We happened on big doings at the downtown primary school. Blockades stopped traffic, kids in school uniforms ran up and down sidewalks, and the local police band stood in formation, ready to play. It was in observance of Benito Juarez's birthday, a national holiday for the 19th-century Mexican leader famous for separating church from state. And another chance to celebrate!
Locals brought their children. The singer, in a long, flowing dress, trilled in an open courtyard beneath the stars, as a church bell rang in the distance.
It was a lovely performance, diminished only slightly by the beat of music from passing cars and nearby bars, heard through the building's open doors. La Paz — the name means "the peace" — doesn't do "quiet" very well.
OK, yes, it's a party town. But with a big touch of class.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: Horizon Airlines (part of Alaska Airlines) has direct flights on midsize turboprop planes into La Paz from Los Angeles. See alaskaair.com.
Combine La Paz with visits to Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos using inexpensive connections by modern buses operated by Aguila bus lines and you can take advantage of cheaper airfares into Los Cabos, the big airport serving Cabo tourist centers. The La Paz bus station is off the malecon (Paseo Alvaro Obregon) at the corner of Cinco de Mayo. Buses depart hourly every day.
Or combine a La Paz visit with Mazatlan, on mainland Mexico. A passenger ferry connects the two cities; about $75 U.S. one way. http://www.bajaferries.com.
LODGING: Rates start at $75 U.S. at La Casa Mexicana, a restored 1940s Spanish art-deco villa with five guest rooms, some with shared bath. Our room with a large balcony overlooking the bay, a short block away, was $85 U.S. (including tax and breakfast at a nearby restaurant). http://www.casamex.com.
A popular option for kayakers and budget travelers is La Posada Luna Sol, http://www.posadalunasol.com, on a back street three blocks from the malecon. Rooms with private bath start at $65 U.S., with communal kitchen. It is connected with an outfitter, Sea & Adventures, so arranging saltwater outings is easy; see http://www.kayakbaja.com.
Centrally located on the malecon is the full-service, 110-room Hotel Perla, which claims to have been the first hotel in La Paz (circa 1940). Rates start around $75 U.S.; http://www.hotelperlabaja.com.
You'll miss easy access to strolling the waterfront, but if you want 5-star amenities a short drive from La Paz, there's CostaBaja Resort & Spa, http://www.costabajaresort.com, with rates in the range of $200 U.S. a night.
RESTAURANTS: La Costa is a favorite of locals as well as visiting boaters, at the end of Calle 5 de Febrero, near Marina La Paz. A memorable dinner for two of deep-fried snapper (the whole fish!) and the local chocolate clams was $16 U.S.
SPECIAL EVENT: La Paz Carnaval is the city's biggest annual festival. "Legends, Myths and Famous Characters" is the 2012 theme, with parades, costumes, and local and national performers. Feb. 16-21.
TRAVELER'S TIP: Mexico's nationwide war on drug cartels is evident in southern Baja, even though drug violence is virtually unknown there. Last spring, "Policia Preventiva" squads, armed like soldiers, cruised the La Paz waterfront in open trucks, and police randomly flagged down vehicles for inspection even along the peaceful malecon.
MORE INFORMATION: http://www.vivalapaz.net or http://www.vivalapaz.com