In my previous column, we started from Los Cabos and poked into 11 good little cruising spots while rounding the bulge of Baja’s East Cape region. Then transited the San Lorenzo Channel, which lies south of the Islas Espiritu Santos, to finally arrive at the La Paz Channel entrance.
LA PAZ CHANNEL
The only way any boat can sail into La Paz is through this fairly narrow, 3.5 n.m. long channel. Starting from just southeast of the Punta Prieta headland, the La Paz Channel runs close east alongside a mostly submerged reef composed of rock, coral heads, and sandbanks. Along the channel’s west side, the cactus and scrub-covered hills rise steeply— navigable widths inside the channel range from 70 to 175 yards. Depths at mid-channel vary from 18 to 28 feet, yet it’s wise to hand steer and keep an eye on the depth sounder because this channel shoals quickly along its loosely marked edges.
On the south side of Punta Prieta, we slowly swing just south of two Pemex offshore mooring buoys and, more importantly, their slightly submerged shore cables. Then when we swing back northeast– here’s what we see ashore off our bow: (1.) the legendary Bercovich Boat Yard with its many client boats moored or anchored out, some right in our way, and (2.) the tall breakwater entrance (400 feet wide) into Marina CostaBaja’s first of two yacht basins, including their highly visible Pemex fuel dock. Being so close to open water, Marina CostaBaja’s 250 full-service slips are popular with sportfishers that head out early and with mega yachts thanks to their 200-foot slips.
From that crossroad, with binoculars, we scan to starboard to identify the first two pairs of channel buoys, reds, and greens, with the precious 180-yard gap between them. We aim for the middle of the gap and, boom, we’re in. Initially, the channel angles sharply south, straightening out and showing us several pretty beaches, water parks, and hotels to port. To starboard is the 3.25 n.m. long barrier reef.
At 1.85 n.m. down the channel, a quick jog to port takes us inside a narrower lighted breakwater channel that parallels the main La Paz Channel. This forms the yacht basin for Marina Palmira, but about 300 feet in, on the port side is a launch ramp for Atalanta Boat Yard, a small dry-storage yard with DIY capabilities.
Past that ramp, we enter Marina Palmira’s yacht basin with 180 full-service slips. Its fuel dock is hard to port. Shops and eateries line the basin’s shoreside close to the busy (noisy) highway. (Reading below, we’ll look at the rest of the marinas and boat yards located within La Paz Harbor itself.)
The main La Paz Channel continues south along the outside of Palmira’s breakwater for about a third of a mile, then the channel widens and begins its gradual curve southwest for another 1.4 n.m. The barrier reef to starboard merges with the El Mogote Peninsula, a huge flat peninsula that stretches east-west, forming La Paz Harbor’s northern barrier wall. Looking about a mile off to the west, we see a cluster of 5-story high-rise buildings on El Mogote. Mud shoals paralleling El Mogote’s south side are breached by only a few unmarked crossing channels.
The main buoyed and dredged part of La Paz Channel widens here and, to port, could take us alongside the Muelle Fiscal, the big black-and-white striped concrete pier, an unmistakable nautical landmark at the heart of downtown La Paz.
LA PAZ HARBOR
During cruising season, 200 or more yachts will be swinging in the harbor’s most popular downtown anchorage areas. A string of migrating shoals between unmarked channels and anchoring patches don’t seriously deter all manner of maritime traffic (pangas, shrimpers, excursion boats) from zooming through this next 1-mile length of La Paz Harbor. It encompasses two free anchorage patches (free except for a modest API fee), three more marinas, three more boat yards, and the Mexican Navy docks.
Looking first at where to anchor out, what’s known as the El Mogote anchorage runs about 5,000 feet along the curving south shore of El Mogote Peninsula. This is usually the quieter anchorage, but it’s farther to dinghy across to downtown.
The Malecon anchorage starts at the Muelle Fiscal and runs about 4,500 feet along the downtown harbor beach and stands off the next two marinas, ending off the west end of the Navy base. Malecon anchorage is handier for those who frequently dinghy back and forth to the downtown. It follows the busy waterfront street known as the Malecon. The API office that collects weekly anchoring fees is on the Muelle Fiscal, with windows overlooking both anchorages.
