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The Road Less Traveled

The sleepy, coastal city of La Paz, Baja California Sur, has landed on the jet-set map, courtesy of CostaBaja Resort & Spa.

Take in your serene surroundings at the Clubhouse at CostaBaja Golf Club, which overlooks the gorgeous 550-acre property, for a scenic breakfast and lunch.

Despite being the largest city in Baja California Sur, La Paz—the charming capital city of Mexico's 31st state, located two hours north of Los Cabos on the Sea of Cortez, which flaunts a similar sun-kissed marriage of desert and ocean surrounds without the influx of tourists—has managed to lay somewhat low.

La Paz as a destination is far from fully developed, but that's precisely its charm. Considered a big city in Baja California Sur terms, La Paz is largely the same as when John Steinbeck visited here in 1940—and was inspired to write The Pearl. The city's just-caught streetstand ceviche tostadas comprise the kind of foodie fantasia that makes ratings gold for Anthony Bourdain. And the stunning marine life in the surrounding Sea of Cortez prompted French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau to dub the wondrous waters "the world's aquarium." Naturally, a rich cultural heritage, vast marine biodiversity and grand, uninhabited islands have long attracted off-the-beatenpath types to La Paz, yet the absence of a single world-class hotel or resort prevented jet-setters from diving into this heavenly slice of authenticity—until now, that is.

The debut of the ecocentric CostaBaja Resort & Spa—a 550-acre excess including Mexico's only 18-hole Gary Player-designed signature golf course, a 250-slip double-basin marina for luxury watercraft and an exclusive, amenity-rich beach club—is propelling seaside La Paz into the realm of upper-echelon travel. A work in progress for more than 12 years, the paint has now dried on this expansive, planned resort community to include all of the aforementioned, plus an upscale 115-room boutique hotel and spa, a sea-view tower with luxury condominiums, double and king rooms overlooking the Bay of La Paz, spacious junior and penthouse suites, and custom home sites. In this multiuse enclave of residences, storefronts and more, most visitors bunk either in the chic resort itself or in one of the more lavish, elegantly appointed VistaMar condo rentals, ranging from 2,600 to 4,700 square feet. For the ultimate Baja escape, there are the VistaMar penthouse suites, a trio of deluxe accommodations ranging from two- to three-bedroom homes with state-of-the-art kitchens and spacious outdoor terraces overlooking the shimmering Sea of Cortez.

Straddling a quiet stretch of coastline just 10 minutes from downtown, CostaBaja functions as both a selfcontained vacation destination and the gateway to La Paz and its abundant natural beauty. For resort devotees, CostaBaja offers myriad diversions, from sun-worshipping poolside at its two pools to indulging in unique, locally inspired treatments steeped in indigenous influence at Espiritu Spa to teeing off at one of 14 ocean-view holes at the previously mentioned golf course, in all its 220-acre glory. Delectable dining is available at seven diverse food and beverage outlets on-property and in the adjacent marina village. Among the standouts are the ocean-to-table Odayaka Sushi Bar and the open-air, fine-dining Mexicanfusion restaurant Steinbeck's (in reference to the literary titan). At the latter, wood-grilled seafood and a selection of prime meats are specialties, as is a premium selection of tequilas, including top-shelf Reposado. In the morning, follow the smell of freshly cooked chorizo omelets to Mosaic, which plates hearty breakfast fare and presents a full buffet brimming with requisite sunup staples, plus an egg station for customizable requests. Wash it all down with a series of fresh, tantalizing fruit juices.

For those looking to discover the authentic charms of La Paz, CostaBaja promises proximate access to its colonial-infused downtown. A well-manicured boardwalk lines 3.1 miles along the coast of downtown with dozens of fresh fish shacks, cafes and handicraft stores just opposite. Though you'll hardly spot another tourist on the malecon (esplanade), you will find plenty of opportunities to practice your Spanish while immersing in local life.

Those eager to explore La Paz's prolific seascapes— rife with humpback whales, gray whales, whale sharks, sea lions, dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles and nearly every charismatic sea creature imaginable—CostaBaja's tour outfitter, Grupo Fun Baja, offers multiple once-in-a-lifetime experiences daily. Much like an African safari provides up-close-and-personal encounters with the majestic Big Five land animals in savannah-strewn plains, marine safaris around Baja California Sur traverse remote islands and bays for some of the globe's most exhilarating marine encounters.

The Isla Espiritu Santo excursion cruises around the 31-square-mile uninhabited UNESCO biosphere reserve Isla Espiritu Santo and the surrounding smaller islands, so you can swim among a colony of more than 500 sea lions and picnic on a remote volcanic island with your feet planted in crystalline waters. On whale-watching day trips, offered mid-January to late March, venture up to Bahia Magdalena and witness the bond between whale mother and calf like nowhere else on Earth. Fearless and curious, these creatures readily approach small skiffs, making for innumerable mustsee moments. Closer to the resort, it's not uncommon to stumble across a 25-foot, 20,000-pound juvenile whale shark while kayaking right off the resort's Santa Maria Beach, coming face-to-face with the world's largest known extant fish species (which is, in fact, a harmless toothless shark, not a whale). For surety of this sighting, the whale shark excursion introduces you to plankton-rich areas off La Paz, where these gentle giants love to feed. For avid underwater enthusiasts, Grupo Fun Baja also arranges dives at all levels in sea liferich waters, while sports fishermen revel in CostaBaja's own activity roster, which includes angling adventures to reel in a prized catch like blue marlin, tuna and wahoo.

Drawing from La Paz's humble roots, CostaBaja supplies a dose of modern sophistication that makes visiting here a road-less-traveled trip to remember. Off-the-grid luxury, a break from Cabo crowds and some of the world's most superlative marine encounters—CostaBaja Resort & Spa opens up a world of possibilities.

From $232 per night; premium junior suite from $499 per night; condo rentals at the VistaMar complex from $525 per night to $850 per night for penthouse accommodations