Perra de Piratos stow away — El Tesoro Beach — Baja CA Sur

Pirates of Playa El Tesoro

Tesoro. A lovely Spanish word that sounds like a gem; fitting because it means “treasure”. Treasure! Also conjuring up images of gold, pirates, and deserted islands.

More than simply a cash stash, un tesoro is something special. It is the rare gold we seek, hoard, hide and lose over and over again.

It’s also the name of my favorite beach near La Paz, Baja Ca. Sur.

Playa Tesoro is a pretty curved cove detailing a small inlet on the Sea of Cortez coast very close to La Paz. Charming palapas dot the beach, mostly rented by tourists. In the no-charge zone near the parking area, local families on a budget and young couples on a date throw towels and coolers under the scrubby bushes providing dappled shade from the waist up. Those who fall asleep risk sunburned legs and feet.

On this trip, I bypass the spendy palapas and short bushes gratis. I am here to paddleboard. #SUPBaja!

The town of La Paz is on the east side of the Baja Sur Peninsula. Visitors don’t always know this, but the spectacular coastline on the west side — the Cabo side — is a great big tease if you like to swim, surf or SUP. Surf conditions and a killer undertow (literally) make it too dangerous to swim in 90% of the BCS Pacific coastline.

La Paz and the Sea of Cortez side are where it’s at if you want to get wet. The shallow, green-blue water and gorgeous beaches are a swimmer’s paradise, especially in the off-season. In 2016 USA Today readers voted Playa Balandra, further south of Tesoro, the most beautiful beach in Mexico.

Too bad for Balandra. In this era of social media, “most beautiful” is the kiss of death for any undiscovered spot. The beach soon became overrun with people looking for remote beauty. Instead, they found traffic, trash, and other tourists also trying to get a destination selfie for social media. Iceland is another “be careful what you wish for” example. Like Playa Balandra, successful national tourism campaigns and an avalanche of Instagram activity caused an influx of tourists that overwhelmed attractions for a few years before COVID-19 forced a time out.

Avoiding tourists is one of the priceless benefits of long-term immersion travel — you can show up on a random Tuesday, like a local calling in sick for the day.

Unlike Cabo San Lucas, which is purpose-built with siren songs of luxury to attract rich gringos and relieve them of their treasure, La Paz has an earthy checkered past grounded in fishing, ranching, and ocean trade.

Pirates used to lurk here, waiting to pounce on the Spanish Manila Galleons passing on their way to Acapulco from Manila. The Manila trade, a major route for Spain for 250 years, was a watery living link connecting centuries, cultures, and changes from late 1565 to 1815. Think about that!

I grew up in Texas and didn’t learn anything about the rich history of the southern half of the hemisphere Americans live in, including our neighbor to the south. The US/Mexico border is the 10th longest in the world, and Texas’ portion makes up the lion’s share of the shared distance.

Mexican history was not a priority in history class, other than as a necessary backdrop to Texas heroically gaining “her independence” from a colonial outpost of Spain. Our teachers taught us to remember the Alamo, but not much else, about Mexico, or Latin America, for that matter. That’s OK, I’m getting my history lessons from this part of the world en vivo now.

I walk over to the paddleboard rental palapa. No hay nadie. It looks open but nobody is there. After asking around, I locate the man in charge of taking pesos for paddleboards. He looks like a descendant of the pirates that used to frequent this cove — lean, dark, wild gray hair, rough hands; andando cruda from too much grog the night before.

Pesos change hands and I go pick out my board and oars. As I’m walking to the surf, a stocky pit-bull mix joins me and trots alongside like an old friend. I’m not surprised because dogs tend to take to me quickly. I visited some friends in Cancun recently with a beautiful small Husky. A rescue dog that is usually skittish with new people, she accepted me immediately.

I get to the water and put my board in. To my surprise, the dog wades out with me and looks at me expectantly. I laugh and wave at the paddleboard man. He shrugs and says yes, she’s his dog and yes, it's OK if she wants to stow away with me. So I say, Bueno, chica, vamanos!

She and I are kindred spirits. Whenever I see someone about to embark on an adventure, I’m usually ready to climb on board, too. Maybe I have a gypsy pirate in my ancestors, too.

I sit on the board and help her climb up behind me. She’s muscly and chunky, but not fat. Fat dogs are rare in Mexico. This is not her first paddleboard rodeo, and she clambers right on up.

I expect her to lie down, but she stands at the back of the paddleboard, looking out onto the water like a confused figurehead at the wrong end of the ship.

I paddle around a bit, but she keeps wanting to move past me. Assuming she wants to get to the front, I sit down on my knees to try to help her pass me. Instead of moving around me, she tries to sit with me, right beside me.

Sorry, It’s a one-butt SUP, perrita. : )

So we sit hip to hip for a few minutes, two seekers in a treasure pirate cove. I pat her head. She stirs a bit again. There isn’t much room and unfortunately, she wants to sit exactly where I need to stand for balance, and she’s too big to straddle. After a few minutes, I paddle back toward shore and say “OK, bajate amiga, hasta luego”. She hops off with a splash and stands in the surf as I move away.

Later, I sit on the beach in the late afternoon. It’s quiet, almost closing time. The families are gone, along with the car radios and crying babies. Quiet ascends, the light changes, shifting the energy to a timeless state. It could be any evening from the last few thousand years.

I’m thinking of my stow away and I realize she wanted me to hop off the board and push her! I’m guessing her owner gives her rides on the board after everyone leaves.

I picture him in the water, wet hair, ropy shoulder muscles tense as he slowly pushes the paddleboard through the calm water. She claims her space exactly in the middle. They both look out at the horizon. Misfits on land, two cloudy pairs of eyes reflect wispy visions; a galleon’s billowing sails, smoking pirate ship guns. Long quiet evenings, the still sea turns gold, the true treasure of shadowy pirates still lost at sea, just off the shores of El Tesoro.


Kala is a writer and author of The Way of the Tigress: Inner Journey, Outer Adventure — to help adults of all genders use travel to navigate change and up-level their life, available at
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Kala Philo

Kala Philo

Hi! I’m a Web3 and tech marketing writer and co-founder. I also write about personal growth via immersive travel. More info at