La Paz, a peaceful travel destination in Baja

I have traveled to Mexico every year of my life since I was 5 years old. The vibrancy and traditions are alluring; the siestas, revitalizing. Thirty six years after my first visit to our southerly neighbor, I fulfilled a dream of meeting marine life in the Sea of Cortez.

This sweet spot in the Pacific Ocean—named the world’s aquarium by Jacques Cousteau—ebbs and flows east of the Baja California Peninsula and west of mainland Mexico. La Paz, where authentic local lifestyle mingles with visitors, is a prime home base for exploring the bounteous surroundings.

Up close with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. (Courtesy of La Paz Tourism Board)

On water: Guided by Paulo, an ardent marine biologist, I spied a dozen giant turtles feeding, red-chested frigate birds preening, and a giant manta ray leaping as we floated across turquoise waters towards Isla Espíritu Santo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tuna Tuna Tours navigates excursions by boat to discover the Sea of Cortez. Snorkeling at Los Islotes with a colony of sea lions and millions of fish in myriad shapes and colors, while listening to coral speak, is spellbinding. This all-day tour ($110 per person) detours to a pearlescent beach for fresh ceviche, cold cerveza, and time to stroll along or sink into the velvety-soft sand. I felt like I was in a Corona commercial.

November through March is whale central. Some species live here year-round, while others migrate to give birth or simply weather a warmer winter. I swam with whale sharks in open ocean,  and you can, too. The world’s largest fish move in zen-like slow motion; I felt safe in their omnipresence. (No more than five guests, a guide, and a captain are allowed on each small fishing boat, and the number of boats allowed in the swimmable area is limited.) A few days after my close encounter, the German spinoff of “The Bachelor” reality television series followed suit and filmed a one-on-one date with these gentle giants.

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