Everyone ends up in La Paz eventually, if only to get the ferry out, and it seems that most of the population of Baja California Sur is gravitating to the state capital, too. The outskirts are an ugly sprawl, their development outpacing the spread of paved roads and facilities, but the old town centre near the languid malecón, modernized as it is, has managed to preserve something of its sleepy provincial atmosphere. During the last week in February, La Paz livens up with its boisterous carnival, a plethora of colourful parades and cultural events that transform the town, while eating here is a real pleasure at any time.
The bay of La Paz was explored by Cortés himself in 1535, but the town wasn’t permanently settled until the end of the eighteenth century. It then grew rapidly, however, thanks to the riches of the surrounding sea; for a time it was a major pearl-fishing centre. American troops occupied the town in 1847 during the Mexican–American War, and six years later it was again invaded, this time by the US freebooter William Walker in one of his many attempts to carve himself out a Central American kingdom; by this time it was already capital of the territory of California. He changed his mind and left by ship for the Ensenada area in the spring, but not without taking the former and current governors as hostages, as well as the town’s archives.
John Steinbeck visited La Paz in 1940, a trip he recorded in The Log from the Sea of Cortez (he also based his seminal 1947 novel The Pearl in the city), but by this time the pearl trade had almost completely dried up, most likely due to a disease among the oysters. Since the 1960s La Paz has prospered again; in part due to the ferry service to the mainland, and also because of fly-in US fishermen attempting to emulate John Wayne and Bing Crosby, who dropped their own hooks in the sea from here. Though visitors continue to come, like most of Baja the economic downturn hit the city hard in 2009, best symbolized by the bitter labour dispute that shuttered Hotel Los Arcos, and the growing number of closed stores downtown.Read More