A day trip to Mexico’s Playa Balandra will leave every nature lover speechless
Playa Balandra – The treasure of Baja California
Located at California’s southern border lies Baja California, one of Mexico’s most visited states. From deep green forests to majestic mountain ranges, this place offers everything a nature lover could ask for. But above all, there are uncountable paradise-like beaches. Although I usually have a hard time ranking landscape destinations, there is one specific beach I would easily consider the most beautiful in the Baja California area, if not even in all Mexico: Playa Balandra, a spectacular, crescent-shaped bay with crystal clear and shallow water.
How to get to Playa Balandra
Balandra beach (or Balandra Bay) is part of a larger national park area and is located about 25 km outside the city of La Paz. Although many tour operators offer tours to this beach, renting a car is definitely the best option since there are many more beautiful beaches close-by that should definitely be visited. During the time of my visit, I stayed in the southern city of San Jose del Cabo and did this as a day trip. Even though driving 2.5h each way was quite long, it is still easily doable. Whether you go by rental car, taxi, or one of the many public buses leaving La Paz, the destination will always be the official parking lot right in front of Balandra Bay. Parking is extremely limited, which means arriving early is highly suggested when self-driving. On surprising thing is that this area does not charge you either entrance or parking fees. Upon arrival at the national park, there is a gate which stops every vehicle to inform about the opening times (8AM-12PM and 1PM-5PM).
Find the real Playa Balandra
Most of all people arriving at the parking lot usually stay at the beach right in front of it. Initially, it makes sense since there are multiple information boards labeling this beach as “Playa Balandra” (which people came here to see). However, the secret is to move on to a second and adjacent beach, which is still considered Balandra Bay, but is way more secluded. This specific beach is what you should be visiting for two main reasons. Firstly, you will most likely be alone or with a very few other people. Secondly, the colors, water quality, and overall impression will blow you away. What you can see at the main beach is nothing compared to what awaits you on this bay.
Hiking over mountains or through water
In order to get to the hidden beach, walking is easily possible via two paths. The first one is simply following the rocky cliffs to the right of the main beach. After curving around the corner, the beach lies right in front of you. This, however, depends on the tide. If water levels are high, one potential danger is injuring yourself on the sharp rocks when slipping. In such case, simply walk back from the parking lot towards the entrance gate. To the left there is a small hiking path leading up towards a viewpoint overlooking the otherwise hidden beach. It may look steep but is a very easy, probably not even 5 minutes long, wall.
Enjoy the wildlife but watch out for sting rays
The water of Balandra Bay is extremely shallow and, during the main summer months, really warm. Unfortunately, these conditions are perfect conditions for sting rays to recharge their batteries close to shore. An unmissable sign at the parking lot reminds people to always shuffle their feet when walking through the shallow waters. Unfortunately, this is something that can easily be forgotten when getting overwhelmed by the impressions of paradise and the urge to jump into the turquoise paradise.
Walk even further alongside the cliffs
On the very northern end of Balandra Bay, the famous mushroom-shaped rock formation (Hongo de Balandra) can be found.
This landmark serves as a photo-op for many tourists and marks the end of the beach. However, I highly recommend to not stop there. Only 2 more minutes of carefully walking through the shallow waters led me to the, by far, prettiest part of the entire area. There is no specific landmark or name to that place, but once you reached the overhanging cliffs connecting Playa Balandra and Playa Shiro, you can walk through the most turquoise water you have ever seen while being accompanied by dozens of fish. Although you could technically snorkel, this is not even necessary. The water is so clear and shallow that you can observe the marine life just like that from above the waters’ surface.
Explore the nearby beaches
When doing a self-drive, exploring the nearby beaches is highly recommended. To get the most out of the time (because we are all stressed and fear to not see enough when traveling, right?), I suggest visiting Playa El Tecolote, which is about 30 minutes away from Playa Balandra. From Playa El Tecolote, there is an unofficial and non-marked hiking trail leading west. The path can easily be seen on google maps and first leads over a flat area. After passing an abandoned building ruin, the trail starts to incline and provides a perfect overlook of both Playa Tecolotito in the north and Playa Shiro in the south. At the end of this trail, you can sit at the tip of a picturesque promontory, staring at the endless sea while the sun sets peacefully right in front of you.
COVER: Aerial picture of Balandra Bay. Photo: Thomas Später
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Thomas Später, PhD, is an experienced backpacking traveler that specializes in adventurous trips around the globe. He has traveled to remote and exotic places, such as Namibia or Mongolia and focuses on landscape and wildlife photography to share the beauty of our planet with others. In 2021, Thomas published a (German) book about Overpopulation and Over-consumption (Die Überbevölkerung). With his awareness of current global issues, he uses his travels to support particularly local hotels and restaurants to raise awareness for the nature and culture of his destinations. Follow Thomas´ adventures on Instagram as well as on his website, World In Frames.