Saturday, February 16, 2013

Our Time in La Paz and the Sea of Cortez

Brett on the Malecon in La Paz

We arrived in La Paz in November, just prior to Thanksgiving.  The weather at that time was in the mid-80s and the winds were very light.  Because of various visitors, we knew we would be in the area until late January – which is a long time for us to stay in one place, but we really looked forward to getting to know the area and the people there. 

Beautiful and Interesting Hotel Yeneka
La Paz is an amazing town – there are so many great restaurants to eat in, you hardly know where to start.  During our time there, we probably ate at over 25 restaurants – varying from a small hole in the wall with 2-3 tables, to one of the most expensive steak houses in town (Estancia Uruguaya - where we had one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten).  Out of all of those restaurants, I can’t think of one that we had a bad meal at and we never got sick or had any issues of the classic “Mexican” variety.  And yes, we ate a LOT of salads!  In fact, the food in La Paz is some of the best I’ve ever eaten – a wonderful mix of flavors and spices that we will greatly miss once we leave. 

Scuptures on the Malecon
The people we met in La Paz are also incredibly friendly and helpful – especially if you try to speak the language.  I only know the basics – but any effort is greatly appreciated and they are very patient and love to help you learn the language.  While there are many people that can speak English (especially the younger people), I think it’s always best to try – even if you are bumbling along.  Plus, if you don’t practice, how will you ever learn?  But so many people speak English it’s easy to forget to practice!

Getting around La Paz is also very easy.  First off, there is an amazing “Malecon” that runs along the water for miles through the city – great for walking with wonderful sculptures about every block.  There are taxis everywhere, plus an excellent system of buses that you can take for just 8 pesos per person around town.  With a little searching you can find pretty much any item you need in La Paz.  We put in countless miles walking around town getting supplies and finding new places to eat or interesting little stores.  By simply wondering around on foot, we found many special places that we would have definitely missed in a car.  That said, if you are not into walking there are several car rental agencies and most of them will even bring the car to you!

If you are a boater, there is a wonderful group of cruisers that live in La Paz over the entire winter (many stay year-round) and they are an invaluable resource if you need help finding a specific item or service.  There is a cruiser’s “Net” that runs on VHF channel 22, Monday thru Saturday, with a different Net host each day (my personal favorite was Gunther on Friday’s).  The net includes announcements for arrivals and departures, for local weather, the local tides, a section for local assistance (where you can ask about anything you need), and a swaps and trades section if you are looking to get rid of something out of your bilge.  Remember that as a non-resident you are not able to sell in Mexico – only to trade “for coconuts”!  There is also a yacht club – Club Cruceros – which hosts a morning coffee hour every day except Sunday.  They also host special events over the course of the year and help raise money for several local worthy causes.  They have a huge DVD lending library that members have access to and it’s only about $10 US to join.

Another Great Hike!
About 2 hours north of La Paz (assuming travel at an average of 6 knots) there are two large islands – Espíritu Santo and Caleta Partida.  There are many wonderful anchorages on these two islands, all of which are well protected from the north – but almost all of them are exposed to south winds.  There are wind events here called “Coromuels” where strong winds will blow from the south from late afternoon to early the next morning.  These happen more often in the summer, but can still happen in the winter too.  We know, because we’ve been through several and they are not fun! 

So now to the bad part of being in La Paz during the winter – the part that nobody seems to mention in any of the cruising guides and the reason we never got very far north into the Sea, even though we were there for almost THREE MONTHS!  December and January are fairly chilly and we had almost constant “wind events” (i.e. sustained winds over 20 knots).  We had multiple cases where we were stuck at anchor for 3 days in sustained winds from 20-30 knots.  When I say sustained, I mean sustained in the high 20’s to low 30’s for 72 hours with gusts up to 40 knots in our “protected anchorage”.  It was not fun and it was cold!  We also had some terrible experiences out at the islands – one night of 35+ knots all night with 3-4 foot waves causing us to hobby horse all night, another where we spent 3 days/nights in 30+ knots and watched multiple boats dragging – all inside the most protected anchorage. 

Ensenada Grande on a Calm day
I can honestly say that my top 4 worst nights at anchor now all took place in La Paz and the surrounding area – and we’ve been anchoring out all over the Northwest for over 10 years!  While La Paz is a great area, I just wish someone had warned us that December and January were not good months to be there.  That said – when it wasn’t blowing 30 knots the anchorages were absolutely beautiful, with excellent snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, incredible white sandy beaches and fantastic hikes.  The wildlife is stunning and the fish are abundant.  So my basic advice would be to come – just don’t come for the months of December or January.  Enough said!

Addy & Cyntia - Marina de La Paz
If you plan to bring your boat to La Paz and you don’t have a big budget, there is a huge anchorage area with room for 100’s of boats and the cruisers really look out for each other.  If you want to stay at a dock, there are about 5 different options and prices vary depending on how many days you stay.  Our personal favorite is Marina de La Paz.  The girls (Addy & Cyntia) are incredibly friendly and helpful – even when you are not staying at their marina.  You will find the daily rate at all of the marinas is very expensive – over $100 for a 46’ boat.  However the weekly rate at most of them will drop substantially and the monthly rate is even better.  Over the winter many of the marinas are full, so it is wise to make arrangements prior to the fall if you want a long term slip. 

Charts!  If you are going to cruise this area, you absolutely MUST have the book by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer called the Sea of Cortez, A Cruiser’s Guidebook.  This book has excellent coverage of the Sea with great illustrations of all of the anchorages.  Most important – the illustrations show the depths of the anchorages, which you WILL NOT get from any of the paper charts OR electronic charts.  Let me repeat – none of the electronic charts (at least from Navionics) show anchorage depths.  They only show depths outside of the anchorages – so this book is absolutely necessary for entering anchorages safely. 

View from the top at Ensenada Grande
So!  Knowing what we know now, would we still come to this area?  Without hesitation – we loved La Paz!  What would we do differently?  We would not go during December or January when the weather is too unsettled to be comfortable at anchor.  I have high hopes however that someday we will be able to return to the area during the “true” cruising season (October, November, March or April).  From what we hear, it gets very hot after April and you are at some risk of hurricane season, so plan accordingly! 

We look forward to seeing the friendly, wonderful people of La Paz again someday and thank them all for making our stay there the best that it could be!

No comments:

Post a Comment