La Paz, Baja California

El malecon is the seaside promenade that spans almost the entire coastline of La Paz, a city of 250,000 on the west coast of Baja California Sur.

We arrive in La Paz after a delayed flight, missed buses and a three hour drive through a cactus strewn desert, grabbing glimpses of the Pacific coast, and the man-made oases in the Los Cabos tourist corridor, home to numerous overblown resorts and environmentally questionable golf courses. By the time we get to the city it’s well after dark. The streets are poorly lit and nothing about the residential part of town we’re staying in seems remarkable. We figure we could be just about anywhere in the world. Then a car cruises past us with the stereo blaring. The sound of accordions and trumpets fills the air. Nope, we’re definitely in Mexico.

We’re here in summer, when in the middle of the day the temperatures are in the high 30s and the desert sun blazes in a blindingly clear blue sky. We traipse the length of the malecon, enjoying the sights, but wondering where everyone is. It’s Saturday, and the malecon is the centre of social and cultural life in La Paz. It turns out we’re just being stupid tourists – the locals aren’t dumb enough to wander around in the hottest part of the day like us.

When we return a couple of hours before sunset the malecon is a different place. Couples strolling, families biking along the promenade. A brass band playing, and dancers in traditional dresses and cowboy boots. Gangs of kids on skateboards and rollerblades. Food and music everywhere. We settle in at a bar opposite the malecon and watch streams of shiny, tricked up vintage American cars cruise the strip, stopping in the middle of the road and causing near accidents whenever someone by the roadside points a camera at them and gives them the thumbs up. The make-up of the malecon seems to be mostly Mexican tourists and locals enjoying a regular Saturday evening, with the odd gringo retiree or visitor thrown into the mix. It’s busy, lively, welcoming and spirited. When this sleepy town wakes up, it knows how to enjoy life.