Just before rounding the final corner to Tecolote, a fork in the road leads to a small sandy parking area and a long beach lined with palapas overlooking a shallow bay. The protected water of Bahia Balandra makes the bay an ideal spot for stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking, snorkeling, and just wading and swimming. We brought our packrafts to Baja hoping we'd find places like this, with dreams of paddling out to less-frequently visited coves where we could snorkel in solitude. Balandra did not disappoint!
Setting out from the main beach, we paddled along the northern coast of the bay, beneath huge cliffs and rock formations that appeared to be cemented together. Pelicans, herons, and cormorants searched for breakfast and the super clear water allowed us to watch small fish swim among the underwater caverns from our boats.
Rounding the northern point of Puerto Balandra, we saw huge boulders and deep cliffs beneath the surface of the water, with dozens of species of fish feeding around the coral. Not quite ready for a break from paddling (and with the day just beginning to warm up), we kept going around the corner, eventually coming to another pristine beach. We pulled our boats ashore and ate some papaya, watching water taxis speed out into the Sea of Cortez with eager tourists on board. The morning light on the cliff-lined coast of Isla Espíritu Santo (and our wintry Alaskan faces) was a glorious compliment to our breakfast.
After surfing waves in our packrafts (and seeing a big tuna dart through the water!) we said goodbye to our private beach and paddled back towards the big point. We tied our rafts off in an alcove, donned our flippers and masks, and went exploring. Big schools of jack, needlefish, and sergeant major circled the rocks, dozens of small puffers glared at us with their big eyes and swollen lips, rainbow wrasse and a dozen other species I don't know fed around the coral.
We headed back to the main beach which, by mid-afternoon, was swarming with people enjoying the beautiful winter day (Tip - as with everything in touristy places, start early). As we were deflating our rafts, a woman approached us and asked where we had paddled to and from where we were visiting. A fellow Alaskan, she kicked herself for not bringing her packraft down, too. Moral of the story: always bring your raft.
We made it back to La Paz in time for ceviche and margaritas before a sunset people-watching tour of the malecón. Scrolling through photos of the day, we were excited to return to Balandra tomorrow and paddle the other side of the bay. The main Puerto Balandra is home to 8 beautiful sandy beaches, and we were determined to visit them all.
We checked a few more beaches off our list and found another area with great coral to snorkel around. Again we saw all kinds of neat fish in the submerged rock caverns. However, this area being in the shade, we got cold fairly quickly (Baja is not Costa Rica, it turns out). We found a little beach to shore up at and warm ourselves in the mid-day sun. The wind had come up that morning and made paddling a bit less enjoyable. So, we decided to head in to town and do a bit more exploring of La Paz (if you haven't already read the post about the town, check it out). While we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Pichilingue Peninsula and in La Paz, we were excited to road-trip up to Loreto and explore that area.