La Paz (“Peace”) is the capital city of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur and an important regional commercial center.
The city had a 2010 census population of 215,178 people, but its metropolitan population is somewhat larger because of surrounding towns such as el Centenario, el Zacatal, and San Pedro. Its surrounding municipality, which is the fourth-largest municipality in Mexico in geographical size, reported a population of 251,871 persons living on a land area of 20,275 sq km.
Worthy of being visited is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar of Peace, whose four centuries make it one of the oldest temples in Mexico.
La Paz has a desert climate. The climate of La Paz is typically dry, warm, and sunny with a year-round average of between 24 and 33 °C. Summer months (July–September) are typically between 34 and 36 °C and can be humid.
The winter months (December–February) are the coldest with temperatures dropping below 15 °C at night, but most maxima are from 20 to 25 °C. Breezes from Bahía de La Paz moderate the temperature.
The bay also acts as a barrier against seasonal storms in the Gulf of California.
Rainfall is minimal at most times of year, although erratic downpours can bring heavy rains. Rain tends to be concentrated in a short, slightly rainier season that peaks in August and September, following the pattern of the North American Monsoon.
The driest season, where it is common to have no rain, occurs from March through June. La Paz averages over 300 days of sunshine annually and it’s known to be very hot in the summer.
During the summer the cooling Coromuel winds, a weather phenomenon unique to the La Paz area, blow during the night from the Pacific over the Peninsula and into the Bay of La Paz.
As with most of the Gulf of California, the temperature of the water changes substantially over the course of the year, with temperatures around 68 °F during winter and around 85 °F during summer.
The guaycuras were the first inhabitants of the peninsula and named this place as Airapí.
On May 3, 1535, Hernán Cortés arrived in the bay by La Paz and named it “Santa Cruz”; he attempted to start a colony but abandoned his efforts after several years due to logistical problems.
In 1596 Sebastián Vizcaíno arrived, giving the area its modern name, La Paz.
Fourteen thousand years ago the first nomadic human groups arrived on the peninsula from the Pacific Ocean coasts.
There were three well-defined tribal groups in the pre-Hispanic era: the Pericúes, guaycuras and cochimíes.
The Pericues inhabited the southern part of the peninsula and extended north, from Cabo San Lucas to the middle of the peninsula, the Guaycuras inhabited the middle and the Cochimies in the far north.
In the vicinity of the current city of La Paz have been discovered indications of pre-Hispanic burials, which shed light on the funeral customs of the Pericues. In that sense, El Conchalito is a site of great archaeological importance.
First discovery of Baja California
In 1533 Hernán Cortés sent an expedition of two ships: “Concepcion” and “San Lazaro”.
This expedition had to explore the South Sea (Pacific Ocean). The Concepción ship was commanded by the captain and commander of the Diego de Becerra. The other ship was under the command of Captain Hernando de Grijalva.
On October 30, 1533, the expedition sailed from the port which today is known as Manzanillo (State of Colima). By December 20 the two ships had separated. The ship “San Lazaro” had advanced and waited in vain for the ship “Concepcion” for three days. Then having no sign from the companion ship, “San Lazaro” began to explore the Pacific Ocean and discovered the Revillagigedo Islands.
Onboard the “Concepcion” everything was different. The navigator and second in command Fortún Jiménez murdered Captain Diego de Becerra while he was sleeping. The loyal part of the crew was assaulted. Later, Fortun Jimenez left them on the coasts of Michoacán.
Fortún Jiménez sailed northwest following the coast and at some point turned west and reached a peaceful bay. Today it is known that he arrived at the city and port of La Paz, though he thought he had arrived on an island. He never knew he had arrived at a peninsula that would eventually be called the Baja California peninsula. There he met natives who spoke a language unknown to him and who also walked half-naked. They were very different from the natives of the Mexican highlands who had their own culture.
The crew members who accompanied him saw half-naked women. Having a long period of involuntary celibacy led them to take the women by force. The crew had realized that natives extracted pearls from the shells of mollusks that were abundant in the bay. So they dedicated themselves to looting the place and abusing the women. It is necessary to highlight that Fortún Jiménez and his companions did not give any name to any of the places they found.
