The Pearl of La Paz

Five minutes from a city named for peace emerges a golf resort that has perfected the practice of it.

Until the middle of the last century, La Paz, the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, enjoyed international fame for its pearl-filled oyster beds. The port city became known as the “Pearl of the Pacific,” even though it sits an hour’s drive from the ocean on the Sea of Cortez. It famously inspired John Steinbeck’s 1947 novella, The Pearl, about an egg-sized gem that spawns greed and tragedy. Ironically, around the same time the book came out, a mysterious disease wiped out the area’s oyster beds and pearling business, effectively insulating La Paz from the commercialization that would eventually transform Los Cabos two hours south.

Today the pearl of La Paz is CostaBaja Resort and Spa. But unlike Steinbeck’s ill-starred object, this multimillion-dollar, 550-acre resort, marina and real estate development brings nothing but pleasure to those who experience it.

That pleasure begins a short ride from the airport at CostaBaja’s boutique hotel, where all 115 rooms come with a view of the glasslike sea, sere mountains, Gary Player designed golf course or 250-slip marina. Relax at a poolside palapa with a prickly pear margarita while savoring a light ceviche or spritzing jicama sticks with lime juice and dipping them in chili powder.

You’ll enjoy heartier fare in the hotel at Steinbeck’s Restaurant, where the fine-dining menu overflows with fresh, delectable seafood—scallops in aguachile; brandied shrimp bisque; and fresh tuna or yellowtail with mojo de ajo or one of four other spectacular sauces. The more casual Mosaic also proffers an excellent breakfast buffet featuring tiradito, a piscatorial cross between carpaccio and sushi.

Located at the CostaBaja Golf Club, La Pintatada Grill and Bar specializes in golf gastronomy—hearty breakfasts and lunches—for those taking on the breathtaking Gary Player design that’s already been ranked in Mexico’s top 10 in only its second year of operation. It’s easy to see why. Perched on rocky cliffs tumbling hundreds of feet towards the sea, the 7,081-yard layout seamlessly harmonizes elements of desert and seaside golf. The fairways forgive, and the wind factors into your approaches to ample, paspalum greens. Holes like the 451-yard seventh and 612-yard 14th plummet more than 100 feet from tee to fairway. Birdie opportunities abound, as do bird sightings. Xantus hummingbirds and other avian species hover and alight on flora along the course. My foursome played around a pelican sleeping in the middle of the 10th fairway.

Player is a long-standing environmentalist, and so are Costa Baja’s developers. In fact, the entire resort, including the marina, leaves so little impact on the area’s ecosystem that Mexico’s Federal Environmental Protection Agency (PROFEPA) awarded it the Certificate of Environmental Excellence. A “Living Green” manifesto hangs in the real estate sales office, where the development’s luxurious condos, Tuscan-style hillside homes (the Las Colinas development), and deluxe casitas and residences (VistaMar) are sold.

In addition to 340 days of sunshine, dozens of shops and restaurants ringing the marina, and a raft of world-class amenities—including Espiritu Spa, where director Gloria Guerrero holds a Biotensor near your body to gauge which of six essential oil “synergies” will balance or elevate your energy levels—what sells CostaBaja is its proximity to the cultural richness of a capital city and its access to the Sea of Cortez, or what Jacques Cousteau called “the aquarium of the world.”

Charter a boat to scuba or snorkel amid the real-life versions of the painted and ceramic manta rays that decorate many of the resort’s walls. Rays and hundreds of other fish dart about the Sea of Cortez near the environmentally protected islands of Espiritu Santo, Isla Partida and Cerralvo. You’ll also have an opportunity to swim with sea lions and, between November and March, watch for gray whales, orcas, humpbacks and whale-sharks.

Anglers can hunt for trophy dorado, marlin and sailfish. These and other sea creatures—including sea bass, tuna, crabs and lobsters—find their ways onto the menus at Steinbeck’s and at CostaBaja’s other restaurants, including Barcaccia, an upscale Italian eatery located at the marina. Although the once-famous oysters rarely appear, La Paz now has a five-star pearl of a resort on which to hang its reputation.

Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.comJon Rizzi is the founding editor and co-owner of this regional golf-related media company producing magazines, web content, tournaments, events and the Golf Passport.