“The La Paz Waltz” is a dizzy dance that anchored boats perform whenever the max 3-knot tidal current flows against the wind direction. Or in no wind, the current affects each hull configuration differently. It’s almost impossible to allow ample swinging room, so some boats spin and kiss lightly.
We’ve already checked out Marina CostaBaja and Marina Palmira north of town.
Also north of town is Bercovich Boat Works, the first haul-out yard you reach when approaching La Paz, right before entering the La Paz Channel. For 30 years, the Bercovich brothers’ location has been a lifesaver for boats developing problems while out fishing or exploring the Islas Espiritu Santos.
Now let’s look at the rest of the marinas and boat yards located in La Paz Harbor.
About 1,000 feet southwest of the Muelle Fiscal, the harbor beach ends at Marina Cortez, the newest boating facility in town. It’s a 50-boat marina inside a large floating “wave baffle” type of breakwater. The dock gate where you come ashore is near two restaurants on a pedestrian walkway.
Next is Marina de La Paz, the original yacht marina in Mexico, built and operated by the well-known Shroyer family. With 150 full-service slips, a fuel dock, and its excellent location within walking distance of downtown, it’s probably most popular with cruising boaters. On its enclosed grounds, you’ll find the Dock Café, the Seamar Chandlery, and the clubhouse for the Club Cruceros de La Paz – a helpful group I recommend all boaters join.
Next are three adjacent and active boat yards: Don Jose (also known as Big Abaroa’s boat yard) with its 100-ton Travelift; then the smaller El Palmar boat yard; then Abaroa’s boat yard (also known as Little Abaroa’s). The latter two boat yards also call themselves marinas because, occasionally, they can squeeze you into temporary dockage. Keep this in mind if you arrive in La Paz without a slip reservation or intend to depart after only a few days.
Lastly, along this busy stretch of the harbor, we reach the big concrete pier facings of the Armada de Mexico, which is the Fourth Regional Navy and Marine base. They operate all the big gray boats plus the Search and Rescue Operation’s fast craft and helicopters.
Marina Fonatur de La Paz is the last boating facility in town. Because it’s located way out by the airport, you take the La Paz channel for 2.5 miles past the Navy base, then turn hard to port into a narrower side channel for another 2.25 miles past tailing piles. This Fonatur marina lies inside its own secure Fidepaz yacht basin, offering 40 full-service slips and a fuel dock.
Due to its more remote location, Marina Fonatur is usually the least expensive marina in town. It is ideal for folks who mainly want to park and store their boat somewhere in the water, not needing to take it out very often. It’s also near De Leon international airport, which is handy for commuter cruisers.
GATEWAY TO THE SEA OF CORTEZ
Thanks to these boating services and excellent provisioning opportunities, La Paz has long been the hub and springboard into the rarified world of Sea of Cortez cruising. So, whether your plan is for a quick six-month circuit or a couple of years exploring every inviting cove, La Paz is the place to begin.
The morning net broadcasts on VHF 22 at 0800, Monday through Saturday. Newbies can check in with their boat names and get answers to all their questions. Boaters share news of local and distant cruising conditions, weather, fuel prices, and cruiser gossip. Because these VHF nets are always non-commercial, you can’t sell items or services, but you can trade for “coconuts;” wink-wink. You can find a ride for local provisioning, a crew position, or a road trip all the way up Baja.
La Paz is excellent for providing fruits, veggies, and meats thanks to fleets of refrigerated trucks that roll down Baja Highway 1 or arrive from the mainland aboard the Baja Ferry. Big-box stores include Bodega Aurrera, Chedraui, Soriana, Walmart, etc.
Recently, the CUBAR rally culminated in La Paz, so 30 powerboats could replenish themselves before fanning out across the Sea of Cortez. The 100-boat Baja Ha Ha fleet held its annual reunion here. La Paz might be your gateway to the best cruising in Mexico.