You haven’t fully experienced La Paz  until you’ve explored the group of undeveloped barrier islands that guards the entrance to the bay.
Along the shores of Isla Espíritu Santo and Isla Partida, protected coves in shallow bays provide a safe environment for swimming, rock and coral reefs attract abundant marine life, and steep cliffs lead to stunning bay views.
Closest to the Pichilingue Peninsula, Isla Espíritu Santo is 22.5 kilometers long. Its southwest side is scalloped with a series of narrow bays, each with one or more fingers reaching deep into the interior of the island. The shoreline on the northeast side is smoother, with fewer protected places to land small boats and snorkel or swim.
Formerly owned by a local ejido, this island was “sold” to the Mexican government in 2003 through the cooperative efforts of several nonprofits, which raised US$3.3 million to compensate ejido members for the land. For the traveler in search of outdoor adventure, this means the island has a good chance of remaining undeveloped, even as large real estate projects take shape on the peninsula.
Due to the presence of numerous reefs and underwater rock formations, this island is a popular stop for snorkeling and scuba diving tours. Bahía San Gabriel near the southwest tip of the island features ruins from a former pearl-fishing operation.
For a good hike, begin at the beach at Caleta el Candelero on the northwest side of the island. Find the arroyo and follow it inland, where a deep canyon is carved into the volcanic bluffs. Along the way are wild fig and plum trees; keep your eyes peeled for the rare black jackrabbit.
The next major island heading north from Pichilingue is the much smaller Isla Partida, which has more beaches, dive sites, and opportunities for hiking and views. Fish camps at either end of the island sometimes have freshwater, but it isn’t guaranteed. Plan to bring your own drinking water. If you are navigating your own boat, beware the sandbar that almost connects Isla Partida with Isla Espíritu Santo. The channel is extremely narrow.
Hundreds of playful sea lions live on and around this group of small jagged rock islands north of Isla Partida. Roughly a one-hour boat ride from Pichilingue, they are a popular destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and sportfishing.
Because the islands near La Paz  are protected by the Mexican government, a permit (US$4/day) is required to camp on them. Visit the local SEMARNAT office (2nd floor, Ocampo 1045 btw Rubio/Verdad, tel. 612/128-4171, www.semarnat.gob.mx , 8 A.M.–3 P.M. Mon.–Fri.) before you head out to sea. Pets are prohibited, as is harvesting wood for campfires. The availability of freshwater limits camping options on the larger islands, and camping is not allowed on Ensenada Grande or Playa Ballena.
Two of the bays, Caleta El Candelero on Isla Espíritu Santo and El Cardonalcito on Isla Partida, have freshwater wells where you can bathe. You’ll need a bucket and five meters of rope to reach the water level. Purify the water if you must use it for drinking. (Plan to bring your own purified water and only use the well water in an emergency.) It’s also a good idea to bring multi-fuel stoves for camping to increase your chances of finding the canisters you need while in Baja.
There are several ways to reach the islands. Most visitors book a daylong kayak, snorkeling, or scuba diving tour . You can also join a guided multiday kayak/camping trip, or arrive by private yacht.
Experienced paddlers can rent a kayak in La Paz  and paddle the 6.5 kilometers across the channel from Pichilingue (Playa El Tecolote is the closest launch point) to the islands. Wind, current, and tides make this a challenging trip, even though the distance is relatively short.
At Playa El Tecolote, you can also hire a panga for an excursion to the island. Rates are around US$150 per boat, including lunch. A one-way shuttle out to the island costs about US$75.