An internet search for La Paz snorkeling will produce pages of excursions offered by local tour operators. But, if you want to hang out at a beach and snorkel on your own, there isn’t a lot of information available.
Many tourists (and locals) don’t realize that beautiful beaches with clear and calm turquoise waters – perfect for snorkeling – can be found very close to the city. We have spent several months exploring La Paz and its beaches, and have compiled a list of our favorite snorkeling beaches.
They are in order of closest to furthest from downtown La Paz. The farther away from the city, the better the snorkeling is. There are fewer people, less trash, better visibility and more marine life.
La Concha and Caimancito
La Concha Beach Resort is the first stop. It is 6km north of the city, over the hill at the very end of the Malecon. The resort rents fins, masks and snorkels and the restaurant and bar are available to non-guests. The reef is accessible either from the beach or at The Cortez Club Dive Shop. You can easily swim from here to Caimancito – only 250m north of the resort – and back.
Scorpionfish at Caimencito
Caimancito has several palapas (large thatched umbrellas) where you can leave your things and that provide a bit of shade. Take a picnic to enjoy after you snorkel at this small beach. A jetty splits the bay in two, so you can snorkel the north side of the jetty and after lunch you can swim to the rock by La Concha and back.
The visibility here is never optimal and a fine layer of sand and silt covering the rocks and coral makes everything seems grey. There are plenty of fish here, but beware of jellyfish during the summer months.
Don’t let the ferry terminal and plastic-strewn beach discourage you from visiting Playa Pichilingue, 17km north of downtown. Never judge a book by its cover, or a snorkeling site by its beach. There is parking at the boat launch, and at the main beach and restaurant.
Pacific Mutton Hamlet, Sergeant Major and Cortez Damselfish at Pichilingue
Just past the boat launch, the overturned wreckage of an old panga is teeming with life, and the north side of the bay is encrusted in coral. When it comes to fish, all the usual suspects are here. Angelfish, Trumpetfish, Damselfish and the ubiquitous Sargent Majors are guaranteed. The popping of Parrotfish crunching the coral is a constant sound. This spot is a little gem hidden in plain sight.
Octopus at Tecolote
Either end of this beautiful bay has interesting snorkeling. The east end (turning right through the sand at the restaurants) offers a quiet spot, often shared by a few octopus hunters. Swimming towards the point, the sandy bottom gives way to seaweed covered rocks and rocky outcroppings.
There’s not much coral here, but in among the seaweed and the rocks there’s a lot of life to be found. A keen eye will spot the signs of an octopus den and patience will be rewarded with an appearance.
A few dozen yards offshore the shelf drops down to about 15 feet where all kinds of fish hide under the adjacent rocks and in the crevices. A good return snorkel is to swim towards the point along the shore, circle back around the shelf, and come back to the beach.
Sharpnose Puffer at Tecolote
At the west end of the beach, a short walk past the Isla Partida Restaurant, there’s a lovely little cove and the start of a wonderful snorkeling experience. This site is best done at low tide on a calm day, with little wind or swell. Swim close along the rocky shore, in and out of the jutting rocks, around large boulders and over the coral reef.
Sabertooth Blennies poke their heads out of barnacles, while Sharpnosed Puffers, Orange-Sided Triggerfish, Cortez Damselfish and Mexican Hogfish seem to be in every nook and cranny.
Video: Octopus squirting ink
Octopus aren’t uncommon, as the hunters tend to stick to the east end of the bay. One day, an octopus – hiding rather poorly on a rock – squirted ink at us here.
It’s worth taking the time to swim the entire way around the point to the next beach – about a 45 minute slow swim. Haul out onto the warm sand and laze in the sun. There is no road access to this beach, so it is rarely visited and we’ve always had the place to ourselves.
Every dive shop will take you snorkeling with Whale Sharks on the other side of the Mogote Peninsula across from downtown La Paz. All operators require a permit and rules exist to minimize the effects of boats and snorkelers on the sharks. These rules aren’t strictly enforced or sometimes even obeyed. Boats will often move in front of the fish to keep them from swimming away from the tourists who struggle to keep pace.
“Le plus grand aquarium du monde.” (The world’s largest aquarium)
– Jacques Yves Cousteau (referring to the Gulf of California)
Whale Sharks are filter feeders and eat plankton (microscopic organisms). As such, visibility is usually terrible and the shark must be within ten feet to be seen. Like all wildlife, finding a shark is never guaranteed, and you will likely spend most of the trip looking for one. Despite all that, swimming with one of these massive and docile creatures is an incredible experience nobody can ever forget.
