Are you someone looking to experience local culture and history while on vacation? Or are you someone who seeks out the most stunning, tropical beach equipped with an all-inclusive swim up bar? Don’t get me wrong, the latter is completely normal – in fact, it’s extremely common for travelers to give priority to destinations that offer peaceful relaxation and sweeping, tropical beach views. After all, the whole point of a vacation is to escape the madness of everyday life, disconnect, relax, and rejuvenate.
However, what if I told you that you could enjoy all of these things while immersing yourself in rich Mexican history and culture? Does that sound too good to be true? Think again – the coastal town of La Paz, Mexico offers just that. In addition to being named the best place to swim with whale sharks, La Paz is by far one of the most culturally vibrant Mexican destinations.
As the capital city of Baja California Sur, the city of La Paz symbolizes a simple yet relaxing and authentic Mexican lifestyle. Unlike the flashy, touristy atmosphere promoted by numerous other Mexican destinations, the vibrant community of La Paz is centered on its unparalleled natural attributes and local culture. With the shores of the world-renowned Sea of Cortez to the east, and a stunning, mountainous desert to the west, this Baja Peninsula location has evolved into one of the region’s most popular sites.
While La Paz has been a prominent tourist destination since the mid-1970s, the region’s history is quite extensive and can be seen in the town’s local community and culture. Well beyond the town’s beautiful resorts, breathtaking beaches, and thrilling water sports lies a complex history of ancient civilizations, inquisitive Europeans, and religious devotees.
Located in the northwest region of the country, the Baja Peninsula is a slice of land wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California – popularly known as the Sea of Cortez. With the earliest Baja residents believed to be Stone Age hunter-gatherers from the north – descendants of those who crossed the Bering Strait around 12,000 B.C. – it is very likely that the region was inhabited by human populations well before mainland Mexico.
Little is known about the ancient civilizations that once populated the region, however, visitors to La Paz can witness the region’s incredible, ancient history in the form of rock paintings and petroglyphs found in over 200 locations in the central interior of the Peninsula. Although a few hours away, visitors to La Paz can make trips to sites such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sierra de San Francisco – an extensive canyon system that protects one of the largest and most enigmatic complexes of cave paintings in the world.
Visit caves such as La Cueva del Raton (Cave of the Mouse), La Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave), and La Cueva de las Flechas (Cave of Arrows) and witness gorgeous, archeological remains that tell the unheard stories of ancient societies composed of semi-nomadic warriors, hunters, fishermen and harvesters.
In addition to its mysterious, ancient history La Paz offers visitors a glimpse into the city’s colonial past with remarkably beautiful structures such as the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Paz (Our Lady of Peace Cathedral). Constructed during the second half of the 19th century under the orders of Bishop Francisco Francisco Escalante y Moreno, this stunning structure is located on the very grounds where the first Jesuit Mission – Nuestra Senora del Pilar de La Paz Airapi (La Paz Mission) – once stood in the early to mid 1700s.
As the Spainards began charting the bay in 1533, in search of rumored sea pearls and beautiful woman, they experienced harsh climates and resistance from local communities. Europeans would abandon the area until the arrival of Jesuit Missionaries in the early 1700’s. There wouldn’t be the creation of a permanent settlement until 1811. As the first point of contact for Europeans arriving to the Peninsula, La Paz was named the territorial capital in 1829, as can be seen by structures such as the Antiguo Palacio Municipal (Ancient Municipal Palace) and Teatro Juarez (Juarez Theatre).
Finding the rumors of shiny, sea pearls off the shores of La Paz to be true, the Spanish developed a massive pearl-diving industry, which would result in the near extinction of the miraculous natural jewel. The pearl industry however, along with the expansion of local farming, would help development La Paz into the modern town it is today. Sites such as the Museo Regional de Antropología e Historia (Regional Anthropology and History Museum), along with the popular La Paz city tour, are perfect for those who wish to learn more about the city’s fascinating history and culture.
Although its history has been complex, the city of La Paz has miraculously fused together both ancient and modern traditions, making it a truly unique experience. With a focus on the arts – both old and new – visitors are sure to witness music recitals, festivals, art exhibitions, shows, traditional folkloric dance performances, art galleries, and Mexican customs and rituals. Just as the ancient Pericu once fished its shores, visitors will not only reap the benefits of a city steeped in history, but will also be surrounded by thrilling activities such as deep-sea fishing, boating, and underwater explorations – truly spectacular Sea of Cortez adventures. La Paz offers it all – history, culture, and action. This is a location you don’t want to miss.