No visit to La Paz would be complete without a day's boat trip to the island archipelago which lies to the north of the city, consisting of Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida as well as the isolated rocks known as Los Islotes.
This excursion is popular for good reason, as it shows off the best that La Paz can offer. Spectacular scenery ranges from dramatic rock formations to idyllic beaches. Wildlife encounters abound on and offshore in the place Jacques Cousteau dubbed "The World's Aquarium".
If you're staying in La Paz (or even as far away as Los Cabos) these excursions can always be booked though your hotel, but you'll always get a better deal if you arrange your tour directly with the operator. If you walk along the Malecon a couple of blocks south of the "Kiosko" until you're opposite Burger King you can arrange your tour with the boatmen there. English is spoken. If you want to do the tour the same day you arrange it you need to be there straight after breakfast. At 10:30am you'll be picked up in a small van for the twenty minute drive to Playa Pichilingue, the beach alongside the ferry port of the same name 18km north of the city. Once there you'll have the last opportunity to use a flushing toilet for nearly seven hours, as well as a chance to pick up a life jacket in your size and if you want to snorkel equipment. You should be on the water by 11.
After leaving Pichilingue you'll head across the 6km wide Canal San Lorenzo ("St Lawrence Channel") and up the western side of Isla Espiritu Santo ("Holy Spirit Island"), past the narrow isthmus which separates it from Partida ("The Island that Parted") and then on to the northernmost point, Los Islotes ("The Little Islands"). This route avoids the north-easterly winds which come from the more open Sea of Cortés on the east coast, as well as enabling you to see the alternating finger-like peninsulas and sheltered beaches which form the western side. You'll also see a number of islets, maybe an anchored yacht or two and groups of kayakers, like you taking in the views of the colourful layers of rocks formed by the volcanic activity which created the islands millions of years ago.
About an hour after leaving port you'll reach Los Islotes, and you'll gently circumnavigate them and maybe go through a natural rock arch or two. The rocks are spectacular, but their real appeal comes from their inhabitants - you can hear them before you see them.
Los Islotes is home to a "lobera", a 500 strong colony of sea lions which is said to be the largest in the world. The bulls ("los machos") are temperamental, competitive and territorial, and yet seemingly quite content to lie around on the rocks enjoying the sun and honking at the tourists. The water near the rocks should be well populated by playful pups untroubled by the presence of humans, so this is your opportunity to get in the water and swim with them - just don't get too much in their face and you should have plenty of fun. There are buoys in the water to ensure the boats don't get too close and make the sea lions feel under threat. Depending on the wishes of your group you could be floating gently here for 45 minutes or so while everyone gets their fill of pics, video and swimming.
Next you'll double back down the west coast to take lunch on a beautiful beach on Isla Partida. So beautiful, in fact, that Playa Ensenada Grande ("Large Cove Beach") was voted one of the twelve most beautiful beaches in the world by Travel Magazine in 2007 ("the sea is so turquoise it’s like swimming in a bottle of Curaçao"). Lunch will almost certainly be ceviche, and maybe some raw ingredients to make your own sandwiches. Soft drinks are also provided - any alcoholic drinks are at your own expense. You will have had the chance to buy on your way to Pichinlingue. You'll also have time to go swimming or paddling in the turquoise waters, or maybe a post lunch stroll inland if that's your preference.
After lunch you'll begin your return journey, but en route you'll be shown more of the fascinating features of Espiritu Santo, such as the rock formation La Mascara ("The Mask"). Is it natural? That's what they say! It is large enough for a grown adult to stand upright in its mouth.
Around the next inlet you can see more peculiar rock formations: known as Los Hongos ("The Mushrooms") they are reminiscent of "El Hongo" on Balandra Beach which is a symbol of the city of La Paz. Also the Medusa Tree, a type of fig which grows seemingly suspended on the side of cliffs.
On the occasion these photos were taken we were heading further south towards our next attraction when suddenly it all went a bit Alfred Hitchcock - the sky darkened and the sky was suddenly full of circling birds!
Fortunately these weren't the malevolent crows of Hitchcock's thriller. There's a large colony of frigate birds here amongst the mangroves, and right next door the remains of a pearl fishing plant from the 19th century, a reminder of what was an important industry in this part of Baja California. In fact, the first colonial name for the island was "Isla de Las Perlas", a name bestowed by none other than Hernán Cortés himself on the first Spanish expedition here in 1535. It was not until 100 years later that the present name was adopted.
Continuing the journey south you might be lucky and encounter a pod of dolphins. We were lucky to see them on this occasion though less lucky with the photography - they can be quite elusive!
You may also get a chance to see up close the aforementioned "El Hongo" on Playa Balandra, before returning to Pichilingue by 5:30pm. You'll be back in La Paz in time for a characteristically spectacular sunset as you reflect on your day exploring in the "World's Aquarium".