The Best Kept Secret in Baja: La Paz as a Luxury Destination
Something is happening in La Paz. Long seen as Los Cabos' sleepy northern neighbor, Baja Sur's capital city is receiving a lot of attention lately. Discerning travelers from around the world are attracted by its flourishing gastronomy, beautiful urban layout, stunning beaches, and distinct personality. We sat down with Jhoanna Higuera, real estate professional at Los Cabos Sotheby's International Realty and La Paz native, for a conversation about La Paz's unique lifestyle and its desirability as a luxury investmentment destination. Read on and get the inside perspective!
La Paz boasts a well-planned urban layout. Image credit fishingbooker.com
Q: You are a La Paz native who has been living in Los Cabos for some time now. What are the differences between both places?
A: I was born and raised in La Paz. After college, I went to graduate school in the U.S., returned to La Paz upon earning my degree, packed my bags, and moved to Cabo San Lucas to start a new job. I've been here for eight years since then. The main differences have to do with economic activity and lifestyle. La Paz is a super quiet city with a nice, slow pace. Its economic activity is mainly focused on government and politics, as it’s the state’s capital. La Paz is quite traditional, and the dynamics of social mobility reflect that. Los Cabos is focused on tourism, hotels, and prime services for foreigners. Money flows fast here. La Paz is more hierarchical, with power concentrated in a few prominent political families. Even when La Paz is gaining traction as a tourist destination, it still is pretty mellow. Also, while tourism in Los Cabos is mainly American and Canadian, in La Paz it is European and Mexican.
Q: What about climate differences?
A: The weather in La Paz is more extreme than in Los Cabos. It’s hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. A good thing about la Paz is that it is better protected than Los Cabos against hurricanes. So hurricane season is experienced with much less apprehension there than in Los Cabos.
Q: La Paz is a beautiful city with stunning beaches. Why hasn’t tourism skyrocketed there the way it has in Los Cabos?
A: There are several factors. The airport is not ideal, as it is not international, and you have to use Los Cabos airport if flying internationally. Even so, many travelers do come to La Paz. International tourists, as I mentioned before, tend to come from Europe.
Q: Why are they drawn to La Paz?
A: There are different reasons. One, La Paz as an eco-tourism destination specializing in water sports like scuba diving is appealing to Europeans. Also, prices are lower than in Los Cabos, which draws people looking for luxury lifestyle experiences. With regards to diving and other water sports, La Paz is on the Sea of Cortez. It has several nearby areas for surfing, there are lots of swimmable beaches, and it’s full of diving and snorkeling spots. The calmness of the beaches makes them ideal for families with children, as you can relax and know that your kids are safe.
Playa Balandra, one of La Paz's icons. Image credit Francisco Estrada via www.loscabosguide.com
Q: What are some of the most interesting diving spots around La Paz?
A: There are several shipwrecks in the waters around La Paz. El Salvatierra is one of them, which sank in the 1970’s. There are a few others, and it is very interesting to dive in and experience how the ocean has covered them with infinite types of lifeforms. Also, there is a spot near La Paz that has a remarkable legend around it. It is centered on El Mechudo, which means The Hairy One. Back in the time when Mexico was a Spanish colony, the inhabitants of the area became very prosperous by fishing out pearls and selling them. So they decided to find one that was specially beautiful and big and dedicate it to the Virgin. But this guy, El Mechudo, boasted that he would find a better pearl, not for the Virgin but for the devil. He went in the water and never came back out again. Ever since, divers claim to have seen him in the depths of the ocean, sitting there, not living yet not alive, with long, jellyfish-like hair.
Q: Food is outstanding in La Paz. What are some of your favorite spots?
A: There are very good cafes, very good bakeries, and very good Mediterranean restaurants. One of my favorites in La Paz is Hector Palacios. He has several restaurants in La Paz and all of them are worth a visit. He started at La Concha, which was the only beachfront hotel in La Paz. Food in La Paz is where all the different social classes meet. You go to a little oyster stall and you may find the governor having a few shells.
