Story and photos by Diana Rowe
On the Sea of Cortez in Mexico (known here as Mar de Cortés, you can enjoy your own private yacht without all the hassles of ownership. No worries about docking fees or navigating unfamiliar waters or the ever–increasing fuel costs. No cooking as your own private onboard chef prepares gourmet meals and pours drinks of your choice. Chartered yachts let you take the luxury vacation of your dreams exploring the Sea of Cortezs' secluded coves, turquoise clear waters, private sand beaches on unpopulated islands, and nature at its best.
Imagine snorkeling near the shore with a group of sea lions frolicking around, or enjoying the sunset while reclining on a leather seat sipping a fine glass of vino. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can experience hiking on desert–like islands, or dipping your oars into the sea while kayaking to a nearby island. When you charter your all–inclusive Sea of Cortez private yacht, it's up to you, without the hassles of crowds or pre–set schedules.
Although my yacht departed from La Paz, Mexico, no last minute reasonable flight schedules were available to La Paz. Instead, I traveled to Los Cabos. Stepping off the plane into the tropical sun was definitely a step in the right direction, but the drive north to La Paz was a tiresome 2 hours. Lesson learned: book early direct flights on Alaska Airlines to La Paz from Los Angeles.
Pre–Departure in La Paz
La Paz is the 471–year old capital city of southern Baja and home to approximately 250,000 residents who closely guard this secret escape. It's a place to enjoy perfect weather, casual dining, and unspoiled natural beauty. La Paz is the gateway to the Sea of Cortez/Mar de Cortés and home to Marina CostaBaja La Paz, where my luxury yacht awaits.
Marina CostaBaja is nestled in a resort development about 3 miles from downtown La Paz. Surrounded by upscale condominiums and ocean view villas, the Marina is a five–star boating destination with 250 slips for 30 to 200 feet vessels and state–of–the–art facilities as well as old world Mexican charm. The sparkling Sea of Cortez provides a tranquil setting for this double basin marina. Hundreds of boats and mega yachts from all over the world proudly fly the Mexican flag, in salute to their docking marina. Dozens of U.S. and Canadian residents add their homeland flags to the mast beside the Mexican flags.
Although downtown La Paz offers several options for accommodations, I'd recommend the convenience of the marina–based, four–star Fiesta Inn La Paz. Its 120 guest rooms are standard Mexican decor, by no means luxurious, but the property offers free shuttle service to different locations throughout the city. Most importantly, it's only a few minute stroll to the marina–front sidewalk edged with towering cacti and blossoming desert flowers.
La Paz is a warm and emerging city, a tranquil destination, much more laid back than bustling Cabos, more similar to the quietness of San Jose. The city basks in a casual atmosphere, especially along the seaside boardwalk, also called the "malecon." Mornings are filled with joggers, bicyclists and locals enjoying fresh breakfast in one of the numerous restaurants in the commercial area or seaside. Choices range from traditional Mexican buffets to gourmet French cuisine, all including a rich, hot cup of coffee.
A stroll through the downtown area will take you from the main square cathedral to a park with a "kiosko" where people play Bingo and families enjoy ice cream. La Paz is a shopper's paradise filled with boutiques and department stores, as well as works from local artisans. You can chose from unique pieces of traditional wood furniture, textiles, jewelry, handmade pottery, nautical carved wood statues, and more. Fine art galleries display original works, including one of the first original art galleries at La Esquina del Arte (Art's Corner) Gallery.
Sample the handful of restaurants like the romantic La Belle Epoque or the homemade pastas at la Dolce Vita. Arrive early for a seat overlooking the marina for a stunning sunset.
Out to the Sea of Cortez
With so many expensive vessels, the entrance to the Marina is locked, available only to those that dock. The first mate escorted me to my yacht, the Chaos (unfortunately no longer in service). Captain Paul, the second of two crew members on this 62–foot motor yacht, welcomed me on board with a smile and a glass of champagne. With three levels, four staterooms and spacious living areas, I shared my private yacht with four other guests, but of course, your yacht can be exclusively reserved for private use.
The VIP Stateroom features the same amenities but a queen–size bed, sharing a bathroom with the Bunk Stateroom, perfect for bringing children. The Master Stateroom is larger with a queen–size bed, writing desk, and couch for relaxing, and private bath. I was assigned to the Twin Stateroom, a tiny room with two twin beds, a window, flat screen television, wireless Internet access and a private bathroom with hot shower. (Crew quarters are located separate from guestrooms.) A definite negative on these small yachts is the small sleeping accommodations, especially if you draw the short straw and get the Twin or Bunk Stateroom. However, if it's a family adventure, then these two rooms are perfect for the kids.
My week in paradise began on Sunday afternoon, only lasting three days. Your cruise can be any length, but generally last from four to seven days. "One of the richest seas in the world" and "the world's aquarium" is what Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez. You can call the shots, developing your itinerary to your own tastes. Or for those, like me, unfamiliar with the waters, let the captain plan your trip according to your pleasures. Diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and relaxing—whatever your desires, your crew will make certain you have a memorable experience.
You won't leave your yacht hungry! When it comes to cuisine, passengers are treated to delicious gourmet dishes made with freshest local ingredients prepared by on–board chef. Seafood delicacies, like grilled lobster and Mexican shrimp, are accompanied by fresh fruits and vegetables, local pastries and mouth–watering desserts, complimented by a local bottle of wine—or whatever your thirst requires. Seasonal dishes include macadamia–encrusted Baja tuna with scallion ginger glaze or Ceviche Cortes with fresh local shrimp, and my personal favorite, fish tacos made from the freshly caught Baja tuna.