With its ultra-soft fine white sand and crystal clear shallow water, Playa Balandra frequently is named Mexico’s “most beautiful beach” and tops the charts for being one of Mexico’s best beaches.
So, seeing as Paul and I just recently moved to La Paz as digital nomads, a day trip to Balandra was a must (especially since it just reopened in late October 2022!).
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In this guide, I will clue you in on everything you need to know before you visit Balandra Beach in Baja California Sur, including how to get there (by bus and by car), what to do at Balandra, nearby beaches, and more.
Note: Since I will be going back to Balandra several times, I will make sure to keep this guide updated. But if I missed something, please let me know in the comments below!
Here’s the complete guide to visiting Balandra Beach in Mexico! 🏖
How to Visit Balandra Beach in Mexico
What & Where Is Playa Balandra?
You might be as surprised as I was to know that Balandra is actually not just a beach!
Instead, Balandra is a bay that’s home to a large, lush mangrove and numerous fish and bird species. As such, its ecosystem is fragile and delicate. In 2008, it was recognized and declared a Natural Protected Area.
Balandra Beach is just one of the several beaches you’ll see in Balandra Bay, which is located on the western shores of the Baja California Sur peninsula.
The bay is so shallow thanks to a sandbar, which you may see at various times of the day due to the tides. Being protected from the ocean is what gives Balandra its famous calm and clear waters.
How to Get to Balandra Beach
Balandra Bay is 25 km (15.6 miles) north of the waterfront Malécon (boardwalk) in La Paz, the capital city of the state of BCS.
The easiest way to get to Balandra Beach is by either bus or rental car from La Paz since it only takes 30 minutes to get there.
If you’re in San José del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas (together known as “Los Cabos”), you can still visit Balandra but consider staying the night at a hotel in La Paz since the drive to get there takes just under 3 hours.
Taking the Bus to Balandra
We took the local “Playa Bus” from La Paz to Balandra Beach (and back), and are glad we did! It’s very easy, cheap, and convenient for seeing the beaches on a day trip.
Here’s what you need to know.
- 🎟 How much does it cost? $60 MXN pesos per person, one-way
- 📍 Where to buy tickets and board the bus: Terminal Turistíca de Autobuses (on the Malécon)
- 🚌 Departs La Paz every other hour at these times: 8am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm
- 🚎 Returns from Balandra and Playa El Tecolote at these times: 10:40am, 12:40pm, 2:40pm, 4:40pm (the last before Balandra closes), and 6:40pm
Make the most of your time at Balandra by going in the morning instead of later in the day. They say Balandra closes at 5pm but we were out by 4:30pm to wait for the bus and they were already turning cars away.
While the bus is a cheap way to see Balandra, it has some downsides to it as well. For example:
- You’ll board the bus 15 minutes before you actually leave the terminal (which isn’t that long, but when you consider that’s already half the time it takes to get there…).
- The bus back from Balandra to La Paz is usually full, so you may not get a seat or have to stand up for the ride home.
- The bus ticket isn’t that cheap compared to a rental car if you’re traveling in a group of 3-4 or more people
- The last bus departs before sunset, so you don’t get to hang around to see it
Renting a Car
Next time we go, we will probably rent a car for the weekend (to make it worth it!) and spend one day not just at Balandra Beach, but touring the other beaches around La Paz.
There are several rental car agencies located along the Malécon in La Paz, such as Budget, Europcar, Avis, and a local La Paz car rental agency.
Last we checked, the cost of a rental car with pick-up/drop-off in La Paz is around $15–$25 per day, which isn’t bad!
If you are going with a group of friends or family, you will have more freedom and flexibility in renting a car to visit Playa Balandra rather than taking a roundtrip bus ticket.
Going on a Balandra Tour
If you don’t want to visit Balandra on your own, your other option is to take a guided tour.
🤿 Balandra & Pichilingue: Hike, Kayak, & Snorkel Tour — On this tour, you will get to see Balandra off-the-beaten-path with a 9km, 2.5-hour hike before you kayak, relax, and snorkel at Pichilingue Beach. This tour starts and ends at Tecolote Beach, so while the activities, marine biologist guides, and lunch are included, you’ll need to arrange your own transport to Tecolote. Operated by Mexico Travel Adventure.
🏖 La Paz City & Beaches Tour — If you aren’t familiar with La Paz, this tour offers the chance to scope out both the city and the beaches north of it, including Playa Balandra, Playa Tecolote, and Playa Coromuel. This tour is offered by Choya Tours.
Eco Tips for Responsibly Visiting Balandra
As a reminder, Balandra is a Natural Protected Area. Let’s all do our part to keep this beautiful destination pristine and wild!
- Leave No Trace
- Pick up your trash and take it home with you
- Be courteous of others; don’t blast music
- Make sure to not wander off of marked trails
- Keep an eye on your garbage so it doesn’t end up in the mangroves or water
- Pick up trash even if it’s not yours (i.e. plastic bottle caps, cigarette butts, beer cans…)
- Use ocean-friendly, natural sunscreen
Essential Must-Knows Before You Go
🇲🇽 Balandra Bay is free to visit
☀️ The best time to go is in the morning
🌮 Pack a picnic or snacks and lots of water (there are no services out there)
📱 There is no cell/data coverage at Balandra Beach
🏖 Bring your own beach umbrella in case the permanent palapa ones are taken
👟 Stingrays are known to hide in the sand at Balandra Beach; shuffle your feet or wear water shoes/sandals to protect yourself in the water
⛅️ There is little to no shade so wear a hat, protective clothing, and sunscreen
🚌 The bus drop-off/pick-up point is not at the parking lot, but down the road at the gated entrance (5 minutes walking)
🌿 Pack a spare trash bag to clean up after your group (bonus points for picking up 3 pieces of trash you see on the beach!)