Chinese Trumpetfish at El Saltito
This beach is on the other side of the Peninsula Pichilingue. It is accessible through private property, and a guard waits by the gate to keep track of how many people are on the beach.
The northwest wall is easiest to access and explore. Large rock and coral formations extend away from the wall into the bay, and it is deeper than the other snorkeling sites in the area.
Moorish Idols, Chinese Trumpetfish and ocotpus are commonly found here. We even saw a school of baby sailfish as soon as we got in the water.
Southeast of La Paz, Highway 286 is a scenic and easy 60km drive over the mountains and down into a lovely agricultural plain surrounded by cardon cactus. About 3km before the end of the road is the northeast turnoff for Punta Arena.
Jawfish at Pichilingue
Stay to the right after the airstrip and park by the building at the beach. Like elsewhere in the area, it is private property and guards keep track of visitors from their huts on the roadside.
Reefs flank both sides of the beach and are full with life of all shapes, sizes and colors. From Parrotfish to Angelfish and Gobies to Moray Eels, there simply isn’t enough space here to list all the beautiful creatures you will see there. Not surprosingly, it is also a popular site for local scuba divers.
Bahia de Los Muertos
Guineafowl Puffer and Moorish Idol
Just around the corner is perhaps our favorite spot, Bahia de Los Muertos. At the very end of Highway 286 is Restaurant 1535, beside a boat launch. Plan to go in the middle of the day when the boats are out fishing rather than coming or going. Despite the occasional boat traffic, it is an excellent snorkeling spot. Follow the reef at the north end along the restaurant.
Swimming out around the point and the remains of the old pier, the terrain becomes a shallow shelf with many rocky outcroppings and small swim-throughs. Don’t be surprised to find a school of Gold-Rimmed Surgeonfish like we did.
Grand Suenos Resort
Two great snorkeling sites can be found at the Grand Suenos Resort. About 1.5km before the end of the Highway 286, where the pavement ends, there is a dirt road and guard hut on the south side of the highway. The guard will let you through if you tell him you are going for lunch and how many people are in your party.
Snowflake Moray Eel near Gran Suenos
The first spot to visit is the last beach at the very end of the road. There is a reef off the north end of the beach and a wall at the south end. The reef is an interesting maze of coral and towering rocks teeming with fish, including Guineafowl Puffers and Moray Eels. The southern wall is a shallow swim over coral and is best explored at high tide.
The other snorkeling site is right in front of the resort. Park at the cheap and cheerful Centro De Trenes restaurant and walk out to the beach. There are several palapas for those seeking shade.
The reef along the south end of the beach is an extension of the coral garden from the beach to the south. Peacock Razorfish, Juvenile Rockmover Wrasse, Moorish Idols, Spotted Boxfish are not uncommon. We were even lucky enough to have a large California Sea Lion take a swim by to check us out on one trip.
There is another reef to the left of the palapas worth exploring as well. The visibility at both beaches is usually crystal clear. Be sure to have lunch at the resort’s excellent and inexpensive restaurant.
La Paz Snorkeling Tours to Los Islotes
Every tour and panga operator in La Paz offer snorkeling trips to Los Islotes. This rock, whitewashed with bird dung, just off the tip of Isla Partida, is a sea lion colony. It is one of the most popular tours in La Paz for good reason.
Video: Sea Lions at Los Islotes
The pups are born in the summer and weaned by September, when the rookery opens to tourists. The sea lions are mostly young pups and are extremely friendly and playful.
Surrounded by dozens of these elegant creatures, who nibble at you fins, blow bubbles at you and chase each other around is a wonderful and unforgettable experience. You won’t want to get out of the water. If you go, try to get there early before the wind picks up everybody else arrives.
La Paz is a mecca for watersports on the Baja. The kayaking and scuba diving in the Gulf of California are world-famous. However, independent La Paz snorkeling is often under-played and we’re not sure why. We have done a lot of diving here over the years, and some of our snorkeling trips have been better than some of our dives. So, leave the regulator and BCD at home, grab your mask, fins and snorkel, and check out what lies just below the surface in “the world’s largest aquarium”.