Though I’ve never quantified this before this post, I suppose, whether subconsciously or consciously, I’ve used the following criteria to review and rank beaches I’ve visited:
1. Gentle, caressing surf. As my in-laws in California can attest, I’m a horrible surfer. I gave up trying a few years ago (though, occasionally, if the waves entice me, I jump back in). Wave height, break, swell: no muy importante. I simply desire mellow waves that provide just enough ambient noise to lull me to nap and that don’t interfere with two of my other favorite beach activities, snorkeling and paddle boarding.
2. Floury, white sand. I can certainly appreciate other colors — I’ve seen colors ranging from black to pink to gold — but the whiter, the better, in my opinion. Does that make me beach racist? Probably.
3. Clear, turquoise waters. Dirty or murky or kelp-y is not to my liking. I want to be able to see the bottom of the ocean beneath my paddle board. Turquoise also makes me feel wealthy.
4. Excellent snorkeling around the corner. Not right in front. I prefer just the sand there. But nearby, preferably in eyeshot of the beach so my wife doesn’t freak out that I’ve been eaten by an orca. Also, the more color and things that can kill me, the better.
5. Gulfs, bays, coves, or bights. When getting a massage under a palapa while sipping on a frozen lime margarita and listening to “Yellow Bird” by Arthur Lyman, I wanna see land in the periphery of my prescription Ray Ban Clubmasters. And I want that land to look…
6. Lush and hilly. Ideally, I’d arrive at a beach the day after rainy season, when everything is green and vibrant and aromatic. I’d even tolerate some humidity in this scenario.
7. Goldilocks temperature. No beach on the Pacific Ocean in other words.
8. Land in the near distance. I suppose, to me, it’s about perspective. Visual perspective. A vast, empty horizon makes me feel small. Weak. I like seeing islands, mountains, or peninsulas dot the horizon. Or perhaps, subconsciously as a native landlubber, seeing other land within kayaking distance makes me feel secure, like there’s no way Poseidon, with all this land around, can drown me.
Playa de Balandra, just north of La Paz, leaped, nay, catapulted into my top five favorite beaches within minutes of arrival (I’d only rank a few beaches on the islands of St. John, Culebra, and Ko Samui above it). The surf was slight. The sand was white. The water was light. And the views were tight. It only lacked, based on the criteria above, lushness — it was mostly surrounded by craggy canyons, save a few mangrove patches — and excellent snorkeling — not much coral, so not much biodiversity. However, in terms of family-oriented beaches, beaches that you can drink that margarita under that palapa with occasional attention on your kids, Balandra would rank tops. The bay, much like the bay in San Felipe, is shallow. Kids, you know, those miniature humans, can walk to opposite peninsula at low tide — it’s actually somewhat disconcerting to see your children hundreds of yards off the shore splashing around waist-deep. The water was also, while we were there at least, that perfect temperature, just cold enough to cool you off but not make you shiver. We hope to head back to Balandra at least one more time before we leave La Paz.