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Mexico's drug war, battered economy mean low air fares to La Paz and Cabo San Lucas

March 16, 2009 |  9:15 am

Kayakers paddle around La Paz.

Travelers interested in booking an inexpensive journey to La Paz, the beautiful capital of Baja California Sur, just missed out on a fantastic deal: $66 round trip.

In a promotion that ended Sunday night, thousands of seats were sold for travel throughout 2009 on Volaris Airlines.

Travel is via Tijuana's international airport but passengers using the airline, which is owned by billionaire Carlos Slim, can catch an airline shuttle from the train station in San Diego directly to the terminal.

"They sold 100,000 seats in 12 hours and their server crashed," Jonathan Roldan, owner of the outdoors outfitter Tailhunter International, said of the promotion. "It was a mad rush. I've been dealing with it all weekend."

Meanwhile, good deals remain throughout the busy spring season on Volaris and other airlines to La Paz and the Los Cabos region at Baja California's tip.

Scuba divers inspect a Humboldt squid that was hooked by an angler on a boat 65 feet above.

I did a price check on Volaris using March 20 as a departure date and March 25 as a return date and could have booked a flight for $187. That's considerably cheaper than most reasonable flights -- those not requiring multiple stops or overnight layovers -- originating from Los Angeles.

I then performed the same search for Los Cabos at Baja California's tip and found some remarkably low fares. The lowest, for the same dates mentioned above, was $150 for a round-trip excursion aboard U.S. Airways. It required a brief stop in Phoenix. Return was aboard Alaska Airlines at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, how is business in La Paz and the Los Cabos areas, while Mexico's drug war is generating daily headlines and the global economy is in ruins?

Depends on whom you ask. Roldan, who specializes in inexpensive La Paz fishing adventures, says bookings are up about 75% compared to this time last year.

But others with businesses in the area say tourism is down and there is anger over how the drug war is portrayed by the U.S. media, which seems to imply nowhere in Mexico is safe.

In fact, as I was sending an e-mail to Mark Rayor, who owns Vista Sea Sport in Baja's sleepy East Cape region, he was mulling over another lost client, who wrote to him saying she and her family wouldn't feel safe until the drug war subsides.

That's a shame because nobody is getting shot in this region. Fishing is picking up, as it always does in the spring, and scuba diving is "outstanding" at Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, Rayor said.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: At top, kayakers paddle around La Paz. Credit: La Paz tourism bureau. Lower, scuba divers inspect a Humboldt squid that was hooked by an angler on a boat 65 feet above. Credit: Jim Knowlton / For The Times