Despite fears of venturing into
because of violence from the government's war on drug cartels, many areas appear as safe as ever. A case in point is the southern Baja Peninsula, particularly between La Paz and the sleepy port of Loreto along the fabled Sea of Cortes, hailed by Jacques Cousteau as "The Aquarium of the World."
We recently escaped the chilly North for sunny La Paz in a region we had come to love, and found the tourist numbers way down even in peak season, but the museum, cathedral, cafes and sprawling markets were open, if not flourishing. For several days we explored the seafront and back streets, never encountering a hint of trouble.
With the demise of
, fewer cruise ships are calling on La Paz, but the slack has been taken up by American Safari Cruises (888-862-8881, americansafaricruises.com), whose 22-passenger yacht, Safari Quest, now has the Sea of Cortes practically to itself. Nevertheless, its eight-day round trips from La Paz have seldom been fully booked this year, affording small-ship passengers even more space to snorkel with the sea lions and sail alongside the largest living beings on Earth, the blue whales.
After our Sea of Cortes cruise, with nary a pirate in sight, we rode the bus from La Paz north to Loreto for what proved to be an even more relaxing, trouble-free week. Again, tourists were sparse, making this pretty town of 12,000 ours to enjoy, including several candlelit restaurants where we feasted on gourmet seafood.
In Loreto we made ourselves at home in a spacious casita, a brand-new addition to an old-time favorite, Coco Cabanas (cococabanasloreto.com). We quickly became acquainted with families running mom and pop stores in the neighborhood, where few people bother to lock their doors or pen their chickens. One day we rented a car and drove across the Baja to the Pacific for a close up, hands-on encounter with gray whales and their calves.