Picture a tranquil bay with intensely turquoise water and golden swaths of sand, all embraced by stark, copper-hued mountains. Imagine the absence of resorts, restaurants, golf courses and jet-skis. Welcome to Balandra Bay, in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, the most stunningly beautiful beach area I have ever visited. Only a 40 minute drive from La Paz, a city of over a quarter million, and just a few hours from the mega-resorts of Cabo San Lucas, Balandra remains undeveloped. My hat goes off to the residents and local government of La Paz who have resisted the lure of tourism dollars and fought for years to protect their beloved Balandra. In 2012, the Mexican government made Balandra Bay an Area of Flora and Fauna Protection.
I didn’t take the photo above, but I included it because an aerial shot is the only way to show the marvellous geography of the area. The huge bay contains eight glorious beaches and a mangrove lagoon. Only one beach (at the inner left side of the bay) is directly accessible off the main road.
The two photos above show the most popular beach—the one with a parking lot. When we arrived on a weekday afternoon in mid-April it was not busy; we even found a vacant palapa. This is a “locals” beach where families from La Paz come to enjoy the calm, safe water and peaceful setting.
The extent of development is a guy renting umbrellas, chairs, paddleboards and plastic kayaks. Alex and I made a beeline for the paddleboards, which was a great way to check out the other beaches. That’s “yours truly” below, sporting an embarrassing getup to shield my pasty Vancouver skin.
If you’re not into paddleboarding, no worries. The water is so shallow, particularly at low tide, you can walk straight across the bay, or wade along the shoreline around the headlands to adjacent beaches. If you’re more of a landlubber, there are rocky trails over the hills that lead to the other beaches (great for photo taking).
The beach above is one over from the main beach. Notice how the “crowd” thins. Continue on around the next headland—where you’ll pass the distinctive El Hongo (the mushroom) rock formation—and you’ll have the next beach to yourself.
It’s counterintuitive, but Balandra Bay faces west and is a wonderful place to catch the late day sun. Most beaches on the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) face east, but there’s a landmass that juts up from La Paz forming a massive bay with a coastline that wraps around its east, west, and south sides (see map at the end).
If You Go:
- Playa Balandra is a 28 km (40 minute) drive from La Paz on a good, scenic road. Using your on car, or rental (easy to do in La Paz) provides more flexibility than the bus, but the latter is also a good option.
- Eco Baja Tours offer daily bus service from La Paz to Balandra Beach (as well as Tecolote and Pichilingue beaches). They are located at the bus station on the Malecon. At the time of writing, one-way fare to Balandra is 90 Pesos.
- While I have read that there is a food vendor at Balandra on weekends, there was no food or water for purchase when we were there. Bring what you need.
- We were warned about small sting rays that can be inadvertently stepped on in the shallow water. We only saw a few. They are not dangerous and will move away when they hear you (shuffle your feet). Update from original post: Thank you Peta for pointing out in your comments that it is very painful to be stung by a ray. It would have been more accurate for me to say they are not aggressive. So I repeat, shuffle your feet. More annoying are tiny jellyfish that may cause a few minutes of stinging…nothing to worry about and I was the only one who got stung. Paradise ain’t perfect!
- Playa Tecolote is only 2 km north of Playa Balandra. It’s a great place to get a beachside meal and view of Isla Espíritu Santo.
- Playa Pichilingue is about 8 km south of Balandra (towards La Paz). We enjoyed an awesome sunset meal there, at Restaurante Playa Pichilingue (photos below).
- Don’t rush this place!
Please visit again to see more posts about great things to do in Baja California Sur, including kayaking at Isla Espíritu Santo and snorkeling with whale sharks and sea lions.