.All Trips / Mexico / North America

Baja California: La Paz — John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl”


The Sea of Cortez was once pearl-rich, but for unknown reasons there’s been a dramatic decline in its pearl-producing clams during the past half century.  Some postulate it’s because of over-harvesting; some say it’s because the Colorado River no longer drains enough water into the Sea of Cortez, altering it’s chemical composition; some say it’s part of a normal cycle — nobody knows why.

Just as he introduced me to the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck also introduced me to La Paz.  When John Steinbeck and his pal, Ed Ricketts, were exploring the Sea of Cortez, they visited La Paz which at that time was a small city but still a major pearl harvesting port.  Here they heard the folk tale that inspired Steinbeck to write the novella, “The Pearl” (which features a fisherman living in La Paz).  “The Pearl” is one of Steinbeck’s most popular books largely because it’s been incorporated into many high school English literature classes.  I like the book but don’t think it’s in the same class as “The Grapes of Wrath“, “Cannery Row” or “East of Eden“.  Read all four and decide for yourself!

La Paz, Mexico

La Paz, Mexico

A Little Background on La Paz

La Paz means “The Peace”.  It’s the capital of Baja California Sur and now has a population of just over 200,000 people.  La Paz is a small port city on the Sea of Cortez with an important commercial fishing industry.   The city overall appears “middle class” and relative well-off, and it does not have the overt commercialism of many of Mexico’s larger coastal resorts.  La Paz is a little out of the main Mexican tourist routes but it’s being actively developed so will likely loose some of it’s small city charm.   The weather is “desert tropical” and lovely in the winter, although it can be oven hot in the summer.  Fortunately the city seems to have escaped most of Mexico’s infamous drug war and is “safe”.  It’s a popular destination for amateur American sail-boat owners whose sailing vessels you’ll find anchored in substantial numbers in La Paz harbor.

La Paz also serves as an outdoor getaway hub and ecotourism destination.  There are opportunities for fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, biking and hiking.   Since this is a coastal city you can get great fresh seafood, so enjoy the fish, shrimp, octopus, etc. at the many fine restaurants in town.

Sunset over La Paz Harbor

Sunset over La Paz Harbor

Visiting La Paz

I found myself walking the same streets John Steinbeck had, which appealed to the sentimentalist in me.  La Paz certainly has changed in the past half century, I think mostly for the better, but believe that the views across the harbor are largely similar to when John Steinbeck took in these same views.  La Paz was the main urban base for my journey of exploration involving both Isla Espiritu Santo and Magdalena Bay.  I spent two days in this small city and very much enjoyed my visit.  I had a restful, quiet few days, finding my way through the city.  It’s clean, well-maintained, attractively situated on the water, with a lengthy broad walking path (Malecon) along the Sea of Cortez which is the focal point of the city and on which I really enjoyed walking in the morning and again at dusk for the sunset.  La Paz has many quality restaurants, quaint shops featuring crafts made of local materials (eg. seashells; cactus wood), and art galleries.  Carnaval was going on while I was visiting and it was interesting to walk along the many exhibits, rides and activities that were part of this well attended event, said to be one of the most popular in Mexico.  Carnaval is intended to be a party wherein Catholics release their excess energies in preparation for lent.  And when lent is over there are lots of good food, drink and nightclub activities they can enjoy on the street that borders the Malecon.

Consider La Paz as a destination, especially if you’re tired of visiting the larger tourist centers of Mexico or if you’re looking to have an active ocean-based vacation, for all it has to offer.  I think you”ll enjoy it, as a destination for several days but especially as a spring board into surrounding Baja California.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)


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