Thursday, March 10, 2011

Letting Go in La Paz and Loreto -- Baja California, Mexico!

By: Anne M. Raso

This editor was lucky enough to recently go on a trip to La Paz and Loreto, Mexico--both towns are still non-touristy and there's only a 3-1/2 hour drive on Mexican Federal Highway 1 (AKA "The Transpeninsular"). The drive alone is worth doing because along the way there are really no rest stops or even many signs. It is pure rustic Mexico, with little man-made stands with thatched roofs along the way, often housed with ladies making homemade empanadas inside and bathroom facilities outside!

La Paz is actually a sprawling town famous for having world-class deep sea fishing with over 300,000 residents and it just recently got its first five star hotel, The Costabaja Resort & Spa. The rooms are oversized and it's not unheard of to a get a rack rate of $140 per night. Being foodies, we especially enjoyed our classic Mexican breakfast at Steinbeck's, the hotel's ground floor restaurant--it's named after John Steinbeck (as his famous book "The Pearl" was based on a story he heard in the city during the 1940s) and features one of the world's biggest collections of rare tequila (over 400 bottles in all).
There are plenty of spa and non-spa activities right on the grounds of the hotel, including a fascinating shell museum, Gary Player signature golf course (the first in Mexico) and a 250 slip marina if you want to travel to the hotel in style on your yacht. While in La Paz, we also visited Palermo's featuring high-end Italian cuisine, including a drop-dead thin-crust pizza with arugula that is the best thing this side of Naples (a strange thing for a restaurant in Mexico, we know)!
As mentioned before, the trip from La Paz is scenic with lots of cacti, desert and mountains and strangely enough, scattered with very skinny cows! Be sure to stop at a roadside stand for a variety of homemade native dishes featuring freshly made tortillas. Forty-five minutes south of La Paz is the must-stop-by town of Todos Santos --you can pop in for a drink at the Hotel California, home to the famed Chef Dany Lamote, and / or enjoy a lively lunch in the courtyard restaurant of the Guaycura Boutique Hotel  & Spa.
Heading north from La Paz to Loreto, in several hours you will be near Lopez Mateos, where you can take in some whale watching in Magdalena Bay. The whales only travel down from Alaska in the early part of the year, so February and March are the only months you can see them; you need to bring a change of clothes in case you get wet from a gray whale doing a "dive" right next to your motorboat. The price is only 900 pesos for a boatload of one to ten persons, and the price includes a guide in the boat and life vests (see and hit on their whale watching link). We had a "whale of a time (pardon the corny pun) as we caught about 15 whales coming up out of the surf (some mamas with babies and one floating on its side after childbirth).


Moving on to Loreto, our hotel pick is The Hotel La Mision, the only five star resort in Loreto--it's newly renovated with a rack rate of about $140 for a luxury double room with a kingsize bed. The La Mision Hotel not only features fine dining and a unique art Mexican art collection, but their restaurant Baja Peninsula features freshly caught fish in nearby waters -- a real highlight for us lovers of animals from the sea (on our plates that is)!
A beach is within walking distance and the nearby village stores are a pleasure to take in, especially the ice cream and fruit ice oasis known as La Michoacana only two blocks away. There are large freezers of what appears to be homemade versions what we call "Froze Fruit" here in dozens of flavors from guava to even something that tasted like a frozen mocha latte (check out their brightly colored assortment of frozen delights on MySpace under "La Michoacana Loreto" on MySpace).
There's also a Loreto historical center that includes the Mission Of The California oldest galleries, shops and alleys which is well worth visiting--you can pick up a 16 ounce bottle of the world's best vanilla for $3 in most of the shops and stands there, as well as an armful of pretty silver jewelry.
Be sure to venture nearby to the Hotel Oasis, which was built in 1962 and has been owned by the same family all this time. It's a charming combination of kitsch and the Old Mission style...and when we took a tour of the property, we were impressed to learn that you could get a renovated room that opened right onto the hotel's private beach on the Sea Of Cortez for only $120 a night. Be sure to get some of the Baja Peninsula's most authentic huevos rancheros for breakfast in their Del Carmen Restaurant (rooms come with a complimentary breakfast there, by the way).
It was hard to say bye to Baja--but we will be back--and next time we will be sampling even more flavors of the ice cream and ices at La Michoacana!

[Photos: Anne M. Raso]

Disclosure: Travel expenses for this trip were provided courtesy of Ogilvy PR. As always, all opinions are our own. 

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