Q: Los Cabos is a resort city – an urban design familiar to Americans. But La Paz is a city in the sense in which most Europeans think of when they hear the word “city.” What is your take on that?
A: La Paz is a proper city. Not too big, though, just the right size. One of the highlights is a boardwalk that is about 10 kilometers long. That’s 10 kilometers of shops, restaurants, and establishments, and that is very European, going out for a walk to a cafe or shop. It is allowed to have your beer on the sidewalk next to where you bought it, or you can pick up an ice cream and a cup of coffee and enjoy them while you stroll down the street. It’s a very family-oriented scene. The sunsets are amazing, and nature is really close to everyday life. There’s El Mogote, too, a strip of beach where it’s not uncommon to see dolphins. You’re walking your dog quietly and suddenly you spot a few dolphins swimming right beside you.
El malecón, the city's magnificent boardwalk, is ideal for a sunset bike ride. Image credit es.golapaz.com
Q: Last time I was in La Paz I was very impressed by the downtown area. What can you tell us about it?
A: As it has been the case with many cities all over the world, downtown La Paz became depopulated, but it has recently become a hotspot for cool restaurants, hotels, and other businesses. Being so close to the boardwalk and showcasing a lot of interesting old architecture, downtown will keep getting ever hipper. And new architects are working in the area, too. Architecture is one of the best things Mexico, a country with a strong art tradition, has to offer.
Q: What is your opinion on La Paz as a luxury real estate destination?
A: There used to be only three areas that could be considered upscale: Fidepaz, Bella Vista, and La Piedra. Then the first luxury development was launched, Puerta Cortes, and, almost at the same time, El Mogote. They started making condos from US$300,000 and up. This was over a decade ago. And about 10 years ago, the Pedregal area began to be developed, which is very comparable to Pedregal in Cabo San Lucas. It is worth pointing out that there is an area called El Coyote that is really private and avant garde in terms of technology. Another area is El Centenario, which used to be working class but is now quite hip, and north of that there’s an area called El Comitan, unpaved, where wealthy locals have their beach homes, some of them very cool. Overall, the vision in La Paz is not about building gated communities around a golf course like in Cabo. It’s luxury in the sense of privacy, comfort, and community, rather than ultra-luxury. There are a couple of golf courses in La Paz, but it’s not a big thing there. And there are several very interesting developments in the pipeline. Great things are coming to La Paz.
Puerta de Cortes features the only Gary Player Signature golf course in Mexico. Image credit puertacortes.com
Q: If you had two clients, one very high end, with a few million dollars that he wants to invest in a property in La Paz, and another one who is in the midrange, a foreigner that wants to retire in La Paz and is looking to buy something for around US$400,000, what would you recommend to each of them?
A: To the high end lady or gentleman, I’d recommend Puerta Cortes, a mature development with every amenity that can be desired. A very cool beach club, several restaurants, tennis courts, a spa. And it has several subcommunities within it, among which one of my favorites is Lomas de Cortes. To my other client, the one looking for a mid range option, I’d recommend the Plaza Coral area. It’s just off the boardwalk, on the left hand side. It’s also a recent development and it’s been very popular. It’s right next to one of La Paz’s many marinas.
Q: Finally, why buy in La Paz today? Why is it a good investment for the future?
A: It's a good investment today, it has always been one, and it will always remain a good investment. Number one, the lifestyle that La Paz provides is unique. The beaches are amazing, there's a lot of activities to do, and the food is outstanding. Also, you’re very close to Los Cabos. In two hours you can be in a completely different setting, as the Sea of Cortez and Los Cabos are very different. Furthermore, services like hospitals and schools are very good and affordable in La Paz. This city is always going to be very unique, very low key and private. La Paz is cautious about super fast change and growth. Locals want their city for themselves and take care of it to keep it nice and manageable.
Jhoanna Higuera. Luxury real estate advisor. Baja native, foodie, mixology lover, outdoor and indoor activities practitioner. More blog posts on what to do, eat, and drink in Baja coming soon!
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