. I pack this light, cheap pair of travel binoculars that cost under $20.
- Reusable water bottle – save money, save the planet, save your stomach (from the tap water). Contigo bottles leak the least (based on my many trips).
- Dry bag – great for boat trips, pop your electrical items inside and keep them safe from water damage. I swear by Sea to Summit but there are cheaper versions.
- Sanitary items – if it’s that time of month, pack what you need. Mexico is a country of pads, and tampons can be hard to find.
- Mosquito repellent – sorry, dengue fever is real in Mexico (and La Paz). I know, I caught it.
While I write up a dedicated Mexico packing list, my printable Costa Rica Packing List has pretty much everything you need for both a beach or wildlife adventure.
You can find all the products mentioned in this post on my Travel Store.
Cell service and data
These days I tend to just switch on my international roaming in Mexico. Google maps is perfect for GPS and uses very little data. If your cell plan doesn’t include Mexico or is too expensive, or if you’re struggling with your international cell number in Mexico, just grab a local SIM. It’s very easy to do – pop into an OXXO or 7-Eleven store and ask for a Telcel SIM. The counter staff are usually very happy to help you buy it, load it with data and get it working on your cell phone. You can go back to any OXXO or 7-Eleven to top-up. Tip: before you travel, check how much you data you typically use in your home country on days when you’re not at home (i.e. not using your home wifi). This will give you an idea of how much data you need to buy in Mexico. Do make sure your phone is unlocked to be able to use an international SIM.
Can you drink the tap water?
No. The tap water isn’t safe to drink in La Paz or anywhere in Mexico. Even the locals drink bottled water. Personally, I don’t even use it to brush my teeth – keep a ‘spare’ bottle next to the sink in the bathroom as a reminder. Bottles of water are cheap and readily available in Mexico. Water refills are thankfully becoming increasingly common, so pack a refillable bottle.
While you can’t drink the water, it is safe to order salad and drinks with ice. Salad is washed with ‘safe’ filtered water and, trust me, that man running that bar buys big bags of industrial ice made from filtered water. He’s not standing filling an ice cube tray from the tap just to make you sick. Not convinced? Check for the ‘hole’ in the middle of the ice cubes. That’s ‘bought in’ ice, not home-made from a tap.
Is La Paz safe?
Safety in Mexico has always been a hot topic. And what ‘safe’ actually means is a highly personal matter. For some, a place is only safe if there is almost zero risk. For others, especially people who live in big cities, travel to La Paz represents no more risk than you’d face at home.
To give you a one-size-fits-all answer: yes, La Paz is safe to visit. It has a laid back, family vibe and I felt very safe walking the streets there at night, even as a solo female traveller. La Paz is one of the safest cities in Mexico as is Baja Sur. In fact Baja Sur recently had the 4th lowest homicide rate in Mexico (Yucatan was lowest). Yes, there is crime in Mexico and Baja California. And it’s the kind of crime that makes news headlines, but it’s actually not all that common. And your average tourist has a trouble free visit to La Paz.
I’ve written a couple of detailed articles about safety in Mexico if you want more info:
- The Safest Places in Mexico For Tourists To Visit
- Is Mexico Safe? The Main Risks & How To Avoid Them
- 40 Travel Safety Tips
Is La Paz expensive?
Like safety, everyone has a different view on what is expensive. However, I feel pretty confident saying La Paz is not expensive. Certainly not compared to places like Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cabo. When I did my Baja California Road trip, I spent around $2150 for a 10 day trip. A lot of that was airfare from London – around $750. Car hire was around $475, fuel $130, $385 for motel-style accommodation and $425 for food, drink, activities and other costs. I’ve written fully about it here: Mexican Road Trip Costs.
Do you need a passport or visa?
Yes, you need a passport to visit La Paz. There is some common confusion for US citizens as it is possible to cross from San Diego to Tijuana on a short visit without a passport. That exception does not extend to La Paz and does not extend to air travel into Mexico.
You probably don’t need a visa. Many countries, including USA, Canada, European Union Countries, UK, Australia and Latin American countries do not need a visa for Mexico. You are granted a 180 day visa free permit when you arrive. If you want to stay for longer or travel for business or visit from a country not included in the visa-free permit scheme, you will need to apply for a visa. Find out more about Mexican Visas.
Don’t forget your Entry Immigration Form
You might not need a visa, but every visitors does need to fill in an FMM Card – Entry Immigration Form. The FMM card trips up many visitors. It’s effectively the old ‘landing card’ you used to fill in on planes and hand over to immigration when you arrived in Mexico. It used to be more complicated with different rules for air versus land entry. And most airlines used to include it in the airfare, but not if you arrived by bus or boat – then you’d pay a fee.
Things are a little simpler now. The FMM is free. However, it’s no longer handed out on airlines. You can either fill it in online before you arrive (complete your FMM online here) or pick one up at the airport.
- Don’t join the queue for the passport security line in Mexico until you’ve got your FMM completed, you’ll just be sent away to fill it in.
- Keep hold of ‘part 2’ of the FMM. The form has an Entry and Exit section. The entry part (part 1) will be kept when you land and pass immigration. You need to keep hold of the Exit part (part 2). You need this to leave Mexico. Keep it tucked away in your passport or travel documents.
- Don’t worry, if you lose it, just ask at the airport. You’ll be directed to an office to get a replacement. It really is better to do it online.
- Do not pay for your FMM. It is now free.
Do you need vaccines?
There are no legally required vaccines for visiting La Paz. It is recommended you have the ‘usual’ course of vaccines that most people get during childhood, e.g. MMR, together with any boosters. Please get your Covid vaccines if you don’t have them already. If you travel without being vaccinated for Covid, check if there are restrictions like additional testing, in place before you travel.
There is low to no risk of malaria in La Paz but there is a risk for dengue fever and Zika virus.
The NHS Fit To Travel website is my go-to resource for planning vaccinations for travel.
Map of La Paz
Here is my map of La Paz together with some of the key locations listed in this guide.