‘Is there anyplace else left to discover?' I’ve been traversing Baja for over fifteen years and it’s a question I ask myself each and every time I make a journey down. What else is there to unearth in a mostly barren land that I feel I know like the back of my hand? And, you know what? Each and every time, I find something new and awe-inspiring that literally snatches my breath away. This past trip, it was the Balandra Beach area, just south of La Paz. Talk about major Baja remorse. How could I have not made the haul to this famed beach in all those many years? This gem is quite possibly the most beautiful beach in Mexico, certainly in all of Baja and I quickly found out, the best way to discover this prize was through the food.
We ended up at Balandra Beach through a series of seriously blissful days in the Todos Santos area. One too many surf sessions and fried fish taco shove downs led me to wake up one morning, load the dogs in the truck and hit the road for La Paz, a quick scoot across the peninsula. I’d had Balandra on my Baja bucket list for about a year when I spied a picture of the most pristine white sand beach and crystal clear water on Instagram. Thinking it was some off-grid spot in the South Pacific, I’d clicked onto the photo only to find out it was way down south in my favorite land on earth. Unreal. So off we went to find that it was indeed a magical spot where you can wade out half a mile before you are even knee deep in the most visually stunning waters I’ve ever seen in Mexico.
After winding our way through the charm of the malecón in La Paz, we started to weave our way toward the far southern tip of the peninsula on a two-lane road (about a 30-minute drive). We passed gorgeous marinas, super green golf courses, mansions galore and pretty much nobody on the road. The heat was incredibly intense even with all the AC’s pumping, but once we flew past the lonely port where the Sea of Cortez ferry stops, it wasn’t long before we caught sight of signs to Playa Balandra. We hit the empty beach, Playa El Tecolote, across the street from Balandra first before a throng of holiday crowds descended on the restaurants and were the first folks to order at a very rustic beachfront hideout, La Concha. Knowing we were there for the day, it was everything goes on the menu. Fish and shrimp ceviche tostadas, a platter of fried fish tacos, piles of just made guacamole, and the best things I’ve had in Baja in eons – a platter of creamy Shrimp Diablo. The red spice and buttery sauce were such a surprise hit to our tastebuds in 100-degree weather, my guy and I were just murmuring with pleasure as our doggies caught tortillas mid-flight in the air. We lazed away half the day witnessing dogs bobbing around on kayaks, sailors dropping anchor and speed boats flying off to the other side of the bay. It felt like we were sequestered on a faraway island in Greece, with the shimmers of blue and white umbrellas floating in the wind against the backdrop of the sand and water. The beach ran on for miles and as we slurped on frozen margaritas (whipped up on an industrial blender fashioned on the helm of a ancient motorcycle carcass), we watched the paddle boarders, banana boaters, and joyful families luxuriate in the best-kept secret in all of Baja.
Next up, we crossed the road to finally hit Balandra. It’s the kind of spot where time has stood still in Mexico. Bathtub warm water, doggies galore pouncing around chasing schools of fish, folks BBQing and grilling up all sorts of meats, and countless hours to explore the little coves flanking the sandy beach. We played a bit of soccer with a few kids on a tiny atoll while daydreaming about an early dinner and cold drinks. It’s a beach with very few amenities so if you are like us, spontaneous travelers, you sometimes don’t show up prepared. To be honest, in all of my travels, I’ve never been to a beach where you could walk out so far and still barely be knee deep. It’s the kind of swimming spot that snorkelers dream of and rarely found; non existent currents, very little crowds, no throbbing music…instead, just the giggle of children, the woofs of dogs and a plethora of perfect water sports.
After a day of sun tanning and flip-flopping in the water, it was time to head back toward Todos Santos, but not without a marina pitstop. I’m always looking for secluded sailboat hideouts and the southern La Paz marinas have a much more luxurious feel to them than the ramshackle boating facilities one usually comes across. The marina at Costa Baja Resorts was way more than that; it was a boater’s paradise. Everything looked spanking new and there were a half dozen charming restaurants ready to serve up sushi, seafood and steak at all hours of the day. But, for us, it was all about the idea of Italian food that had us swooning. The friendly staff at La Barraccia promptly sat us (and our wet dogs) al fresco, served us some on-the-house appetizers and made sure we had hot plates of food coming out shortly. We were in heaven after the heat of the beach and when our brick thick lasagna and feather light gnocchi arrived, it was like we were in a port on the Italian coast, watching the yachts navigate their way in and out of the marina.
That’s the thing I love about Baja so much – you can crisscross the globe in a spectacular fashion (Grecian island, Italian port, Spanish village, Caribbean sea) all in one afternoon if you just wake up, make the decision to get in your truck and just go.