The abuse of the women by the crew together with the looting to which they dedicated themselves to provoked a violent confrontation with the natives that ended in the death of Fortún Jiménez and some of his companions. The survivors left and they sailed erratically for several days until they reached the coasts of the present state of Jalisco. They ran into the subalterns of Nuño de Guzmán who seized the ship and took them prisoners.
Hernán Cortés “discovers” California and founds the town of Santa Cruz
After having sponsored two exploration trips in the South Sea (Pacific Ocean) and without having obtained results, Hernán Cortés decided to head the third exploration trip.
Nuño de Guzmán had seized a ship during the first expedition which Cortés had already paid for. In addition, Nuño de Guzmán seized the ship Concepcion that Cortés had sent on the second voyage of exploration of the South Sea which annoyed him greatly. He decided to confront Nuño de Guzmán on his own land. He started mounting the third expedition by preparing a large number of troops on foot and horseback to march on the province of New Galicia of which Nuño de Guzmán was governor.
On September 4, 1534, Don Antonio de Mendoza who was the Viceroy of New Spain warned Hernán Cortés not to confront whoever had requisitioned his ships. Hernán Cortés refused this order by alleging that he had spent more than 100,000 Castilians in gold and was also designated by his Majesty the King of Spain Felipe II to conquer and discover new territories.
The confrontation between Cortés and Nuño de Guzmán did not occur mostly because Nuño de Guzmán feared Hernán Cortés.
In Chametla (Sinaloa) Cortes boarded ships “Santa Águeda” and “San Lázaro”. All 113 laborers and 40 horse riders boarded and 60 horse riders more were left to wait. After boarding, Cortés along with his expedition took a course to the northwest.
On May 3, 1535, Cortes arrived at the bay that was named Bahia de la Santa Cruz. This was the place where it was confirmed that the death of his subordinate Fortún Jiménez happened at the hands of the natives. Cortes had taken possession of the Bay of Santa Cruz. He decided to establish a colony and ordered to bring back the soldiers and supplies he left in Sinaloa.
Bad weather did not help him though. The ships were lost and only one of them returned to the bay of the Santa Cruz carrying a load of fifty fanegas of corn which was insufficient to feed the expedition. Cortés went out in search of food but what he found was insufficient. He decided to return to New Spain with the intention of providing the new colony from there.
Cortes left the town of Santa Cruz under Francisco de Ulloa’s control. However, the complaints of the relatives of those who had remained in the peninsula made the viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza order the abandonment of the Santa Cruz and all settlers returned to New Spain.
In 1596 Sebastián Vizcaíno arrived here, giving the area its modern name, La Paz.
In 1616 the Dutch pirates, nicknamed “Los Pichilingues”, anchored their ships, “Gran Sol” and “Luna Llena”, in a bay near La Paz that is now named after them and is the commercial port for the city and most of the southern peninsula.
In 1683 Admiral Isidro de Atondo y Antillón took possession of the port settlement and on behalf of Carlos II of Spain, designates it as Puerto de Nuestra Señora de La Paz.
In 1720 the Mission of La Paz was founded by the Jesuit fathers Juan de Ugarte and Jaime Bravo.
The capital of the Californias was transferred to La Paz in 1830. The settlement was re-established several years later and renamed La Paz.
William Walker’s Republic of Sonora
On October 15, 1853, William Walker set out with 45 men to invade and conquer the Mexican territories of Baja California and Sonora. He succeeded in capturing La Paz, the capital of sparsely populated Baja California, and declared a Republic of Baja California, with himself as president and his partner, Watkins, as vice president. He then put the region under the laws of the American state of Louisiana, where slavery remained legal in 1854. He declared independence from Mexico on January 10, 1854.
Fearful of attacks by Mexico, Walker moved his position twice over the next three months, first to Cabo San Lucas, and then further north to Ensenada to maintain a more secure position of operations. He never gained control of Sonora but three months later, he pronounced Baja California part of a larger Republic of Sonora.
A serious lack of supplies, discontent within his party, and an unexpectedly strong resistance by the Mexican government quickly forced Walker to retreat. William Walker’s Republic of Sonora left his existence on May 8, 1854.
The original capital of the territory was Loreto, which was founded 162 years later and continuously inhabited. Through the years that followed the La Paz settlement was abandon a couple more times for disease, lack of water and famine. So there is some contention as to which is the oldest city on the peninsula.
