La Paz Beach Brought Back From The Brink

It is now certified as a blue beach
BY: JAMES BELL

La playa Coromuel, of La Paz, was designated a Blue Flag beach this year, a pretty big deal for tourist cities around the world. This means the beach has been certified to international standards as a consistently clean beach with certain amenities. This is the first significant environmental award for a La Paz beach, and the recognition is important for our capital city.

Three Los Cabos beaches are also on the Blue list, landing there in the last couple of years, then falling off, then climbing back on.  Those are the beaches of El Chileno, Palmilla, and Santa María. That makes a total of four Blue Flag beaches in Baja Sur and earns added bragging rights for local residents and eco freak activists. Only 26 Blue Flag beaches have been designated in the entire country.

The designation is approved by a jury of national government leaders and international members. The program is operated by the international, non-profit organization Foundation for Environmental Education, headquartered in Denmark, and more than 4,000 beaches in 49 countries have received the coveted Blue Flag status. In Mexico, the operations are overseen by Pronatura, Mexico, and all the designations must be renewed annually. The awards are given in recognition of water quality, environmental conditions, and education, management, security, and infrastructure.

 The Foundation seeks to raise awareness of the importance of keeping beaches clean and healthy for its visitors. The reason is simple: good, clean beaches benefit society. They also bring back tourists; while dirty, contaminated beaches send them away shaking their heads. Cleaner and greener beaches mean tourists can enjoy their stay more thoroughly and are more likely to return, or that they´ll be encouraged to tell their friends about our beautiful beaches after they´ve returned home. And more tourism means more money in the pockets of locals, so everyone wins, goes the thinking.

El Coromuel beach underwent major changes roughly eight years ago. The beach property was completely redeveloped and expanded by the State government (with federal funding assistance), and loads of money were spent. New buildings, a new pier, terraces, long  steps all the way to the beach, restrooms, shade palapas, spaces for public events, commercial stalls, and a large parking lot were constructed. The results were impressive and the modern beautification of the beach complex was successfully—but not completely—achieved. An expensive, ill-designed water slide was also built, but because of poor planning and unreliable construction, it had to be abandoned soon after its completion, apparently due to safety law violations. After several years of non-use, the waterslide has yet to be redesigned, repaired or removed, and is now seen as a waste of taxpayer pesos. The large, serpentine sliding tubes sticking out over the water at the end of the beach quickly became the Elefante Blanco en la playa, with year around residence. Not long after the honeymoon of the new and visually impressive development of El Coromuel, restrooms and facilities began to be neglected and were not maintained at a high, consistent standard. Careful property management was lacking, to say it kindly. In other words, smelly urinals and overloaded trash barrels were increasingly more common at the facility.

 Today, the beach complex is clean, fresh and spiffy. Under a new political administration, it appears to be much better managed—and it does look good, orderly, and well maintained. Then again, it has to if it wants to keep its strict, Blue Flag status, a respected designation that´s worth preserving. If things go well and good management is maintained, this very important environmental designation will help ensure that la playa Coromuel will remain as clean as it looks now.

 A small number of the commercial stalls are now operating on the premises, too. In the past, most of the original commercial spaces have gone unrented and unnoticed. This has recently changed as at least one restaurant now offers reasonably priced lunch items, including sizable hamburgers, and a tasty cerveza in the shade with a view. A few other businesses are renting space and are giving it a go. Business at Coromuel beach looks more promising this year, and more cultural events have been scheduled.

 Although El Coromuel has been a popular beach for families for many years, it is even more popular today, and with a much larger population now in La Paz (more than 300,000 city residents), it is not unusual to see the parking areas completely filled on the weekends, and sometimes during the week in the hot months.  It is a picturesque bathing spot and picnic area located just outside of town. Over the years, however, as more and more people visited the place, more trash was left than taken away. I remember Coromuel nearly twenty years ago as a pretty beach--when it wasn´t heavily littered. Unfortunately, the litter situation was a persistent problem.  Many other good Mexican beaches along the bay were often in the same polluted condition, or worse. Garbage, food, cigarette butts, the occasional diaper, beer bottles, glass shards, cans, and other ghastly surprises were often encountered right on the beach, or in the water.

At Coromuel beach, young people used to park every night along the cliffs on the south side of the park. They´d hang out, drink beer and watch a sunset—all good fun, for sure. I used to see this often. Unfortunately, many of the partiers simply threw their beer cans and trash on the ground or over the cliffs, so the beach suffered from continuous littering on a daily—and nightly-- basis. Enforcement of litter violations was practically inexistent (as it often is today). The ecological movement had not yet arrived in La Paz.  

 The situation is much different today at Playa Coromuel. No one seems to be throwing trash over the cliffs. Nor is unsightly garbage of any kind found along the water´s edge of the embankment these days. The beach and building look organized, too, and an attentive security guard is ever present at the entrance. El Coromuel may not be the old, natural beach it used to be, but it is cleaner than it has been in decades, and this fact alone makes it a better beach by far. When it comes to environmental conditions, the good old days are not always as good as they might seem. Of course, many of Mexico´s finest beaches still get trashed, sadly, but probably not as much as before.

Today, younger Mexicans, as a whole, are not littering as much as their older relatives. Many are more aware—and more respectful-- of the need to take care of their own trash. In many cases, they have been bettered educated than their parents in matters of ecology. Many (too many) still litter, but more and more students are finally embracing the idea that littering is just not cool, and they are telling their friends.  A lot of local youth also come from families that depend on tourism in some form, so their parents are concerned about pollution around La Paz and want to keep their home city clean. And today, more and more locals, including many young people, are pitching in by volunteering to help in community clean-up programs. 

 La playa Coromuel is now a good example of how busy, popular beaches can preserve their natural beauty.  Some of the country´s invaluable natural assets are now being properly maintained and the new changes are noticeable. The Blue Flag designation is a big achievement for the city. The place is now operating under high standards, and it shows. La Playa Coromuel is still as relaxing as ever, too. That part hasn´t changed at all. It continues to be an enjoyable place for a swim and a beer, or a few laughs with friends. 

 To get to Coromuel beach, go north, about two miles from the downtown area, on the drive along the bay toward Pichilingue. Once you go over the hill, get into the left lane, which loops back toward town at La Concha Hotel. The entrance to Coromuel is just up the hill, on the right.