LA PAZ, Mexico -- The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is again warning Texans not to travel anywhere south of the border this spring break because of the potential for violence. But many students and other travelers are ignoring that advice and heading to beaches in Mexico.
College students are once again expected to make Cancun their top foreign spring break destination and others looking for a more quiet experience are visiting ecotourism destinations like La Paz, Baja California Sur off the Sea of Cortez.
“It’s so beautiful,” said Si Si Penaloza, founder of Spa Society which organizes tours to exotic destinations.
Penaloza came to visit and review the Costa Baja Resort and Spa. One of the highlights of her trip was the chance to swim with the world famous whale sharks that make their home in the La Paz Bay from winter to early spring.
“If you swim with a whale shark and don’t feel anything, you’re dead inside,” Penaloza jokingly told others on a boat tour of the bay.
The group’s divemaster guided the boat to a spot in the bay where he spotted several fins in the water.
“The juveniles are between 8- and 24-footers,” said Lorenzo Beltran, a divemaster guiding a boat full of people out to swim with giant sharks.
Adults can grow to 65 feet and weigh as much as 75,000 pounds. The gentle giants feed on plankton and algae.
“Wow, that’s unbelievable,” said Emilie Korenberg of Los Angeles as she snapped a photo with her smartphone of a massive whale shark feeding near the boat.
It’s the kind of experience residents who rely on ecotourism and developers who want to attract more Americans to La Paz hope will help.
“Here, it’s a very family-style city," said Mar Bueno Riestra, a native of La Paz and director of public relations for the Costa Baja Resort and Spa.
“There’s a malecon - the promenade - that goes all along the bay area," Bueno Riestra said. "You see people running. You see families that are just spending time together."
Americans who regularly visit La Paz, which means peace in English, say the city lives up to its name.
“I feel very safe walking to Zumba,” said Leanne Lawrence of Portland. She and her husband are among a group of Americans who dock their boat in the La Paz Marina and live in the city for several months.
But the couple often has to explain to family and friends that this part of Mexico is not dangerous.
“People say 'Aren’t you afraid of getting kidnapped or murdered?' No,” Jack Jandreau said.
The U.S. State Department travel warning for Mexico under the section for the state of Baja California Sur, which includes La Paz, said there is “no advisory is in effect.“
In the state of Quintana Roo, which includes the major travel destinations Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum, there is also “no advisory is in effect.”
But the Texas DPS warning makes “no distinction” between Mexican border towns that have experience violence and popular beaches said Tom Vinger, DPS spokesperson.
“The Mexican government has made great strides battling the cartels, and we commend their continued commitment to that effort,” Vinger said. “Regarding travel to Mexico, our position remains unchanged from the last few years."