This Mexican Beach Destination Is Home To Some Of The Best Snorkeling In The World

Mexico is well-known for its glorious beaches. So if there's one that's commonly cited as the most beautiful beach in the country, you know it ought to be good. Playa Balandra in Baja California Sur is well deserving of the title, with its calm turquoise waters and sugary sands against a backdrop of red, cactus-covered mountains.

Playa Balandra has two main beaches for visitors to explore, with seven beaches in total. Each is shaped in a crescent moon with water so shallow that you can easily walk across from one end to the other. The serene water and diverse ecosystem make this the perfect destination for snorkeling. Visitors can spot jellyfish, stingrays, trigger fish, groupers, blue crabs, and brightly colored fish hiding in the mangroves. Never too far from a meal, you'll likely be sharing the sand bar with herons, ospreys, and pelicans. With so much marine activity, it's no wonder that the Gulf of Mexico (also called the Sea of Cortés), is known as the "world's largest aquarium."

What to know before you go

The stunning views at Playa Balandra don't stay that way by accident. Once slated to become a resort destination, the hidden gem was saved by a dedicated group of activists called Colectivo Balandra, who urged the government to reconsider. Since 2008, the beach has been designated a Natural Protected Area. 

There are a handful of rules and regulations to keep the beach as pure as possible. For starters, visitors are only allowed during two shifts: 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5. Officials will come in and clear the beach once the time is up. There's also a cap on the number of visitors who can enter during each time slot, somewhere in the ballpark of 150 to 200 people. For the best chance of getting in, go during the week as early as possible, as weekends and holidays tend to see more foot traffic.

There are limited facilities on site, so you'll need to bring just about everything yourself, from an umbrella to snorkel equipment. There's a handful of vendors selling fruit and water, but there are no restaurants or shops. Plan to bring your own food along with a trash bag to make sure you clean up everything you bring in. Also worth noting: There is no bathroom at Playa Balandra, but there is one at the nearby Tecolote Beach, about a four-minute drive away.

How to get to Playa Balandra

To get to Playa Balandra, your best bet is to fly into La Paz Airport, which is 30 minutes away. You can rent a car or take the "playa bus" from the Malecon, the main waterfront area, for about 50 Pesos ($2.75). While there are no hotels or facilities in Playa Balandra, La Paz has plenty of accommodation options and can easily serve as your home base during your adventures. If Los Cabos is more your style, plan for a 2.5-hour drive each way.

If you have relaxation on the brain and you don't want to worry about public transportation, fear not. There are plenty of tour operators in La Paz who will take you on a day trip to snorkel in Playa Balandra and explore the surrounding areas. At time of posting, tickets for a tour cost between $95 and $124 per person, though prices are subject to change. To add sea lions and whale spotting to your itinerary, the rate is closer to $299. Once you get to the beach, there is no cost to get in. It turns out, the age-old saying is true: The best things in life really are free.