A decade ago if you cruised the eastern coast of Baja, Mexico, all you would see for miles were long stretches of white beach, cactus-covered hillsides and a few small red-dirt fishing villages where a head of lettuce was a rarity to be prized. North of Cabo San Lucas, the resorts were few and far between and yachtsmen had to plan their itineraries carefully as fuel and dock space were in short supply.
Today, much of the coastline still looks the same and the waters remain some of the richest in the world: Pacific gray whales come here each winter to mate and to calve. Game fish are plentiful in the cold waters at the peninsula's point. In the shallows, puffer fish float wide-eyed and angel fish dart in and out of rock formations. No wonder Jaques Cousteau called this the "aquarium of the world, and Bing Crosby and Desi Arnez came to the quiet capital of La Paz to fish and hide out.
A mission town that dates back to 1535, La Paz never really caught on as a resort community (the main road was only paved in 1973) and retained its low-key Mexican flavor. But last year, something big happened here.
In 2005, Marina Costa Baja opened with 250 slips capable of taking yachts up to 200 feet, concrete docks, a state-of-the-art pump-out facility, telephone hook ups, wireless Internet and more. Slips cost about $10 a foot per night. The marina is part of a 500-acre resort that also includes a marina village with some of La Paz's best restaurants (including the romantic La Belle Epoque), a four-star Fiesta Hotel, traditional adobe hacienda-style condominiums that start at about $200,000 and detached beachfront villas that are now going for $600,000. Next door is Paraiso del Mar, a 1,700-acre development that will eventually have more than 2,000 condominiums and 1,500 single-family homes as well as two golf courses and a marina. This spring, about 250 condos and homes will be completed at prices similar to the Marina Costa Baja homes.
After the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico amended its ownership laws to encourage foreigners to purchase property here, through bank trusts known as fideicomosos and U.S. title insurance companies are now working with Mexican properties. The government has had a grand plan to develop a series of marinas along the Gulf of California, each about 120 miles apart, to create an Escalera Nautica, or staircase of stopovers. There has also been talk of building a highway or train that could transport yachts from Santa Rosalillita, on the Pacific coast, 84 miles across to the Gulf, saving U.S. yachts the long ocean trip south.
With protected islands such as Espiritu Santo just a few miles away, some of the best fishing and diving in the world, sunny weather and white beaches, La Paz is on its way to becoming the jump-off point to cruising the southern Sea of Cortez. It's not a bad place to think about tying up.