K. Mennem 7:17 p.m., June 17
Over the centuries, Baja Sur’s capitol city of La Paz has been a virtual magnet for missionaries, pearl divers, pirates, tourists and retirees. But some of this region’s most stunning scenery, both above and below the water’s surface, lies just offshore; on and around the primitive and enchanting islands that cloister La Paz from the Sea of Cortez and help to enhance its aura of natural tranquility.
When viewed from the air, the multiple peninsulas on Isla Espiritu Santo look a bit like fingers of an open hand interspersed by brilliant turquoise waters. A plethora of reef fish and other marine species abound in this captivating environment, which include Moorish idols, parrotfish, colorful rainbow wrasse, angelfish and trumpet fish that often like to swim vertically while trying to hide and blend in with the surrounding corals and sponges.
Connected to Isla Espiritu Santo by only a thin, sandy isthmus that can often be traversed on foot during low tidal swings, the terrain of Isla Partida proves to be far steeper. On its eastern side, treacherous rocky precipices suddenly drop off unceremoniously into the water below, which then quickly falls to a depth of over 50 fathoms. Both islands, however, are primarily comprised of alternate layers of volcanic ash and hardened lava. Together, they extend 20 miles north to south, and are 6 miles across at their widest point.
Between them, Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida offer visitors a prime opportunity to enjoy world class snorkeling and scuba diving, along with excellent kayaking, boating, fishing and a variety of land based activities catering to the ecotourist.
There is also a third, much larger island that sits off the city of La Paz. Historically named Isla Cerralvo, the Mexican Government changed its name to Isla Jacques Cousteau in honor of the famous French oceanographer and ecologist in November of 2009. But because the local citizenry was never consulted prior to the abrupt name change, there remains continued resistance in the region and many residents have made a point to continue referring to it as Isla Cerralvo.
But whatever name you choose to give it, the coastal waters surrounding this sizeable land mass have gained a reputation over the decades of having some of the most productive sportfishing in the entire Sea of Cortez.
With well over 180,000 permanent residents, La Paz remains the undisputed commercial and political hub for the southern half of the Baja California peninsula. It is bordered by spectacular beaches and enjoys a quaint waterfront malecón adorned with palm trees and exotic foliage that have played host to endless numbers of locals and tourists on countless balmy tropical nights.
Yet, despite such attractive amenities, many believe that it is the enticingly primitive, natural world of the rugged, unspoiled islands situated just beyond Bahia La Paz that hold the region’s most valuable treasures.