Fun Things to Do at Balandra Beach
Hike to the panoramic viewpoint
About mid-way down the road as you walk toward the parking lot of Balandra Beach, there is a trail leading to the top of the hill that looks out over the entire bay — don’t miss this viewpoint!
The trailhead is unmarked and there is no sign but you will notice the trail stands out from the rest of the terrain (it has a lightish color). You might also see people heading up it or coming back down.
At the top of the trail, there is a sign and map with descriptions and explanations about the delicate ecosystem. Keep walking toward the furthermost rocky hill to your left.
There is a bit of a scramble going up and down the section that connects the two hills, but nothing too difficult. Watch your step as the rocks and earth are soft in places!
From here, you can see across the entirety of Balandra Bay with unhampered views of the beach(es) and mangroves. And if look closely enough, you’ll see the famous Hongo de Balandra (mushroom rock) 🍄 at the far end of the second beach.
🥾 If you want to do a much longer and more thorough hike around the bay of Balandra while learning about the natural area and marine life, you should consider booking this hiking tour with Mexico Travel Adventure.
Kayak & stand-up paddleboard
As you’ll see once you reach the beach or viewpoint, there are yellow kayaks for rent at Balandra Beach.
The kayaks are sturdy and can accommodate two people at a time. The cost is around $200-250 pesos per hour from what we saw.
With a kayak or SUP, you can go further across the bay and reach other beaches.
Walk to the mushroom rock
The Hongo (Mushroom) de Balandra is a natural rock formation that has been carved into the shape of a “mushroom” from wind and water erosion. It measures about 10 feet high!
But it is more than just a uniquely-shaped rock… “It’s a boulder!” Ha, just kidding! (Shrek reference, anyone?)
Nowadays, the rock has turned into an icon and a cultural landmark of La Paz and the state of Baja California Sur. This is why you see postcards and photographs of La Paz with the mushroom rock on it!
To reach it, you’ll need to walk from Balandra Beach to the second beach. The water is shallow enough to go around the tip, but if you don’t want to get wet you can cut through on land at the far end of Balandra Beach. You can also kayak there and back.
A crowd is usually gathered around the rock to take pictures. We were happy seeing it from a distance, but when we go back, I’m sure we’ll make the effort to see it up close.
🪨 Did you know? Balandra’s mushroom rock is so beloved by the community of La Paz that, a couple of years ago, when irresponsible tourists climbed on it and toppled it, they raised funds to restore it back to its natural position.
Swim & snorkel in the shallow water
One of the main attractions of Balandra Beach is the shallow, clear water. It’s ideal for swimming with small children or just lounging in with a beer in hand (as we saw a few people do!).
The best snorkeling will be further out in the bay, however, since it is so shallow near the beach.
There are no facilities at the beach to rent snorkel gear, so either bring your own mask or rent equipment in La Paz and carry it with you.
While we didn’t snorkel on this trip, we did see a few fish in the clear water and a very large crab walking along the sandy bottom near the shore. As a reminder, it might be wise to wear water shoes or sandals when wading in the water so as to avoid stepping on hidden stingrays!
Enjoy a picnic on the beach
A popular thing to do at Balandra is picnicking! We saw mostly Mexican families who came for the entire day that had brought a large picnic spread.
There are probably 15-20 permanent palapa umbrellas on the shore, all of which were occupied when we arrived at Balandra around 2:35 pm on a Sunday.
If you wish to go with a group of friends/family and spend all day, or even a few hours, you should plan on arriving at Balandra in the morning to secure a palapa and pack a picnic lunch (since there is no food service at Balandra).
Of course, you can bring your own umbrella too and set up camp if you traveled there by car!
If you do decide to eat, drink, and be merry on Balandra Beach, please pick up your trash before you leave.
Other Beaches Near Balandra
If you have a rental car, you can check out the other beaches on your day trip to Balandra.
Just down the road is the Playa El Tecolote, which is much busier with water sports, beachfront shack restaurants, and fresh coconut stands. On the far left side of Tecolote (between the Mushrock and Tecolote) is Playa Shiro.
Travel northeast beyond Tecolote and you’ll come to Playa Levaná, Las Pilitas, and Playa Pulguero.
Once you head back toward La Paz, the beaches of Pichilingue, Las Gaviotas, El Tesoro, El Caimancito, and Coromuel, also await!
So, would I rank Balandra as Mexico’s “most beautiful beach”?
With its desert landscape of tall, green cacti and orange rolling hills emptying out into white sand beaches and lush mangroves, Balandra certainly does stand out from the crowd. 🌵🏜 🏖
But I want to know what you think when you see it for yourself!
Do you have any questions or expectations about visiting Playa Balandra? Let me know in the comments below!