The Other Baja: La Paz
By Matthew Breen
Remote sandy beaches on the Sea of Cortez
On the inaugural AeroMexico flight from Los Angeles to La Paz, near the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, the landscape is a captivating sight for nearly the full flight. Above the edge of the continent, thousands of feet in the air, I can see the pavement and asphalt mazes of Los Angeles melt into green-lawned suburban expanses, then shift dramatically south of San Diego, just beyond the Mexican border. Instantly gone are the networks of roads and the green sprawl that wouldn’t be so green if not for sprinkler systems. Baja is truly a desert, spare, striking, and beautiful. It wasn’t that long ago that the western United States was Mexican territory, and the contrast in terrain is more easily noted from a height than from any car or train. It makes a fine point of the effects of human boundaries and manipulation of the terrain.
Ten minutes or so beyond that striking border between the landscaped and the natural, still riding the outline of the Pacific Ocean, a second body of water emerges, the blues and greens of the Sea of Cortez. From the plane, the entire breadth of the peninsula is visible.
This flight is the first of the twice-weekly (Thursdays and Sundays) LAX-LPB (La Paz’s El Alto International Airport) flights, and in an inaugural flight tradition, the first passengers were treated to a show: Water cannons flanked the runway and we ended our flight under the arch of a water salute.
The La Paz town center is a short 20-minute drive from the airport. The city has been described by The New York Times and Money magazine as one of the best places in the world to retire, something that’s unlikely to be said of its more famous, rowdier neighbor, Cabo San Lucas, a heavily trafficked tourist destination about a two hour’s drive south. La Paz, by contrast, is smaller, offers up fewer mega-hotel resorts (the first American chain, Hyatt Place, just announced it would open), and fewer spring breakers. The city rests in a bay on the Sea of Cortez and feels more pristine and, to many visitors, more “Mexican.”