As we headed out for a special day of snorkeling—sharing the water with a group of baby sea lions off Esperitu Santo Island in southern portion of the Sea of Cortes—I thought about the intriguing place that had drawn this particular group of adventurers; all were mid or late baby boomers with terrific appetites for unusual experiences.
For me, the intrigue – and wonder – of “The Baja” has spanned nearly five decades. Some of the more memorable moments of my youth were spent fishing the waters of the blue Pacific, longing for a hungry school of late summer albacore or yellowtail tuna. I also vividly remember following the exploits of Parnelli Jones, the celebrated racecar driver, as he headlined treacherous off-road Baja events, and I too felt a twinge of loss in 1970 when the first paved road stretching the length of the Baja peninsula’s rugged terrain was finished.
Today, much of southern Baja’s mysterious, rustic charm still remains and several luxurious resorts have done an admirable job of incorporating that charm into specific developments. And, while a precious few dependable paved roads branch out from the spine of Baja – Mexico’s Highway 1 – crystal-clear, azure water hugs the gorgeous coasts on both sides of the southern peninsula.
Much like the boomers’ parents—members of the greatest generation—targeted Palm Springs or Arizona (east-coast transplants would say Florida) the boomers are clamoring for Baja Sur because of the different experience, the attraction to perceived risk and the thrill of the exotic. In a nutshell, the lure is the beach and a chance to step outside the second-home box into an immense playground and investment opportunity.
Choosing a Piece of the City of Peace
The playground and investment opportunity combo is in play in and around La Paz, the state’s capital and the center of government, commerce, education, health care and environmental research for the entire region. The “City of Peace” has a rich history, delightful people, delicious spicy food, terrific weather and an easygoing lifestyle. Its early beginnings were not peaceful at all until Sebastian Vizcaino, while circumnavigating the peninsula on exploratory expeditions in 1596, renamed the municipality of Villa de la Santa Cruz “La Paz” because local missionaries managed to maintain a few months of calm.
La Paz, which is one of the few places in the world where the desert literally collides with the sea, offers modern tourist facilities such as an efficient, spacious airport plus contemporary community hospitals and impressive restaurants serving fresh fish from local waters. Tourism includes permanent housing opportunities and several creative developers have produced interesting options targeting the North American buyer.
The Costa Baja Resort (www.costabajaresort.com) combines larger beachfront homes with a modern marina ringed by shops, condos, restaurants and health clinic plus golf-course, hillside homes with views of the Sea of Cortes, all on 500 acres and just a five-minute drive north of the town’s malecon, or seaside walkway. Already built, sold and occupied are a combination of 60 villas and condominiums on the beach or overlooking the marina. Prices ranged from $195,000 for a small studio to more than $1 million for a penthouse.
The resort also features casitas and condominiums overlooking the Gary Player-designed golf course, the Sea of Cortes and the marina. The units, priced from $500,000 to $1 million, range from 2,000 to 3,700 square feet of interior space with up to an additional 1,300 square feet in terrace area. Included in the package is a social membership that allows access to the beach club, spa and discounts for the golf course and marina slips.
Jim Fletcher, a Seattle attorney and investor, was drawn to La Paz a few years ago because it was unlike any of the other Mexican areas he had visited. Stirred by the Costa Baja setting, and enticed by the resort’s protected marina for their boat and proximity to town, Fletcher and his wife, Marlene, purchased a waterfront home and three additional units overlooking the marina which they rent to golfers, snorklers and fishermen seeking the plentiful dorado (mahi-mahi) in the Sea of Cortes.
“We had owned a place on the Algarve in Portugal for 17 years and it became a logistical challenge,’’ Fletcher said. “We eventually sold it about three years ago and began looking for another area by the water that we could enjoy.’’
The city of 225,000 residents has banned timeshare sales at the airport, so arriving in La Paz is more relaxing than some other Mexican ports of entry. Local planning officials have prohibited high-rise developments along the malecon, allowing more expansive views of the Sea of Cortes.
“We just think it’s a safe, enjoyable place that’s easy to get to and has a lifestyle that we were looking for,’’ Fletcher said. “It hasn’t been bungled like some other places where all the waterfront has been choked by high-rises.’’
Most of Baja California remains untouched like some areas of the Yucatan Peninsula and most of the mountain regions of the Sierra Madres. Yet the various climates and geographical environs coupled with the proximity of the sea have combined to create a strange and surprisingly beautiful landscape. Increasingly larger amounts of money are being invested to develop its coastlines where fine sand, balmy waters and abundant sea species are regarded as self-evident reasons to target new tourist and investment activity. Economic ambitions are being balanced against the ecology of the region’s abstractly beautiful and unique environment.
The balance is working . . . at least for now. Baby sea lions still return each year to the waters off Esperitu Santo Island.
Tom Kelly is the co-author of “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico” and a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist. Tom’s new E-book “Bargains Beyond the Border: Get Past the Blood and Drugs: Mexico’s Lower Cost of Living Can Avert a Tearful Retirement” is available online at Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon.com, Sony’s Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Borders Books, Diesel eBook Store, and Google Editions. It mirrors a recent article by CNN on the benefits of the country, including increased rental possibilities.