Espiritu Santo island (Biosphere Reserve)
Isla Espíritu Santo (“Holy Spirit”) is an island in the Gulf of California, off the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. It is separated from Isla Partida by a narrow canal. It has a land area of 80.763 square km, the 12th-largest island in Mexico.
Isla Partida’s land area is 15.495 square km. Both islands are a short boat trip from La Paz.
The history of these places dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when the islands were occupied by indigenous groups of island pericues. Later, the Spaniards exploited the pearl deposits of the complex, the only resource of economic interest for the Spanish crown.
At first, they used the pericúes as labor, although later they rebelled and were definitively expelled from here.
The area is protected as part of the Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna – Islas del Golfo de California and is an important eco-tourism destination.
Both islands together cover an approximate area of 100 square km. The French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called it “The Aquarium of the World”.
It was declared a natural and protected area in 1978 and later in 1995 was declared by UNESCO as part of a Biosphere Reserve. Espíritu Santo is the only known habitat of the black jackrabbit.
The islands are both uninhabited. Ensenada Grande beach, on Isla Partida, was voted the most beautiful beach in Mexico and one of the top 12 beaches in the world. Sea kayaking is a popular activity around the island.
The surrounding reefs are home to parrotfish, angelfish, trumpetfish, Moorish idols, and rainbow wrasse, while many other species pass nearby including sharks, rays, turtles, dolphins, and even whales.
Birds include brown pelicans, great blue herons, snowy egrets, turkey vultures, and hummingbirds. A large sea lion colony resides on Los Islotes, off the north tip of the islands; snorkeling with the females and young is a highlight of many tours.
Eco-tourism is by far the most important source of tourism income in La Paz as people come to enjoy its marine wonders, as well as its diverse and often unique terrestrial species endemic to the region. Tourists also visit the city’s balnearios. There are some 900 islands and inlets in the Gulf of California with 244 now under UNESCO protection as World Heritage Bio-Reserves and the Isla Espíritu Santo group, which borders the northeast portion of the Bay of La Paz and are considered the crown jewels of the islands of the Gulf (also referred to as the Sea of Cortez/Mar de Cortes), the primary tourist destination of the area. Its diving, snorkeling, and kayaking are considered world-class.
La Paz is also favored by water enthusiasts for its marinas, boat yards, marine supply stores, and cruiser club activities. The surrounding waters provide adventure for experienced boat captains and their customers. Novice captains enjoy the nearby island coves for day and overnight trips. A wealth of experienced sailors and boaters willing to share their expertise are readily available.
La Paz is served by Manuel Márquez de León International Airport with flights to the most important cities of Mexico: Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey. Airlines flying into La Paz include Aeroméxico Connect, Volaris, and VivaAerobus.
Two ferry services operate from the port of Pichilingue outside the city, connecting the Baja California peninsula to the mainland at Mazatlán and Topolobampo, near Los Mochis.
Running along the coast in front of La Paz is a 5 km long Malecon Road.
The main purpose of this road is to allow easy movement across the city. However, it quickly became the focal point of tourist-related activities with a large number of bars, restaurants, and shops opening along its length.
Since 2004 extensive development has taken place which includes a large sidewalk that offers safety for large numbers of people to walk along the coastal front of La Paz.
In September 2011, a bicycle lane was added to the Malecon road, providing cyclists protection from cars and pedestrians.
La Paz is served mainly by two highways; Mexican Federal Highway 1 which links the south of the state from Cabo San Lucas to the north of the peninsula to Tijuana, and Mexican Federal Highway 19, which connects La Paz with other South Pacific towns. It is also served by two secondary roads, the Los Planes highway (286) that connects La Paz with towns such as La Ventana, Ensenada de los Muertos and Los Planes.
The other is the Pichilingue highway which links La Paz with its maritime port.
John Steinbeck visited La Paz in 1940. He describes the town in his 1947 novel The Pearl and mentions it extensively in his 1951 travelogue The Log from the Sea of Cortez.
The city is also the setting of the 1967 Scott O’Dell children’s novel The Black Pearl, chosen as a Newbery Honor Book in 1968, where La Paz is the home of the main character.